1999 Grands-Echezeaux, DRC. Overwhelmingly DRC

I’ve had wines from the Domaine de la Romanee-Conti that have disappointed.  The 1983s.  The 1994s.  The 1986s (yuk).  Even you 1988s: ‘don’t get me wrong – yeah I think you’re all right – but you don’t keep me warm in the middle of the night’ (or any other part of the evening for that matter).  These are wines that have aromatic interest, but which are all acid and structure – and little in the way of flesh or charm; which could, taken in isolation, could give some tiny measure of credence to criticisms of under-ripeness – as made by the likes of Helen Turley & John Wetlaufer

But I don’t think there have been too many of those in recent times.   Everything I have drunk from the DRC from 1995 onward has been pretty special.   ‘DRC’ genuinely is a by-word for bottles that are at the least, really, really, good.   Drunk in isolation: delicious.   And when tasted in a line-up of ‘top Domaine Burgundies”: top.  Or thereabouts.

But amidst all these very good and very-very good bottles there are wines that are just, well, ‘beyond good’.  And in one specific recent vintage ~ or at least ‘relatively recent’ vintage the DRC made wines that are particularly ‘beyond good’ !  I read somewhere that Aubert de Villaine described the 1999s as the ‘legacy and testament’ of his stewardship at the DRC.   I don’t know whether he has changed his mind since; surely vintages like 2009 and 2010 have afforded the Domaine the opportunity to make great wines?  But I do remember that when asked, at the Domaine in 2006, if he thought the infant 2005s might measure up to the 1999s – his answer was an almost dismissive shake of the head.

Of course, the 1999 DRCs, from Duvault-Blochet upward, are expensive.   Very expensive.   But (arguably) not excessively so given the price of other vintages in which the DRC made wines which are just very-very good.  If you can afford them, you will not be disappointed.

I have a friend, a great collector and wine lover who I think is quite pleased with Renaissance Vintners’ efforts to sell some of the surplus of two decades of collecting for him.  Obviously selling those wines on his behalf has been good business for us – but he also knows that some of the wines have been difficult to shift – in a not very easy market for those wines.  So he very generously offered to share a bottle of 99 DRC over dinner last night.  For fun (and why the hell not !) but also, I think, as an additional ‘thank you’ for our efforts.  I’ve seldom been happier to have done a good job!

I didn’t try to compete with the centrepiece of the evening: how could I?   So instead I bought a completely unrelated bottle from a grower that I suspected (correctly) he wouldn’t have tasted (Rhys).  It was very good.  We liked it.  And the 99 DRC was….well….predictably ‘beyond good’.

2010 Rhys Alpine Vineyard Chardonnay (93/100)

Fullish buttercup yellow hue, just very slightly hazy.  A hint of reduction lends freshness and interest to a lovely scent of lemon curd, tangerine and butter.  A lovely bottle, which I guess to be at it’s apogee – it has a great balance of freshness and richness, of citrus and apricottey flesh.   The only thing that prevents me from giving an even bigger score is that I don’t quite find the X-factor which so often is provided by minerality in great Burgundian Chardonnay.   (Although a bottle of Rhys Horseshoe Chardonnay drunk recently also had that missing element – is that a fractionally better vineyard than Alpine ?)   Notwithstanding that, this is very delicious.

1999 Grands Echezeaux, DRC (96/100)

Med ruby colour with very little in the way of bricking at the rim.   Looks younger than it is, 17 years on.  Immediately after decanting the scent was youthful and quintessentially DRC, with hawthorn, smoke and spice.   A few moments later the wine was showing a new face: curry leaf and a riot of Asian spices.   Then, momentarily, a murky clay and liquorice note, before it reached equilibrium and began to pump out richly spiced berry fruit.   Likewise the palate evolved in the glass, the wine seeming to put on weight and dimension as we drank it.  From medium plus bodied – to really very full.   One curious note was that at one point we both simultaneously felt it tasted rather like great Bordeaux – ‘Margaux’ – but with more precision and verve.  My score maybe a bit parsimonious – I think I am consciously marking this wine based on the assumption that the Romanee-Conti, La Tache, Richebourg and Romanee St Vivant are even better.   A great bottle, and overwhelmingly, DRC.