T here’s something exhilarating about selling a great bottle of wine as a sommelier. No one can predict exactly what a bottle will taste like, so when working the floor, I often felt like a bit of a gambler. Will the wine be good? Will it taste as I described? There’s an element of risk involved, and these questions hold more weight for wines priced well into the thousands of dollars. When the gamble pays off, it does so big-time and the wine is even better than anyone could have imagined. Throughout my time working in this business, no wine has impressed me more in terms of consistency and excellence than those of Domaine de la Romanée-Conti.
It’s fitting that the Domaine’s history, which dates to 1232, involves a prominent bidding war, given its central importance to the wine-auction market today. In 1760 the vineyard, then called La Romanée, was purchased by Louis François, the Bourbon Prince of Conti, who affixed his title to the locale, henceforth known as Romanée-Conti.
After the French Revolution, the Domaine changed hands a number of times. Following its purchase by the Duvault-Blochet family in 1869, the Domaine took on its more modern form. The family added Echézeaux, Grands Echézeaux and Richebourg to the formidable estate, which already included the famed monopole La Tâche. Holdings in Romanée Saint-Vivant and Montrachet came later, along with two leases on the hill of Corton in the 21st century.
Today these holdings make Domaine de la Romanée-Conti (or DRC, as it’s often abbreviated) the largest domaine in terms of grand cru vineyard ownership in Burgundy. Moreover, they are unique for producing wine almost exclusively from grand cru sites – a special classification bestowed on vineyards of great reputation and the highest designation awarded by the appellation d’origine contrôlée (AOC) to terroir in Burgundy.
Recently, upon the release of the 2018s, I had the opportunity to taste each cuvée side by side. Even in infancy the wines possess very distinct identities. Of course, there are stylistic elements uniting them all: the 100 percent new-oak treatment, the stem inclusion (for reds) and the inimitable intensity of fruit (the result of miniscule yields, rigorous grape selection and organic farming). Yet there is a transparency to these wines – a trueness to terroir, which allows the inherent characteristics of each cuvée to present themselves year after year.
Below are of some of these characteristics based on historical reputation and my own personal experience. While it is impossible to articulate the nuance and complexity of each wine, I’ve done my best to describe them in a general sense. There is no substitute for experiencing these wines firsthand. If you are fortunate enough to taste them, my advice is simple: drink them young, drink them old and drink them anywhere in between.
A monopole of DRC, this 1.81-hectare plot is the most celebrated grand cru vineyard in all of Burgundy, producing between 5,000–6,000 bottles annually of the Domaine’s flagship wine. It is intense and brooding with stunning complexity, a silky mouthfeel and profound length.
The largest parcel in size and output, the 6.06-hectare La Tâche produces about 20,000 bottles annually. Located south of Romanée-Conti, it is the Domaine’s second monopole. The vineyard makes a stunningly aromatic wine, displaying an intoxicating bouquet of violets and exotic spice. It is typically more accessible in its youth than the Romanée-Conti.
Located north of Romanée-Conti, Richebourg is considered the best non-monopole grand cru of the Vosne-Romanée commune in Burgundy – and DRC is its largest landholder, producing about 12,000 bottles a year on its 3.51-hectare plot. Thought to be the most muscular of the DRC wines, it possesses firm tannins and structure built to age.
Romanée St. Vivant
Leased by DRC since 1966, these vines were sold to the Domaine in 1988 by the Marey-Monge family, making DRC the vineyard’s largest landholder at 5.29 hectares. The 18,000 annual bottles of this wine are the most ethereal of the lineup, with a delicacy and weightlessness on the palate and a profoundly floral bouquet.
Sitting southwest of Clos Vougeot, this relatively flat vineyard produces broader and richer wines than its much larger neighbor, Echézeaux. With 3.53 hectares, DRC is the largest landowner of this vineyard as well, producing a wine that is often darker-fruited and earthier than the others. About 14,000 bottles are made each year.
One of the largest grands crus in Burgundy, this vineyard surrounds Grands Echézeaux to the north and south. DRC is yet again the largest landowner (at 4.67 hectares) and its holdings are north of Grands Echézeaux in a section of the vineyard known as Les Poulaillères, or “the chicken coops.” Generally lighter-bodied than the Grands Echézeaux, it displays a similar gaminess and bramble-fruit quality. Annual production is about 16,000 bottles.
With its inaugural vintage in 2009, the Corton is the newest red addition to the DRC lineup. Leased from Domaine Prince Florent de Merode, the 2.28-hectare growth sources its fruit from famed lieux-dits Clos du Roi, Bressandes and Renardes. It produces about 6,500 bottles annually, and is concentrated and well-structured red with tremendous aging potential.
At 0.68 hectares and about 3,000 bottles a year, Montrachet is the Domaine’s smallest in terms of production – and was the only white wine released by the Domaine before Corton-Charlemagne in 2019. Unmistakably complex, it is a decadent and textural wine of tremendous length, power and counterbalancing acidity.
The most recent addition to the DRC lineup, the Corton-Charlemagne made its debut in 2019. The vines on this 2.9-hecrare plot are leased from Bonneau du Martray and offer a fresher and chiseled expression of Chardonnay in contrast to the opulence of the Domaine’s Montrachet.