A single name and a unique experience all wrapped up in two words: La Tache. La Tache is a wine, but to call it “just” a wine is like calling a Bugatti “just” a car. It is a vineyard on the small escarpment of vineyards known as the Cote de Nuits of Burgundy, France. It lies in the even smaller village of Vosne-Romanee. It is one of the world’s greatest vineyards and vinous expressions. It is the elite of Grand Crus, and for one evening, I was fortunate to partake of its ethereal nature.
The vineyard of La Tache is owned entirely by the Domaine de la Romanee Conti. But lucky for the world and those fortunate enough to drink it, La Tache is in the hands of the most caring of stewards. Co-director Aubert de Villaine is practically royalty in the world of wine, and his reputation for seeing to it that only the finest wines are made under his direction is equal to that of La Tache itself. This is no small task when the wine commands prices far beyond those of almost any other Pinot Noir on earth. A mere 20,000 bottles are eked out to an ever-growing world of collectors and millionaires in an average year – each one spoken for before it arrives in the store. Yet La Tache proves itself to even the most demanding among cognoscenti.
This dinner was focused around three great vintages of La Tache. Gathered around La Tache were other heralded bottles: 1969 Krug Collection in magnum, 1996 Remoissenet Le Montrachet Grand Cru, 1966 Leroy Pommard Grands Epenots 1er Cru, 1980 Henri Jayer Echezeaux Grand Cru. But the king of the court was La Tache. The first of the trio was 1971. This wine was completely alluring and sexy. It has a vaulted aroma of Asian spices, sweet earth, dried black cherries, a touch of ginger and licorice. In the mouth the texture is supple and smooth with no hard edges. It is ample without being heavy with flavors of sweet berry notes to start, a profound earthiness and a touch of mocha and toast on a lingering finish. The flavors are intense and permeate my entire palate. It is a complete wine that is perhaps at its apogee. I cannot imagine how it can be any better. So complex, every time I went to smell it, I could detect something different. Next came the 1993 La Tache. Many writers have written off this vintage because of its severity. But because of that, the bottle was decanted almost an hour before serving. Just after decanting the wine, it smelled closed and dry. But after that first hour, it pleasantly came back alive! It had more of a dark fruit character with deeper notes of vanillin and sweet toast. The earthiness is still here, but with a light, almost chalky note. On the palate the wine is solid with plenty of ripe tannin and structure held together with secondary fruit flavors. It presents itself in a more masculine manner to the ’71. It does not share the grace and beauty of the ’71, but will no doubt have a longer life span. It may some day reach the same heights of the ’71 but perhaps on another peak.
The 2003 La Tache capped off the evening. 2003 was one of the hottest vintages on record and the wine showed much of this exuberance. The bouquet of this wine is nothing short of hedonistic, exploding with ripe, sweet, red fruit preserves, baking spices, vanillin and smoke. It is the thickest of the trio with an amazingly velvety, creamy texture that few Pinot Noirs can aspire to. It has tremendously sweet fruit and a wonderful breadth of flavor. The earth takes a back seat in this wine but is found on the dovetail finish. This is a wonderfully exotic wine with gobs of fruit that will age for decades to come.
La Tache translates to “the task.” If you have one task to drink before you pass on, make it a great vintage of La Tache. You will never forget it.