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Domaine de la Romanee Conti vs the World Blind Tasting Results

Part of the ‘Unrivalled Passion for Pinot Noir and Chardonnay’ program, on Friday, April 8th, 108 wine connoisseurs and enthusiasts congregated at the St Regis Hotel, Singapore, for a two hour tasting of Domaine de la Romanee Conti served alongside wines from four other wineries encompassing America, Australia, Austria and New Zealand.

There was much conjecture and to a degree, misinterpretation, of the objectives of this tasting but in reality, it was always going to be controversial. However, to our knowledge this is the first ever structured comparative consumer-driven tasting of this genre to be held in Asia, and perhaps the world. We would like emphasise this is a consumer preference outcome, ultimately the most strategic arbiter on wine.

Above all, it was a celebration of pinot noir – and our main objectives:
We want to have fun! We want to discover! Moreover, our all-encompassing theme “An Unrivalled Passion for Pinot Noir and Chardonnay” sufficiently described what the objectives were.

How we achieved the result:
There were 12 tables seating 9 participants made up of 8 consumers and one wine professional. The wine professionals were a mix of wine writers and winemakers including internationally acclaimed commentators, Andrew Jefford (UK), James Halliday (AUS), Allen Meadows (USA), and Singapore based, Lisa Perrotti-Brown MW, Suzanne Brocklehurst and Ying Hsien Tan.

NB: Allen Meadows did not participate in ranking the wines and none of the professionals were involved in any way with the organising or execution of this tasting.

Our esteemed guest vignerons, all veteran pinot noir practitioners, were, Sam Neill – Two Paddocks, Central Otago, New Zealand; Josh Jensen – Calera Wine Co., California, USA; Veronique Boss-Drouhin – Maison Joseph Drouhin, Burgundy, France and Domaine Drouhin, Oregon, USA; and Francois Labet – Chateau de La Tour, Burgundy, France.

We briefed the professionals to impart their pinot noir wisdom on the participating consumers along with the aspects of wine ratings and the technique of scoring. Whilst it is clearly unfeasible to become a wine scoring expert in a couple of hours, most of the participants were in fact already familiar with wine scoring, if not accomplished palates.

There were 3 brackets of 5 world-benchmark pinot noirs (15 in total) served half-blind – that is we know the variety is pinot noir and one DRC wine was amongst each bracket.

Each taster assessed the wines individually, by bracket, utilizing the 100 point scoring system with their scores converted to a ranking from 1 to 5, to arrive at a preferred wine in each bracket. We then took the aggregate of the rankings for all 15 wines, with a total of 88 legitimate preference score sheets collected (an auspicious number indeed) to arrive at the most preferred wine, and most preferred winery.

The scoring mechanism, procedures and results were strictly monitored and audited by a senior accountant from Ernst and Young. No individual scores will be published, this being a consensus derived outcome purely based on preference and how the wines showed on the day.

It is perhaps human nature this exercise could be perceived as ganging up on DRC, however if someone can tell me the name of a Burgundy producer that is universally and unquestionably accepted as the benchmark of the Burgundy region and pinot noir – period – other than DRC, I would be glad to hear it. Perhaps the DRC wines might be prejudiced by their relative youth, generally needing 10 to 15 years to be at their best, but a closer look soon revealed their class and complexity.

The wineries chosen for the tasting were:
• Felton Road – Central Otago, South Island, New Zealand
• Bass Phillip – Leongatha South, Victoria, Australia
• Domaine Serene – Oregon, United States of America
• Markowitsch – Carnuntum, Austria
• Domaine de la Romanee Conti – Burgundy, France

Preferred Wines by Bracket ranked 1 to 5 (1 being the most preferred)

Bracket 1:
• Felton Road Block 3 2007 – NZ
• DRC La Tache Grand Cru 2007 – FRA
• Domaine Serene Monogram 2006 – USA
• Markowitsch Reserve 2007 – AUT
• Bass Phillip Premium 2009 – AUS

Bracket 2:
• Markowitsch Reserve 2006 – AUT
• DRC Romanée-St-Vivant 2006 – FRA
• Domaine Serene Monogram 2005 – USA
• Felton Block 3 2006 – NZ
• Bass Phillip Premium 2006 – AUS

Bracket 3:
• Bass Phillip Reserve 2003 – AUS
• Felton Road Block 3 2004 – NZ
• Markowitsch Reserve 2004 – AUT
• DRC Echezeaux Grand Cru 2002 – FRA
• Domaine Serene Monogram 2002 – USA

Overall most preferred wine: (aggregate of all the wines, obviously older vintages having the advantage)
• Bass Philipp Reserve 2003 – AUS
• Markowitsch Reserve 2006 – AUT
• Felton Road Block 3 2004 – NZ
• DRC Echezeaux Grand Cru 2002 – FRA
• Markowitsch Reserve 2004 – AUT

Most preferred winery (aggregate of all three brackets):
• Markowitsch – AUT
• Felton Road – NZ
• Domaine Serene – USA
• Bass Philipp – AUS

Chairman of the tasting, Curtis Marsh, analysis and comments of the results:

Did we arrive at a clear preference? I would suggest there were three definitive outcomes. Statistically, there were three overall preferences with Markowitsch, Austria, Felton Road, New Zealand, and Bass Phillip, Australia, impressing our tasters most.

Looking at the overall preferences and the most preferred winery by aggregate, Markowitsch Reserve Pinot Noir from Austria clearly showed well. This is not the first time that Austrian reds wines, and specifically pinot noir, have astounded palates in blind tastings. Such consensus of opinion and preference in this tasting unquestionably demonstrates that without the prejudice of seeing the label or country of origin, the consumer patently indentified with the quality and attributes of the Markowitsch wines.

It should at least engender much interest in this winery (Markowitsch) and stir the curiosity of pinot noir lovers around the world to explore Austrian wines more. To quote Suzanne Brocklehurst, one of our participating professional wine writers, ““The highlight of Bracket 2 was definitely wine #3 which was the Markowitsch Reserve 2006. I loved the elegance of this wine with its attractive gentle herbal notes and supple palate.”

Incidentally, in my annual lunar year retrospective review released at Chinese New Year, I declared Markowitsch Pinot Noir Reserve 2004 “Best Red Discovery of the Year”, having been most impressed by this wine in an extensive blind tasting line-up of top pinot noir producers from all over the world, including some serious names from Burgundy; ostensibly the reason I selected Markowitsch for our tasting.

As for the most preferred wine, Bass Phillip Reserve 2003, I believe it is a most worthy result and brings attention to the under appreciation and misinformation that Australian does not produce great pinot noir. Whilst Bass Phillip and proprietor-winemaker, Phillip Jones, is the “prodigy of pinot noir in Australia”, there are many other commendable pinot noir producers to discover, and I hope this tasting inspires consumers to explore Australia’s cool-climates wines in a different light. Quoting Suzanne Brocklehurst again, “Flight 3 seemed to show a greater consistency of high quality. Wines #2 and #3 were the favourites in our group – the DRC Echezeaux 2002 and Bass Phillip Reserve 2003 respectively.”

Another interesting result is that Felton Road and Markowitsch were the only two wineries who were preferred over DRC in two out of three flights. Moreover, Felton Road Block 3 2007 performed most admirably in the first bracket being the preferred wine of the bracket, ahead of DRC La Tache 2007, arguably the most influential outcome of all. “In the first flight wine #5 came out as the firm favourite in the group with several consumers feeling sure it was the DRC so it was quite a surprise for them when it turned out to be the Felton Rd Block 3 2007.” SB

Furthermore, and at the risk of confusing the result, I feel compelled to point out if one was to calculate the most preferred winery by league of the three flights and not the aggregtae of tasters preferences, Felton Road would in fact be the most preferred winery, being 1st, 2nd and 4th in the 3 brackets, versus Markowitch‘s 1st, 3rd and 4th. Clearly Felton Road has very special vineyard sites expressing Tangata Whenua, the Maori term for terroir, literally meaning the fusion of place and person. Is Felton Road Block 3 New Zealand first identifiable Grand Cru? The evidence is certainly compelling, but time will tell.

NB: There was one bottle of DRC Echezeaux Grand Cru 2002 out of condition however, looking closely at the scoring and subsequent rakings, this had negligible bearing on the overall results. Please note that all the DRC wines were sourced from their official suppliers and all other wines were sourced direct from the vineyards.

A big thanks our wine professionals for their input and altruism, such generosity and passion for pinot noir made this event possible. Adding to the commentary, further personal views from Suzanne Brocklehurst and Lisa Perrotti-Brown MW:

“My personal take – what a great opportunity to try so many high quality Pinots in one session! As a little personal exercise I tried to place the wines as either New or Old World and not get too tied up in knots about exact origin. In the first flight I loved both wine #4 and #5 (DRC La Tache 2007 and Felton Road Block 3 2007 respectively)” … “The final flight proved to be “the icing on the cake” as the bracket showed a consistently high quality group of wines. Wine #2 (DRC Echezeaux 2002) was my personal favourite with its maturing, complex nose of floral fragrance, spice and earthiness matched by a concentrated palate with a beautiful fresh lift on the finish – A wonderful wine for both the mind and the body!” SB

“Loved the DRC tasting, it was thoroughly enjoyable. Thought it was well designed, organised and ran very smoothly. It was a good line-up of Pinots and even though the DRCs were way too young, all’s fair in love and blind tastings! Of course even novices to wine know that the experience is not just about what is in the glass, but it’s always fun and thought provoking to strip it right down to the glass and remind ourselves of what’s really there. Thanks for arranging the opportunity!” LP-B

In summary, whilst the results of such tastings should not be viewed as conclusive, this tasting was I feel most stimulating and enlightening, and I am sure all who participated, immensely enjoyable. I believe we surpassed our objectives and there is already talk of the next tasting, with pinot noirs that have over 10 years bottle age. Indeed, I am already plotting a large pinot noir event that will have top producers from all over the world submit 5 year-old, 10 year-old and 15 years plus for a professional and consumer event.

I would like to acknowledge Schott Zwiesel who provided their excellent Vina Range “BURGUNDERPOKAL” Burgundy glass for the tasting ensuring we had an appropriate glass to appreciate the aromatics – one of pinot noirs most important facets.

Lastly, I would like to acknowledge the efforts of the Hermitage Wine team, in particular Anaïs Marmonier, the new marketing person who endured a genuine “baptism of fire” and took on the challenge of the whole Burghound event admirably. Jackson Tan, the man behind the scenes who again handled the grueling task of stock logistics of the entire event. And Stanley Shalom Chin (Shalom), my personal sommelier who was thrown in the deep-end of the pool, and not only performed like a Navy SEAL, proved himself beyond the call of duty and has a great career ahead of him in the wine industry.

Curtis Marsh – The Wandering Palate & Soo-Hoo Khoon-Peng, proprietor of Hermitage Wine.

All enquiries to curtisjohn@singnet.com.sg or soohoo@hermitagewine.com

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