2006 Domaine de la Romanee Conti La Tache Grand Cru

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Producer note: Co-director Aubert de Villaine described 2006 as "once again a vintage of the vignerons, meaning that to be successful you had to have done excellent vineyard work as you could not have had high quality fruit without it. It's worth noting that the weather was rather crazy in 2006 and ranging from awful to excellent. July was extremely hot and dry, indeed so much so that we began to see signs of the vines shutting down and therefore blocking the maturation process. By contrast, August was cool and rainy, which allowed the development of botrytis very early on. Fortunately, as has been the case in several vintages recently, September's arrival brought with it warm and clement weather that corrected the excesses of the prior two months with warm temperatures and with no rain save for heavy showers the 23rd and 24th. These perfect conditions allowed for the rapid increase of sugars and a clear acceleration of phenolic ripeness levels as well. Indeed, in the third week of September we saw an almost 2% increase of sugar levels alone! While it's almost hard to believe, we had ripeness levels that were as high what we obtained in 2005. But it wasn't perfect because the botrytis born out of the humid conditions of August were still with us even if the ideal September conditions had stopped its spread. The storm of the 23rd jump started it again though thankfully it was too late for it to really do any damage. It was possible to make exceptionally good wine in 2006 provided that yields were reasonable and clean, something that wasn't necessarily evident to do, again to emphasize, without excellent work in the vineyards to get this ripe fruit. We began picking under dry, clear and cool conditions as soon as the sugar indicated a potential alcohol level of 13%, which is to say on September 20th (see chart below). Overall yields came in around 28 hl/ha, which is what we realized in 2001. In contrast to 2005 where very little sorting was required as the berries were truly magnificent, 2006 required ultra-meticulous attention to detail so as to eliminate any botrytis-affected fruit. The fruit was sorted twice, once in the vineyard by our pickers and then again in the cuvérie by our vinification staff on a sorting table. The fermentations unfolded over 18 days without any problems. In terms of the wines themselves, at this early juncture I honestly don't know what other vintage 2006 resembles but I believe the wines will be wonderful examples of burgundy with supreme finesse and elegance, providing generous aromas and silky textures."

de Villaine indicated that the individual picking dates were as follows:

La Tâche - September 21, 22 and 23

Romanée-Conti - September 22

Richebourg - September 20 and 21

Grands Echézeaux - September 25

Echézeaux - September 25 and 27

Romanée St. Vivant - September 23 and 27

Montrachet - September 26

As the scores and comments suggest, the DRC '06s are indeed quite impressive as the natural elegance of the vintage and the traditional vinification approach melded to produce wonderfully aromatic and refined wines. Indeed, I would completely agree with de Villaine's characterization of the '06s as wines of finesse and elegance. He indicated that on average, 75% of the stems were used in 2006, which gives the wines real grip without pushing them into being more powerful than the mid-palate concentration can support. As to the brilliant 2005s, while it's extremely early to say very much, it's clear that they are going to be extremely long distance runners and have already begun to shut down hard. While I would never suggest to readers that they should not satisfy their curiosities, especially with wines of such rarified caliber, I do urge restraint as the '05s are tight, taciturn and already closing down. This clearly means that a lot of patience is going to be required and there is honestly no sense in committing infanticide as my in-bottle tasting confirmed that the DRC '05s are presently providing only glimpses of what they will one day be. In short, save your powder for another, later day. However, I will observe that they will be among the very greatest wines the Domaine has ever produced, which in this case is really saying something. One question that I have already been asked at least one thousand times is whether they are truly greater than the brilliant DRC '99s? While I emphasize that I respond to this question in all modesty as the DRC '99s are also among the greatest wines ever made at this fabled domaine, yes, I do believe that the '05s will ultimately surpass the '99s. However I take pains to point out that it is my view that they will do so differently as the '99s have a bit more mid-palate tenderness without the exceptionally firm '05 structure. I also wish to point out that while the DRC '99s clearly shut down after they were bottled, they did not shut down quite as firmly as the '05s already have. So, while most readers already understand well the need to cellar these wines, in the case of the '05s it's not only necessary but absolutely imperative.

In other developments, fans and followers of the domaine will be interested to know that the longtime chef de culture (vineyard manager) Gérard Marlot has taken his retirement and his replacement is the young Nicolas Jacob. By happenstance I had the chance to have lunch with Jacob and Aubert de Villaine's second in command, Jean-Charles Cuvelier at a local eatery. I found Jacob to be very bright, modest and serious and it would very much appear that the domaine's vines are in good hands. In a related vein, at the tasting de Villaine had explained that in his view Echézeaux and La Tâche are in perhaps the best condition that they have ever been in whereas Richebourg and Grands-Echézeaux are currently undergoing replantation to replace old vines that are becoming unduly fatigued, particularly in Grands-Echézeaux. Richebourg has the same issue but one nuance is that the replantation is replacing mostly clones that de Villaine said gave good fruit but not at the level the domaine was looking for and often the juice from these clones was sold off. Marlot confirmed that his present challenge was to effect this replantation in a way that could be relied on for the next 50 years, or even longer so he noted that he was well aware of the burden of expectations regarding the plant and rootstock choices that were being made today that would affect fruit quality for many decades to come.

Note that there is no Cuvée Duvault-Blochet in 2005 but plans for it are in place to release a 2006; see the cask review below. (Wilson-Daniels, St. Helena, CA; John Armit Wines, Berry Brothers & Rudd, Justerini & Brooks and Planet Wines, all UK).

Tasting note: While young La Tâche has the reputation of always being highly expressive aromatically, even explosive, there are some vintages where this tendency is more muted and 2006 is one of these. The positively gorgeous if presently reserved nose offers up the hallmark spice and floral components that are broad and deep though requiring some real glasswork to coax out but it's worth the effort as the nose here, restrained or not, is brilliant. The big and generous flavors are an exercise in contrasts as they are at once round and rich while remaining wonderfully defined and precise with more minerality coming to the fore than any of the prior wines displayed, all wrapped in a linear, precise and palate staining finish that not withstanding the initial aromatic reserve, is indeed explosive. This is already harmonious and the transparency and purity of expression are something to see. While I do not argue that the '06 La Tâche rivals vintages like '99 or '05, there is something special about this one that causes me to already be in love with it. In a word, magnificent and now that it is in bottle, my original description needs no modification except perhaps to observe that this is a Zen-like vintage for La Tâche as it is very calm and deliberate in demeanor. Tasted: Jan 01, 2009 Score: 96 Drink: 2026+

Issue 33







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