Expensive Wine: Is It Worth It?
One of the most legendary wineries in the world is Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, or DRC for short. That it's known through a TLA (three-letter abbreviation, yes I hate them too) shows just how iconic the winery is. They're the sole owner of La Romanée, one of Burgundy's most prestigious vineyards, and also make wines from other Grands Crus such as La Tâche, Richebourg, and Echézeaux. I had never tasted any of their wines before, which gives an idea of how hard they are to get hold of. They're only available on allocation or through auction to rich, passionate wine collectors, and the cheapest wine has an opening price of $600 a bottle. I've always wanted to taste some DRC in order to answer the simple question: is it worth it?
I went to a tasting showcasing a Sonoma winery, Raen. This winery is run by two brothers, Carlo and Dante, who just happen to be the grandsons of Robert Mondavi, the scion of Napa wine. Mondavi helped transform Napa wine (and fall out with his family at the same time) after visiting Bordeaux and Burgundy and being convinced of the importance of terroir - that the best wine must reflect where it comes from. In 2002, he took his family, including Carlo and Dante, back to Bordeaux and Burgundy, where the two of them fell in love with Pinot Noir after a day tasting Domaine Leflaive, DRC, and Domaine Dujac. I sometimes wish I had been born into that kind of family.
At the tasting, they generously poured a bottle of DRC and the perhaps less famous but equally prestigious Domaine Dujac. This wasn't just generous of them, but it was brave to pour two renowned Burgundy producers alongside their own wines. They poured one wine from their first vintage in 2013, as well as three wines from the more challenging dry, warm 2015 harvest. The Raen wines were of course very different from the Burgundy counterparts, riper, fuller, and softer - as they should be, because California has a warmer and more consistent climate than Burgundy. The severe frost currently ravaging much of France is never going to be an issue in California. These wines cost $60-80; expensive but par for the course for high-quality Sonoma Pinot Noir.
All of the wines had been made with a fair amount of whole cluster fermentation, a method of making wine which adds spice, body, and tannin. For this reason, there was a green stalkiness to some of the wines, and this was particularly evident in the DRC from the Echézeaux vineyard. The wine was quite tannic, almost aggressive, with a firm stucture and a fruitiness which certainly suggests the wine will age well for years to come. Was it worth $900? Of course not, but there are enough people, including the Mondavis, who are willing to pay that price.
As for the Domaine Dujac from Morey-St-Denis, that was simply one of the best wines I've tasted. Morey-St-Denis is my favourite village in the Côte de Nuits; less famous than its neighbours, it combines the power of Gevrey-Chambertin with the elegance of Chambolle-Musigny. This wine was wonderful: fine and lightly grainy tannins, rich fruits, spices, and a long, long finish which just wouldn't go away. The cost of this wine: around $100. This was a village wine and Dujac's Premier and Grand Cru wines go for much more. I can only imagine how good they must be, because I can't afford to buy them.
The co-owner of DRC, Aubert de Villaine, has been known to complain that the expense of his wines makes them unaffordable for all but the wealthiest collector. It might seem a strange complaint to make - why charge so much for them? - but the market sets the price of the wine much higher than he would like. And it is a shame because I would like to be able to drink these wines more often and share them with friends. I can't do that, but luckily there's plenty of wine out there just as good for a tenth of the price.