DRC, how can I explain it
I’ll take you frame by frame it…
Surprisingly I’m not talking about the Democratic Republic of the Congo! DRC is one of the most sought after and amazingly complex (not to mention expensive) drinks on the face of the earth.
Domaine de la Romanée-Conti or DRC as it is widely known is one of those wines that every wine lover dreams of trying at some point in their life. Getting the chance to drink it is a bit like a footie fan getting to have a kick about with Pelé or a petrol head being handed the keys to an F1 car. Here’s how I managed to get down with DRC….
It was a dreary Monday morning in November when a client of mine casually asked in the middle of a conversation if I had any plans on Thursday? I think my poor old ticker may have skipped a beat, my internal dialogue instantly chimed in saying ‘if you have plans, they are now cancelled’. The reason for this reflex reaction was that the person asking it was the charming, unassuming Stephen Burton, owner of Bordeaux Cellars. A basic way to describe what they do would be wine pawn broking to the world’s greatest collectors, but they do so much more, tastings for example. Can you see where this is headed?
He was holding a horizontal tasting focusing on the wines made by Domaine de la Romanée-Conti in 1976 and an important client was unable to make it to London, would I like to attend in his place? I have to admit that this was one of life’s easier questions and took all of an attosecond for me to croak I’d be delighted to come. He then proceeded to show me the list of wines that we would be drinking, my reaction was not dissimilar to this….
That wasn’t all. The icing on the cake was that the dinner would be hosted by none other than the wine legend that is Gerrard Basset. A man with half the alphabet lining up after his name, OBE, MS, MW, MBA and not to forget world’s best sommelier 2010. The venue was a classy Italian affair called Alloro in Mayfair, effectively, Christmas had come early.
Through work and some very generous friends (yes you, Scooby & Lips), I’m lucky enough to try some fantastic wines on a regular basis. But there are some wines that you know are just plain out of your league, whispered in hushed tones, the preserve of the über rich or those lucky (and old) enough to have bought the wines when they were relatively affordable. To draw a rather tawdry comparison, this was a bit like being invited to an orgy hosted by Dionysis where a bevy of super models that wouldn’t usually even acknowledge your existence planned to make you the luckiest man alive. Well maybe that’s overdoing it slightly, but you catch my drift.
Though the food was of a very high standard, the highlight here was the wine, nothing was specifically matched to a certain wine, though the Romanee St Vivant went very well with the black truffle gnocchi and all three Bordeaux wines worked incredibly well with the lamb (as you would expect). The Tiramisù was one of the best I have ever tasted. I’ve listed menu at the end of this post just in case you’re into that sort of thing.
So why are DRC so special?
DRC makes some of the best dry red & white wines going, now that’s a bold statement and beauty is in the eye (or in this case nose & mouth) of the beholder but they are among the most expensive in the world and with the exception of Henri Jayer, are some of the most sought after wines of Burgundy, France, the world (and as far as I’m aware, the galaxy).
Based in the village of Vosne-Romanèe (in Burgundy they hyphenate the best local vineyard to the village name) in the cote de Nuits. Their top wine is Romanèe-Conti made of Pinot Noir from a 1.8ha vineyard (think roughly twice the area of Trafalgar Square, or two Rugby fields). Unfortunately this was not part of this tasting and on average will set you back about £9,600 a bottle. They also make one of the world’s best and most expensive white wines from chardonnay vines in the Montrachet grand cru vineyard and a few from the hill of Corton further south in the Côte de Beaune, more info available here.
So most of the wines tried were born in 1976 and are now 38 years old (older even than me!), to get some context on the vintage, what was happening in 1976? The Apple computer company was formed by Steve Jobs & Steve Wozniak, Czechoslovakia beat west Germany to wine Euro 76’, the ‘Son of Sam’ was terrorising New York City, you probably wouldn’t have wanted to spend much time in Chile or Argentina, U2 formed and the U.K was experiencing the hottest summer since records began.
Over in Burgundy the growing conditions in 1976 where very good though not exceptional (think 4 out of 5 stars). This was a rather controversial vintage with prolonged hot weather which resulted in tannic wines with a high concentration, many lesser producers made unbalanced wines that have never managed to balance out, others made incredible wines that should continue to develop for another 10-12 years.
You may not have heard of Salon, it lacks the celebrity of Crystal & Dom Pérignon but is a real insider champagne of the highest caliber. Only ever produced in the finest years, 37 vintages have been produced starting from the 1911 vintage, it is considered the quintessential Blanc de Blanc (100% chardonnay) champagne.
A delicate nose that takes a while to show through but when it does there is a distinct doughy, bready note followed by lightly smoky almond. In the mouth there is a very fine mousse, this is an incredibly precise, linear wine that has a truly palate cleansing, chalky, mineral acidity. 92pts
Domaine de la Romanee Conti
Romanée St-Vivant 1976
This 9.44ha vineyard is located just below Richebourg and La Tâche, is bordered to the north by the premier cru of Les Suchots and is primarily owned by DRC (5.29ha) who have one large, central block. There are 9 other owners, none with over a ha including; Leroy, Louis Latour, Hudelot-Noellat, d l’Arlot and Dujac.
On the nose this was not all that dissimilar to a top end red from the northern Rhone, powerful and smoky, bacon rind, hickory barbeque and Chinese wood spices, rich and earthy but then there is also a delicate floral, rose petal note. In the mouth the smoky spice carries through to the mid-palate. Soft but persistent tannins slowly melt away leaving smoky cherry, tomato vine and even notes of orange peel along with complex wood spices, giving a delicate and luxurious length.94/100pts
Echezeaux is by far the largest of Vosne-Romanée’s grand cru vineyards taking up 37.69ha of the 75ha total, there are 11 lieux-dits and DRC own plots in two of the best; 4.25ha (about 82% it’s total) in Les Poulaillères and 0.43ha in Clos St-denis.
A subtle nose that really took a while to open up (especially after the St-Vivant) but still with its own distinct perfume, light notes of coffee and forest floor. In the mouth there is a bit more expression with flush, dry tannins and soft red fruit, seems to dip slightly on the mid palate then come through with more intensity on the length which is well tailored. 91/100pts.
Grand Echezeaux 1976
In total Les Grand Echézeaux covers 9.14ha and borders Vougeot to the North-East of which DRC owns 3.53ha.
The nose is rather steely and tightly sprung to begin with and takes some time to open up and unfurl, very masculine character but then there is a closed rose bud character that intermingles with soft red, strawberry style fruit. In the mouth the palate is incredibly lively with fantastic acidity, plush tannins and soft but beautifully structured red berry fruit and a dry, long length with plenty of grip. 93/100pts
La Tâche 1976
La Tâche covers a total of 6.06ha and is owned solely by DRC, takes its name from the practise of employing vignerons ‘à la tâche’ a form of employment where you are paid annually to do all the work in a vineyard by surface area.
On the nose this has an incredible, hugely distinctive perfume with notes of fresh mint leaf, an abundance of expressive red fruit and orange blossom. Background notes of baking and cooking spices, damp forest floor and then a rose garden lift, ethereal power and elegance. The palate has a perfect balance of tannin and acidity (but still plenty of both), elegant red fruit that is a touch bitter though not unripe, red cherry and red currant fruit that is beautifully buffered by complex and rich spices. 97/100pts.
Richebourg covers a total of 8.03ha and is split into 2 lieux-dits, Les Verroilles ou Richebourg (2.98ha) & Les Richebourgs (5.05ha) with DRC having by far the largest holdings with a total of 3.51ha mainly in Les Richebourgs (2.57ha). DRC’s vines are split into a number of different plots, in the south these border La Romanée and La Romanée Conti, they have a large section in the middle and then a plot bordering Les Suchots to the North-East. 10 other domains have holdings.
A very mineral nose that shows pronounced rich earth/soil and black truffle as well as rosehip and rosebud, a touch smoky, leaning more to the incense end of the spectrum, classy. In the mouth there is a fresh acidic lift that dominates over the tannin slightly but offers a fantastic, weighty mid palate that is full of firm, textured red berry fruit, soft centred and then slowly melting away into the length which is soft and incredibly long. 95/100pts
Pétrus 1953 (from Magnum)
Chateau Pétrus in Pomerol, Bordeaux is 11.5ha in size and planted to 95% Merlot & 5% Cabernet Franc, though is mainly made from 100% Merlot, the 1953 vintage in Bordeaux was an excellent one. Up there with the greatest wines of Bordeaux and one of the first wines to be given a perfect score of 100 points from the worlds most influential wine critic, Robert Parker Jr.
The colour of this was ruby to garnet and looked 20 years old if not younger. Smelling incredibly plush and sophisticated with notes of truffle, plum, mushroom and high quality, well worn leather. Very luxurious with notes of mocha and dried orange peel. In the mouth, again this is incredibly classy stuff and still showed a good concentration and richness of soft, plush ever so slightly dried and stewed red fruits, leaning towards sweeter strawberry conserve, plenty of acidity and an expansive mid palate. I had expected to be hugely underwhelmed by this wine but it was fantastic and quite easily the best merlot wine that I have ever tried. 96/100pts
Château Lafite Rothschild 1975
Chateau Lafite Rothschild in Pauillac is 107ha planted to 70% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Merlot, 3% Cabernet Franc & 2% Petit Verdot. Considered to be one of the wines of the vintage and superior to 70’, 66’ & 61’, 1975 saw a new wine maker in the form of Jean Crete (formerly of Leoville Las Cases) and consultancy from famed enologist Emile Peynaud. Bottle variation can be vast as bottling up to the mid 70’s was done over almost a year rather than a number of weeks, we got lucky though…
Great nose that could only be Lafite, very distinct, precise notes of pencil shavings that intermingle with a pronounced saline character along with rich soil and graphite along with a delicate floral note like a rose garden after rain. This certainly has power but such grace. That power is present on the palate, especially on the front palate which is almost vacuum like leading into powerfully structured tannin with truffle and refined black berry fruit and a long length.93/100pts
Château Lafite Rothschild 1978
The 1978 growing season didn’t start off to well but was saved at the last minute with a perfect September.
In amazing company the smell of this wine stood out and to me was the finest of the night, an abundance of sweet red fruit, strawberry syrup along with sweet fresh strawberry notes, again that clear Lafite graphite character offering up pure class! A sweet smoky note along with almond cake, fresh vanilla, honestly one of the most beautiful smells to ever hit my nostrils. The palate does not disappoint, which in itself is saying something, beautifully poised, great mix of fresh but slightly sweet red berry fruit, amazingly soft tannin in perfect balance with a juicy acidity this wine was singing and easily the best wine I have tried this year by some way. 98/100pts.
Château d’Yquem 1976
Clearly a Yquem with real weight to it, a deep colour. The nose is full of smoky honey, vanilla, dried ginger and acacia honey. In the mouth the wine is rich and textured but manages to stay just the right side of cloying, densely spiced but super fresh mix of tropical fruit. Dried pineapple, persimmon, sugar cane and butterscotch, slightly drying with even a touch of tannin on the length. 95/100pts
This was one of the greatest tastings/dinners that I have ever had the pleasure of attending and it was a real honor get to try these wines, especially in such esteemed company. I do fear that I may have been a rather poor neighbour to my fellow diners as so much of my attention was given to the glasses on the table to the detriment of my conversation but that was not to be helped and you have to wonder what percentage of these wines are consumed by those that may not truly appreciate what they have in their glasses, other than a famous name. Another question is whether the wines are worth their hefty price tags? Well of course they’re not value for money wise, I could buy case after case of mind blowing wine from lesser known, less sought after regions and producers, but…. would any of those wines quite reach the heights that some of these bottles scale? In most cases the answer would be no, these are small production wines from some of the oldest and most sought after vineyards on the planet. Hundreds, even thousands of millionaire wine collectors clamor for bottles on release and at auction, the wine is sold before its even been made such is the demand, not to mention those squirreling cases away as an investment.
As is always the case, something is worth what someone will pay for it and I just feel lucky to have had the privilege to try these wines, it reminded me that wines real worth is in sharing it with others, big thank you to Stephen.
(Wasn’t paying attention for some reason when this was brought out but I believe it may have been some sort of pumpkin soup or purée with a dusting of nuts. Rather amusing indeed.
Insalata di Granchio & avocado al succo di pomodoro fresco
(Crab & avocado salad with fresh tomato dressing)
Gnocchi di patate con fonduta di formaggio & Tartufo Nero
(Potatoes gnocchi with cheese fondue & black truffle)
Secondi di Pesce e Carne
Costolette di agnello con lenticchie & cipolline dolci d’Ivrea
(Pan fried rack of lamb with Castelluccio lentils and sweet button onions)