Browsing through some tasting notes from last year, a tasting that is still definitely worth to write about is one themed Domaine de la Romanée Conti 1990 that took place in August 2011. Any tasting of mature Burgundies from top vintages is something you absolutely don’t want to miss if you’re a fan of these wines. If we in addition to this are talking of a grand cru-only tasting such a tasting become even more heavyweight. And if we’re talking about wines from Burgundy’s most well-known and mythical producer, Domaine de la Romanée Conti, and the absolute top vintage 1990, well… then it’s for sure something to remember for a long, long time.
One fellow member of a wine tasting club in Stockholm, P.J., usually arranges a very exclusive tasting in August each year, when he’s home on vacation from working abroad. The theme for his August 2011 tasting, DRC 1990, had been announced one year before, and many of us had been eagerly awaiting that tasting since then. We knew beforehand that the most expensive wine, Romanée-Conti 1990, wouldn’t be included in the lineup since P. hadn’t bought it in 1993 due to its high price, but rather stayed at the level of the second most expensive red DRC, La Tâche. Most critics consider La Tâche approximately on the same level as Romanée-Conti in terms of quality in most vintages (its price is approximately one-third to one-quarter ion release), and the 1990 La Tâche is widely considered exceptionally good; it has e.g. received 100 points from Robert Parker. It also turned out that Grands Échezeaux 1990 also was missing from the lineup for the simple reason that P. realised that he didn’t have it in his cellar. Thus there was four 1990 DRCs, but our flight included seven wines, where the other three also turned out to be 1990 Burgundies. All wines were served blind.
Vosne-Romanée 1er Cru Les Beaux Monts 1990, Leroy
Medium red, bright colour, some brick at the edge. Nose with berries, flowers and elegance. Red berries and cherries, some development, spice and some animal notes, some oak barrel. Rather young in the nose. Slightly more than medium bodied on the palate, red and some dark berries, noticeable acidity, soft tannins, some spice, rather long aftertaste.
My score: 91-92 p, votes: 1 best, 3 worst.
I placed my “worst” vote here, and in a spectacular lineup such as this one, this has to be interpreted as “least good”, because this is a wine which surely would have been the wine of the tasting in many a tasting of mature Burgundies… I think this is the first time ever that I have been forced to vote “worst” for a wine which I scored above 90 points…
Échezeaux 1990, Domaine de la Romanée-Conti
Light red colour, rather noticeable brick note (and some deposit in the glass). Nose with dark and red berries, orange (or perhaps blood grapefruit together with the red berries) and orange zest, animal notes and development with some leather, very elegant. More than medium bodied, palate with red berries, orange and blood grapefruit notes, good acidity, some rather softened tannins, some spice, good length with some tannic bite in the aftertaste and great elegance.
My score: 96-97 p, overall votes: 1 best (me), 0 worst.
This was one of the more developed wines of the flight (more than for example Les Beaux Monts and La Tâche) and I had the feeling that it really was at its peak. Some of the other wines were admittedly more powerful, but this was at this moment exactly the way a top Burgundy ready to drink should be! There was simply nothing in the glass to pull the “current score” down. To me, the difference between this wine and a straight 100 points is just a matter of power in the wine and intensity in the aromas, and do consider that I admit being a bit frugal with scoring once I pass 90. During the blind phase, I was debating with myself if I should vote for this wine or wine number 7 (La Tâche) as the best, but finally I chose this one, since I after all wanted to judge the wines on how the performed in my glass on this Thursday. Although I was alone in my best vote, many held it to be second or third best, so I didn’t hear anyone who was completely surprised at my vote.
Romanée-Saint-Vivant 1990, Domaine de la Romanée-Conti
Light red colour rather noticeable brick note (and some deposit in the glass). In the nose red berries and a hint of dark berries, mild spice, some orange, animal notes, development with some leather, some well integrated oak barrel notes. More than medium bodied on the palate, red and some dark berries, violets, definitely spicy, good acidity, some tannin, long aftertaste with tannic bite. Slightly more rustic than Échezeaux.
My score: 93-94 p, overall votes: 0 best, 0 worst.
La Romanée 1990, Bouchard
Light red colour, a lot of brick. Nose with animal notes, mild spice, noticeable development, rather obvious oak barrel notes with coffee, pine tree needles, mint. More than medium bodied on the palate, dark and some red berries, rather noticeable tannin, spice mint, rather good length with some tannic bite.
My score, after it had improved in the glass: 94-95 p, overall votes: 1 best, 3 worst.
Not as much berry or flowery notes or elegance as Romanée-Saint-Vivant, and initially came across as slightly harsh in style, but improved quite a lot in the glass. The aromas and the oak treatment were quite different here than in the previous wines.
Richebourg 1990, Domaine de la Romanée-Conti
Light red colour, rather noticeable brick note (and some deposit in the glass). In the nose first a hint of volatile acidity (improved after a while), mild spice, some red and dark berries, development with animal notes. This wine had the “oldest” nose in the lineup. More than medium bodied on the palate with red and some dark berries, slightly sweetish impression, some tannin, good acidity, spice, slight bitterness.
My score: 92-93 p, overall votes: 2 best, 3 worst.
Initially a lot more “foresquare” than the rest, but improved in the glass. Its style also comes across as sweeter.
La Grande Rue 1990, Lamarche
At this time La Grande Rue was a Vosne-Romanée 1er Cru vineyard, but it was reclassified as a Grand Cru from the 1991 vintage.
Medium red colour, slightly lighter edge. Spices in the nose (but different spices than in the Richebourg, a bit more “sharp”), slightly malty notes, pine tree needles, dark berries, some oak barrel notes. More elegant nose after some time in the glass. On the palate more than medium bodied, red berries with some dark berries, rather noticeable tannin, quite good acidity, spice, good length with some bitterness and some tannic bite. lite maltig doft, tallbarr, mörka bär, en del fatton.
My score: 91-92 p, overall votes: 0 best, 9 worst. Was therefore voted the worst (i.e., least good) wine of the flight.
I finally scored this wine the same as Les Beaux Monts, which got my “worst” (least good) vote. To some extent it felt like this wine could improve with some further time in the cellar, since it had good levels of both tannin and acidity, and the aromas improved in the glass. At the same time it wass not as “complete” as the best wines of the flight, so it would not reach their level. Curiously enough, I found some similarity between this wine and La Romanée in some of their aromas and their oak treatment, and there they differ from the DRC wines. La Grande Rue and La Romanée are neighbours, but the two wines have different producers.
La Tâche 1990, Domaine de la Romanée-Conti
Light red colour rather noticeable brick note (and some deposit in the glass). Powerful nose with noticeable berry aromas. Ripe dark cherries, noticeable spice, oak barrels with some moccha notes, some development with leather. The nose gives a rather young impression, similar to Les Beaux Monts. Full-bodied on the palate, dark berries, aromatic oil, noticeable tannin, good acidity (but it doesn’t “stand out” that much), quite some spice and a hint of bitterness. Very impressive, definitely the most powerful of the flight, could improve with more time.
My score: 95-96+ p (potential for improvement with further cellaring), overall votes: 13 best (out of 18), 0 worst. Voted the best wine by a wide margin.
This wine was very impressive and was one size larger than most of the rest, so I immediately guess that it should be La Tâche. For a long time, I hesitated between this wine and Échezeaux (where I wasn’t sure what I had in my glass) as the best, but finally decided on Échezeaux. La Tâche was, despite its 21 years of age, not quite “there” in its development, at least for my palate. In 5 years I think that La Tâche definitely would be even better, and it is possible that it would need some 10 years to really reach its peak, where I would score it higher. Yes, I do feel that I need to justify why I scored Échezeaux higher than this legendary (100 points from Parker and similar scores from many more) and very, very impressive wine. At risk of having abuse hurled at me, or being branded a fool, I must say that the hint of bitterness that I actually felt (and such notes don’t tend to go away with further cellaring) makes me think that this wine could never reach 100 points when scored by me, but perhaps 98-99 at perfect maturity.
An interesting observation is that the La Tâche showed the most similarity in its aromas to certain young Bourgogne Grand Crus from the vintages 2005 (top vintage) and 2006 (definitely a good vintage ) that I had tasted in 2009-2010. I’m refering to aromas of very ripe, dark cherries in comination with powerful tannin.
Additional wine served with some light food:
Echezeaux 1990, Lamarche
Medium red colour, light brick notes. In the nose dark berries, spice, development with some leather and animal notes. More than medium bodied on the palate, dark berries, very noticeable acidity, some tannin, noticeably spicy.
My score: 93-94 p. This wine surprised us by score-wise landing the middle of the very impressive lineup of the blind flight, although it was supposed to be a little simpler than the rest. It was definitely superior to the other Lemarche wine (La Grande Rue), and impressed us with its combination of its “dark” and ripe fruit component (dark berries) and a very good acidity, and in addition developed notes and spiciness.
An interesting observation is that none of 10 bottles (including three bottles of the extra wine) “fell through” or underperformed seriously. You would of course not expect that from the labels and big names in question, but with wines with some age to them, you never know. The odd and bitter dissapointment is usual in tastings of this kind, but we were spared from this, although the internal ranking of the wines perhaps was not the one expected. Richebourg would have been expected to perform stronger relative to Échezeaux and Romanée-Saint-Vivant, for example. Many of the wines also came across as rather young; some were probably at their peak, but none seem to have passed it and at least La Tâche definitely needs more time to show itself from its best side, at least according to my taste.
It is possible that I have slightly underscored the very best wines. The entire lineup deserved above 90 points also on my slightly conservative scale. It is possible that this made me underestimate the best wines when all were very good, and we didn’t have a reference in the 85 to 90 point range.
Another reflection is again how good DRC Échezeaux was. Together with Corton and Clos de Vougeot it is often mentioned as a Grand Cru appellation that’s probably a bit oversized, and where the entire appellation perhaps doesn’t perform on the level of a Grand Cru, on top of the fact that in all of these appellations of fragmented holdings, you have a number of producers that don’t quite size up. (It should be mentioned that several parts of Corton – such as Clos du Roi – and the upper parts of Clos de Vougeot definitely are worthy GC vineyards.) I’ve heard the claim that it is only from DRC Grands-Échezeaux (which is slightly more expensive than Échezeaux) that you can count the wines are “genuine” DRCs, but I’ve also heard the opinion that DRC Échezeaux absolutely shouldn’t be underestimated, but that it needs some age to show its greatness, just as the other DRCs. After this tasting, I fully support the latter opinion, at least if we are talking about top vintages. Perhaps the other wines more often perform at “expected DRC level” also in average vintages.
The Swedish version of this post can be found here.