By Tomas Perchenet
A wine of world acclaim for centuries, a vineyard inscribed with the Unesco World Heritage List, Romanée-Conti is one of the monarchs of wine excellence and distinguished world culture. Roald Dahl once wrote passionately, “Sense for me this perfume! Breathe this bouquet! Taste it! Drink it! But never try to describe it! Impossible to give an account of such a delicacy with words! To drink Romanée-Conti is equivalent to experiencing an orgasm at once in the mouth and in the nose.”
The berries in this centuries old vineyard are amongst the most prized, their skins are tight and full of anthocyanins and ripe tannins, hand cared for in very small batches to tone the flavour into one of the most flavourful bouquet’s of violet mixed with a scent of cherry, and one of the most expensive wines in the world. Since 1985, the processes in the vineyard has also embodied and practiced, organic farming techniques.
The vineyard grew from many names in its history from 1,500 years of heritage, however began its journey with its current name from 1764, when the Prince of Conti proceeded to rename the vineyard to include his own name. The Prince of Conti’s ownership however was intended to reserve it for his own consumption rather than to be sold to the public. After the French Revolution, the state seized the estate from the last Prince of Conti, and in 1869, it was sold to Jacques-Marie Duvault-Blochet, the ancestor of the de Villaines (which includes Aubert de Villaine), forefather of one of two families who are the current owners of the Domaine de la Romanée-Conti today.
Romanée-Conti is renown for its Pinot Noirs, in which wine critic Clive Coates praised it as, “The purest, most aristocratic and most intense example of Pinot noir you could possibly imagine…” Each bottle drinks well for decades and collected by connoiseurs for its rarity and quality, especially the pre World War II bottles. Further adding to its treasure, from an unfortunate act of weather, two hailstorms reduced the 2012 vintage to about half of the normal production. As a result, quantities from this year are extremely limited.
Last April, 2015, Sotheby’s held its spring wine auction and nearly half the value of the US$5.2 million to US$7.2 million sale, originated from a single private collector in New York for wine by Domaine Romanée-Conti. A bottle of Grand Cru sold for US$14,000 to US$20,000, with a simular case sold for about US$476,000, or US$39,700 a bottle at a Christie’s Hong Kong in 2013. In the catalogue notes, Serena Sutcliffe, the head of Sotheby’s wine department, describes in particular, the 1978 vintage, one of the best of that decade, as having “incredible taste, rich, young and untamed,” and adds with a pointant impression: “This wine should be censored.”
Asian collectors are now amongst the most aggressive to buy up the most prized of Europes vintages. WIth China becoming the world’s largest importer of red wine in which Romanée-Conti has become a key brand to it’s wealthiest elites. Red being a colour that represents good luck, fortune and prosperity, important to a rising new consumption class, and white can mean death in Asian cultures. DRC has been Sotheby’s top-selling wine for the last two years, with a 24% jump in sales in 2014 to US$8.9 million. The biggest rise was a US$1.6 million sale of 114 bottles of Romanée-Conti, a “superlot” that set a record for a single lot sale last fall. Last year the top 10 highest prices for Sotheby’s wine sales last year were all sold in Hong Kong. In trade numbers, the Chinese consumed 155m nine-litre cases of red wine, in comparison to 150m cases in France and 141m cases in Italy. The demand for red wine in China has grown steadily since the 2000’s and today’s sales figures are even higher at more than 175% than figures for 2005. During this same period red wine sales has dropped by 18% in France and by 5.8% in Italy, indicating a new shift in the high end wine market, and a growing, new establishment of wine consumers, in an area where rice wine and scotches were traditional choices.