For most wine lovers, January was all about securing allocations of Burgundy 2016, which produced excellent but sadly frost-diminished volumes (about 50 per cent down) of generally thrilling wines. However, at the same time, Domaine de la Romanée-Conti started releasing its 2015s – a flashier, fleshier vintage, also resolutely five-star, especially from this most famous of Burgundy domaines. For the lucky few who can access these wines, they will be the most prized of gems in their cellar, from a vintage that rivals 1999 and 1966 for greatness, according to owner Aubert de Villaine.
Corton Grand Cru A blend of the hill’s three grand cru vineyards, this is a mighty start to what is one of the most keenly anticipated tastings of the new year. Looking back on my notes it reminds me a little of its first vintage – 2009, rich, plummy, voluptuous and supple fruits that start at the red end of the spectrum but turn dark as the wine opens. More than the 2009 though there is a tension and precision to the mid-palate with its fine-boned acidity, lithe tannins and burst of chalk dust on the finish. SCORE: 17.5
Echezeaux Grand Cru Almost pastille ripeness on the nose; a touch of linctus, plus hints of five spice and cedar, but you notice a drier, more serious palate than the Corton, which starts you on a different tack up the echelons of the Domaine de la Romanée range. Full of rich and spicy dark forest fruits, and a faint camomile note, but this has a directness and concentration if not yet charm that commands respect rather than tries to seduce, at least at this primary stage. SCORE: 17.5
Grands Echezeaux Grand Cru A sense of verve and freshness here, and the quality of the fruit was very fine, refined and supremely elegant, belying the heat of the vintage. More linear currently than the Echezeaux (and less forthright), this is terrific, sophisticated, perfumed juice, long across the mouth, with a vibrant, soaked-mineral finish. SCORE: 18
Romanée-Saint-Vivant Grand Cru The softness of a fine silken robe, succulent yet taut, as elegant as ever, this is reserved right now but with teasing notes of geisha house aromas; sandalwood oil, violets, fresh linen, backnotes of soy, plum sauce and tortoiseshell. Never a hair out of place – but there is clearly plenty more to come. The finish is lean and deft. I didn’t find it as expansive as other commentators. SCORE: 18
Richebourg Grand Cru As I’d imagined prior to tasting, the 2015 Richebourg takes no prisoners and holds nothing back, revelling arrogantly in the almost indecently opulent twining of both site and vintage. A very rich, almost brassy nose, with a first drive, copse-like autumnal whiff and the medicinal note of the Corton. The palate is full of cranberry and cassis, but drier than the nose suggests, and with a smoothness to the grip that shows there is sophistication alongside the swagger. Very difficult not to swoon a little, you could almost feel the Romanée-Saint-Vivant blushing next to it. SCORE: 18.5
La Tâche Grand Cru An unmistakeable nose, and what a nose: in 2015 almost an exaggeration of itself. Voluptuous is the right word, an olfactory mélange of spices, African, Indian and oriental, Turkish delight and posies of dried and fresh cut flowers. There is fruit in there as well of course. More decorous than the Richebourg (although this is bursting at the seams in 2015), more seductive than the Romanée-Saint-Vivant, this brings the charm right back. Yet the palate is taut and the progression of flavours stately, a touch of truffle here, a note of powdered chalk there, here a fresh cherry, there a touch of cedar, and the finish is full of fruit and purpose. SCORE: 19
Romanée-Conti Grand Cru As often, reeling from the dramatic charms of La Tâche, Romanée-Conti seems slightly aloof by comparison, its allure more ethereal than corporeal. Of its aroma, discussion around fruit and structural elements like acid and tannin is akin to concentrating on Kant’s shoe buckles or Einstein’s vests. After discerning particular earthy, cigar-box and tea-chest scents I remembered that notes for Romanée-Conti are more about how a sipful makes you feel than what it smells or tastes like. To which the response is: very happy, very lucky. Certainly the balance, energy and poise are all there and resolutely dominate the warmth of the vintage. De Villaine suggested, “I cannot recall a year where there were two points of such stress on the vines that were saved by light rains” and yet there is an effortlessness and unshakeable confidence to the wine, different from Richebourg’s brashness, that suggests that nothing the elements dare throw at it will prevent the wine’s inexorable ascent to greatness. “The wine is peaceful and serene in the bottle, it is not angry,” concludes de Villaine. Indeed, it seems as untouchable by vintage conditions as it is by the words to describe it. SCORE: 19
Tom Harrow is a fine-wine commentator, consultant and presenter. His Grand Crew Classé is the ultimate invitation-only club for fine-wine enthusiasts, with exclusive access to rare bottles and events around the world. Follow him on Twitter.