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Domaine de la Romanee-Conti

March 4, 2016

Barely six months after having had the rare privilege of visiting the cellars of this most revered of all wine estates, the chance came my way again to experience, this time, almost the entire line-up of burgundy from the stable of Domaine de la Romanee-Conti. The event was a gala dinner organised by FICOFI in support of the Association De L’Abbaye Saint-Vivant on 24 February 2016 at the Fullerton Bay Hotel, Singapore, the only such event held in Asia aside from another one just a few days apart in Hong Kong, with the co-owner of DRC, M. Aubert de Villaine himself, in attendance.

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Ruins of the Abbey of Saint-Vivant

The Abbey of Saint-Vivant, located in Curtil-Vergy in the Cote d’Or, is inevitably tied with the history of Burgundy, having been established by the monks of the Benedictine order back in 890 CE. In 1232, the Abbey received a donation of the best vineyards of Vosne-Romanee (ie. the present Romanee-Conti Grand Cru and Romanee Saint-Vivant Grand Cru and their surrounding parcels) from Alix de Vergy, Duchess of Burgundy, and thereafter for 650 years, the Abbey was able to cultivate these prestigious vineyards until the medieval monastery was demolished in 1772 and rebuilt. 2014-06-17 01.13.08However, the Abbey fell into ruins again during the French Revolution, and it has remained so until an association was set up in 1999 to conserve the site. From this perspective, it is not difficult to understand the association between the Abbey and DRC, and its efforts to contribute to the former’s conservation.

DRC itself was established in 1760 (Mozart’s time, before Beethoven) by the Prince of Conti and, since 1942, has been co-owned by the DeVillaine and the Leroy families. The crown jewels in the estate’s holdings are surely its monopoly on Romanee-Conti Grand Cru (1.8 ha, unchanged since the old days) and La Tache Grand Cru (a later acquisition and now expanded to 6 ha). Apart from these, DRC also holds majority stakes in the other grand crus of Vosne-Romanee (with the exception of La Romanee, a monopoly of Comte Liger-Belair) and Flagey-Echezeaux. Viticulture is biodynamic, yields are low (20-30 hectolitres per hectare, whereas the law permits 42) and the average age of the vines range between 40-50 years.

For this gala dinner, the grand hall of Clifford Pier (now part of the Fullerton Bay Hotel), where coolies and passengers of a bygone era would have departed or disembarked by boat, was transformed into an elegant space as members in black tie and ladies in high fashion mixed around easily to partake in the free flow of canapés, washed down with a free flow of wines entirely from the DRC stable for as long as they were available.

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M. Aubert de Villaine holding court

2010 Hautes-Cotes de Nuits Bourgogne. Specially bottled for FICOFI and only one of three whites made by DRC. This medium-bodied wine offered notes of straw and lemongrass on the nose, somewhat restrained, coupled with crisp citrus, chalky minerality and fine acidity though clouded by suboptimal definition.

2011 Hautes-Cotes de Nuits Bourgogne. As good as the above was, the 2011 was a far better proposition, much more aromatic with an abundance of tropical fruits, rye, wheat and coconut, excellent in layering and acidity, eventually evolving towards a complex of lemon citrus with plenty of verve and vibrancy. Second time that I’ve had the privilege of tasting this same wine. Superb.

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No ordinary Bourgogne blanc!

2009 Domaine de la Romanee-Conti Cuvee Duvault-Blochet 1er. A bit of a misnomer here, for this wine is actually made from young vines from various plots of grand cru, declassified as premier cru instead. Gentle aromas of raspberries and dark cherries, highly perfumed, led to an open medium-full wine of great balance, structured with very fine acidity and supple tannins that finished with a persistent glow that was the equal of its wonderful bouquet. Simply outstanding.

2010 Domaine de la Romanee-Conti Corton Grand Cru. The bouquet here is absolutely lovely, an explosion of bright red fruits and red cherries, fresh and highly perfumed, distinctly feminine with an added tone of tangerine on the palate that enhanced the sense of delicacy, displaying fine acidity and excellent balance, finishing with a graphite trace that stole a bit of its feminine glow. This is an excellent Corton that reminded me of Faiveley’s equally beautiful Clos des Cortons Faiveley Grand Cru.

With Dr Victor Lim, M. Aubert de Villaine and yours truly

Dr Victor Lim, M. Aubert de Villaine and yours truly

Following these, we settled down to dinner specially prepared by 3-Michelin star chef Christian Le Squer of Le Cinq, paired with the following order of wine. I could not help but notice a certain style of the domaine throughout the whole line-up, wines that consistently displayed remarkable balance, grace and a certain feminine deftness marked by tangerines amidst the ripe berries.

2010 Domaine de la Romanee-Conti Echezeaux Grand Cru. Well-defined notes of orange peel and lime citrus dominate on the nose, mixing easily with ripe blueberries and raspberries on the palate where the wine is still tight and primal, rising to a mild tannic spine before easing towards a lengthy finish, eventually smoothening out over dinner. Masculine with considerable power, but needs time to unfold.

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2010 Domaine de la Romanee-Conti Grands Echezeaux Grand Cru. From the same vintage, the step up from Echezeaux is readily palpable, possessing a far more generous bouquet of raspberries and dark cherries with overtones of incense and smoldering ember, displaying remarkable poise and balance and very well integrated. Highly elegant. Far more open and accessible than the Echezeaux in spite of the fuller tone. Very fine.

2004 Domaine de la Romanee-Conti Romanee-Saint-Vivant Grand Cru. Notes of tangerines, lime and citrus are discernible amidst rose petals and red fruits with traces of incense, highly supple with an attractive intensity coupled with a dry tone of mushrooms and ash, wonderfully balanced but just a tad short. Very fine.

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2000 Domaine de la Romanee-Conti Richebourg Grand Cru. Further up the pecking order with the added advantage of bottle age, this wine opened with lifted aromas of sweet raspberries, highly perfumed, equally exciting on the palate where, again, overtones of tangerines contributed to a certain sense of lightness, enhanced by velvety tones and lithe supple tannins, displaying great persistence and balance, turning slightly austere towards the end of dinner. Looking at its opaque dusty color, I’d say this wine is at its drinking peak. Excellent.

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2000 Domaine de la Romanee-Conti La Tache Grand Cru. This great monopole opened with generous aromas of rose petals and camphor coupled with a mild earthy pungency and citrus character amidst the ample red fruits that created a sense of lightness and wonderful tension, displaying great acidity, presence, balance and complexity. Highly poised with controlled power, never imposing, becoming even more lifted over time without fading off. Outstanding.

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That’s SGD30 per millilitre

2001 Domaine de la Romanee-Conti Romanee-Conti Grand Cru. Saving the pinnacle of burgundy for last, the anticipation was palpable. Displaying an evolved crimson, this flagship monopole exuded a delicate bouquet of floral fragrance that was utterly perfumed, absolutely feminine, best appreciated if the wine is served in a huge Baccarat Romanee-Conti crystal glass (which a Japanese guest at my table had specially brought over…arigato, Kashima-san!). Again, there is that semblance on the palate where citrus and orange peel integrate seamlessly with dark cherries and raspberries, quietly intense with subtle concentration, displaying great definition between layering of fruit and the mineral bed that imparted a further sense of delicacy and poise. Supremely balanced, perhaps even aloof almost to the point of being stern but brightening up over time, lingering long after its finish.

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2001 DRC Romanee-Conti sitting in a Baccarat Romanee-Conti glass

Would I have recognised it as the Holy Grail of Burgundy if I’d been blinded? Probably not. Don’t expect a voluptuous knockout here. This wine is so beautifully proportioned that it does not call attention to itself, quite the epitome of a sensuous but demure beauty. Not surprising, therefore, that most felt Richebourg the wine most ready to drink in the evening’s line-up.

2009 Ch D’Yquem. This wine presents an overwhelming concentration of nectar, apricot, jackfruit, mangoes and other exotic fruits, brimming with fabulous intensity and matching acidity without tiring the palate, turning slightly steely before finishing with great persistence. Glorious, naturally, but we just killed a couple of cases of the best Sauternes prematurely.

I felt immensely privileged to have been part of this wonderful evening and I can’t wait for it to be repeated next year.

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