2003 Echezeaux, Domaine de la Romanee-Conti

Last week I did something very rare.  Rare indeed, even for those that work in the trade that I do.  Something I haven’t done in a decade.  Something most, including those that work in/with wine, will never do.  I drank a bottle of wine produced by the Domaine de la Romanee-Conti.  The victim/star/culprit was a bottle of 2003 Echezeaux.  A minter of a bottle, purchased from the UK agents in 2006, when it was merely very expensive, as opposed to ridiculously so (buy a bottle today and you’d be looking at £750 or so; £150 of which would be tax – another story entirely).

Preludes to this bottle:

2002 Pierre Peters, Les Chetillons.  Impossibly good Champagne that would no doubt be dismissed by 95% on account of it not having a name (though Peter Peters is quite a good one…).  Take off your labels and appreciate what is the best.

2005 Puligny-Montrachet, 1er cru, les Referts times two.  One from Jean-Philippe Fichet, one from Arnaud Ente.  Both growers better known for Meursault, both under the radar.  Fichet’s candidate the fuller of the two and the more developed.  A slightly oxidative character that many might view as a fault but I thought part of the package, and a good part too.  Ente’s wine was as tight as a drum and ready to pounce like a cobra.  Edgy.  Still coiled.  Very good.  Indeed, very good plus or very good plus indeed.

And served next to this bottle:

2003 Volnay 1er cru, Clos des Chenes, Michel Lafarge.  On another day (most likely one ten years or so from now), this would have maybe been the bottle of the day.  And didn’t taste like an 03 at all – it was fresh and, at seven or so years old it was still very “primary”.  Which in wine-speak means underdeveloped; too young; still showing its primary youth.  It tasted like it was a couple of years old (whereas most 2003 Burgundies will taste older than they are or, if not that, will taste slutty rather than prim).  This was like looking at Einstein in a nappy: clearly a lot of potential here – just needs to stop putting his feet in his mouth.

2003 Barolo, Cru Monprivato, Giuseppe Mascarello.

I’m going to get back to this one.

So: the Echezeaux, the DRC.  Just having the bottle open is a statement.  It says to my guests that they are special (and they are).  There are 4.67 hectares of this, approximately 1,300 cases per year, much less in the freak that was 2003.  And those that know – those that really know – know that 2003 DRCs are rather special.  Aubert de Villaine – the man that made them, or at least made them what they are – reckons that rather than the wines being freaks, the wines are genius.

2003 Echezeaux, Domaine de La Romanee-Conti is pretty much flawless.  Incredible juicy fruit.  A balance that is nowhere else in the vintage.  Nothing out of step, nothing at all.  What is most impressive is that the jammy fruit isn’t jammy; the intensity isn’t intense.  No lack of acidity at all, and no hotness.  The domaine is one of a handful that didn’t acidify its wines in 2003 though tastes fresher than anything else I’ve tasted from the same year (with the exception of Mr Lafarge’s infant Clos des Chenes).  This is a wine that is very hard to knock, and one that lives up to its reputation.  The label-drinkers are satisfied, and so are those that know what they’re doing.

But, it’s £750 a bottle, and not on account of its quality.  It’s £750 a bottle on account of speculators and label drinkers which, given that two of my guests were just that – speculators – I had a slightly dirty taste in my mouth: the price tag.  I couldn’t completely peel it off, if that makes sense.  It stuck.

If the theme of the day had been decadence things might have worked better.  We could have dripped the DRC over a naked lady and thrown a few fifty quid notes out of the window (I was thinking about doing the same with one of the speculators), then smoked pre-Castro cigars before diving off to some lap-bar somewhere.  This is the posh equivalent of tying one on.  But my theme of the day was wine, and the point of the Echezeaux was the wine itself, not the message, not the label, not the price tag.  The wine.  The juice.  The moment.

So wine three, or red three, comes into play and wins the day for me.

Monprivato is arguably one of Barolo’s best vineyards owned, in its entirety, by the Mascarellos, a family who have been making wine here for a couple of centuries plus.  And you can buy a bottle for £60.

To write a note on this wine is like herding cats: it is constantly changing in your glass.  Rotten vegetables butterfly into silky pearls then to rose petals then to herbs which blossom to flowers into cherries then ripening into syrup back to vegetables, etc, etc:  it’s non-stop.  It’s like a child growing up.  And it’s an experience in itself.  “What did you do on the weekend?” – “I drank a bottle of 2003 Monprivato”.  It’s like reading a novel with a changing plot.  And I have a feeling that each bottle is different in its own Tardis-like way.

On reflection, and technically speaking, the DRC was probably the best wine on the table.  But it didn’t please me.  Herewith the tenuous analogy:

Kiera Knightley comes to lunch with pretty girl next door.  Kiera costs a million quid and knows it.  Girl next door comes for the food and the fun.  Kiera sits, says nothing, looks beautiful, flicks hair a lot.  Girl next door tells jokes, turns out she knows your mate Dean, gives you a recipe for chorizo and agrees to meet you next week to see the film that no one else wants to go see with you.  She turns out to be rather good on the piano and she sings like an angel.  Her Granny lives in Sydenham and she can name the Crystal Palace team of 1989/90.  She doesn’t mind that the food is a bit poncey, laughs when her truffle fritter explodes, and gives you a lift home.

Kiera looks into the distance silently, striking the pose.  I’ve just proven that she’s not out of my league, but she’s probably fed up with being just a label.