A hell of a vintage in both senses: a vintage of beautiful wines, or, as Aubert de Villaine, the domaine's co-owner and director puts it, "among the most perfect of these past few years"; but a growing season of often hellish conditions. January to May was the wettest on record, resulting in around 35 mildew attacks (treated biodynamically in the fleeting dry periods). In 2015 there were almost none. Worse was the frost at the end of April. It destroyed almost all the shoots in Montrachet, Bâtard-Montrachet, Échézeaux and Grands Échézeaux, so much so that the yields in the two latter were 6hl/ha and 7hl/ha, compared to the much more normal 25.7hl/ha and 30.4hl/ha of 2015. In Montrachet no crop was even expected, but a few berries survived and, imaginatively, Aubert suggested to six other domaines (Guy Amiot, Comtes Lafon, Fleurot Larose, Lamy-Pillot, Leflaive and Madame Petitjean) that they pool resources to produce, largely for charity and under the management of Domaine Leflaive, two barrels – around 600 bottles.
What saved the 2016 vintage in the end was almost uninterrupted fine, dry weather from mid July until the end of the harvest on 29 September. After a week of picking, DRC had a harvest of healthy, ripe grapes in normal volumes in Romanée Conti, La Tâche and Corton, and slightly below average quantities in Romanée-St-Vivant and Richebourg. Anthocyanin and tannin readings were even higher than for the exceptional 2015 vintage an it's clear from this morning's tasting of the five reds now being released (rather than the usual seven) that the berries were not only healthy and ripe, but intensely flavoured and balanced, giving wines of great purity. Échézeaux and Grands Échézeaux have been bottled in magnums only (980 and 710 magnums respectively) and will be released later.
My notes are below (scores are out of 100 and 93 represents gold). The 'drink until' dates are Corney & Barrow's, but I haven't given their 'drink from' dates because I would start drinking these wines (chance would be a fine thing) much sooner than the 2028–2030 they suggest. The prices (and quantities produced) are at the end and the wines are, of course, on allocation. Orders must be in by 15 February.
Domaine de la Romanée-Conti 2016
Medium-deep ruby. A pretty red-berry and rose petal perfume carried on a fresh, earthy-mineral base. The same mineral and red-fruit directness on the palate and then a creamy cappuccino texture and flavour punctuated by appetising notes of spice. It becomes sweeter on the nose in the glass but retains its youthful, mineral, savoury tang with chalk-dust tannins. Drink to 2032
Similar ruby depth. Plums and black fruit on the nose, with glimpses of incense and a sweet, leafy freshness. Depth and sweetness on the palate, dark fruit and spice, lovely silky textured length and fine tannins. Drink to 2035+
Paler than the Corton and Romanée-St-Vivant, but powerful and concentrated. The nose starts with a grilled meat and woodsmoke savouriness and a hint of roasting coffee then moves into more fragrant orange and black fruit. The palate has a tightly packed firmness, but it also has an extravagance and richness just waiting to get out. Drink to 2040+
Paler than the previous three, although not pale. Lovely, fragrant nose – roses, cinnamon, sandalwood, incense – then a beautifully silky palate; plenty of flesh but precision-tooled, with sweet red-berry and rose-petal fruit and the finest of tannins. Long. Mesmerising. Drink to 2040+
Slightly paler again and glorious fragrance: very floral, with flowing red fruit – summer berries and cherries with streaks of exotic spice. But the texture is the thing: it has an extraordinary silkiness, but depth too, like silk velvet. And then underneath there's a youthful savoury, mineral framework. Drink to 2040+
Prices, in bond UK. Also offered in magnums, except for Romanée-Conti
Corton: £930 per case of 3 bottles (420 dozen produced)
Romanée-St-Vivant: £2,970 per case of 3 bottles (1304 dozen produced)
Richebourg: £2,775 per case of 3 bottles (868 dozen produced)
La Tâche: £1,050 per 1 bottle (1814 dozen produced)
Romanée-Conti: £3,250 per 1 bottle (440 dozen produced)
Photographs by Joanna Simon