The May races ended yesterday on quite a high for us. We broke last years record daily total last night by a monster £4000. All thanks to one table and their purchase of the 1999 Domaine de la Romanee Conti, La Romanee Conti for a smooth £3500. I was chuffed when Paco told me they wanted the Romanee St Vivant 99 (£465) but when I presented the bottle, the guy said, "No! No! I want La Romanee Conti!". My heart started racing, my palms got sweaty, I felt elated, numb and more than a little scared.Paranoia set in and I started imagining what if it was corked, what if he says I don't like it. All sorts of nightmare scenarios start running through my mind. But I'm also excited at the prospect of tasting it .I've never tasted La Romanee Conti before.I've read plenty about it, Clive Coates, Michael Broadbent, Serena Sutcliffe all heap praise and adoration upon it.
Before I start the tasting notes, perhaps I ought to explain why La Romanee Conti is so expensive. La Romanee Conti is a tiny little Grand Cru vineyard of about 1.8 hectares (a little over 4 acres). The vineyard has remained the same since it was first purchased by the monks of the St Vivant priory over 750 years ago. It is planted to Pinot Noir, with the average age of the vines being 52 years old. This means that the gnarly old vines will produce less than half the crop of younger more vigorous vines, but Mother Nature compensates for that by having the fruit more concentrated in flavours, sugars and all the necessary ingredients for making outstanding wines. Each patch of vineyard has its own dedicated worker, who will attend to their parcel of vines all year round. Early in the growing season the workers will severely prune the vines, and a practice called eclaircissage (green pruning) is used to further reduce the yields. As the grapes ripen and approach maturity the workers complete a passage de nettoyage to remove any substandard or malformed grapes. Once the grapes have reached their optimal ripeness they are hand harvested individually by the workers, supplemented with sixty pickers. The grapes are then sorted into small baskets and all are checked manually on a triage table before beginning the winemaking process.
Domaine de la Romanee Conti practice a minimal intervention style of winemaking. The grapes are not destalked, which combined with the long period of cuvaison (upto a month) gives the wines a deeply structured tannin backbone, which undoubtedly contributes to their cellaring ability. The fermentation is carried out a relatively low temperatures, never reaching above 33degrees, before the wine is transferred into is own supply of 100% new troncais oak casks. The wines are never filtered and rarely fined. If they require fining the maitre de chai Bernard Noblet is sent to acquire a few hundred fresh eggs. After between sixteen and twenty-two months in oak the wines are deemed ready to be bottled, which is carried out cask by cask, and done manually using gravity as the pumping agent.
After all this effort, care and attention the end result is less than 500 cases of wine, each bottle individually numbered. They are released annually on subscription and the UK allocation is managed by Corney and Barrow. Interested buyers are asked to submit their purchase requests, and stock is allocated by demand and based on previous purchasing from C&B, i.e. the more you have bought from them last year, the more likely you will get all that you want this year. It isn't cheap, typically a bottle of La Romanee Conti will set you back somewhere in the region of £800-£1200 on the primary market, depending on the vintage. But once you have been given your allocation and paid for it, the fun really begins.
The market for DRC is very buoyant, and it is widely regarded as the most stable of the "Blue Chip" wines. Every year come allocation time, the demand always exceeds the supply, more so in exceptional vintages. It is quite common for a wine to have been sold several times, before it is even in a bottle, and for its subsequent value to have risen to in excess of £2000 a bottle. So if you were fortunate to have been allocated 6 bottles, you could stand to make some serious return on your investment. And this is why DRC wines are so very popular with collectors and investors in wine, and consequently one reason why it fetches such high prices. Small production, high demand.
So, ultimately is it worth it? I cant answer that question for you, but what I would say is if you have to think about it, or even if you ask that question then I would say that the answer for you is no. Would I pay £3500 for it? If money wasn't an issue, then I suspect I would.It really depends on the circumstances. In case you were wondering the wine was outstanding! A really vibrant nose of fresh soft red fruits, with an undercurrent of earthiness and a kind of growbag aroma. On the palate it was amazing, layer after layer of flavour kept rolling back and revealing more and more flavour. Being quite young there was a lot of fruit flavours, but there was quite a soft tannic structure with a pleasantly acidic mouthfeel, with a lot more cherry red fruit flavours and wild strawberries. It was a very feminine wine, gentle on the palate, slowly revealing more flavour and depth. Very seductive. I have to say it was the most complex wine that I have ever tasted. By that I mean that there was something different with every moment, and it revealed more flavours and layers with each second it was on my tongue.
So that was May races 2006. I'm glad its over, and I can't wait until tonights service is over for two well deserved days off. It's been a hell of a long busy week, but the sales have been good, the service has gone really quite well, we havent had any serious trouble and all we need to do now, is get through the rest of the month and wait until the tips come!!