It’s Raining La Tâche: Five Vintages of DRC La Tache (i.e., Wine Porn Par Excellence)


Last week in sunny Palo Alto, it was cloudy with a chance of rain. And rain it did, in the form of Domaine de la Romanée-Conti La Tache, with five vintages of impeccable provenance from a collector whose proclivity to sharing is unmatched. Let’s get to the report (cue 70’s porn music):

1990 La Tache: The nose was a heady mélange of ripe, sweet red fruit permeated with notes of mushrooms, truffles, and La Tache’s unmistakable perfume of Asian spices. The rich-but-not-heavy taste penetrated every pore and lingered forever on the kaleidoscopic finish; you don’t need wine expertise to sense how sexy and astonishingly intense this wine is. Having been fortunate to canoodle with the 1990 several times over the years, I found this to be its best, most expressive showing.

1996 La Tache: If the 1990 was a buxom Burgundy-born pin-up, then the 1996 was Tippi Hedren — elegance and mystery, with a smoldering sex appeal that shows itself only when it decides it is ready. After about a half hour in the glass, it opened up to reveal layers of red fruit, soy sauce, and mint joined by seductive, powdery tannins which coat the tongue like the finest velvet.

1999 La Tache: Although Burgundy specialists regard the 1999 as near “perfect”, this bottle was a bit more reserved than expected and its muscular tannins and tart acidity were a bit too insistent. But the makings are there for future greatness, with its foundation of ripe plum, spice, and that know-it-when-you-smell-it earthiness the French call sous bois (“under brush” or “forest floor”).

2001 La Tache: The great surprise of the night: undeniably gorgeous, with a perfume of rose petals and minerals, with every structural element — acidity, tannin, fruit concentration, and alcohol — in balletic equipoise. The 2001 demonstrates how a top winery can make a masterpiece even in a relatively disappointing vintage year.

2002 La Tache: Started with an odd, flowers-and-cedar scent and sharp acidity, a woody dissonance that suggested spoilage. It was even more disjointed after an hour. Oxidized bottle.

2005 La Tache: A rare specimen of beauty, its dense black fruit showing hints of exotic spice coupled with a pleasing whiff of earth and beef bouillon. Its finish lingers like long, high clouds across a summer sky. But it is still young and tightly wound, with noticeable tannins. All signs point to a legend in the making that will get more nuanced and silky in the years and decades to come.

1990_La Tache

Wine Collector Reflections: Twelve Different DRC’s, Courtesy of a Maker of Moments

Wine Collector Reflections: Twelve Different DRC’s, Courtesy of a Maker of Moments

If, as they say, time is a thief, then I know a wine collector who has the opposite effect: he makes moments.  He doesn’t collect wine to flaunt his connoisseurship or to create chest-thumping, my-bottle-is-bigger-than-yours displays.  His approach is quite the opposite.

wine collector
The unlikely intersection of exquisite taste and extraordinary generosity

This collector, of course, prizes wine and enjoys watching it evolve through the years.  I suspect that he also digs the intellectual complexity and maddening elusiveness that surrounds red Burgundy, his bottle-borne Emile Flöge.  But even more than this, he derives quiet pleasure — a delight that registers foremost in his eyes – from sharing his formidable collection with others, including those who can’t necessarily rattle off how many bottles are in a Nebuchadnezzar.

In this way, he fulfils the almost talismanic potential of wine to be both an accessory and a catalyst for life’s great gatherings.  When else do we find reason to get together as a happy tribe, experience new sensations, and, well, get a bit buzzed to boot?

This wine collector – this maker of moments — is all the more uncommon given that many wine enthusiasts (myself included) are guilty of not often enough stepping aside from our daily maelstroms to break out the good stuff.  Like dutiful investors, we buy and hold, waiting for just the right moment to justify opening our good bottles for loved ones.  We wait to seize a moment that often never happens.

So your mandate, fair reader, as is mine, is to use wine to become a maker of moments among your own tribes.  Doing so with special bottles heightens the occasion, but it need not involve great expense or effort, certainly nowhere near that which comprised the rarefied tasting described below.  It can be as simple as hosting a gather to introduce you friends to the pleasures of Petite Sirah or Chinon or American sparkling wine.

In Oldman’s Brave New World of Wine, astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, himself an accomplished maker of moments, emphasizes that wine is really just a means of “breaking bread” with others and reflect on a the time and region evoked by a particular bottle.  While relaxing with his bandmates in a scene from Rush’s award-winning documentary, Alex Lifeson, another wine-passionate “Braveheart” with whom I spoke, offers this playful insight: “It’s so great to drink wine.  It tastes fantastic.  And it makes you feel funny.”

Wine need not be any more complicated than that, although three weeks ago, the aforementioned wine collector organized a tasting that was a bit more serious, though no less spirited.  He brought together a group of eighteen friends, most of whom were not wine pros, to taste twelve different bottlings of Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, also known, in venerated tones, as “DRC”.  If red Burgundy is the wine type that arguably inspires the most ecclesiastical reverence among connoisseurs, then the vineyards of DRC are wine’s most sacred spot, its Swayambhunath Stupa.  Drawing from tiny vineyards in the Burgundian village of Vosne-Romanée, DRC is the source of almost impossibly nuanced and long-lived Pinot Noir, able to display a haunting complexity that transcends words and most mortals’ bank accounts.  For each of four vintages – 1990, 1999, 2000, and 2005 — we tasted bottlngs from three DRC grand cru vineyards, La Tâche, Richebourg, and Romanée-Saint-Vivant.

It should be noted that to actually own wines of this caliber, and also be willing to share it on the scale that the collector did, supplying more than enough for both a blind tasting and a sit-down dinner, is a level of largesse that would astonish even the most coddled wine collector.  It is the unlikely, moment-making intersection of exquisite taste and extraordinary generosity.

wine collecting

1990, 1999, 2000, & 2005 Domaine de la Romanée-Conti
appellations: La Tâche, Richebourg, Romanée-Saint-Vivant

All twelve wines were tasted blind, and the group was asked to rank the wines of each vintage from 1 (best) to 3 for which is best for current or near-term drinking.
La Tâche (3rd)
Richebourg (2nd)
Romanée-Saint-Vivant (1st)
La Tâche(tied for 1st)
Richebourg (2nd)
Romanée-Saint-Vivant (tied for 1st)
La Tâche (3rd)
Richebourg (2nd)
Romanée-Saint-Vivant (1st)
La Tâche (tied for 2nd)
Richebourg (tied for 2nd)
Romanée-Saint-Vivant (1st)
Best overall wine in the group’s blind tasting:
1999 DRC La Tâche