One of the most subliminal moments during our short trip to Burgundy was an introduction to the Domaine de la Romainée-Conti Montrachet 2001. This unique opportunity to taste one of probably the most expensive wines in the world, came about last summer, over a lamp lit dinner in the heart of the Cisterna Fuori in the company of Robert Camuto*, Kermit Lynch and his delightful wife who were visiting Sicily with Monsieur de Villaine. Having caught up with Robert at the Berlinale 2011 the previous week, we then joined him in Beaune, where Cristiano Garella, a passionate young winemaker from Piemonte and Alberto Graci, an equally passionate neighbouring winemaker on Etna, arrived to make up our motley crew.
There was an air of reverential silence as we cradled our glasses, having rinsed them carefully with a precious drop of the ethereal liquid, following the tasting of the Grands Echizeaux 2001 followed by Romanée St Vivant 1999. We had glanced at each other excitedly, like naughty school children playing at grown-ups, in the darkened cellar of the most highly revered estates of Burgundian wines, while the first (Grande Echizeaux 2001) was generously poured. Upon being asked if we were able to identify the vintage, I fidgeted nervously, whilst contemplating the contents of my glass, until a couple of courageous members of our group hazarded a guess, only to be admonished with a sympathetic smile by the kindly gentleman who was generous enough to share these masterpieces of winemaking with us. A fellow taster, whose familiarity with the wines was startlingly evident, was rewarded with a conspiratorial smile, as he triumphantly and quite accurately went on to not only name it, but also declare the vintage. I looked on in awe, yet with some alarm as he elegantly swirled, spat and nonchalantly cast what was remaining in his glass into the squat, wooden casks filled with wood shavings, strategically positioned in the four corners of the darkened cellar. Despite the fact that he had to drive to Paris after the tasting, it still seemed rather a waste of what would have amounted to a rather princely sum, although, I did admire him for his abstinence. He then quietly and confidently went on to reveal the vintage of the Romanée St Vivant 1999, a sheer divinity of blackberry, licorice, bitter chocolate and minerals, showing superb acidity, but horror of horrors, being rather distracted whilst complimenting this young man on his skill at the task in hand, I committed the cardinal sin of tossing the remains of my St. Vivant into the wood shavings, in order to prepare my glass for the Montrachet!
Our visit was drawn to a close by an exciting tour of the winery, which included a glimpse of a narrow cellar, housing older vintages such as a 1931 La Tache and three 1956 Grands Echizeaux. With the taste of the celestial Montrachet 2001 still in our mouths, we took our leave, the fruit aromas combining with hints of ripe exotic fruit and dense layers of flavours, a minerality combined with an energetic acidity and such an incredibly long finish, that were I to have closed my eyes, I may have even thought it a red.
*Robert Camuto ‘Palmento: A Sicilian Wine Odyssey’ http://robertcamuto.net/