I had two encounters with DRC this week, which is not a sentence I've ever been able to write before. For most people, tasting their wines is a rare and memorable occasion, still less actually drinking them - while I suspect that for an extremely small subset of people, it is a reasonably frequent experience, and there is probably no middle ground between the two poles.
As Jamie Goode recently wrote,
Undoubtedly, there is a consensus that DRC's red burgundies are great. Even arch-cynic Malcolm Gluck doesn't refute this, though he bemoans its pricing as far back as 1999 (the current vintage of their top wine, Romanée-Conti itself, costs £2,325 ex-VAT per bottle).
I tasted this wine, and the other new 2014 vintage releases, at Corney & Barrow on Thursday, and had a cursory sip of La Tâche 2011 at an MW student dinner last Sunday night. Now, I'm not about to say the wines are not great; nor do I want to talk about pricing (which is less the fault of the domaine than the realities of the market). The point I want to make is that great wines such as DRC are neither sacrosanct nor infallible.
Both times that I tasted DRC this week, the wines were indeed great, but they didn't occupy a different plane of existence to other wines. In terms of scores, I have recently enjoyed plenty of ostensibly more humble wines at least as much, if not more.
But neither am I trying to claim my own opinion is any more important than anyone else's - plenty of others would have found the wines utterly sublime, and rightly so.
My point is that when the wine world confers greatness on a wine, and it becomes the sort of benchmark that Jamie describes, it is too often thought of as untouchable. It becomes heretical to consider DRC as anything other than immaculate. Perhaps it is, most of the time, otherwise its greatness would come into question.
But the expectation of the label has an enormous influence on how it is perceived. The privilege of tasting the wine influences our judgement before we even get it into the glass. (Like with so many other deluxe wine brands, the Corney & Barrow DRC tasting is very carefully stage-managed - see also Sex, money and Cristal 2009.) This judgement is further confounded by the fact that its price and rarity means that so few people are able to taste it and decide for themselves.
The saying goes that you shouldn't meet your heroes. I don't think that's true; you just need to remember that they're only human beings. The same goes for wine.