There are unique and memorable wines that have brought great joy when tasted, but where there’s good reason to assume that you won’t be able to taste these wines again, given the inevitability of older vintages being consumed or becoming far too expensive for mere mortals to buy (or avoid selling). A prime example of this is older first-rate vintages of the wines from Domaine de la Romanée-Conti (DRC), generally and with very good reason seen as the best producer of Burgundy. A little less than three years ago I had the great opportunity to taste five of their wines from the stellar 1990 vintage. This was a wine club tasting where P. was even more generous than usual, and made these wines the theme of his annual prestige tasting. That tasting was crowned by the second-best red wine of DRC, La Tâche. Their very best and most well-known wine, Romanée-Conti, I’ve actually never tasted.
So I was very surprised when an opportunity showed up to taste the 1990 La Tâche again, together with the 1990 DRC Richebourg. Even better, this was in a dinner setting.
Nose with ripe strawberries and a hint of decaying strawberries, some cherries, spices, pronounced mint notes, a hint of herbaceous notes of the slightly green type, and mineral. Lovely and developed classical Burgundy notes, perfect maturity but still with a youthful character. Palate with ripe strawberries, fine tart berry character with a lot of freshness, mineral, spice, mouthfeel with a certain viscosity, and a great length. Perfect maturity but fully vital, and I think we opened this bottle at its absolute summit. 97 p
This was a completely different beast from the bottle I tasted in 2011, and it clearly demonstrates why Richebourg used to be the obvious number three among the reds of DRC (i.e., directly behind La Tâche), before Romanée-Saint-Vivant started to offer serious competition.
It was also interesting to note how velvety this wine was, since Richebourg in its youth tends to show very pronounced tannins.
1990 DRC La Tâche
Burgundy, Pinot Noir.
Powerful nose with ripe strawberries, some cherries, some flowery notes with violets, mint, spices with a hint of liquorice, iron filings, some animal notes and some green notes in the background, as well as just a touch of raspberry candy. A nose with great complexity that is more powerful, darker and younger than the Richebourg nose. Palate with enormous concentration, cherries, ripe strawberries, really good acidity and a fine tart berry character, tannins, and pronounced spice notes. Long aftertaste with ripe strawberries, tannins, and a strong minerality. Surprisingly young, powerful concentration, and should benefit from more time in the cellar. 98 p
Definitely more powerful and younger than the Richebourg, and hasn’t reached its peak yet. This wine is rather similar to when I tasted it in 2011, but this time I appreciated it even more since there was more of it in my glass and I could follow it for a longer time. This wine really needed time to unfold in the glass, and several around the table liked the Richebourg better at least during the first hour.
The 1990 La Tâche is truly a monster wine, but this is not a negative opinion since there are some very nice monsters around, and even Godzilla is supposed to be nice and merely misunderstood in the most recent film incarnation. And on the theme of misunderstood, the development curve of this wine is a cause for reflection, since it doesn’t seem to follow any reasonable rules of thumb. If a Burgundy wasn’t fully mature at 21 or 24 years of age, I’m somewhat hesitant to judge how long a perfectly stored bottle really will need to reach perfect maturity. I see a big risk that another 5-10 years won’t do the trick. So will 30 years be enough? Or will 40 years be needed? In any case case, so long will be needed that differences in cellaring conditions will have a noticeable effect on the wine.
So why not 99-100 points? The need for further cellaring makes this wine difficult to score since it falls a little beside regular rules, I must say that the palate actually isn’t quite as elegant and velvety as the 2010 DRCs (and to some extent the 2009s), but actually goes one small step in the “rustic” direction, compared to the quintessentially perfect Burgundy. (Don’t get me wrong, it still is the best wine I have tasted so far in 2014…) Perhaps it is unfair to expect anything else of Godzilla, but the Richebourg demonstrates that also 1990 DRCs can combine concentration with a velvety character!
Both wines were excellent with food! We had them to two dishes, and the Richebourg excelled with the bird while the La Tâche showed better with lamb.
Other wines before and during dinner
In order to get warmed-up on Pinot Noir and 1990 we started with:
Clearly developed nose of dried yellow fruit, yellow apples, winter apples and apple compote, some nutty notes, sherry, some mushroom, and a hint of vanilla. Palate in powerful style with quite a bit of concentration, yellow apple and some green apple as well as winter apple, citrus, fresh acidity and mineral, and spices. The palate is more fresh than what could be expected by the developed nose. 94 p
I don’t think there’s too much reason to cellar this Champagne any further. I’d say it is a bit more developed than the 1988 R.D. (disgorged 2002) that I tried last summer, which is perhaps what one can expect from 1988 and 1990 when they have spent approximately the same time on the cork.
1989 Boizel Joyau de France
Champagne, 65% Pinot Noir and 35% Chardonnay.
Rather golden colour. Nose with ripe yellow fruit and some sweet fruit, quite a bit of smoke, some notes that made me think of steel and iron filings, some development with nutty notes. Palate with powerful concentration, yellow apple, some sweetness of fruit in the attack, noticeable minerality and a fresh aftertaste. 92 p
Somewhat lighter in style than the Bollinger R.D. Not entirely similar to how it came across when I tasted it in December 2013, when I definitely felt vanilla in it.
Corked! Quickly replaced with a somewhat younger vintage (the same wine name but actually different AVAs)…
2002 Kistler Sonoma Coast Les Noisetiers Chardonnay
Golden colour. Nose with honey, some tropical fruit, ripe yellow apple, butter, a bit of oily impression with some oak and some mineral. Full-bodied, the palate is spicy and oily with medium acidity and yellow apple. Fully mature. 90 p
Light golden colour. Nose with yellow fruit, sweet fruit, white raisins and some vanilla. The palate is sweet (but doesn’t quite show Beerenauslese or Sauterness sweetness) with ripe yellow fruit, some tropical fruit, good acidity, and some spice. 90 p
2001 J.M. da Fonseca Moscatel de Setúbal
Setúbal, Portugal. The grape variety Moscatel de Setúbal is the same as Muscat of Alexandria, the somewhat more spicy and less perfumed of the common Muscat varietals.
Definitely amber-coloured and going somewhat in the rosé direction. Nose with pronounced spice, slightly flowery, dried fruit, some notes of maturity, typical fortified wine notes and Moscatel character. Sweet palate with spices and alcoholic feeling, rather good acidity, and dried fruit including dried apricot. 89 p
Many thanks to R. for this wonderful opportunity to renew my acquaintance with the two 1990 DRCs!
Swedish version here.