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The New California Tasting

The New California

On the 22nd of April, after six months of organisation, The New California event finally arrived. It all started when Mark, our buyer, and Matteo, head of on-trade sales, took a trip to the U.S. to meet a new wave of Californian producers including Broc Cellars, Lioco, Matthiasson, Copain… and wine critic from the San Francisco Chronicle, Jon Bonne. They came back with a newly expanded portfolio of these new wave producers (very well described in Jon Bonne’s book The New California if you want to learn more). The winemaking is all about balance, fruit that is not overripe and freshness in the glass, things that many American producers had shunned for a long time. I’ll always remember the enthusiasm and the energy both of them brought back from U.S., and the eagerness to share this discovery with the trade and the public. That’s how the New California trade tasting and the ticketed event at Sager & Wilde were created.

The Trade Tasting

In the daytime, we had more than 50 wines open, from amazing producers including Jolie-Laide, Moobuzz, Smith Madrone, Lioco, Corison and Arnot-Roberts. Many winemakers made the trip to London – we were blessed to have Jamie Kutch with new vintages of Sonoma Coast and Falstaff and Jasmine Hirsch pouring San Andreas Fault and for the first time – a Sonoma Coast Chardonnay. On the next table, Wells Guthrie, the winemaker of Copain Wines was showing Tous Ensemble and his top-end single vineyards wines. The smiling Steve Matthiasson was presenting his wines for the first time, Linda Vista Chardonnay 2012, Napa White and Cabernet Sauvignon from the Napa Valley. Nobody from the team had been able to try those wines before so everyone was fighting to get to his table first. I think I won – sorry guys!

Chris Brockway from Broc Cellars was there as well, pouring his amazing Cabernet Franc and his mysterious Roussanne. He is making very little of both wines therefore we have a very small allocation. When the wines arrived last January, I had to reserve it all for the tasting, leaving many of my colleagues desperate to taste it. They had to wait four months and the general feedback was: totally worth it!

Ellie Patterson from Mount Eden and Graham Tatomer shared the other side of the room. Ellie’s wines are famous in the U.K. – my very favourite was her 2009 Mount Eden Chardonnay. Graham’s fantastic Riesling and Gruner Veltliner were very popular among sommeliers and press.

At the end of the tasting room was Rajat Parr from Sandhi Wines and Domaine de la Cote alongside the inspiring Sashi Moorman, winemaker for both Domaines. As usual, Sandhi’s Chardonnay got plenty of praise and so did the Domaine de la Cote’s Pinot Noir. Sashi was also pouring wines from his own project, Piedrasassi, two delicious Syrahs from Central Coast.

New California Seminars

In addition to the main tasting room, we had seminars in the adjacent lecture theatre. Jon Bonne hosted his own seminar themed around his book, The New California, where he talked and showed examples of Chardonnay, Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Noir from several of our producers. The next two afternoon seminars were Balanced Chardonnay and Balanced Pinot Noir which handed the floor to the winemakers to explain the philosophy behind their wines, moderated by Jon Bonne, Jamie Goode and Jancis Robinson.

The New California after-party at Sager & Wilde

After a long day of tasting and seminars, everyone deserved an after party! Michael & Charlotte at Sager & Wilde kindly offer to host us at their Hackney wine bar, where customers who bought a ticket could hang out with the Californian winemakers and drink their fantastic wines.

The wine bar was buzzing and food that kept coming was delicious – my favourite was blue cheese, smoked anchovies, pickled walnuts and truffle oil. The wine list was (of course) all about California that night, even if a few top Grand Cru burgundies were circulating around the bar. Those U.S. winemakers are big Burgundy enthusiasts!

New California After Party

All in all, it was a great night, with people enjoying themselves, good wine in one hand and tasty food in the other. Most of us weren’t looking our best the next day but it was totally worth it. We hope you enjoyed it as much as we did and for those who couldn’t get a ticket this time, promise there will be more of those after-parties, and plenty of great Californian wine available to order on our website.

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International Wine and Food Pairing Blogger Roundup

Roberson Wine

At the end of last year, we asked a group of wine bloggers to select their favourite wines of the year, Roberson or not. Given that post’s popularity, we thought it was about time to do it again. This time we asked bloggers from around the world to tell us about their favourite wine and food match. The results make for some interesting reading, and include a few unexpected wildcards. Read on to see what they chose…

Unoaked Santorini Assyrtiko paired with Sushi
Selected by Markus Blog from ELLOINOS@elloinos

Assyrtiko vines are grown in the volcanic soils of the Greek Island Santorini, one of the hottest growing regions on earth. The resulting wines are salty, mineral, with a very high acidity. They manage to cut through the umami character of sushi and enhance the natural flavors of the fresh and raw ingredients.

Domaine des Schistes Rancio with Gruyère cheese
Selected by Henry Jeffreys, author of Empire of Booze@henrygjeffreys

I normally just want to enjoy the meal rather than obsess over the perfect food and wine match. Sometimes, however, things just accidentally come together. Last year I brought a bottle of Domaine des Schistes Rancio Sec back from the South of France. This is a solera fortified wine made mainly from Grenache Gris and Blanc. Initially it seemed piercingly dry but a salty piece of Gruyere brought out a sweetness and fruitiness to it. Each made the other more complex. The wine isn’t available in England but I think a dry madeira would work eg. Barbeito Verdelho 10 year old.

Picpoul de Pinet with shellfish or native oysters on the Kent Coast
Selected by Miles Thomas from Wine Psych@winepsych

I am a big fan of Picpoul de Pinet, particularly with oysters. Picpoul is a pretty humble grape but does a great job with shellfish. The best place to try the combo is the fisherman’s outlet in the harbour at Port Vendres in Languedoc Rousillon but the grape also works with native oysters on the Kent Coast.

Pinot Noir Paired with Boeuf Bourgogne
Selected by L.M. Archer, FWS from binNotes@binNotes

Pinot noir is a light-to-medium bodied red wine with hints of fruit, mushroom, earth and leather. The lovely acids, silky tannins and lingering finish of pinot noir pair well with salmon, fowl, or game, and rich stews such as Boeuf Bourgogne.

Riesling with fish and grilled asparagus
Selected by Torsten Reimer from The Wine Rambler@winerambler

Riesling must be one of the most versatile and exciting white wines – still or sparkling, bone dry or sweet, young or decades old. It is an exciting, aromatic wine that features fresh acidity, crunchy minerality and great aromas and flavours such as herbs and peach. Riesling is generally food friendly but as it is now asparagus season you should pair it with fish, grilled asparagus and perhaps a light sauce.

Ruinart Blanc de Blancs and French fries
Selected by Tara Devon from Wine Passionista@tara_devon

Oysters are a classic pairing for Champagne, and while this is a great match, oysters are often an acquired taste. An equally impressive partner for this inimitable bubbly is a basket of French fries. The bright purity of the Ruinart Blanc de Blancs is the perfect foil for the decadent salty, deep-fried potato batons, be they shoestring or wedges. The ideal informal indulgence.

Butterscotch Budino with 2011 McFadden Late Harvest Riesling
Selected by John Cesano from JohnOnWine@JohnOnWine

I am not a matchy-matchy kind of a guy, pairing dessert wines with desserts – it is just too much sweetness and I don’t want to bring an insulin injector to the dinner table. That said, the best food and wine pairing of the last year for me was the 2011 McFadden Late Harvest Riesling and the Butterscotch Budino, a dessert created by Chef Jesse Elhardt of Crush Restaurant in Ukiah, CA. Butterscotch Budino is a bowl with chocolate pudding on the bottom, then caramel pearls, then butterscotch pudding, topped with Chantilly cream and mint – you dig down to get all layers with each spoonful – and when paired with the Double Gold and Best of Class awarded 2011 McFadden Late Harvest Riesling. I expected delicious, but this pairing left delicious far behind; this was a perfect pairing. A spoon and a tiny sip, another spoon and another sip, until, too soon, it was gone.

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Domaine Jacques Frédéric Mugnier: The Estate

Last night was the first tasting of the season and it looks like we’ve set the bar high – it was a tasting of the wines of Jacques-Frédéric Mugnier, one of Burgundy’s top producers.

Jacques Frédéric Mugnier is actually a qualified engineer who only started working as a vigneron in 1985.  He comes from a family with a long history of winemaking and started by managing the family’s estate – just four hectares at first, but up to fourteen by 2004, when his wines started to receive acclaim around the world and he moved into the top echelon of Burgundy producers. People that know him often say that he is a thinker, someone who reflects carefully on the best option for his wines at all times. He starts with harvesting the perfect fruit and then uses low-intervention winemaking to let the terroir do the talking, with exceptional attention to detail at every stage.

A line up of the Mugnier Wines.

We started the tasting with two white Nuits-St-Georges 1er Crus,”Clos de la Maréchale Blanc” 2007 and 2009. I was sitting next to Johnny, our new shop manager, and we were both stunned by the 2007. If I had to pay for a wine on the list, it would have been this one for sure. 2009 was more a creature of the vintage, with a certain weight, but still very good.

Continuing with the Nuits-St-Georges, red this time, we had a rustic but perfumed “Clos des Fourches” 2008, and two structured and beautiful “Clos de la Maréchales” – 2008 and 2007. Moving on to Chambolle- Musigny, we tried a 1998 1er Cru “Les Fuées” and a 1995 “Les Amoureuses” which come from two of the best vineyards in the commune. Unfortunately, even with a promising name that would be translated into “The Lovers”, the 1995 “Les Amoureuses” was a bit disappointing, with oxidation starting to kick in.

For the grand finale, we had two Grand Crus, a Bonnes-Mares 2006 and a Musigny 2007 which was voted “wine of the night” and in the words of our host, Mark Andrew, “a masterpiece of a wine”.

There was a high level of enthusiasm in the room for almost all of the wines – I know my tasting sheet was full of 8/10 or 9/10 scores alongside comments full of praise. Before the tasting, two of my colleagues had described Mugnier’s wines as their favourites from Burgundy. I must say I now agree with them – they are gorgeous wines, a reflection of the fact that they are made by a winemaker who is truly dedicated to his work.

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Bordeaux 2013 – Our View

Château Margaux

April 2014 and Bordeaux once again shows off its latest vintage to the waiting world, although in truth the level of anticipation this year has not been terribly high. The last few campaigns have disappointed, with some eye-wateringly high pricing leading to a great deal of unsold wine sitting on merchants’ books, both in Bordeaux itself and in the wider world, and consumers have sometimes been left with wine that is worth less than they paid for it. Allied to this is the nature of the vintage itself – the well-trailed difficulties faced by the vignerons in 2013 hardly promised an exciting set of wines to be tasted. There was a certain weariness apparent as the trade made their way towards the Gironde, and over the course of the week tasting rooms were noticeably quieter than usual, the customary phalanxes of tasters thinned down to ones, twos and threes.

The difficulties of the growing season are fairly well documented: a wet and cool May and June were followed by a hot summer and a humid and rainy autumn. Ripeness was difficult to achieve before rot laid waste to the vineyards, and picking generally took place a good week or so earlier than many would have deemed ideal. In certain cases this may have produced a pleasing freshness, but for many wines the result has been a distinct lack of mid-palate presence and an overall impression of textural disharmony: alcohols (though not that high by recent standards) and particularly acidities stand out markedly.

It is dangerous to make too many generalisations about the reds by commune or position in the classification. However, we can say that the best wines are the result of the best terroirs, effective vineyard management coaxing maximum ripeness from the fruit, and the nature of said fruit being respected in the winemaking. The most successful have worked with the fruit they have in order to make refreshing, light, attractively perfumed wines of not a little elegance and refinement, which nevertheless lack the richness and intensity of a greater vintage. Where the winemakers have pushed too hard the results have been drying and bitter. It is a year to look to those who generally prioritise balance over power (the delicacy of the wines also appeared to lead to a bit of sample variation over the week with more disagreement than usual among tasters as to the relative merits of some grand old names). The whites are generally good, with some notable successes, and the Sauternes are excellent. Yquem is, as usual the ne plus ultra (and probably the wine of the vintage), but fantastic sweet wines can be found at all levels.

The Campaign Ahead

As for the campaign itself, who knows? Yields and production were low, and where they have been able to the châteaux have made some very drastic selections in order to maintain a semblance of quality. They will not have much wine to sell and this may compel some pricing decisions that will make little sense to the consumer. What we do know is that, while the vintage is a bit of a curate’s egg – there are some genuinely lovely wines to be found among the less successful – the indications are that pricing will not be low enough to compel the consumer to buy heavily. The most commonly heard word from the négociants we spoke to in regard to pricing is that it promises to be ‘complicated’, a choice of words which does not inspire too much confidence.

The likely situation is that wines will be offered at a premium over some physical vintages, 2007 being the most obvious analogue, and we will offer a comparison where applicable. It is only fair that we also inform you where Roberson thinks that pricing is attractive enough for us to buy for stock (and, perhaps of greater use, where it is not). Pontet Canet and Gazin are already on the market and, while both wines are good, it is possible to buy physical vintages more cheaply, both ex-Bordeaux and on the secondary market.

Technical improvements in the vineyard and modern winemaking techniques allow much better wines to be made in challenging vintages than in the past and while there are certainly differences in quality there are very few total failures. Some may also find the early-picked freshness to be a plus and it is true that there is a certain classicism to some wines that will be of appeal to the drinker who prefers a more traditional style. If particular châteaux are of interest then please let us know and we will contact you when they are released. Aside from that we will happily recommend based on quality and release price as the campaign progresses.

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A Burgundy Masterclass

Earlier this week a couple of my colleagues and I attended a Burgundy Masterclass with Jane Parkinson, an award winning wine journalist. This was a great opportunity to learn about Burgundy in more detail and it especially explored the idea of what a ‘climat’ is, a word that is often used when talking about the wines of this region. ‘Climat’ is a term unique to Burgundy – it is the expression of the notion of ‘terroir’ and refers to plots of land that enjoy particular geological and climatic conditions. It is these different areas that have made Burgundy one of the greatest wine regions in the world – wines from the prime sites can fetch extremely high prices, so it was interesting to think about the history of the region and why the land is viewed as so exceptional.

The main varieties in Burgundy are Pinot Noir and Chardonnay and the region’s marl and limestone soils with Jurassic marine origin are perfect for these. Burgundy is split into different districts: Chablis, Côte Chalonnaise, Côte Mâconnais, Côte De Beaune and Côte De Nuits. Within these are different villages, which then have different named vineyards, some which qualify for Premier Cru or Grand Cru status.


Here are three wines I recommend from Burgundy:

Chablis Vielles Vignes 2009, Domaine Daniel-Etienne Defaix

Chablis is known for its crisp, mineral whites. The grapes for this come from old vines, which adds more intensity and character to the wine.

Puligny Montrachet ‘Les Enseignères’ 2012, Domain Chavy Chouet

From one of my favourite producers, Romaric Chavy makes stunning, elegant white wines. This is one for more special occasions – the Climat ‘Les Enseignères’ has vines right next to the Grand Cru (much more expensive) Bâtard Montrachet. For those more everyday occasions, his ‘Les Femelottes’ is a great value single-vineyard wine.

Nuits-Saint-Georges ‘Les Poisets’ 2011, Domaine Petitot

From the village Nuits-Saints-Georges, where there are many Premier Cru vineyards, this is an excellent value single-vineyard wine. ‘Les Poisets’ is a traditional silky-smooth Pinot that just doesn’t have a famous name and therefore doesn’t have an extortionate price tag!

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