Feature Coverage

Wine Spectator: Domaine de la Romanée-Conti 2016: A Singular Vintage

“The 2016 vintage is very different, we really have no other year to compare it to,” says Domaine de la Romanée-Conti co-director Aubert de Villaine, describing the new releases of Burgundy’s most coveted Pinot Noirs.

That was immediately obvious: Two of the estate’s grand cru Pinot Noirs were missing from the annual tasting de Villaine presented in New York at Wine Spectator Grand Award winner Eleven Madison Park earlier this month.

The vineyards of Echézeaux and Grands Echézeaux were devastated by the frost of April 27, 2016, which destroyed about 80 percent of the crop. The small remaining harvest was only bottled in magnum and will be released at a later date.

I had already tasted these two wines, however, from barrel, when I visited the estate in February 2018. The 2016 Echézeaux is classy and expressive, exuding strawberry and cherry flavors on a rich, succulent and balanced frame. It’s one of the best young Echézeaux I have tasted at DRC since I began visiting and tasting from barrel in 2005.

The 2016 Grands Echézeaux is also impressive, if a touch more reserved, exhibiting black currant, and violet notes typical of the vintage. More linear and elegant than the Echézeaux, it finishes long and satisfying.

The 2016 Montrachet was also absent from the New York tasting. The Chassagne side of the vineyard, called Le Montrachet, where DRC’s parcels are located, was also heavily damaged by frost that spring. Seven growers, including DRC, devised a unique response: all their grapes were vinified together at Domaine Leflaive. In the end, only two barrels were made.

In addition to the frost, the early part of the 2016 growing season presented difficult challenges: a mild winter, excessive rainfall and attacks of mildew. But the second half of 2016 delivered superb weather, allowing the Pinot Noir grapes to fully ripen.

The five wines de Villaine presented in New York are superb, bursting with ripe fruit, floral and spice notes, all very indicative of their individual climats. They are even more expressive than they were from barrel, and are showing a bit more oak spice now as young wines in bottle. The scores for these wines are consistent with my previous notes, except for the Corton and Romanée-St.-Vivant, each of which I upgraded by a point.

In general, the DRC 2016s are darker in color and flavors than recent years, reflecting the 2016 vintage as a whole. They are expressive, with the flush of youthful fruit and juicy textures disguising the solid structures. Over the period of an hour or two, ample tannins emerged, suggesting that 2016 is shaping up to be a long-lived, dense yet balanced vintage.

The Corton Prince Florent de Merode 2016 (95 points, non-blind; $705) continues the DRC approach of blending the fruit from Bressandes, Clos du Roi and Renardes. This is one of the best young Cortons I have tasted from the estate. Having lost some of its earthy, animal notes from barrel, it now shows plenty of black cherry, sandalwood and spice aromas and flavors, with a distinctive minty element. It’s dense, juicy and supple, showing well-integrated tannins and fine length.

It is a leap from the fruity brashness of the Corton to the reserved and linear Romanée-St.-Vivant (97 points, non-blind; $2,250), particularly without the Echézeaux and Grands Echézeaux as an introduction to the grands crus of the Vosne-Romanée environs. Nonetheless, it reveals rose, violet, cherry, spice and mineral notes allied to a silky texture and elegant profile. The long finish and tension bodes well for the future.

The Richebourg (96 points, non-blind; $2,080), the alter ego of RSV, is best described as charming and fleshy. Rose, incense, Asian spices, red cherry and currant flavors mesh beautifully with its richness and round feel, giving an impression of softness, much as it did from barrel, yet this too is long and persistent. This exhibits more red fruits than black, along with the RSV and Romanée-Conti.

I find the La Tâche (97 points, non-blind; $2,390) bears a similar mint aroma as the Corton, with darker bass tones of licorice, black cherry and sandalwood supported by dense tannins. It also tightened up the most after a few hours in the glass.

De Villaine didn’t have to convince the small group of tasters that the tradition at DRC is to never spit the Romanée-Conti. Sublime, rare and expensive (99 points, non-blind; $7,480 per bottle, and just 440 cases made), it rises above its siblings for its purity, finesse, energy and length. Aromas and flavors of rose, cherry, currant and sandalwood permeate the gossamer texture, lingering well after the wine is swallowed.

As benchmark reds from Burgundy, the pedigree and brilliance of Domaine de la Romanée-Conti’s 2016 Pinot Noirs is on display. They also reveal the distinctive nature of the 2016 vintage, in which the two halves of the growing season reconciled one another.

Bruce Sanderson, March 20, 2019
Wine Spectator: Domaine de la Romanée-Conti 2016: A Singular Vintage