FeaturesThe Collection

Domaine de la Romanée-Conti 2020: an ‘Ode to Joy’?

Adam Lechmere says to expect 'strikingly fresh and delicate' wines from a solar vintage, as he reports from a tasting of Domaine de la Romanée-Conti 2020

Words by Adam Lechmere

domaine de la romanee conti 2020 la tache bottle pouring
The Collection

The Domaine de la Romanée-Conti always releases its wines a year later than the rest of Burgundy so there was a peculiar interest in this week’s tasting of the 2020s. A couple of weeks ago we were tasting Burgundy 2021 en primeur – today we were in the big downstairs room at Corney & Barrow for a lineup of the Domaine’s 2020s – a radically different vintage.

Corney’s managing director Adam Brett-Smith loves to exercise his pen, and a year like 2020 gives him the opportunity to show his skills. The vintage, he writes in his notes, ‘is arguably the most beautiful of that fabulous trio, 2018, 2019 and 2020… even the birds appeared to sing more loudly and the flowers offered a profusion of colours that seemed startling. 2020 may almost be seen as an Ode to Joy.’

Well, indeed. Others are less profuse but equally complimentary about the 2020 Burgundy vintage. ‘Almost a dream’, one commentator said, among many other accolades. It was an exceptionally good growing season, with rain in winter and again in March, a hot and dry summer, few heat spikes, and one of the earliest harvests on record. The grapes were small, thick-skinned, sweet and intense.

Nicolas Jacob at domaine de la romanee conti vineyard
2020 saw an exceptionally good growing season (pictured: Nicolas Jacob, chef de culture at DRC)

The Domaine de la Romanée-Conti 2020 wines are strikingly fresh and delicate for what is known as a solar vintage. On the Richebourg (£3,480 for three bottles in bond) for example, I noted the delicate spice and perfume of the nose, and the fine-grained texture on the mid-palate. The extraordinary Romanée-Conti (£3,870 for one bottle in bond) has a burst of scented earth on the nose before a surprisingly shy palate.

‘After 2017, 18 and 19, it’s as if we’re going back to something fresh and elegant, still with maturity but fine, and delicate, and fresh,’ Bertrand de Villaine, co-director of the estate said.

de Villaine, nephew of Aubert de Villaine, now runs the Domaine with Perrine Fenal. He is a stocky figure where his uncle is lean, but he has much of the older man’s discretion. What does he think of the galloping price inflation in Burgundy, which Jasper Morris recently described as in danger of causing a ‘bad-will spiral’ with Burgundian producers blamed for high prices, much as has been seen in Bordeaux over the last decade?

It’s as if we’re going back to something fresh and elegant

The fact that people are willing to pay many times the release price for a wine would never dictate their pricing policy, he insists (the Romanée-Conti 2019, for example, now changes hands for around £25,000 a bottle, more than eight times the release price). ‘We pay a lot of attention not to do that,’ he says.

‘Wine is something to drink so it has to be affordable and it has to be accessible. If you have bottles that are stored and not opened, then we’re not doing our job.’

To that end, de Villaine describes the Vosne-Romanée 1er Cru Duvault-Blochet, a blend of La Tache and the young vines of Grands Échézeaux, as ‘a calling card’ for the Domaine. It’s made only in very good years (the 2019 was the first since 2011) and sold only to the on-trade. The price of the 2020 hasn’t been released but it’s ‘lower than the Grand Cru’, de Villaine says. ‘It’s a carte de visite – a way for some people to access [our wines]. If there are four people in a restaurant then it’s a good way for them to take a first step.’

richebourg domaine de la romanee conti 2020

It’s all relative, of course: Domaine de la Romanée-Conti remains the world’s most famous (and famously expensive) estate. But for those lucky enough to have an allocation – the wines are sold in maximum three-bottle cases – 2020 has the advantage of being more generous in terms of yields than many of its predecessors; yields were average this year. Its successor, 2021, will be a much more difficult propostion. ‘We produced around 50 percent of the average,’ de Villaine said.

This estate will always be the stuff of hyperbole – the tiny quantities even in a good year (the entire domaine produces no more than 8,000 cases), the enormous prices, the fabulous longevity. But 2020 does seem different. Even Brett-Smith, famous for his ornate prose, seems to have been reduced in the end to the simplest descriptors. ‘Whatever,’ he concludes. ‘It is an awesome vintage.’