Visiting Domaine de la Romanée-Conti is a treat for anyone, as the wines and the terroirs here are, if not second to none, at least unparalleled.
Add to this the storied domaine’s new, talented winemaker, Alexandre Bernier, and one knows one is in for a rare experience.
Respect for the collectors
Domaine de la Romanée-Conti is a unique estate, and is the apotheosis of Vosne-Romanée and top-end Burgundies. As with all other great estates, Domaine de la Romanée-Conti takes the preferences of its clients very seriously, and stylistic changes are thought through very carefully. This is indeed a very complex process at an estate with as long a history as DRC.
The style of DRC’s wines has been in the hands of the Noblet family for decades, first with Andre Noblet from 1946-1985, and then with Bernard Noblet from 1986 until he retired in 2018. The style – and the conditions under which the wines are produced – no doubt changed under the very long Noblet reign, and while some parameters have been stable, large, but still subtle, changes have appeared over time. And great wines have been made over the years and decades.
Now there’s a new winemaker at the wheel, although saying that, he’s been at DRC for quite many years. I tasted the 2011 vintage with Alexandre Bernier back in 2012, on my very first visit to Domaine de la Romanée-Conti.
Bernier has built up a lot of knowledge, experience, and ideas over his years under Bernard Noblet. His plans for improvements and changes will take the DRC wines forward to the future.
Red, and now also white
Domaine de la Romanée Conti has always been a “red estate.” The few exclusive – even elusive – whites have always been there as an important part of the domaine’s history, but they are indeed a rare bird on the table. This changed in 2018, when DRC took over almost three hectares of Bonneau du Martray’s Corton-Charlemagne vineyards. Now, a white DRC is a much more tangible and potentially interesting part of the estate story.
Changes in style and vinification
DRC has been biodynamic for the last decade, and this has had quite an impact on the way its wines can be made and are made today. I would assert that biodynamic viticulture is the foundation on which Alexandre Bernier can build the future DRC style.
These stylistic changes could be seen as rather fundamental, especially for the whites. The old cooper – Tonnellerie François Frères – has been replaced by new, more discreet barrels from Damy and other more nuanced sources. This has modified the style of the whites towards – dare I say it – more elegance, crispness, and transparency.
The oak regime has also been lightened for the reds, and other coopers have been introduced alongside François Frères to reduce the rather notable oak impact. The François Frères barrels often had a medium toast, and this can, for some tastes, be quite a mouthful.
So the François Frères impact has been reduced as well in the reds, and tasting from Vicard and Lagrange barrels gives a different experience and another level of refinement. But then again, The Winehog is not the biggest fan of classic François Frères – so somewhat biased.
Thus the 2020s are a mix of oak, reducing the impact of François Frères and introducing a new, more nuanced style. Bernier is finding a balance for the reds, maintaining some well-known elements and some of the good qualities that François Frères does bring.
As well, the use of sulphur in the vinification process has been eliminated, sulphur only being added with great moderation at bottling or elsewhere late in the process.
For the reds, Bernier targets 15 mg/litre of free sulphur at bottling, and 30 mg/l total. This reduction adds definition to the wines’ details and to the sense of effortlessness, notable in the reds. The compactness of the mid-palate due to sulphur has been eased, especially when the wines are young.
I am sure that Alexandre Bernier has made other adjustments and will continue to do so. He certainly has ideas, and knows how to implement them.
The new style of Domaine de la Romanée-Conti
For the white DRC wines, the evolved style is delicate, transparent, and refined, delivered with effortlessness accompanied by an organic feel. The wines are crystal clear and brilliant, whereas the old style was much more oak influenced, and was slightly richer and creamier.
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