Domaine de la Romanée-Conti 2009
Aubert de Villaine came to New York to present nine wines from the Domaine de la Romanée-Conti on February 21. For the first time, the annual presentation included the Corton, from three parcels on long-term lease from the family of Prince Florent de Mérode. De Villaine, who has been working to gain Burgundy’s status as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, had recently received a supporting vote for that effort from the French government. UNESCO will vote on the matter in July 2013.
Here is de Villaine’s presentation on the vintage, transcribed from his talk, followed by my notes on the wines. —Joshua Greene
In 2009, we had a very early budburst, which has been the case for all these last ten years. It is also usual for the months of April, May and June to be quite humid with a lot of storms. So the fight against mildew, some oidium, even sometimes the beginning of botrytis, was hard. When you are working in biodynamics, it’s hard to fight these moments. But the more risk you have, the deeper you can go into the progression of maturity.
The rain and humid weather created a reserve of water in the soil that was useful during August, when we had drought. Without this reserve, maturation would have been much more difficult. There was one storm on the 15th of August; the rest of the month was extremely hot and dry. And those conditions lasted into September, though with less heat.
Harvest started on the 10th of September in Corton, on the 13th in Vosne-Romanée.
The yield was relatively important. The flowering had been long—three weeks—so there was some variation in the berries and clusters. It was important to wait long enough to have balance of maturation everywhere.
It was a vintage with very small clusters; the berries were very small, too. Because of the very hot weather in August, the proportion of liquid to solid was very much in favor of the solids. And we found quite a bit of millerandage.
The quantities varied between 27 to 28 to 32 hectoliters per hectare, with an average of 30, which we consider a very nice crop. That was once the limit for grands crus in Burgundy. I think it is the maximum if you want to make really great wines—even in a generous vintage and with the fine type of pinot we have.
The evolution of the chardonnay was very different. Everything was at least one week behind the pinot, then it went very quickly at the end. This is a character of chardonnay: very rapid maturation at the end. All this delay was forgotten, and we had to pick the Montrachet in the middle of the reds, on the 15th. The vines showed this extraordinary reaction to the heat. The wine is quite different from previous opulent vintages. There is no botrytis. It’s more on the mineral side.
The harvest of the reds was easy because there was no botrytis. What we saw on the sorting table was beautiful—some of the best pinot noir you can dream of. We were in great expectation when the wine went into vat. These were the best grapes we had vatted since 2005.
We could see the style of the vintage: toward tenderness, immediacy and seduction, a style we hadn’t found in the wines for a long time.
I’ve never seen a vintage that has as close a companion as this one to 1959—very much in the same style. Nineteen fifty-nine was a vintage that gives a smile to the vigneron—nice quantity—and to consumers because the wines were so nice for many years.
The 2009 Domaine de la Romanée-Conti wines
notes by Joshua Greene
2009 Vosne-Romanée Premier Cru Cuvée Duvault-Blochet
This wine is named for the 19th century proprietor of the domaine, who purchased La Romanée-Conti in 1869, by which time he had assembled 329 acres of grands and premiers cru vineyards in the Côte d’Or. The lightest in color, this wine is harmonious and easy to love. It has the sunniness of the grands crus, with some warmth in the end. The texture is silken, layering floral notes and spice. Approachable now and balanced to age well over the next decade.
2009 Corton Prince Florent de Mérode
The domaine farms parcels in three sectors of Corton: Clos de Roi (0.57 ha), Renardes (0.52 ha) and Bressandes (1.19 ha), each containing a portion of old vines planted at the end of World War II, now approaching 65 years of age. This is a blend of fruit from those old vines, farmed under biodynamics since the domaine took charge in November 2008. While the wines from Vosne-Romanée see 95 percent new oak, this wine matures with 50 percent new oak. It has a broad, strawberry-scented richness, fatter than the Vosne wines, with lacy, warm tannins. De Villaine describes it as somber and turned toward the earth; I would agree that it doesn’t have the sunny nature of the other reds, but it is fine and pure, with delicacy.
This is rich in its depth and concentration, an impeccable wine that shows all of its personality on the surface. It will likely develop greater depth with age.
The distance between Echézeaux and Grands-Echézeaux is profound in 2009, the structure in this wine adding a level of mystery to the sunniness of its superficial beauty: It has the glow and confidence of a beautiful child, and it leaves a mark on the memory. There’s an earthy veil over the flavors of ripe black fruit, a silken tannin that focuses the length of flavor.
The tannins of this wine are almost fierce, emerging out of the strength of the fruit flavor. That fruit is a concentration of violet essences, with earthiness that brings to mind the soil hit by the sun when you turn over a rock. The flavors are concentrated and gripping, youthfully powerful, best left for ten years to mature.
This is the most seductive of the wines at the moment, its surface smooth, supple and delicate. A wine of lovely finesse, with an initial hit of red fruit scents, like strawberry compote, followed up by a sense of rootedness, of tendrils working their way through the sweetness of the soil. If I were to buy one of these wines, this would be it.
2009 La Tâche
Often the hardest wine to reach at these early tastings, La Tâche has none of the accessible brightness of the other 2009s. Its fruit is suppressed, focused instead on tannic power and earthiness, severe and restrained. If you use the other wines as a window into La Tâche, you can well imagine its greatness.
As closed in its own way as La Tâche, but this has the immediacy of the sun, the brightness veiling the power of its structure. It has a red-toned glow that warms the throat, showing the ripeness of the vintage. Royal blood of France.
While the pinots captured the sun, this wine captures the earth in scents of a cool, cave-like minerality. Its richness has the mettle of subterranean gold. If you search for fruit you might imagine pineapple or peach, but the wine is more severe than fruity, more earthbound and tense. A masculine wine and a fascinating cellar companion to Domaine Leflaive’s Chevalier of the same year.