Is it worth it?

Bonhams Magazine

Issue 51, Summer 2017

Page 19

Domaine Romanée-Conti is the world's most expensive wine.Henry Douglas says pay whatever it costs...

The most expensive example of something is not necessarily the best. But this is the case with Burgundy's Romanée-Conti. Made in tiny amounts of rarely more than 500 cases, most bottles hover in price between £12,500 to £15,000 each, which makes it the most expensive wine produced. Romanée-Conti is one of only eight wines produced by the Domaine, which range from La Tâche, Richebourg, Romanée-Saint-Vivant, Corton, Grands Échezeaux and Échezeaux to the even more recherché Le Montrachet.

All of these wines are allocated in limited amounts to serious collectors, which is why it is rare to see a full case for sale. A high proportion ends up on the wine lists of the world's great restaurants, where it is invariably drunk far too young. Wines of this calibre do not usually show their full potential until they are at least 20 or 30 years old, so it is shocking to think that most are drunk before they are even teenagers. I have only witnessed Romanée-Conti being drunk in a restaurant once – by a gentleman surrounded by attentive young women at the Chèvre d'Or on the Riviera. It was the 2000 vintage, but although relatively forward, the bottle hardly had a chance to breathe before being consumed. At the end of dinner there was a dispute about the price of the wine, which was €15,000. The diner thought it was €5,000 – the cost of Échezeaux 2000 immediately above it. It didn't seem to be a problem though: he thumbed out the full amount in €500 bills. Clearly the experience had been worth it.

How does one describe the experience? The most profound DRC bottles I have drunk were La Tâche and Richebourg 1942. It came about because of a mistake. A major collector sold them off – for a song – assuming that because they were older than some DRC he had drunk from a poor vintage, these would be past their prime as well. The power and purity of the fruit were instantly noticeable – even more astonishing considering they were made during the Second World War. The most impressive was the Richebourg, which left a lingering smell of ripe plums in the glass that lasted for hours.

When I visited the Domaine nearly a decade ago, co-director and winemaker Aubert de Villaine gave us a tasting of the latest vintage, then carefully returned every remaining drop back into their barrels. The unassuming de Villaine, now in his seventies, has been producing the wines since 1972. Adam Brett-Smith of Corney & Barrow, the UK agents for the Domaine's wines, sees the master's touch in every single detail of the wines' production. "Aubert has introduced tiny incremental changes over a sustained period of time. Take his introduction of organic and biodynamic principles – this wasn't a knee-jerk reaction – it was something he has been experimenting with for years."

Aubert doesn't take credit for the end production – he fervently believes that it is the terroir, or dirt, in the vineyard that is responsible for the wine's greatness. As he says, "Never forget that if the winemaker makes the wine, it is the soil that makes a Romanée-Conti. Therefore the cultivation and the winemaking must be in total obedience to the great terroir."

Richard Harvey, director of wine at Bonhams, sold a case of the 1988 vintage Romanée-Conti this year for £141,000. "What is extraordinary is that a case of the same wine sold for £42,450 in 2010. That was then the same price as a case of Pétrus 1982, which is now £50,000 a case. In 2011, DRC rose to £74,750 and by 2015 it was valued at £105,750. Obviously, the tiny production has something to do with it: Romanée-Conti makes 500 cases annually, while Lafite and the other First Growth Bordeaux produce around 20,000. The other fact is that Domaine de la Romanée-Conti is the only Burgundy that can be considered as a brand. Of course, it doesn't hurt that the Chinese adore it too."

Sale: Fine & Rare Wines
Thursday 13 July at 10.30am
Enquiries: Richard Harvey MW
+44 (0) 20 7468 5811

  1. Richard Harvey M.W.
    101 New Bond Street
    London, United Kingdom W1S 1SR
    Work +44 20 7468 5811
    FaxFax: +44 20 7468 5821

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