In the end of May I attended a phenomenal wine tasting dinner where I finally got to taste a truly iconic and rare wine wine, Montrachet from the Domaine de la Romanée-Conti. We tasted the 2008 vintage, which also is an excellent vintage for white Burgundies, and I must say that this wine truly lived up to its spectacular reputation!
Some words on Montrachet in general
Montrachet is a grand cru-classified vineyards for white wines in Burgundy, and is located across the border between the two villages Chassagne-Montrachet and Puligny-Montrachet. In the surrounding area, four other grand crus can also be found: Chevalier-Montrachet, Bâtard-Montrachet, Bienvenue-Bâtard-Montrachet, and Criots-Bâtard-Montrachet. These other four are sometimes bundled together under the heading “hyphenated Montrachets” (although the village and premier cru wines of Chassagne and Puligny might also get included). The reputation of the five grand crus are listed in descending order, with Montrachet on the top rung.
The Montrachet covers a total of 8 hectares (just under 20 acres), of which 4.01 ha on the Puligny side and 3.99 ha on the Chassagne side of the intercommunal border. Similar to most Burgundy grand cru vineyards, Montrachet is divided among several owners. In the book The Wines of Burgundy by Clive Coates (2008), 15 owners are listed, where some of them sell grapes to négociant firms or swap grapes with some other small growers, so in total it should be possible to find more than 15 producers of Montrachet wine. The 2.06 ha of Marquis de Laguiche is the largest holding, followed by Baron Thénard at 1.83 ha, Bouchard Père et Fils at 0.89 ha, and Regnault de Beaucaron/Guillaume at 0,80 ha. In the fifth sport we find DRC at 0.67 ha, and in their case the holding is completely on the Chassagne side.
Montrachet is counted as the best dry white wine of the world, and as it happens, the most expensive Montrachets also tends to be the most expensive dry white wines around. Since we’re in Burgundy, the producer and the vintage are important factors for the quality and style of the wine. This means that it is far from unusual to find some producers’ Chevalier-Montrachets, as well as Bâtard-Montrachets, to be held in higher esteem than some other producers’ Montrachets.
As is almost the case for wines with an established top class reputation, what characterises a good Montrachet is the combination of power and elegance, although the power is particularly in focus. Montrachet tends to get reviews such as “one size larger” than other white grand crus from the same producers, in those cases where such a comparison can be made. It should also be remembered that good white Burgundies, and in particular the grand crus, aren’t any shy lightweights too start with. Of the grand cru neighbours, Chevalier-Montrachet is usually counted as the somewhat more elegant with slightly more underlined acidity, while Bâtard-Montrachet is more of a power package that is usually the second most powerful (after Montrachet) of the white grand crus.
Among the DRC wines, Montrachet has the smallest production (*), and it therefore tends to be even more complicated to secure than the Romanée-Conti. During the last couple of years, I’ve had the fortune to attend several horizontal tastings of the most recent vintage of the DRC wines (2012, 2011, 2010, and 2009), but in all cases they have featured the red wines up to La Tâche, but not Romanée-Conti or Montrachet.
Production numbers for the DRC Montrachet in the 2005-2011 vintages are as follows, in terms of bottles, with the number of Romanée-Conti bottles within parentheses as a comparison: 2011 – 3178 bottles (5673), 2010 – 2028 (4636), 2009 – 4079 (6465), 2008 – 3524 (3151), 2007 – 3799 (4088), 2006 – 3330 (5546), 2005 – 3415 (5489). This means an average of 3336 bottles of Montrachet against 5007 bottles of Romanée-Conti, or 1.5 times as many. For La Tâche, the corresponding number is 18335 bottles, or 5.5 times as many.
And then a small comment about the name. It is common to see Montrachet mentioned as Le Montrachet. In French, wines in general are usually of the masculine grammatical gender, this acquiring the le article when such is called for, but in the case of Montrachet it is probably more commonly used just to show its one-of-a-kindness. At such a high price, some bonus letter should be included, sort of… 🙂 Sometimes a convention is mentioned – that doesn’t seem to be universally followed – following which the wines from the Chassagne side should be called Le Montrachet, while those from the Puligny should remain without this prefix. However, the official name of the entire appellation is “Montrachet” without an article, and DRC does not use the “Le” on their labels.
Here I include notes from the three white Burgundies that made up one flight in this tasting, because I think this helps putting the DRC Montrachet in perspective. The other two were Chevalier-Montrachets from two other producers enjoying a good reputation.
2005 Sauzet Chevalier-Montrachet
Powerful citrus notes with both citrus fruit and zest, some minerality, some flowery notes, and a discrete oak barrel note with vanilla. A citrus-dominated nose that comes across as young and lightest of the three. On the palate there is a lot of citrus, some freshly sliced pear, good concentration, some hints of viscosity, high acidity, mineral, and a citrus-dominate aftertaste with mineral and great length. Still rather young, 93(+) p.
This wine came across as the youngest of the three altough it in fact was the oldest, and it developed quite a bit as it sat in the glass. In this company it seemed the lightest and was almost Chablis grand cru-like, but then it should be remembered than the other two were heavyweights, of which one a super heavyweight. (So perhaps Corton-Charlemagne-like would have been more adequate.) This style is rather typical for the producer. This was the wine about which opinions were most divided, where I probably was one of those who liked it best.
2009 Pierre-Yves Colin-Morey Chevalier-Montrachet
The nose was initiallt rather smoky, but this lightened later. Other than that, it showed yellow apple, some freshly cut pear, pronounced citrus, minerality, slightly flowery notes, some spice, and hints of truffle. To a large extent a powerful “regular” white Burgundy nose – of the better kind. Palate with ripe yellow apple, some pear, citrus, good minerality, high acidity, some viscosity, a light spice note, and a somewhat fruity aftertaste with pear and a lot of minerality. 94 p
PYCM again proves to be a producer of very good wines. Powerful wines is something to be expected of the 2009 vintage, and this wine corresponds to that expectation without crossing the border into too much hot vintage character. This wine was well received all around the table.
2008 DRC Montrachet
Quite deep yellow colour, definitelty the darkest of this flight. A nose that is enormously complex, powerful, and fascinating with ripe yellow fruit, botrytised yellow fruit, musk and truffle, some coffee, smoke, pronounced spice, and well integrated oak. With a wide margin the most powerful nose of the three, and with fascinating botrytis notes. Palate with fried yellow apple, ripe citrus with citrus-dominated mid-palate, some dried and botrytised fruit, high acidity, spices, and mineral. The aftertaste is extra long and very fresh with citrus, some spice notes, and powerful minerality. An extreme wine that is approachable now, but can also be kept for a long time, 99 p.
Well, what to say? The stories were true? A truly fascinating and marvelous wine, and the best dry white wine I have ever tasted! I suppose it would be wrong to say that it defies description since I just did try to describe it, but I don’t think I have really made it justice above. What I found particularly interesting was that the wine showed notes of botrytis, i.e., noble rot. This is supposed to be common in DRC Montrachet, although not found in all vintages. att det fanns ett inslag av botrytis, alltså ädelröta, i tonerna. Detta lär vara vanligt i DRC Montrachet. Botrytis in dry wines can be something of a gamble, but here it worked perfectly, and almost made this wine borrow some extra personality from a good Château d’Yquem!
(*) A small addition regarding the produced quantity relative to other DRC wines. Apparently, DRC is the owner of a minuscule plot in Bâtard-Montrachet which is just enough for one barrel or something like that, so perhaps around 300 bottles. This wine isn’t sold, but rather drunk by themselves, and sometimes served to visitors of the domaine. Those with a sharp eye may also have noted that the production of Romanée-Conti actually was lower than that of Montrachet in the 2008 vintage. In some vintages, their Vosne-Romanée Premier Cru is more unusual than their Montrachet, since it isn’t produced at all! 🙂
In 2012, I and E.H. put together a tasting of mixed white Burgundy grand crus, including a simpler 1990 Montrachet (which wasn’t the best wine in that tasting). Here is my blog post from that tasting.