Domaine de la Romanée Conti: A Survey of the 2021s


What a difference a year makes. After the decidedly exuberant 2020s, the 2021s from Domaine de la Romanée Conti show another side of Burgundy, one marked by a highly challenging growing season that tested the mettle of growers. In many ways, difficult years make for the most interesting discussions because individual choices so deeply inform the wines. There was plenty to talk about as Co-Directors Bertrand de Villaine and Perrine Fenal showed the 2021s in this tasting organized by long-time US importer Wilson-Daniels.

Cutting to the Chase: The 2021s in Tasting

Last year I noted the color intensity and overall richness in the 2020s. The 2021s are much lighter and more translucent, as Burgundy used to be. But what most struck me about the 2021s was their balance, especially with regard to oak and whole clusters. In some recent vintages, the young wines have at times shown a touch of new oak, perhaps because higher alcohols extract more wood. That is not at all the case with the 2021s. In a similar vein, whole clusters are impeccably integrated, especially considering the more mid-weight style of the vintage. The Grands-Echézeaux and, to a lesser extent, the Richebourg are exceptions, as they come across as somewhat disjointed at this stage. I was deeply impressed with the Romanée St. Vivant. It is clearly the most expressive and complete wine among the reds, at least today. I would be thrilled to own it. The Montrachet is also superb.

Readers should note that the Vosne-Romanée Cuvée Duvault-Blochet 1er Cru, Corton Grand Cru and Corton-Charlemagne Grand Cru were bottled but not presented in this tasting, as yields were minuscule. I did have a chance to revisit two older vintages of Montrachet that were shown for perspective. Lastly, I have also included notes for a few additional wines from the domaine that have come my way in recent weeks.

The 2021 Growing Season

Mother Nature threw pretty much everything she had at growers in 2021, starting with a warm winter and a cold, wet spring. The defining event of the year took place between April 6 and 8, when severe frost descended upon Burgundy. Temperatures reached minus 8/9°C (16-18°F) in the hardest-hit sites. Frost is typically most severe in lower elevations. In 2021, however, air currents carried the coldest temperatures to mid and upper slopes, damaging spots that are generally considered safer. This is the same phenomenon that affected other regions in Europe, including Bordeaux and Piedmont.

“In the end, we protected the wrong areas of the vineyard," Bertrand de Villaine explained, referring to the domaine's decision to use candles in the lower portions of La Tâche while leaving the upper sections alone. “It was impossible to manage. Usually, the vines are quite strong, but when they are shocked this early in the season, there is always a connection with what happens later. In 2021, we had oidium and botrytis to deal with as well.”

“Veraison took place in mid-August, under clear skies and dry weather,” Perrine Fenal continued. “We began picking on September 23 and finished on October 2. It’s a vintage that questions our relationship with our vineyards and nature in general. We feel we have to ponder our possibilities and limitations, which are numerous, knowing and accepting that our place is within nature, giving and receiving but not taming it."

Harvest Dates

9/23-24 Grands-Echezéaux, La Tâche

9/25 Romanée-Conti, La Tâche

9/26 Corton

9/27 Corton, La Tâche, Romanée St. Vivant

9/28 Montrachet, Romanée St. Vivant

9/29 Romanée St. Vivant

9/30 Corton-Charlemagne, Echézeaux

10/1 Richebourg, Corton-Charlemagne, Echézeaux

10/2 Echézeaux

“Of course, yields are a difficult subject,” Fenal elaborated, “but we had no choice but to deal with it and turn the page. In the Côte de Beaune, yields were 13 hL/ha in Montrachet, 5 hL/ha for Corton Rouge and 4.8 hL/ha for Corton-Charlemagne. In the Côte de Nuits, average yields were 9-14 hL/ha for the most affected parcels and an average of 20 or so in the protected areas, which include Romanée-Conti and parts of Grands-Echézeaux."

“Naturally, we had to do a fair amount of sorting in the winery. We had grapes with thick skins, high solid-to-liquid ratios, and good phenolic intensity. The malolactic fermentations were long and smooth. The wines were bottled starting in mid-December 2022 with Romanée-Conti and Corton through to May 2023.”

It’s impossible to ignore the current state of the market, which is now correcting after several years of explosive growth. Economic prosperity as it exists today is relatively new to Burgundy, as it is throughout the wine world. Up until the early 1990s, the domaine sold wines to passersby who rang the doorbell. “We had these awful pink boxes. We put three bottles of Romanée St. Vivant in them, mostly,” Bertrand de Villaine explained. “This is something we learned from and that we never forget. Circumstances are different now, but they could go back to what they were.” 

That strikes me as unlikely, but this tasting certainly offered plenty to think about. The 2021s will be very interesting wines to follow.

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