May last year the Swedish importer Vinunic held a tasting of the 2011 vintage from Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, which was a highly pleasant return of a tradition initiated two years earlier with a tasting of the 2009s. 2011 was a vintage that after all resulted in reasonable volumes to sell, unlike 2010, when Vinunic didn’t do a tasting of. Instead, some of us put together our own tasting of this spectacular vintage.
2011 Burgundies in general
I thought I’d start with some words about the 2011 Burgundy vintage in general, before I move over to the DRC wines. 2011 was a rather difficult vintage in Burgundy, when an early spring was followed by several changes between hot and cold weather, together with quite a bit of rain and powerful storms, and then a quick ripening under the later part of August. Côte de Nuits had less problems with rot than Côte de Beaune. Rot was a result of some period of heat in combination with moistness.
After we were spoiled by two fabulous vintage in a row, 2009 and 2010, we have in 2011 a vintage which is more of “regular quality”. The red wines are also somewhat tough in style, and in my opinion without having shown us the phase of youthful charm that many Burgundies do. There are also a bit more than usual of green notes in the wines. I must therefore admit that I haven’t been too overenthusiastic over the red 2011s. To me, the vintages 2006, 2007, 2009, 2010, and most recently 2012, have all been more charming as young and newly released, when we’re talking about the reds. I also considered the 2008s to be rather tough when the first ones were released, but already a year later some of them were more charming, something that I don’t think has happened to the 2011s.
2011 is therefore a vintage that needs time, and considering their noticeable acidity and somewhat priminent tannins, I would think that the high-level wines should get at least 10 years (2021+), and the toughest among these probably at least 15 years (2026+), to have reached a good drinking zone for my palate. If they are given that time, I think that they will come across as good wines from a classical vintage, perhaps a bit like mature 2001s or 2008s, possibly with more green notes, which tend to be easier to accept or even enjoy together with classical mature notes.
Bill Nanson of Burgundy Report keeps a very good vintage chart that tends to overlap my own impressions fairly well. He has given 2011 a warning marker for pyrazine notes, “P taint”, which means excessive green notes. The previous time this was a major problem was in 2004. (Of the red vintages 2000-2012, only 2004 and 2011 has been given this warning marker by Burgundy Report.) He does however point out in his vintage viewpoint that 2011 doesn’t show nearly as much of these notes as 2004 did, but still criticises many wine writers for having scored many of the 2011s to highly upon first encounter. As it happens, he has lowered the overall assessment of the vintage to the same level as that for 2007, which is a lighter and fast maturing vintage, so it would be wrong to consider these two as similar in style. Bill also points out that not everyone is disturbed by the pyrazine note, and that his message is that if you know that you dislike this note, you shouldn’t buy 2011s without tasting them.
I would also like to Point out that the white 2011s, on the other hand, give a fairly ripe impression, and have been ready to drink directly from release. 2011 is one of those vintages where white and red Burgundies differ in style.
I can also say that for the red wines, I have so far liked 2012 way better than 2011, but I’ll return to saying more about 2012 another time.
Summary impressions of the 2011 DRCs
It is sometimes said of DRC that these wines always tend to be “the perfect summary of a vintage”. This means that the wines show the style of the vintage, but does so in the very best way. The 2011 DRCs definitely fit into that saying, and clearly showed a DRC interpretation of the 2011 style.
The wines came across as young and firm, similar to how 2011s usually are. The nose gave a rather cold, minerally and “chalky” impression that indicated that a firm wine was to follow. The palate did follow this up with a cool and stony note. There was also some green and “stalky” notes in the wines, but interesting enough less of green notes than typical for 2011s. A bit more about this below.
The wines were pure in their aromas, and the oak was beautifully well handled. I found these wines to show less than usual of the animal notes that can often be found in Young DRC, which made the berry notes rather prominent, in particular cherries and strawberries in various proportions. This doesn’t mean that the wines were particularly “fruity” in the sense “warm or ripe style”, but rather that the berry notes that were present became a bit more prominent in the total mix of aromas.
My first impression was that the wines were more similar to each other in the nose than the 2009s and 2010s are, but there was some difference in the amount of flowery notes. On the palate, they differ in terms of concentration and level of tannins in approximately the expected order, but to me Richebourg was actually more smooth than the Romanée-Saint-Vivant, which is usually not the case.
The wines gained from sitting in the glass, and showed deeper fruit notes and a more berry-dominated style after this contact with air.
Every year, Aubert de Villaine of DRC writes a fairly extensive vintage commentary that can be read on their website. Here is the one from 2011.
DRC and “green notes” – a small reflection
As I mentioned above, the 2011 DRCs actually does not show the pronounced green notes that some 2011s have. That this is worth pointing out is because DRCs regularly show a bit of green notes, irrespective of vintage.
The style of the DRC wines are distinctly traditional, which both means some green or “stalky” notes and animal notes. At the same time, DRCs are distinctly elegant and polished. These wines also possess quite a bit of concentration and are often quite tannic for being Burgundies, which is reinforced by a high proportion of new oak, often 100% in several of the wines. This combination menas that these wines are definitely suited for extended cellaring. At the same time, it is common for DRCs to show a lot of charm when they are newly released, before they enter into a more closed phase.
The traditional style means among other things that the stalks are included in the fermentation of the wine, in a proportion adapted to the character of the vintage. This is the origin of the green notes in the wine, which sometimes may make itself felt more as a herbaceous note that any aggressive green note that “stalkiness” may indicate. This note can also be found in vintages where high-class Burgundy “modernists” completely avoid green notes. These modernists tend to practice complete destemming before fermentation, and will (just as DRC) avoid unripe grapes.
This type of green note is therefore a standard feature of the aroma profile of traditional Burgundies and in good vintages, these notes are integrated well into the other aromas with time. These aromas include the “forest floor” or “undergrowth” type of notes that can be expected of mature Burgundies and other fine cool climate Pinot Noir.
So, a bit green notes are almost always found in DRCs to some extent, and also in the 2011s. Although these notes are bit more noticeable than the previous vintages (since both 2009 and 2010 had a bit more powerful fruit notes in the nose and generally a “bigger nose”), we’re still talking about the regular note that comes from traditional winemaking. This means that DRC has avoided to get too much of extra or disturbing green notes in their 2011s, which is very well done. I therefore return to the saying about the DRC wines as the perfect summary of a vintage!
Other DRC news
By the way, I have some bad news for those who may collect DRC in double magnum format and have had difficulties in securing bottles in the last couple of vintages, resulting in huge amounts of money being left over. ;-) At the tasting, we were told that since the 2008 vintage, DRC no longer bottles anything in these sizes (three liters/double magnum and above). Magnums are the largest format nowadays. The last larger format DRC bottles were 2007s.
I also suspect we will see even more fighting over the La Tâche bottles from the 2013 vintage and some years ahead. When I passed by the vineyards of Vosne-Romanée in November 2013, vines were missing in a rather big part of La Tâche. It didn’t look like they had just been uprooted, so I assume that 2012 was the last vintage produced from this plot. If they have replanted it in 2014, it should start to produce wine again in 2017 at the earliest.
Notes on the 2011 DRCs
The notes below are from May 2014.
Nose with cherries and some strawberries together with various other red berries: cranberries, lingonberries and red currants. Also some liquorice, some orange zest, and a hint of vanilla. On the palate we find cranberries, sour cherries, noticeable acidity, and a mineral note together with medium tannins. Young, in a somewhat more firm style than previous vintage, but without possessin the tough tannins. 91(+) p
Nose with cherries, strawberries, a hint of orange zest, some spice notes, chalky minerality, and some smoke. Palate with strawberries, very noticeable minerality, good acidity, and mild tannins. Young but somewhat approachable. 92(+) p
Compared to the Corton, the 2011 Échézeaux gives a “lighter” impression in the nose and displays a cooler style with more minerality. At present, the nose is more expressive than the palate.
2011 Grands Échézeaux
Nose with cherries, strawberries, some herbaceous/green notes, chalky minerality, and a somewhat closed impression. Palate with strawberries, cherries, high acidity, medium tannins that are a bit more noticeable than in most other wines, and a firm finish. Young and in a bit of a hard style, 92+ p.
Tougher and less approachable than the Corton & Échézeaux, at present the toughest wine of the six tasted.
Nose with cherries, strawberries, some herbaceous/green notes, some undergrowth, a chalky note, and slightly flowery. Palate with cherries, noticeable minerality, high acidity, noticeable tannins, and a long aftertaste with minerality. Young and distinctly firm, the palate younger than the nose, good substance, 93+ p.
More traditional DRC nose than the three previous wines. Firmer and less approachable than a RSV from DRC is usually as Young, i.e., doesn’t quite show itself from the elegant flowery side. Instead, it is the somewhat tough and cellaring-demanding side of the vintage that dominate my impression of this wine.
Nose with strawberries and cherries, spice notes, minerality, some vanilla; gives a rather closed-down impression. Palate with ripe strawberries with noticeable minerality, some roundness and viscosity, and rather prominent medium tannins. Young, 94+ p.
The Richebourg has a more closed-down nose than the RSV, but a rounder palate and more substance. At present it actually comes across as softer than the 2011 RSV, which has usually not been the case with other vintages!
2011 La Tâche
Nose with cherries, chalky minerality, spice notes, hints of undergrowth; gives a rather closed-down impression. Palate with ripe strawberries and cherries, powerful concentration, quite a lot of minerality, and a noticeable firmness. Young, at present the least “open”, most substance, 95+ p.
As usual, La Tâche is the biggest of the wines, with RSV-Richebourg-La Tâche representing increasing concentration and substance.
Other wines in connection with the tasting
2007 Louis Roederer Brut Vintage
Bready, fresh palate with citrus and green apple, good acidity. Pleasant development, but this vintage is not a heavyweight. 89 p
2009 Louis Jadot Meursault Genevrières
A lot of citrus, good concentration, good acidity, minieral, rather approachable “2009 style”. 91 p
After the tasting, at another (home) address, we rounded off with:
2004 Château d’Yquem
Sauternes, in this case a half bottle.
Nose with saffron, dried apricots, a light “glue note” – classical Sauternes with some development. The palate is “regular sweet” with good concentration, again dried apricots, good acidity, fine balance, and some development. 93 p
This bottle showed more freshness than the 2004 Yquem in half bottle that I tasted a few months before, in that case a bottle from my own cellar.