DRC 08: what shipwreck?

(by peter)

We’ve been focusing quite a bit on Pinot Noir of late (see our Burgundy 2009 review and my musings following a blind international Pinot tasting).

But we make no apologies for being passionate about Pinot Noir, and reflecting that in our blog. Plus, this is a tasting which it is impossible not to comment upon…

January naturally tends to be a Pinot-drenched month in London. Much like the Bordeaux circus in the spring, January is the time when wineries across Burgundy are deserted as winemakers and owners dust off their polite attire to glad-hand the UK wine trade and Burgundy drinkers over a month-long series of tastings focusing on the latest vintage.

This year, it’s been the turn of the 2009 vintage.

However, it’s been interesting to note, amid the hype over the ripe, velvety and seductive 2009 vintage, the voices who have been noting how well the 2008 vintage has come along since the tastings last year. The murmurs are that this vintage was somewhat mis-cast and under-valued as a result, with the tight, taut wines beginning to soften and show considerable promise.

So when an invitation popped onto our doormat from top UK merchant Corney & Barrow to attend a tasting of 2008 reds, my interest was piqued. And interest became obligation when the producer was none other than what is arguably Burgundy’s most celebrated producer: Domaine de la Romanée-Conti (DRC).

(Admittedly, Susie and I did have to toss a golden coin for it…)

So it was I found myself faced with six bottles of wine and a room full of eminent tasters swilling, sniffing, slurping (but, notably, not often spitting) tiny tasting samples in hushed reverence.

The man synonymous with Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, Aubert de Villaine, circulated discreetly in a dark polo neck and smart jacket. When people left the room, they did so with an air of reluctance and rosy cheeks. (I was no exception.)

So what of the vintage?

The vintage overview helpfully provided on our tasting sheets (presumably drawn up by C&B in collaboration with Aubert de Villaine) was as close to a bodice-ripper as I’ve ever known a vintage overview to be.

Climatic conditions during the growing season were deemed to be of, ‘unimaginable difficulty’. The season was likened to a ‘military campaign’, beset by rain but saved by a fine late September. ‘Shockingly low yields’ were the key to quality – apparently DRC was down 30-40%, the result of ‘painstaking ‘haute couture’ selection’.

To illustrate the latter point, the overview featured a table of average production versus actual production in 2008. Whereas normally 1,340 bottles of Echézeaux are produced by DRC, in 2008 that figure was 823. Richebourg was 519 when the norm is 1,000; Romanée-St-Vivant was 788 compared to the usual 1,500; La Tâche 963 versus 1,870. Yields in 2008 ranged from a tiny 15 to 19 hectolitres per hectare. You get the picture…

The following sentence brilliantly captures both the nature of the vintage, and the tone of the report:

‘The survival, as if from some shipwreck, of a small band of berries eventually produced wines of almost ‘heart on sleeve’ purity and transparency, an insinuating silken sweetness and a high tensile strength which offers perhaps their most startling quality – the ability to age beautifully.’

For my part, I thought the wines were all very young and tight, with a steely acid core at their heart but also hints of ripeness, spice and even that elusive sweetness for which the best wines from this area are rightly famous. These are wines that need time to evolve and be appreciated – a classicist’s vintage, if you will, and as such a stark contrast to the more forward and easily loveable 2009.


  • I’ve included Corney & Barrow’s score on these wines, as reproduced in their tasting booklet (but which I didn’t read until after I’d tasted and scored). Their guidelines are: 14-16 denotes a very good to excellent wine; 16-18 is an excellent to outstanding wine; 18-20 represents an outstanding to legendary wine.
  • Wines are extremely limited in availability. Contact Corney & Barrow directly for more information.

Echézeaux Grand Cru 2008, Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, 13.5% (£175 per bottle in bond) – pale and youthful hue. Beguiling, perfumed nose with exotic spices and ripe hedgerow fruit. Captivating, immediate. On the palate it has a fresh undertow of acidity, almost verging on tartness. Vibrant and tight with a taut harmony. Steely, unyielding. Spicy on the finish. Linear – could do with a touch more richness for me. But a lovely savoury edge and perfume. 8.5/10 (Corney & Barrow score: 17++/20)

Grands Echézeaux Grand Cru 2008, Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, 13.5% (£275 per bottle in bond) – perfumed, rich, smoky and replete. Smells of dried flowers and that lovely Pinot character that treads a fine line between ripeness and freshness. Lovely complex aromas here, which balloon around the glass happily. On the palate, it’s fine, firm and taut. Honed. Super fine, spicy on the finish. Has that little bit more richness than the straight Echézeaux which, for me, works better and bodes well for the future. Complex. So young. 8.5-9/10 (Corney & Barrow score: 17-18/20)

Richebourg Grand Cru 2008, Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, 13.5% (£416 per bottle in bond) – a different register from the two preceding wines. Seems fatter, more caramelised. Hints of warm earth, anis and rosemary. Quite distinctive, but I somehow prefer the Echézeaux wines. Spicy, steely palate, quite fat but with vibrant acidity. Seems less tight-knit and compact than the Echézeaux. Looser, larger and plumper, altogether more liberal in bent. Doesn’t quite deliver for me. 8-8.5/10 (Corney & Barrow score: 17+-18/20)

Romanée-St-Vivant Grand Cru 2008, Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, 13.5% (£433 per bottle in bond) – Ah yes! That haunting perfume, floral lift – it’s here. Gorgeous intersection of florality, hedgerow fruit and autumnal spice. Ripe fruit, dark too. Silky in style, with crisp acidity and real substance to it. Juicy, layered and fine with well integrated spice. Achingly young, but this will undoubtedly get better with age. Wonderful perfumed power – a star. 9-9.5/10 (Corney & Barrow score: 18/20)

La Tâche Grand Cru 2008, Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, 13.5% (£508 per bottle in bond) – very pale. Restrained power and grace here. Floral, earthy, classic but just a bit reticent at the moment. IT’s all in there, brooding away…fine tannin and taut acidity initially – silky but firm. Steely yet graceful. Still quite tight. Layered, savoury and brilliantly poised. This needs at least 5-10  years to come into its own. 9-9.5/10 (Corney & Barrow score: 18/20)

Romanée-Conti Grand Cru 2008, Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, 13.5% (£1,650 per bottle in bond) – wow! Unbelievably given the context of the preceding wines, this one reaches another level. Aromatically it’s incredible: suffused with autumnal wood smoke and all manner of bittersweet summer fruits. Seems toasty. A quite breath-taking nose. It’s notably soft on the palate initially but the brisk acidity cuts through quickly. Layered, fine, taut and young. Needs 5-10 years to start showing well – it’s so compact and vibrant. Real class and depth here. 9.5/10 (Corney & Barrow score: 19-/20)