In speaking of Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, many writers exhaust their store of superlatives, pouring out prose more purple than the Pinot Noir from Burgundy’s most famous producer. This adulation can be attributed in part to the domaine’s substantial release prices but also to its romantic links with the past: Its 4.44-acre flagship vineyard was acquired in the early 13th century by the monks of the Abbey of Saint-Vivant, who called it Romanée; Louis-François de Bourbon, the prince of Conti (a great-grandson of Louis XIV of France), later appended his own moniker to the property’s name.
Yet despite these illustrious historical associations and the universal reverence of oenophiles, Aubert de Villaine, the present codirector of the domaine, is a remarkably self-effacing and practical man. Indeed, his demeanor is very much that of a resolute farmer tasked with wresting from the elements a great harvest. In 2010, however, this seemingly simple goal tested even de Villaine’s sangfroid. The vintage was plagued by rain and cold during flowering, excessive heat and humidity in June and July, and damp cold in August. “This was a vintage of struggles most of the year,” de Villaine says, “filled with moments of hope and despair and changing perspective.” Even as sun-drenched September days rescued the Pinot Noir in Vosne-Romanée from potential ruin, Burgundy’s notoriously unpredictable climate asserted itself to the south, in the Côte de Beaune, where heavy rains infected many of the Chardonnay grapes in Le Montrachet with botrytis.
In the end, however, hope prevailed. The red wines emerged triumphant from their tribulations; still, in our opinion, the unexpected victor in this battle against the elements was undoubtedly the domaine’s sole white wine. Domaine de la Romanée-Conti 2010 Montrachet Grand Cru ($2,000 to $3,000) is an atypical vintage from this vineyard, whose wines are usually buttery, dense, and powerfully structured. This Montrachet shifts most of its richness to the nose, revealing scents of honeycomb, lemon blossom, hazelnut, sesame seed, melon, pineapple, and lychee. Such olfactory opulence leads one to expect similar largesse on the palate, but instead the wine reveals a delicious delicacy, bathing the taste buds in the flavor of key lime and finishing on a note of wet-granite minerality that is as pure and focused as the winemaking philosophy of de Villaine himself.
Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, www.wilsondaniels.com