Anthony Rose: 'Domaine de la Romanée-Conti has become the ultimate collector's wine'

 

It's no surprise that the tasting of the Domaine de la Romanée-Conti's latest release at Corney & Barrow's Tower of London offices took place in hushed tones. Yes, there's the reverence accorded to what the wine exchange Liv-ex calls 'the new darling of the fine wine trade', recently awarded number-one spot in its Top 10 global fine wine brands.

There's a sense, too, that in tough economic times, the astonishing prices commanded by the domaine are somewhat surreal. But the reverence is as much for the quiet authority of Aubert de Villaine, the man behind DRC.

A natural vigneron, de Villaine's scholarly demeanour is born out of a respect for the extraordinary power of nature. Becoming biodynamic was a reflection of that faith.

So much so that in talking about the 2010 vintage, he eschews easy positives in favour of the specific personality of the year. Dubbed 'great' by the media and the trade, 2010 was, for him, "difficult".

"It's not 2009, 2005 or 1999 with their solar expression but more Burgundian in that it shows the exoticism that exists in the vineyards." The twinkle in his mind's eye reflects on medieval times and the monks whose ascetic lives were occasionally featherbedded by exotic rewards.

De Villaine's charisma aside, that the DRC has become the ultimate collector's wine is the result of painstaking work, the exceptional terroir of Vosne-Romanée from which its six great pinot noirs spring and the limited quantities made. With an average of 7,310 cases of red wine, and just 430 of Romanée-Conti itself, the greatest of them all, DRC's red Burgundies are the ultimate limited editions that wine lovers and investors covet.

Compare that with last year's darling, Château Lafite's, 17,600 cases. Indeed, despite the DRC's face value of £37 million this year, Corney & Barrow's dutiful follow-up letter to disappointed applicants details precisely how many times the wines are oversubscribed.

De Villaine appears genuinely puzzled by all the attention. He claims only to sell to customers he hopes will drink the wine and Corney's Adam Brett Smith makes the point equally firmly. The reality is, however, that most of those lucky enough to own a bottle can't afford to drink it since it's become a luxury goods and investment vehicle.

Given that more than seven out of 10 bottles labelled Château Lafite in China are fake, it seems likely that DRC will suffer a similar fate, even though de Villaine has brought in a new guarantee of traceability for the 2010 vintage.

"When I started out, I never thought my business would be to fight fraud," says de Villaine. Now that he's learnt to live with Mother Nature, human nature is the next battleground.

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