Examining the 2021 Domaine de la Romanée-Conti: A Blend of Scarcity, Moderation, and Beauty

By | 15 March 2024

The Domaine’s small but perfectly formed latest releases.

By Michael Schuster

Low in production and discreet in proportion, Domaine de la Romanée-Conti’s latest releases are classic, fine, and very beautiful, says Michael Schuster.

Paucity—of quantity, of course, not of quality. For although this is clearly a lighter vintage, it is, for all its cool restraint and more modest proportions, a lovely one, which will make for especially beautiful mature bottles.

Notably, due to severe overnight frosts from April 6–8, the 2021 vintage produced one of the smallest yields in the past half-century. Just like in 2008, the total yield amounted to only half a typical harvest, especially in the Côte de Beaune. Here, red Corton and white Corton-Charlemagne produced a mere 5hl/ha, while Le Montrachet just 7hl/ha. This translates to a loss of 80 percent in Corton and 90 percent in Corton-Charlemagne and Le Montrachet. More specifics and background information can be found at the start of every wine note.

The Domaine, known for its usually lower yields, has seen a significant fluctuation in annual production over the past twenty years like all other Burgundy estates. This inconsistency is largely due to the extreme weather patterns resulting from climate change. From 2008 onwards, substantial yields were seen in 2017, 2014, and 2009; a healthy average in 2020, 2018, 2016, excluding the critically frosted Échézeaux and Grands Échézeaux; and a range of pitiable yields in 2019, 2015, 2012, 2010. Both 2021 and 2008 were particularly disappointing, each producing barely half a crop. (The figures for 2013 are not included as I didn’t taste that year.) On a positive note, the yield for 2022 and 2023 appears promising.


The similarity in total yield, coupled with their cooler growing seasons, make 2021 and 2008 interesting to compare in terms of style, quality, and aging prospects. I had the opportunity to share a bottle of 2008 DRC with friends just a week before attending a Corney & Barrow tasting. My experiences are shared in my recount.

The winter of 2020/21 was relatively mild. A cold February led to early budbreak towards the end of March. Unfortunately, this left the vines particularly susceptible to severe frosts that occurred on April 6, 7 and 8. The situation was compounded by heavy snowfall on the 7th, which led to disastrous damages. The subsequent growing season was characterized by diseases such as mildew, oidium and botrytis. The weather remained largely cool in April and May, however, a brief heatwave in mid-June facilitated successful flowering. Although July and the first half of August were cool and wet, the conditions improved towards the end of August, allowing the sparse harvest to ripen adequately. Nonetheless, irregularities and disease during the growing season necessitated a rigorous selection of harvested grapes.

The crop was moderate in size for the year, but it was fully ripe. The fruit did not bear the lush, overly ripe features common in most years since 2015. These wines remind me of the less abundant vintages of the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s. The grapes had thin skins and higher fluid to solids ratio, which resulted in wines pale in color. The flavor profile leans towards ripe red fruit, and the initial aromas are cool with herbal undertones from 100 percent whole-bunch fermentation. Despite their lack of power and richness, these wines impress with their finesse, delicacy, and invigorating sweetness. The thin-skinned grapes and restrained extraction contribute to their subtle tannin profile. Although these wines might appear to lack power, they make up for it in the intensity of their savoury scent. These wines exhibit a beautiful fruity fragrance that lingers in the throat, a distinctive feature of this year’s style. Many of these wines share characteristics with those from 2008.

Last year, I pointed out that Corney & Barrow, the UK’s DRC agents, always advocate for earlier drinking dates than I do. It is true that the wines, thanks to their craftsmanship, can be enjoyed early. However, from my experience, waiting a few more years can exponentially increase the pleasure of drinking these wines, especially in terms of bouquet. The 2008 Grands Échézeaux that I discuss below perfectly illustrates my point. Being 16 years old, it offers an enjoyment that it couldn’t have offered at ten or 12 years old. It just proves that the ability to age and improve with time is one of the defining aspects of fine wines. Hence, the saying “Gratification delayed, gratification at least doubled?” My suggested drinking dates are merely when these wines become accessible. If you can afford to wait, please do so.

Corney & Barrow, London; February 7, 2024

Domaine de la Romanée-Conti 2021 Vosne-Romanée Premier Cru Cuvée Duvault-Blochet (149 dozen; 13.5% ABV)

A pale-rimmed mid-red. The aroma presents a balance of light, faintly peppery hints, owing to the “cooler” vintage and whole-bunch herbal combination, with raw red-cherry fruit. It unfolds a cool richness that is pleasant and notably persistent in the glass. Medium-full, fresh to vital in acidity, highlighting its very light, fine tannin; long, pure, and transparent. With its graceful character and very notable tenacity of flavor, it adopts the year’s more delicate, restrained, and less absolutely ripe vein. It finishes with a faintly spicy, persistent and palate-coating note. A cool and reserved style that brings a slightly edgy mood but this is quite good. Currently, it gives a more immediate fruit presence than the Corton. Sadly, the supply is practically non-existent. It’s drinkable at an early stage, but there is no need to rush. Recommended timing: 2028–38+. | 92

Domaine de la Romanée-Conti 2021 Corton Grand Cru (5hl/ha [25hl/ha in 2020]; 105 dozen [454 in 2020]; average 2010–17: 413; highest since 2009: 707 in 2009; 13% ABV)

Mid-red with pale rim. The aroma is light, cool, herbal, and slightly smoky. It’s lighter than the Duvault-Blochet; medium-full, subtly fleshy in tannin and brisk in acidity. A whisker of fruit core supported by gentle juiciness beholds behind the slight youth-full austerity. The wine is more crisply defined than the Premier Cru Cuvée and has a fragrant persistence on the finish. Desirable attributes such as class, finesse, and breed are all represented in a somewhat attenuated manner. It’s predicted to age with great charm and be highly accessible really very early. Availability is scarce. Drink between 2029–40+. | 93

Domaine de la Romanée-Conti 2021 Échézeaux (14hl/ha [28hl/ha in 2020]; limited availability of 636 dozen [1,280 in 2020]; average 2010–17: 1,195; highest since 2009: 1,549 in 2009; 13.5% ABV)

Maintainspaleness in mid-red. The cool, red-fruit, herbal character on the nose is similar to that of the Premier Cru Cuvée and the Corton, but with an additional touch of fruit core and density. A medium-full wine, fresh with finely tannic features. The nose detects an increase in flesh core and fruit sweetness on the palate, which is a near succulence in the context of this cooler vintage. With its sweetness, gentle sapidity, long, racy, attention-holding nature, fine flavor length, and finish, it’s like a light, beautiful ballerina. This will make a pleasant, cooler, classic-year mature bottle. Slightly more to offer than the Corton. Also quickly accessible, but a long-term subtle pleasure. Best after 2030–40+. | 93+

Domaine de la Romanée-Conti 2021 Grands Échézeaux (21.5hl/ha [33.5hl/ha in 2020]; producing 742 dozen [960 in 2020]; average between 2010–17: 991; highest after 2009: 1,290 in 2017; 13.5% ABV)

Pale-rimmed mid-red, exhibiting a milder form of the cool/peppery/herbal narrative, more softly spoken. Medium-full, brisk, really delicate in tannin; there’s an immediate sweetness to the taste, a surprising, enchanting heart of fruit, light but evident, a sort of shift in concentration and substance, and a hint of black-fruit ripeness too. Long and savory, not exactly bountiful, but well-defined and unique, a clinging mezzoforte sharpness, a subtly encompassing nature, and the sweet, cool aroma of the year, with beautiful, throating-coating, fruit-fragrant length. A particularly delightful, light, understated Grands Échézeaux. 2031–41+. | 94


A notable and—in my view—enlightening comparison is to be drawn here, offered by trombonist (long-standing section head of the London Symphony Orchestra, then the Royal Opera House), composer, and conductor Eric Crees, and as a wonderful synchronicity, considering the imminent tasting of the 2021s. Five wine enthusiasts gathered for a lunch at Lorne restaurant in Pimlico, London, in late January, barely a week before the Corney & Barrow tasting, each bringing along a special bottle. Eric’s was the 2008 DRC Grands Échézeaux, initially served without revealing its identity, but unmistakable from the first sniff. Tasting the 2008 merely a few days earlier was purely fortuitous, and sampling the 2021s at Corney’s instantly reminded me of Eric’s bottle and of 2008 in general, regarding both, the overall style and, coincidentally, stingy yields. The 2008s were perhaps a tad more sweet-cored, but the resemblance is remarkable. Here are my original notes from February 2011 and the recent ones from January 2024.

Domaine de la Romanée-Conti 2008 Grands Échézeaux Corney & Barrow, London; February 8, 2011

Pale ruby-red. Finely scented, very gently herbal nose, glass-filling and persistent, with a touch of cooler year pepper. Beautifully balanced, supple, filmy middleweight, with an already silky textured tannin; a seductive combination of sweetness and vitality, a long, gentle, graceful, and effortless wine; delicate and understated, and yet with plenty of searching tenacity of flavor and lightly mouth-filling scent. Clear low-yield ripeness and concentration, and fine, sweetly fragrant length. Noticeably tighter than the Echézeaux, so it will need a bit more time. 2020–30+. | 93

Domaine de la Romanée-Conti 2008 Grands Échézeaux Lornerestaurant, London; January 30, 2024 

Mature ruby. A fully developed bouquet of ripe cherry, leather, undergrowth, a touch of the farmyard, and a gentle herbal character, wonderfully alluring, complex, and persistent. Sweet, fresh, supple-textured, gently juicy, long and fine and fragrant. So good. Vital, racy, hugely persistent, sweet, pure transparent. Quite wonderful at 16 years of age, but no hurry either. 2024–34+. | 94


It’s plausible to presume that the path of aging for 2021 would follow a similar track. What should be underlined here is that a more “subdued” approach does not necessarily equate to an emotionless performance. Often, it delivers an equally gratifying experience, albeit at a softer volume — think Mozart as opposed to Schumann, or the intimate setting of a chamber music performance instead of a full orchestra. It delivers the same emotional punch, but in a gentler manner. For lack of a better analogy, more of a tender stroke than a passionate embrace. It’s also worth noting that my 2021 assessments (an ever-loathed obligation) do not connote stinginess. They simply indicate a difference from the metrics of, say, 2020 or 2019. The inherent flaws, deficiency, and inadequacy of figures…

Domaine de la Romanée-Conti 2021 Romanée-St-Vivant Grand Cru (14.5hl/ha [32hl/ha in 2020]; 755 dozen [1,718 in 2020]; average 2010–17: 1,250; highest since 2009: 1,756 in 2014; 13.5% ABV)

This one stands out as notably darker in the series. It boasts a dense yet restrained profile, with dominant cool-herbal characteristics that linger. Upon tasting, its richness for this vintage is evident: fairly concentrated, refreshing, with finely calibrated tannins. This selection delivers more “substance” and more fruit-forward notes. Lingering flavors of subtly ripe black fruits give it an affable, all-embracing persona, highlighted with a distinct succulence and a hint of inviting warmth, despite the generally “cool” demeanor of the year. With a fruit-laden palate, and a spicily aromatic finish, it creates a standout impression with its marked structure and vibrance for 2021. The ideal approach would be to allow it a bit more time to relax, to soften. 2033–43+ | 94

Domaine de la Romanée-Conti 2021 Richebourg Grand Cru (11.5hl/ha [32hl/ha in 2020]; 355 dozen [992 in 2020]; average 2010–17: 848; highest since 2009: 1,311 in 2009; 13.5% ABV)

Deepish, pale-rimmed mid-red wine has a rich aroma with a gentle herbal impression. It’s moderately concentrated with a slightly firm structure, fresh to vivid acidity, and a firm tannin definition. The wine has an almost juicy, freshly sweet fruit core, its coolness from 2021 is well hidden. The wine is not overwhelming in size, but it has a gentle firm completeness. It gets your attention with its spicy persistence. It has a stylish, crisply shaped structure. Though a bit stiff at first, it will eventually relax, and this will become a particularly outstanding Richebourg, its subtle power and complexity will be better displayed and defined than before. For me, it’s a star in this vintage. 2033–45+. | 95

Domaine de la Romanée-Conti 2021 La Tâche Grand Cru has a deep pale-rimmed red color. Its scent is different- richer, denser. It’s cool, yes, but it lingers, it fills the entire glass, and the fruit core is suggestive. This rich medium-weight wine is freshly defined and very fine in tannin. It has a noticeable breadth for 2021; it’s cool, elegant, and poised. This wine adds to La Tâche’s supreme class with a clear, additional fruit sweep for the year. It’s complicated, vital, racy. It might not have the seductive fleshy width and immediacy it often does, but the potential is there: finesse, composure, class, mature red fruit vitality, a notable aromatic expanse, and immense length. This wine has medium to long-term promise. 2032–45. | 95+

Domaine de la Romanée-Conti 2021 Romanée-Conti Grand Cru

The lightest wine in the selection often leaves a lasting impression with its subtle yet captivating aroma, its cool, herbal complex, and its characteristic abundance. The freshness, precision of tannins, and the restrained constitution of the wine are all a testament to its poise, grace, and transparency. The fragrance creates a lingering memory, underscored by the precise sweetness of the fruit. The combination of resplendent aroma and a quiet yet robust inner energy is truly extraordinary, drawing a comparison to the explicit emphasis on quality of sound over volume in music. It is hard to miss the intoxicating subtlety of this wine, which, much like the similarly constructed 1980 Romanée-Conti, has matured seductively over 40 years. It suggests that this wine too will age with similar finesse. 2035–60+. | 97

Domaine de la Romanée-Conti 2021 Corton-Charlemagne Grand Cru (Produced at 5hl/ha [down from 49hl/ha in 2020]; 165 dozen [down from 1,530 in 2020]; with 14% ABV)

The 2021 Corton-Charlemagne Grand Cru shows off a pale gold hue, with a fine aroma persistent of peach and tangerine. This is a moderately concentrated wine, fresh and well defined, offering richness and gentleness, with a quality constitution. It may lack the drama and grandeur of the previous two, initial DRC vintages, but it is a restrained, graceful rendition of the climat. Operating at a mezzopiano dynamic, it nonetheless retains its grand cru class, length, and completeness. Its beauty, grace and acceptance are far more important than its grandeur. 2027–37+. | 94+

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