Domaine de la Romanée-Conti Montrachet 1978-2015
BY ANTONIO GALLONI | JUNE 20, 2019
This fabulous charity dinner, held to benefit
children’s oncology at The Mount Sinai Hospital, featured a breathtaking range
of Domaine de la Romanée-Conti’s
Montrachet spanning 22 vintages back to 1978. It was a truly magical night of
wine, food and conversation, all for a great cause.
I would be remiss in not acknowledging a number of people who made this evening possible. First and foremost, I am deeply grateful to our winning bidders for their extraordinary generosity in supporting La Festa del Barolo's Charity Auction. My closest friends shared bottles from their cellars as I watched the collection of assembled vintages for this tasting grow, almost by the day. The Major Food Group, with Owners Mario Carbone, Rich Torrisi, and Jeff Zalaznick, donated a magnificent dinner at their iconic Grill, which remains one of the most evocative dining rooms in New York City. Lastly, Wine Directors John Slover and Brad Nugent took expert care of our bottles and made sure they were served in optimal condition. Everything was just perfect for a small group of twelve.
Le Montrachet - A Singular Cru
As it turns out, I had a chance to sit down with Aubert de
Villaine a few weeks after this dinner. “When it comes to reds, there can be some debate of which cru or crus
are the best,” he told me. “But with whites, there is no discussion. Montrachet
stands alone.” It will be interesting to see what de Villaine thinks once the
domaine’s new Corton-Charlemagne makes its debut with the 2019 vintage, but
that is a discussion for another day.
The complete lineup...
I was also curious about what seems to me to be a marked
improvement in both quality and consistency in the Montrachet that starts in
the 2000s. “I don’t think we are doing anything differently,” de Villaine
explained. “To be sure, though, climate change is a very real phenomenon. As
you know, we aim to pick as late as possible. One of the real distinguishing
characteristics of Montrachet is its ability to retain healthy acidity, even if
the grapes are left to hang for a few extra days. When we reach full phenolic
maturity now, we are often picking at a potential alcohol of 14-14.5%,
something that did not happen in the past. But Montrachet is a very special
cru. It is also quite diverse. Take 2016, for example. We are on the Chassagne
side. At the top of the hill, there is perhaps a 50cm difference between the
Puligny side, which is higher, and the Chassagne side. When frost arrived in
April, the Puligny side was largely spared, while we, and our neighbors, were absolutely
crushed.” Note: In 2016, DRC did not bottle their Montrachet, but
instead contributed their fruit to a single wine that combines the domaine's measly crop with those of Comtes Lafon, Fleurot Larose, Leflaive, Guy Amiot et
Fils and Lamy-Pillot.
Domaine de la Romanée-Conti owns three parcels in the Le Montrachet lieu-dit in Chassagne-Montrachet. The total surface area of the domaine’s holdings here is just 0.68 hectares, making Montrachet the smallest, and in many ways, hardest to find wine in the collection of eight grand crus. By comparison, DRC’s holdings in the celebrated La Tâche and Romanée-Conti monopoles are just above 6 hectares and 1.80 hectares respectively.
The domaine’s largest parcel in Le Montrachet, purchased in 1963, sits on the border with Puligny-Montrachet and runs the entire slope of the vineyard, from top to bottom. Two smaller, contiguous parcels were purchased in 1965 and 1980 and are more centrally located, starting on the road that separates Le Montrachet and Bâtard-Montrachet and moving from east to west along the natural contour of the slope. The domaine’s oldest vines date back to 1936, with an average age of around 50 years.
Four recent vintages
An Exploration of Montrachet Through the Years and Decades
For this vertical, I chose to organize the wines outside the confines of strictly chronological order because the traditional grouping of either young wines to start and older wines to finish, or the inverse, is never fully satisfying. Instead, we started with wines that are ready to drink, and then moved into thematic flights featuring younger and more iconic vintages, an approach I have found keeps the palate and mind fresh.
Overall, we had very good luck with our bottles, something
that doesn't always happen with rare wines that may have passed through
multiple hands over the years. The domaine seems to have largely been spared
the vexing issue of premature oxidation that has been such a plague for white
Burgundy starting in the mid 1990s. Our bottle of the 2011 was flawed, so it
was not served at all, while the 2008 did not show as well as it usually does. For
those wines, I substituted notes from an earlier DRC Montrachet vertical held
in Los Angeles in May 2018. I also added a few reviews from that dinner to round out
the article, including notes on several benchmark vintages we did not have at
the New York vertical, including the 1995, 1996, 2004, and a handful of others,
such as the 1985, 1991 and 2000, as well as a few red Burgundies we enjoyed
over dinner. In other words, this article is really two pieces in one; the
first chronicles the charity event itself, while the attached reviews in the
database included an even larger number of vintage and wines.
1993, 1997, 1998 & 1999
Four Montrachets from the 1990s make for a fabulous start to
dinner. I thought these wines, all mature, would show a good deal of complexity
that would complement the caviar nicely without being overpowering, an approach
that, thankfully, worked perfectly. The 1993
Montrachet is an absolutely stunning wine with which to kick off this
dinner. Subtle and wonderfully nuanced, especially in its aromatic depth, the
1993 is simply exquisite. Gentle hints of apricot, chamomile and dried flowers
all grace the 1993, a Montrachet that is gently mellowed by age and peaking
today. This is a fabulous bottle. The 1997 Montrachet
is creamy and oily in the glass, with pretty notes of tangerine, hazelnut and
dried flowers, and less of the phenolic quality than it has shown in the past.
Although not the most complex wine of the night, the 1997 is open-knit, mature
and ready to drink, to mention immensely delicious. This is an especially fine
bottle. This is a fabulous bottle of the 1998 Montrachet, the best I have ever had. Tropical and exotic in
the glass, with striking layers of nuance, the 1998 is super-expressive on this
night. Honey, tangerine oil and spice add character to the vivid, textured
finish. A rich fabric of aromas, flavors and textures makes the 1998 absolutely
compelling. The 1999 Montrachet
is always a bit edgy, which keeps it from entering the realm of the truly
sublime. Even so, the best examples, such as this one, show terrific freshness
as well as persistence. Overall, the 1999 is a quiet wine, with a little less
of everything relative to the finest years.
Tuna Carpaccio; Black Truffle Celery Root
The Mid to Late 2000s…Montrachet
2003, 2005, 2006 & 2009
These four wines from the mid to late-2000s all showed well.
Of the vintages in this flight, only the 2005 has been inconsistent over the
years, although on this night we were graced with a superb bottle. Over the
years, I have tasted the 2003 Montrachet
enough times to not be surprised by its freshness and phenolic intensity.
Powerful, ample and racy in the glass, the 2003 shows quite a bit of verve,
with attractive orange peel, honey and dried flowers overtones that develop in
the glass. On this night, the 2003 is impressive, especially looking back at
the torrid conditions that year. If anything, the 2003 needs more time in the
cellar! The 2005 Montrachet is, in
my experience, a tricky and variable wine. Once again, though, we are fortunate
to have a fine example in this, the most satisfying bottle of the 2005 I have
ever tasted. Dried orchard fruit, spice, honey and tropical notes all grace a
forward, silky Montrachet that is likely to offer its best drinking sooner
rather than later. In this tasting, the 2006
Montrachet comes across as a bit rustic and chunky, driven by a distinctly
phenolic/savory quality. Power dominates over finesse. I have had finer
examples. Soft contours and silky fruit give the 2009 Montrachet much of its undeniable appeal. The 2009 has always
been radiant, alluring and arrestingly beautiful. Tonight, it is all that, and
more. Even with all of its open-knit richness, the 2009 retains terrific
freshness as well as nuance.
Tuna Carpaccio; Black Truffle Celery Root
Lobster a la Newburg
1978, 1988, 1989 & 1990
A flight of older vintages is truly sublime. My personal
favorite is the 1988, which is once again profound. Lobster a la Newburg is an American classic that defined the cuisine made famous here at the Grill going back to its first incarnation as the Four Seasons. The Grill's slightly updated rendition eliminates the eggs and cognac, but adds roasted tomatoes for greater richness, while the lobster itself is poached in butter. It is an ideal dish for these wines. On this night, the 1978
Montrachet needs several hours of air to find its center of balance. I have
never seen a wine make such a dramatic transformation from being unpalatable at
first to very pretty a few hours later. Attractive tropical, dried fruit and
nutty flavors emerge once a considerable amount of funk blows off. One of the
most anticipated wines of the night, the 1988
Montrachet is utterly sublime. Understated, nuanced and wonderfully
detailed, especially for a wine of its age. Lemon confit, mint, mineral and
sweet floral overtones all grace this exquisitely beautiful, inviting
Montrachet. A second recent bottle was every bit as memorable. The 1989 Montrachet is all about sensuality
and delicacy. Medium in body and understated, the 1989 possesses striking
aromatic depth to match its gracious, open-knit personality. Opulent and
luscious from the outset, the 1990
Montrachet exudes immediacy and tons of pure charm. Orange confit, apricot,
crème brûlée, passion fruit, hazelnut, and vanillin abound in a Montrachet that
beautifully captures the natural radiance and power of the vintage. Although
heading into maturity, the 1990 has enough sheer depth to remain deeply intriguing
for years to come.
Lobster a la Newburg
Dungeness Crab Pasta; Fresh Fettucine, Tomato
2012, 2013, 2014 & 2015
This flight of breathtaking young Montrachets works
beautifully alongside the robust flavors of the Dungeness Crab Pasta. From a vintage with tiny yields that produced just about
four barrels of wine, the 2012
Montrachet possesses explosive energy, density and pure power. Readers
lucky enough to own the 2012 need to be exceedingly patient, as it is embryonic
nowhere near ready to drink. The 2013
Montrachet is surprisingly exotic, tropical and soft in the early going.
Pineapple, passion fruit and sweet floral overtones all grace a supple, pliant
Montrachet that is likely to peak sooner than some of the surrounding vintages.
Tasted next to the 2013, the 2014
Montrachet could not possibly be more different in style. Crushed rocks,
white flowers, lime, ginger and mint are some of the many notes that run
through a Montrachet built on tension and sizzling energy. Bright and
crystalline, with tremendous purity of fruit, the 2014 need at least a few
years in bottle to be at its very best. Wow! Tropical, lush and totally seductive, the 2015 Montrachet captures the purest
essence of the year in lush fruit, soft contours and tropical inflections.
Although it is very young, the 2015 is also incredibly alluring and full of
character. I can’t wait to see how it ages.
Dungeness Crab Pasta; Fresh Fettucine, Tomato
Turbot a la Plancha; Saffron Emulsion, Piquillo Peppers,
2001, 2007, 2008 & 2010
What could be better to round out the night than a flight of
epic vintages? The 2001 Montrachet,
one of my personal all-time favorites, is positively stellar. In the glass, the
2001 possesses dazzling inner perfume and beautifully layered fruit to match
its silky personality. Hints of lemon confit, marzipan, orchard fruit and mint
all grace this utterly exquisite Montrachet. More than anything else, though,
the 2001 is an absolutely glorious peak of expression. Creamy, open-knit and
resonant in the glass, the 2007
Montrachet is incredibly appealing, with phenomenal length and tremendous
poise. The 2007 is not a blockbuster wine, rather it is built more along the
lines of vintages like 2001 and 2004 that are more about finesse than richness.
On this night, it is positively sublime. The 2008 Montrachet is a bit reduced and not fully expressive. Several
recent bottles have shown more in line with what is typical of the 2008: a
rich, hedonistically intense wine endowed with tremendous oiliness, textural
intensity and heavy botrytis character. Two thousand-eight remains one of my
all-time favorite vintages of the domaine’s Montrachet. I can’t think of a better or more appropriate wine to bring
the evening to a close than the 2010
Montrachet, a vintage that marries power and elegance like few before it.
Dense and powerful in the glass, with tremendous textural richness, the 2010
shows remarkable transparency, with layers of citrus peel, crushed rock, slate,
mint and dried flowers that build into the huge, explosive finish. Simply put,
the 2010 is stratospheric.
The 1988 was a highlight of this vertical and remains a personal favorite
A delicious cheese course and a table full of rich,
hedonistically irresistible desserts bring this magnificent dinner to a
stunning conclusion. I must say, it was tough to
leave The Grill at the end of the night, but the memories will last forever.
See the Wines in Order Tasted
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Cellar Favorite: 1988 Domaine de la Romanée-Conti Montrachet, Antonio Galloni, May 2018
Essays in Chardonnay: J. F. Coche-Dury & Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, Antonio Galloni, September 2016
Domaine de la Romanée-Conti Montrachet 1982-2012, Antonio Galloni, November 2015
Domaine de la Romanée-Conti: Romanée-Conti and Montrachet, Antonio Galloni, February 2015
Cellar Favorite: Domaine de la Romanée-Conti Montrachet 1988-2004, Antonio Galloni, September 2014