The Latest from Roberson

Thoughts on wine and other topics from the Roberson team


Max Margaritoff

Your Top Ten Champagne Questions Answered

Just in time for Christmas, Max answers ten common questions about the most celebratory wine of all... 1. Why does some Champagne show the vintage while some does not? Very often you find so called non-vintage Champagne (NV). A non-vintage Champagne is made from a blend of wine that comes from different years. The advantage is that the winemaker can ensure, through blending, that taste and aroma is consistent over the years. It gives the Champagne house its unique style. The grapes for a vintage Champagne, on the other hand, come only from one year’s harvest. Vintage Champagne is also made only in good years, as no other wines can be blended in - improving the quality. 2. How should I store my Champagne? The same as other wines that you buy. The most important things are light and temperature. Make sure that the wine is kept in a cool, slightly humid place, and always away from bright light. If possible lay the bottle down horizontally, which keeps the cork moist and prevents it from drying out and turning brittle. 3. How long can I keep an open bottle of Champagne at home? Hopefully you never have to encounter a moment in which you are faced with the dilemma of not finishing your Champagne. If you do, then make sure you seal the bottle with a Champagne stopper (or anything else that might be of help). Place it in the fridge and it should last you anywhere between 3-5 days before going flat. 4. Does Champagne go well with food? Yes! Think of Champagne as your all-day wine companion. If you haven’t had a Champagne breakfast yet then it is time you do. Champagne goes great with Eggs Benedict for example. If you like sushi and don’t want to drink sake, then Champagne is an ideal alternative, and of course there is the all-time classic pairing option of Champagne and Oysters Rockefeller. Champagne is extremely versatile and exciting, and as with any other wine you should always experiment a little. You will be surprised at how many unexpected wine and food pairings there are. I personally love to drink vintage Champagne with grilled chicken. 5. I don’t have any Champagne flutes at home, what do I do? First of all: don’t worry! Champagne flutes are an obvious (and admittedly beautiful) choice for Champagne, but not essential. These flutes showcase the fine bubbles better than any other glass, and preserve them better as well. However, many sommeliers and Champagne houses prefer using wider glasses for their Champagne. Use a white wine glass, or for older vintage Champagnes a wide Burgundy glass. Remember, at the end of the day Champagne is a wine. 6. What does ‘grower Champagne’ mean? Most Champagne we find in the UK is made by a larger ‘Champagne house’, who produce hundreds of thousands of bottles, sometimes even millions of bottles. Often these so called ‘Grandes Marques’ are of very good quality, but just not as personal as the grower Champagnes that we sell, for example, at Roberson. Grower Champagne means that the grape growers make and sell their own Champagne. Quantities are much smaller, often the grapes are picked by hand, and it is easier to find out exactly how and where the wines were made. At Roberson we have decided to focus on those smaller, high quality grower Champagnes with a great reputation, such as Egly-Ouriet and Arteis. 7. How do I open a bottle of Champagne? First loosen the cage. Always remember to point the bottle away from people and yourself (you do not want to experience the force of a Champagne cork). Next, hold the bottle at a 45° angle and start to rotate the base of the bottle while holding the cork and cage firmly until the pressure of the wine begins to push the cork out. 8. What is the difference between Champagne and other sparkling wine like Prosecco or Cava? The short answer is that for a wine to be called Champagne, it has to come from the region of Champagne in France. In addition, the only grapes that are allowed during production of the wine are Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier (both red grape varieties), as well as Chardonnay (a white variety). Most are a blend of all three grapes, however if you see ‘Blanc de Blancs’ on the label, the wine is made 100% from Chardonnay. ‘Blanc de Noir’, on the other hand, means that the wine is made entirely from Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier or a blend of the two. Finally, Champagne is always produced using the Méthode Champenoise. The main aspect is that in the Méthode Champenoise more yeast and sugar is added to the bottled wine, which leads to a second fermentation. The yeast slowly dries, forming a sediment called lees, which the wine rests on and develops its typical aromas of brioche and biscuit, while still having aromas of lemon, apple or strawberry. The bottle is gradually tipped and spun, so that the lees are collected at the bottle neck. Once the bottle is flash-frozen and the lees are popped out during in the process, the wine is sealed and ready to be aged and then eventually drunk. 9. Is all Champagne the same? No! There are several different styles of Champagne. Apart from vintage and grower differences, the wine can, as explained earlier, be a single grape variety or a blend between Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. Besides the usual Champagne you can also find rosé Champagne. These usually have soft aromas of strawberries and are a little fruitier. Finally the designation ‘Brut’, indicating that a wine is dry, can be replaced by ‘Extra Brut’ and ‘Brut Nature’, which means that they are even drier (see some of the Egly-Ouriet we carry). On the other hand ‘Demi-Sec’ and ‘Sec’ indicate that the Champagne is semi sweet or sweet. These wines are fantastic food pairing options for spicier courses and dessert. 10. What is the best way to drink Champagne? The ideal serving temperature for Champagne is 8 – 10°C and is consumed best on special occasions such as Christmas, New Year, anniversaries or simply with your friends and family. The more we think about it - virtually any occasion can call for a glass of Champagne.



Lee Talbot

Changing Tastes in 25 Years of Fine Wine

We're celebrating Roberson Wine's 25th anniversary this week with a series of blog posts. In this post, Lee looks at how Fine Wine has evolved over the last 25 years. As it’s Roberson Wine’s 25th anniversary, I thought it would be interesting to take a brief look back and see how tastes have changed in Fine Wine over the last quarter century. 25 years may seem like an eternity to some, but in the world of Fine Wine this isn’t always the case. If you think that some wines are bought with the intention of being aged, tucked away and almost forgotten in a warehouse or a dark cellar for 25 years before they come to see the light of day, it puts things in a different perspective. You can’t talk about recent decades in Fine Wine without mentioning the enormous effect of critic Robert Parker. Parker is responsible for the proliferation of the point rating system; his 100 point scale causing huge fluctuations in prices, with a ‘perfect’ 100 score prompting the value of a wine to skyrocket. His influence spread to growers and producers alike, who saw his scores as an easy route to high prices and easy sales. Consequently, the 1990’s and early 00’s were in part saturated by hugely ripe, oaky, powerful and very high alcohol red wines as per the supposed preference of Parker. Vineyards the world over – but especially seen in California, Australia and South America – were uprooting local grapes in favour of the popular French varietals Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Chardonnay that dominated the market (I’m sure most of you will have gone through the ABC, Anything But Chardonnay phase at one point or another). We have since seen a ‘counter-movement’ to a lighter, more expressive and refreshing style, where geographical influences and terroir driven wines are increasingly important to the tech-savvy, environmentally engaged ‘Millennial’ drinker who places more weight on the story of a wine and its vineyard, rather than just its winemaking techniques. Indigenous, rather than purely international grapes are again growing in popularity. California has emerged as one of the world’s great wine producing regions. Cult wines in California such as Sine Qua Non and Screaming Eagle, able to boast some of the highest prices in the world, have become a staple part of the Fine Wine market in the last 25 years. These ‘cult’ wines tend to be very big, tannic and high alcohol wines - akin to some of Parker’s preferences perhaps - some with strong Bordelais roots and influences such as Opus One - founded by Robert Mondavi and Baron Rothschild who recognised the region’s great winemaking potential. California has experienced a very quick evolution in terms of its winemaking style. While still young in regional terms, many producers wanted to take a step away from the 15+% alcohol Cabernet Sauvignon’s of 20 years ago, towards a ‘new wave’ California Fine Wine. Pinot Noir and Syrah are again rightfully finding their place in the Fine Wine market, as more elegant wines are being grown from the cooler climate areas of California in this ‘new wave’ revolution. Elsewhere in the last 25 years we have seen both the emergence and diminution of the Super Tuscans as key Fine Wines. In the early 2000’s the Super Tuscan brand became diluted by too many producers jumping on the new bandwagon, devaluing the brand. However the likes of Masseto, Ornellaia and Sassicaia are still some of the most sought-after wines on the market. All that being said and done, looking at the very top of the Fine Wine market in the last 25 years, we still see the same familiar French faces – the Bordeaux First Growths and the likes of Pétrus, Domaine de la Romanée-Conti and Cheval Blanc (to name a few) dominate. Burgundian wines are now more popular than ever. With huge demand for top vintages and with Asian pallets maturing, their terroir focused wines and more delicate style are highly coveted. However this growing demand, coupled with the short supply, has driven prices up drastically in recent years. Despite the mini-revolution we see in California, South Africa, Australia and other wine producing regions around the world, it still remains the ‘traditional’ wines that drive the Fine Wine market; the pinnacle of the Bordeaux classification still provides that assurance of quality and leads the way in the market. After the market crash in 2008, the growing Asian interest in Fine Wine helped pull the market out of recession. Bordeaux wines are seen as very prestigious in the East, and completely dominate the growing Asian market. While it is exciting to see this new breed of winemaker pushing the boundaries with modern winemaking, when it comes to the world’s most expensive and traded wines the traditional regions still dominate. Tastes in Fine Wine have changed over the last 25 years, but slowly. Much like the wines themselves, peoples tastes have gradually matured in bottle, developed new flavours, changed nuances and characteristics, but have still maintained their roots and traditions. Tastes are broadening however, and while traditional wines still dominate, people are questioning the status quo more and more. On an interesting side note, while Roberson Wine celebrated its 25th anniversary on November 25th, I was celebrating my 25th birthday the day after. Parties all round then!



Max Margaritoff

Staying Interested - Cliff on Wine, Part 2

We're celebrating Roberson Wine's 25th anniversary this week with a series of blog posts. In this post (the second of two parts), our very own Max Margaritoff interviews our very own Cliff Roberson about the last 25 years in wine. Max: How would you describe Roberson Wine? Cliff: Obviously we want to be a lot of things as a company. We want to be professional, we want to be exciting, we want to be all kinds of things, just like the paintings and posters up on our walls. But essentially the goal is always the same, whether it is selling wine at £5 a bottle or selling wine at £500 a bottle. The idea is always that we try to bring good value and excellent service. That is to say we are competitive and very professional within our industry. Max: A lot of articles and interviews about Roberson Wine describe us as different, innovative, daring... Cliff: Somebody asked the other day 'how do you remain or try to remain innovative'. It’s a question that hooked me, and my answer on thinking about it was 'I am interested in being interesting.' So on that basis I am constantly trying to think about things that are interesting to me, and to other people. This might not always be the case, but this is where my motivation and ideas come from. Many business articles say innovation is an essential part of business. I agree, but it can be hard to get the buy in. So I am slightly suspicious of that statement because people think they like innovation and they do in theory, but in practice, fundamentally most people are quite risk averse. They would rather let someone else innovate and then jump on the bandwagon once it looks like the idea will take off. I have done a lot of things over the years that have been quite innovative: our latest adventure is London Cru, London’s first winery. It takes a long time and a lot of investment to see whether something appeals to the public at large. But nevertheless we won’t stop doing it, because that is what we love and it’s what keeps us interested and interesting. Max: As well as starting your own winery in the middle of London, you were a pioneer in sourcing wines from Latin America, have worked in numerous countries and travelled the world, have had several successful wine companies, worked with restaurants, supermarkets and in vineyards. Where do you get your inspiration from? Cliff: I just like doing things that are different and new. I really don’t like doing the same old stuff over again and again and again. That doesn’t really stimulate me. That, to me, is the ultimate attraction: to keep it interesting for myself, because otherwise you just keep repeating the things you did before. Sure, it could be good and satisfying to somebody, but it isn’t particularly interesting to me. Max: Is that perhaps what you like most about Roberson Wine? That you have a platform or a channel where you can do lots of things differently and try out things that interest you? Cliff: Well I like new things and variety of things in almost everything, not just wine. I like that the most about art, about music, about fashion, the books I read. I like to come across things that I am not familiar with. Max: Two more questions and then we are done. We've almost made it! Cliff: Good! [laughs] Max: How are you going to celebrate the 25 year anniversary? Cliff: I will have a nice glass of Bordeaux. Max: Any preference? Cliff: Something old. Max: There is an office rumour that Chateau Latour might be a contender... Cliff: Well I like a few things [laughs]. I don’t know. I would probably have some red Bordeaux from 1961 vintage because that was one of the first vintages I sold when I went to Bordeaux in 1964, and it was a great year too. There are some fantastic examples, and I think it will be around that type of vintage. What it will be I don’t know yet. Max: What would be that headline that you would most like to read about yourself or Roberson Wine? Cliff: 'He's a good wine merchant.' I like to be good at what I do, and this is what I do. I have been doing it for over 60 years.



Max Margaritoff

25 Years of Change - Cliff on Wine, Part 1

We're celebrating Roberson Wine's 25th anniversary this week with a series of blog posts. In this post (the first of two parts), our very own Max Margaritoff interviews our very own Cliff Roberson about the last 25 years in wine. Max: Hi Cliff, first of all, congratulations on 25 Years for Roberson Wine! Can we by any chance expect another rap from you in the form of an anniversary edition? Cliff: No, next question [laughs]. Unless I get inspiration, I don’t think there will be another one, but who knows... Max: How did Roberson Wine come in to being? Cliff: Because I am a wine merchant and I have been doing this all my life. It was a natural progression, almost like an evolutionary process. There was no other outcome than me doing my own thing under my own name. Max: Why London? Cliff: Well I worked and lived in New York for four years, and got to a point where it came down to the question of whether I wanted to be British or American. And I decided I didn’t want to be American. I got married in NYC and it’s a place I could easily have continued to live and probably done very well in. But I decided that was not who I am. So I came back to the more complicated lifestyles of Europe and England. Max: Preparing for our anniversary we went through some old pictures and price lists at the office. Seeing Bordeaux prices so much lower 25 years ago, what are some of the biggest changes you have witnessed over the past 25 years in the wine industry? Cliff: As you said, fine wine prices are probably one of the biggest developments. Fine wine in the past 20 years became something of a commodity to invest in. I think they called it SWAG. Silver, Wine, Art, Gold. It completely changed the relationship wine had with the market, and let’s be honest, with today’s state of things it will continue being an investment and a commodity. That’s not to say that the romance is totally dead: drinking a superb bottle of fine wine with friends is one of life’s great pleasures. In the wine market I have witnessed the introduction of ‘appellation d'origine contrôlée’. Wine is now controlled and governed. That was a big game changer. Before that, there were wines such as Spanish Burgundy or Spanish Chablis sold and consumed [laughs]. Which is now completely forbidden, and quite rightly so. Now you get a much more authentic product. Another big shift has been the move towards the New World. Sure, it was around 25 years ago, but by no means in the same way as it is now. Chile, New Zealand and so on, the countries that are providing a lot of the background in volume sales. Australia has also been at the forefront of wine innovation, particularly recently, in their marketing to turn young people on to wine. And linked to that is the ability to make inexpensive wine very drinkable. So cheap wine used to taste very cheap. Today less expensive wine can taste very decent and provide a lot of drinking pleasure. There is now a huge choice of wine in supermarkets and we have seen a huge increase in wine consumption across all classes as a result of it. Max: Is it fair to say that people now are less intimidated by wine in a way too now? That it isn’t necessarily an exclusive luxury product anymore? Cliff: Yes. And another big change has been in the identification of grape varieties on labels. For example, Cabernet Sauvignon or Chardonnay have become a brand in their own right. Knowing the grape variety will tell the average consumer much more about the taste of the wine than the region it came from. Take Chardonnay, it was in fashion, then out, and now it is right back in favour as consumers realise what great complexity and variety it can have. People are now learning about what they are drinking, what is inside the bottle. Before it was much more oblique. Max: Staying on the topic of changes, what is scarier: Bordeaux prices today or the hype around online and the internet? Cliff: I don’t think either of them are scary [laughs]. That’s how the market is, and it is the job of a good merchant to respond to the conditions that prevail. We have done, and always will adjust ourselves according to circumstances. We have been through a lot of things, changes and difficulties in the last 25 years and these won’t stop now. Things like Brexit, for example. It really has nothing to do with us, but nevertheless will create a situation that is beyond our control. But we have to work as well as we can within that situation and if we are nimble and innovative we can flourish. Max: And on a more personal note, do you remember the first wine you sold? Your first big order? Cliff: Well, I remember the first wine I drank. Max: Which was..? Cliff: Which was absolutely horrible [laughs]. It was a red Bordeaux, and they called it something like Claret. It was six shillings a bottle and tasted like ink. And I thought it was awful. I was 16 and in my mind I thought wine would taste like port. I thought it would be sweet and voluptuous, so this was a big disappointment. It obviously didn’t taste anything like it. I lived in Bordeaux and had so many experiences that my taste changed over the years. And I remember my first big order too. It was quite exciting for me back then. It was 100,000 cases of Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon, which was meant for a Christmas promotion. We are talking about a shipment in excess of one million bottles. And how we arrived at the deal was very funny and satisfying [laughs]. That was great. Max: Are you allowed to share how you arrived at that deal or is that highly classified? Cliff: When I did the calculations it came to $17.45 (per case), but they thought that I was telling the time [laughs]. It was ridiculous, so I burst out laughing. I had just tried to make the biggest deal I ever tried to make, and there they were misconstruing the value as the time. But the deal was done and it was good fun. It was fantastic. And that was just at the beginning of the Chilean wine industry, when Chilean wine began to be discovered, and I was very much involved in it. A really fun time. Max: This year we won the Online Retailer of the Year Award, beating some big names. Where do you see Roberson in 25 years’ time? Cliff: Well I know where I would like it to be. I would like it to be a well-respected, professional, interesting, profitable company that people like to buy from and that people like to work for. Or work with. I like people to be happy in what they do and I am not one of those bosses that purely employ people to pay them as little as possible and exploit. Money is not, and that sounds like a cliché, but it is not that important to me. The game is much more interesting. Part 2 of this interview will be published on Friday 25th November.



Matteo Lupi

25 years in wine

We're celebrating Roberson Wine's 25th anniversary this week with a series of blog posts. In this post, Matteo looks back on 25 years in wine. 1991. John Major was PM, the Soviet Union was breaking up, the internet was born, pagers were all the rage, Phil Collins and Erasure were in the charts (ah, the good old days) – and, yes, Roberson Wine opened its doors. While Gordon Ramsay was learning classic French cuisine with the likes of Guy Savoy and Robuchon, I was finishing my army service to return to a job at the restaurant I’d left 12 months earlier. Globalization hadn’t quite kicked in either and our wines were from Collio and Carso producers no more than 30km from the restaurant. We already had a range of lively wines on tap though – it’s remarkable that 25 years later I’m selling wine on tap again; life really has come full circle. The UK restaurant trade was very different than it is today; it was a time when a three course dinner at a top Mayfair restaurant would set you back £80 including wine and service. Mind you, not many people in England would have been able to pay that kind of money; not because they didn’t want to, but because there were only seven Michelin restaurants in the whole of England. To my view the most inspiring figure in the restaurant trade was my first UK employer, Sir Terence Conran. For sure we had legends working their magic in the kitchen: chefs like Raymond Blanc, the Roux brothers, Marco Pierre White, Koffmann, to name but a few, but they were focusing on very high end, very formal dining. No one else opened the door to fine dining to the masses; Sir Terence was arguably the instigator of the huge movement we take for granted today – high-end casual dining. Without his vision the restaurant trade in the UK would be a very different place today. In those days wine lists in restaurants were very different too. My list was 60% French to 20% Italian, with the rest of the world fighting for the remaining 20%. There was no Greek, no eastern European, no Austrian wines. Picpoul de Pinet was falling out of favour against wines like Pinot Grigio and New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, which were about to flood the market. Cava and Prosecco were almost unheard of. I remember those days very fondly as back then wine lovers with a low budgets were still able to afford (on a sharing basis) wines made by world’s best producers. Looking at wine lists then and today one thing is clear; inflation does not work in the same way with everything. With the help of one of the best chef sommeliers in the country I managed to dig out an old wine list and here is how prices compare to today’s: You could do many things with a time machine but visiting restaurants to ransack the wine cellar is probably not in your top ten priorities. But remember, if you ever do manage to crack time travel, let me know. Lunch will be on me.



Max Margaritoff

Julien Sunier

Following Julien Sunier’s stopover in London, Max caught up with him for the blog to talk about his beautiful Beaujolais. Max: What do you look for in a good wine? Julien: Every wine has its own character. I love drinking wines like Ploussard, so for my own wines I also prefer to go for a lighter, more feminine style. What I love is freshness and balance. I really can’t think of anything better than a wine that shows its fruit unmasked. If you try the Morgon or Fleurie you will see a pure expression of Gamay and the granitic soils it’s grown in. Max: All of your wines are organic, which is something I really love. How much time do you spend in the vineyards as a winegrower and how much as a winemaker in the winery? Do you prefer one over the other? Julien: I really enjoy every single aspect of being a winemaker! I love being in the vineyards taking care of the grapes, as much as being in the winery making the final wine. However considering you only really spend one month in the year in the winery making wine, I must admit that being out in the vineyards caring for the vines and the land is what I really love the most. I would consider myself foremost a vine grower, then a winemaker. Max: I know that we recently got your 2015s in. What can people expect of the 2015 vintage? Julien: 2015 was a great year. We had about eight months of sunshine. The dry and sunny weather meant no diseases and very healthy, ripe grapes. Our harvest was almost a month earlier than in 2014, so the wines will still have a great balance and finesse, but are slightly more masculine than the 2014s. Max: One thing that comes through when tasting your wines are the different characters of Morgon and Fleurie. If you could describe their personalities, what would they be? Julien: Difficult question, because even within Morgon and Fleurie we have different plots of land that all have a slightly different character. It really comes down to the terroir. Fleurie is quite rocky, and the wines have that extra bit of minerality I find. There is also a distinctively floral aroma in the Fleurie, mainly violets. The Morgon plots on the other hand have deeper soils. One plot is quite unique in that it has a spring underneath. The wines here are more savoury and slightly bigger than with Fleurie. Max: There is a really positive movement in Beaujolais at the moment, with lots of great quality wines coming out of the region. We have had more and more people interested in the wines and you have received a lot of praise from renowned wine critics. What do you think about the developments in Beaujolais? Where do you see the region in the next few years? Julien: It is amazing to think that I am still considered as a pioneer in Beaujolais looking for quality instead of quantity. But the developments make me optimistic and proud in what we do. It sets an example for others as well. We have great terroir, Gamay is a wonderful grape, and people are curious. There is nothing more satisfying to see an empty bottle on a table in a restaurant in London, New York City or in France. I also think Beaujolais has a great future ahead. The conceptions about Gamay are changing and there is no reason why the best and most exciting restaurants shouldn’t stock the wines, and why Beaujolais can’t be part of a cellar collection. I hope that more people will start making organic wines - so far merely 3% of people are farming organically in Beaujolais and I’m one of them. I don’t judge other farming principles, but when I started growing vines I wanted to do it in the cleanest and most environmentally-friendly way. Max: Do you have any favourite dish to pair with your wine? Julien: I think the wines are extremely versatile with food. What I really love though is its sappiness and easy going style without ever being boring. You don’t need food. You can open a wine and simply have a glass without having to worry what to eat it with!


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