THE TIME TO take tarts is when they are passing," folk wisdom says, "for (the tray) may not come again." And with the releases of 1986 Domaine de la Romanee-Conti wines, now is the time to take. Providing, of course, that one can spend between $89 and $300 per bottle.
The '85 vintage was spectacular. The big question among wine lovers was whether the '86 wines would be just as good.
In June, 1988, I had tasted the 1986 La Tache in the cellars with Aubert de Villaine, co-owner of Domaine de la Romanee-Conti. I found it awesome in its young perfection. The pleased, always restrained De Villaine said that he believed the '86 wines to be some of the best the Domaine has made.
Then, this past February, I and 145 Southern California restaurateurs, hoteliers and wine merchants took part in a "pre-arrival" tasting of the '86 wines.
Anticipation and nervous excitement were tangible at the tasting. Tasters had to decide rather quickly which and how much of the wines they wanted to order, because quantities are always limited. The Domaine has only 49.7 acres on which its wines are produced, and only 8,600 cases of the 1986 vintage were made.
The '86s are surprisingly good, dispelling gossip in the trade that bad weather had taken a toll. Vineyards of the Domaine are always among the last to be picked in Burgundy, and De Villaine daringly delayed harvest until the grapes were consummately ripe. De Villaine had gambled that the rain that fell in September would cease in October. October brought beautiful weather; the gamble paid off.
"Nothing is more difficult than simplicity," De Villaine said last year. That simplicity accounts for the jewel-translucency of these Pinot Noir wines, which have subtlety that approaches fragility. Their aromas and bouquets of exotic complexity range from black currants, violets and faded roses to tar and orange peel--ever-changing in the glass. Each becomes a memory-index standard of excellence.
The Domaine de la Romanee-Conti Burgundies may be expensive, but they are perfect for toasting a special occasion. Here are my notes:
1986 Echezeaux ($89). Surprisingly brick-edged ruby in color with scents suggesting a smoky Lapsang souchong tea, this wine has a tongue-wrapping richness and depth; 17 points out of a possible 20.
1986 Grands Echezeaux ($149). This classical Pinot Noir wine has some berriness and a long aftertaste that is awesomely impressive; 17/20.
1986 Romanee-St. Vivant ($155). Although the bouquet suggests that this wine is a closed bud, this is a full-bodied wine with elegance and rare finesse; 17/20.
1986 Richebourg ($185). Very full, rich, almost languid in its lingering complexity. A superb wine; 18/20.
1986 La Tache ($199). Already wholly gentle, its Pinot Noir breed evident, this wine is well balanced. It has wonderful fruit flavors, easily capturing affection for its nobility; 18/20.
1986 Romanee-Conti ($290). Notably superior from the rest of the wines, this one defies description, combining all the pleasures of red wine in one glass of ever-changing delight; 19+/20.
(Suggested retail prices subject to variation.)