Perrine Fenal and Aubert de Villaine, co-directors of Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, at Corney & Barrow's offices in London. The photo of Perrine was taken at the tasting on 3 February, and the photo of Aubert, her uncle, was taken at the previous tasting, pre-pandemic, on 29 January 2020. (I didn't catch him in time last week.)
Domaine de la Romanée Conti releases its wines en primeur a year after the rest of Burgundy, so the estate's 2019 wines got their first UK showing last week at UK agent Corney & Barrow's elegant headquarters near Tower Bridge in London. Elegant? C&B occupies a Grade II-listed 1805 Custom's House and I tasted in the drawing room, no less. Co-directors Aubert de Villaine and his niece Perrine Fenal had both come over for the event. 2019 was Perrine's first harvest.
Before I get to my tasting notes, it's worth having a quick resumé of the distinctly out-of-the ordinary growing season. Apparently you have to go back more than 150 years to the 1865 vintage before you find comparable heat and sugar concentrations and a harvest around September 20. No wonder Aubert de Villaine said it's unlike any other. In his end-of-harvest report (October 30) he wrote: "More than any other, this 2019 vintage was born without providing any clues to make comparisons with previous vintages."
Briefly, winter was mild with little rain (at the time of year when growers want rain). The weather throughout spring was beautiful, making for low disease pressures and phenomenal vegetative growth. It was when flowering came at the start of June – very early – that the challenges started. The vines were suffering from lack of water and as a result there was a lot of coulure and millerandage (poor fruit-set), reducing the potential crop.
Hot weather then settled in and, although there was still no rain to speak of, the cool nights were a saving grace. What was not was a heat wave reaching temperatures of 40ºC in the last week of June, followed by another in July. The vines shut down and some berries were slowly roasted and had to be removed at harvest.
Temperatures overall were higher even than in 2003, but the outcome was much more positive in both quality and quantity, the vines having adapted to more extreme temperatures in the intervening years. Unlike in 2003, the vineyards remained green throughout, which Aubert de Villaine puts down to deeper roots and lower yields, reinforced by biodynamic cultivation.
The harvest started on 15 September (in Richebourg) and finished 10 days later in Corton-Charlemagne. It was DRC's first Corton-Charlemagne after leasing the holding from Domaine du Martray in 2018. Romanée-Conti was picked on 17 September and the last of the reds to be brought in was Échezeaux on 22–23 September. Bottling began with the Corton-Charlemagne on 2 and 3 December 2020 and for the reds in early January 2021. It finished with Romanée-Conti on May 28 and La Tâche on 1–2 June.
A request that tasters go about their business in silence – not something you normally see, but the host calls the shots
A few housekeeping points:
I have removed the worst excesses of repetition and done some minimal tidying-up with prepositions, conjunctions and punctuation to make these notes readable (I hope), but otherwise they're as I wrote them, warts and all.
Scores of 93 and above are Gold (I have very rarely given a 98 and never a 99 or 100, although I may well have tasted wines that have deserved it). A score with a '+' means I expect it to go higher as the wine evolves.
The drinking-window cut-off dates are Corney & Barrow's. The start dates are mine and they're earlier than C&B's, but bear in mind that Adam Brett-Smith of C&B has far more experience of these wines than I.
Prices are listed at the end, but just to let you know: a single bottle of Domaine de la Romanée Conti 2019, in bond, is £3,600.
Mid ruby. Perfumed red fruit on the nose with sappy, mineral freshness. Intense, crunchy red fruits with a spicy edge and a touch of orange zest on the palate. Mouthfilling, expansive but in a delicate, air-brushed way: not big. Has some sinew but it's silken too. Ripe but unquestionably fresh, with finest-sand tannins. Elegant! Not a word I was expecting to use here. And almost drinkable already. Drink: 2023–2036
Similar colour to the Corton but slightly deeper ruby. Quiet on the nose initially, but pretty, with some sweet, juicy raspberry. The palate is much more immediate, almost exuberant, with lots of spice and red berries and some blackberry in the background; then some fuller, riper black cherry comes through, but it's more about red fruit. There's some chocolate-coated red cherry, too. Powerful, deeper and more intense than the Corton; fresher too. Drink: 2024–2036
Grands Échézeaux, 14.5%
Very similar in colour to the Échézeaux. Floral nose – roses especially– with alluring fruitiness. Lovely sweet fruit and baking spices on the palate; cherries, roses and a hint of strawberry. Dense, powerful, expansive but with beautiful lift and freshness and a sweet-nut character at the end. Pure, silky, 'sweet’ tannins. Very long with a soaring Gothic-spires frame (forgive the purple prose/flight of fantasy – but it's what I wrote). Power with freshness and lift. Drink: 2026–2038.
Fractionally paler, but bright. Slightly muted nose; delicately fragrant notes of dried flowers, camomile, pot pourri and sweet nutty straw; then red cherries. Seems a bit withdrawn on the palate, or at least reserved. Red fruit; some dark, smoky chocolate in the background. Holding itself in. Very fine tannins and the same effortless freshness as the previous three – has everything except the beauty, the alluring touch of flamboyance. I know it’s all there, but it’s not talking to me today. Drink: 2027–2039
Deeper colour than Richebourg. Really pretty aromas; intense too. This is a lovely wine. Such depth and detail on the palate. Beautiful, scented, sweet red fruit, with some black cherry tucked in. Seamless sweetness. Lovely texture and silkiness. Very long; unwavering balance through to the finish and the aftertaste. Drink: 2027–2040
La Tâche, 13.5%
Deepest colour so far. Dark fruit; black fruit with spice. Joined by savoury notes on the palate, and touches of herb and autumnal forest smells. Lots of richness and matière. Very textural and yet somehow has an airiness, a breeze blowing through the density. Long, fine, silky, ripe tannins. Tapering acidity; such lift and freshness. Drink: 2029–2040
La Romanée-Conti, 13.5%
Mid ruby; solid but not as dark as La Tâche. So perfumed, so floral. Roses. Gorgeous fruit – raspberries especially, but other red fruits, and some black fruit in the background. Really intense and layered, yet pure, and there’s a delicacy and elegance to it all. Silk-velvet texture. All-embracing and mouthfilling, layer after layer, but it’s not a big wine. It’s clichéed, but it's just so alluring, so pure, complex and complete. Spellbinding. Drink: 2029–2043
Domaine de la Romanée Conti's first vintage of Corton-Charlemagne – and what a debut. It's from a 2.9ha holding divided between Le Charlemagne (Aloxe Corton) and En Charlemagne (Pernand-Vergelesses) leased from Bonneau du Martray in 2018. Primrose colour. Opulent, exuberant, powerful, vivid and wonderfully fresh on the nose; toasted buttery nuts, toasted wheat, fresh citrus, lemon curd, sappy herbs, wet stones, spices. On the palate: the richness and zesty vibrancy of home-made lemon curd; a twist of lemon-peel bitterness; patisserie with spices and pistachio. Opulent, buttery texture with riveting acidity and the mineral freshness of a stony mountain stream. Intense, concentrated, full, long and fresh to the end. Drink: 2023–2030
Corton: £1,100/case of 3 bottles, in bond UK. £745/case of 1 magnum, in bond UK.
Échézeaux: £1,350/case of 3 bottles, in bond UK. £910/case of 1 magnum, in bond UK.
Grands Échézeaux: £2,050/case of 3 bottles, in bond UK. £1,380/case of 1 magnum, in bond UK.
Richebourg: £3,240/case of 3 bottles, in bond UK. £2,170/case of 1 magnum, in bond UK.
Romanée-St-Vivant: £3,300/case of 3 bottles, in bond UK. £2,210/case of 1 magnum, in bond UK.
La Tâche: £3,750/case of 3 bottles, in bond UK. £1,250/case of 1 bottle, in bond UK. £2,510/case of 1 magnum, in bond UK.
Romanée-Conti: £3,600/case of 1 bottle, in bond UK
Corton-Charlemagne: £2,200/case of 3 bottles, in bond UK
Photographs by Joanna Simon