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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.

burg

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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A Visit to Château Lafite Rothschild

Just before Christmas, I went back to my dearest Bordeaux and organized a visit to Château Lafite-Rotschild for my dad and me. I’ve wanted to visit a First Growth for so long and one of the best things about working in the wine trade is that you can have access to the amazing Châteaux!

Chateau

Nestled between Château Mouton Rothschild and Cos d’Estournel, the Château itself is gorgeous to look at. The vineyards surrounding the property span more than 100 hectares and are carefully looked after.

For a bit of history, the Château first belonged to the Segur family before being bought in 1868 by Baron James de Rothschild. The Rothschild family owns others Châteaux in the area, including neighbouring Château Duhart-Milon in Pauillac, Château Rieussec in Sauternes and Château l’Evangile in Pomerol. I could go on and on about the Rothschild family history which is amazingly interesting but that will have to be the topic of another blog post. An interesting fact that I learned during the visit is that their coat of arms, which represent five arrows, is each a symbol for the five sons that were scattered around Europe to look after the Rothschild’s Empire.

One of them was James, owner of Château Lafite – Rothschild at the time, whose descendant Eric de Rothschild now manages the Estate.

Vineyard-Mouton

The visit started with a discovery of the soil and the vineyards, which to my surprise are much vaster than I thought. The vineyards in the hills around the Château are mostly planted with Cabernet Sauvignon. Their grapes to the West, as well as a few hectares in Saint Estèphe, are used to produce their second wine Carruades de Lafite.

After this our guide showed us the barrel rooms. The first room was filled with wooden vats, especially made for the Château. The grapes from each plot of land are fermented in separate vats, and left there for up to 25 days. In order to modernize the infrastructures and ensure perfect fermentation, they built a Merlot room with concrete tank a few years ago. The design of the tanks is quite unusual as there is no separation between the tanks, just a long concrete wall with a tap. When fermentation is complete, the wine is transferred into barrels. While visiting we saw the 2013 barrels, made specifically for Lafite-Rotschild, in-house with their own cooperage. I was quite surprised as it is something that most domaines outsource, but our guide explained to us that they want to have control over the barrel quality as it does influence the wine. This means they have complete control in the winemaking process – from the vineyards to the final bottles. I guess it’s a question of finance as well as they change barrels every year for the Grand Vin.

Barrel-room

Towards the end of our visit we passed through a large hallway with cellars on each side, containing old vintages. No need to say that it was very tempting! Unfortunately none is for sale (not that I would have that kind of money anyway) and it is only reserved for parties and special occasion for the Rothschild family.

To finish the visit, we tasted the delicious 2001 vintage of Château Lafite-Rotschild in their famous and incredible cellars rooms, designed by the architect Ricardo Bofil. Circular and inspired by Greek theatre, it is really gorgeous and hosts opera and others artistic performances from time to time.

After this great experience at Château Lafite-Rotschild, I’m already on the hunt for another 1st Growth to visit! Who is it going to be next?

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The Wine Blogger 2013 Roundup – Wines of the Year

Roberson Wine at Christmas 2013

It’s the time of year for round-ups, top tens and best ofs, so we thought we’d ask some of the wine bloggers who’ve written about us over the past twelve months for their favourite wines (Roberson or otherwise) of 2013. In no particular order, here’s what they said…

2012 Domaine Bernard Gripa, ‘Les Pins’ St Péray
Chosen by Matt Walls of Matt Walls Wine Blog (@mattwallswine)

We drank a bottle of this white Marsanne/Roussanne blend whilst on holiday in the Rhône this summer. Drove directly to the domaine for a case the following day. It smells of freshly cut pears and flowers. It’s full-bodied, but with loads of vitality; long, pure and clean. No excess fat – an example of just how fine and fresh St Péray can be when in the right hands.

Champagne Billecart-Salmon Rosé, Non Vintage
Chosen by Vim of 12×75.com (@12×75)

I was given a bottle to taste recently and decided to take it along to one of our ‘7 Word Wine Review’ evenings in London so everyone could try it. It proved to be one of the highlights of our evening and seemed to be universally loved by the group of tasters.  The wine has small, elegant bubbles and a flavour of delicate peaches with strawberries and raspberries, with a whiff of fresh brioche.  It had just the right amount of sweetness to confuse and delight at the same time – should you have it as an aperitif, or with dessert?  Maybe both…  and then later on, have some more!

Azienda Agricola Vittorio Graziano, Lambrusco “Fontana dei Boschi” 2010 IGT Emilia
Chosen by Nathan Nolan of Mr Drink ‘N’ Eat (@MrDrinknEat)

I was entranced by this wine, it literally had an emotional persona to it. A funky skunky nose (in a nice way). On the palate wild sour dark fruits wrestled around with zip zing acids and fresh tannins, but with a very mature fruit finish.

Chateau Phelan Segur 2004
Chosen by Wendy Narby of Insider Tasting (@insidertasting)

The surprise when tasting this wine blind at a dinner at the Chateau was to discover the vintage. I loved the pure fruit, elegant tannins and great length from a vintage often offhandedly labelled as ‘Classique’. Big mistake to be put off by this description, the wine is a beauty. Situated in between classified growths of Saint Estephe, Chateau Phelan Segur produces very accessible wines (price as well as style) with an elegance that belies the appellation’s reputation for robustness. There’s nothing wrong with classic.

Heinrich St. Laurent 2009
Chosen by Colin Smith of Grapefan’s Wine Adventures (@grapefan)

My standout wine in 2013 was an Austrian red which I came across on the shelves of Waitrose. Austria is perhaps better known for its white wines made from the Gruner Veltliner grape but this 2009 red, made from the St Laurent grape by Weingut Heinrich Hartl, was beautifully soft, supply, fruity and perfectly balanced. It showed that despite having a reputation for making great whites the Austrians can make wonderful red wines also.

Celler de Vermunver Genesi Varietal 2010 (100% Carignan)
Chosen by Simon Woolf of The Morning Claret (@simonjwoolf)

One of the most outstanding Carignan dominated wines that I discovered on a trip to the Priorat and Monsant regions in Spain. Perfectly demonstrates the freshness and elegance that these wines can have – no mean feat with 14.5% alcohol. The 2010 has inviting aromas of mint, eucalyptus and dried herbs, vibrant cassis fruit and refined, grippy tannins. Already very drinkable, but should have a great future too.

Oaken Grove Benham Blush 2012, Oxfordshire, England
Chosen by Joanne Randell of perfectfridaywine (@perfectfriwine)

Produced from Pinot Noir and Bacchus grapes grown locally to me, near Henley-on-Thames in the Chiltern Hills and bottled by Stanlake Park, Berkshire, I discovered wine quite by accident during an English tasting that I ran for my monthly wine tasting group.  Surprisingly dry and crisp, with strawberries and cream, yet another English wine triumph that gives provencal rose a run for its money.

Savagnin, Badoz, Côtes du Jura, France 2007
Chosen by Brett Jones of Brett, the Wine Maestro (@thewinemaestro)

Gold. Sherbet lemons, lemon meringue pie, dry, bright with a fine depth. Little hints of yeast, great with concaillotte, a local young cheese…
Local Jura grape variety made in the oxidative Jura style, but with bags of fruit. Also good with hard cheese (Comté) and light curries. Jura is a very special area in the east of France, about 50 miles east of Burgundy, renowned for Vin Jaune which must be aged in barrel for a minimum of 6 years 3 months without being topped up – thus made in an oxidative style. This wine is made with the same variety as used in Vin Jaune, Savagnin,  and is also not topped up. A good introduction to the Jurassien style!

Pecorino, the grape variety
Chosen by Andrew Barrow of Spittoon (@wine_scribbler)

Less of a specific wine, more a grape variety. For some reason, perhaps the trips I’ve been on to Rome and the wine country in Italy, I’ve really grown fond of decent Italian white wines. Pecorino, the grape variety, rather than the cheese is one such. There was a great bottle in a wine bar in Rome that really opened my eyes, and back in the UK several restaurant meals and a decent under a tenner bottle from my local supermarket. It’s the combination of weight, a spicy edge (ginger) and a nutty complexity to the flavour that I adore.  I should also mention that I do also like pecorino the cheese.

Anselmo Mendes, Muros Antigos, Alvarinho 2012
Chosen by Robert McIntosh of Thirst for Wine (@thirstforwine)

I discovered this wine, and the amazing potential of this variety, in a beautiful converted building, down the narrow streets of Melgaço. The Solar do Alvarinho is a tasting room, bar and shop dedicated just to Alvarinho and the many small producers growing it locally. The town itself is beautiful, but the wine was an amazing combination of crisp freshness you’d expect from Vinho Verde, but more luscious tropical fruit and floral aromas to give it roundness. A wonderful reason to head back to the Minho region of northern Portugal as soon as possible.

Toro Albala, Don PX Double Label 1911
Chosen by Tom Lewis of The Cambridge Wine Blogger (@CambWineBlogger)

With only 106 bottles made, this century-old wine dates to an almost-Victorian era when Germany and Russia were still empires ruled by royal houses. Translucent black with coffee and liquorice, there is sweet vanilla, toffee and a fragrant-floral black chocolate savouriness. Complex and harmonious with an aged mellowness, it has a vibrancy that belies its centegenarian status. Rather like Mick Jagger or Sean Connery, its youthful, rogueish charm is still present - it has an energy - but it is matched by the assurance that comes with longevity.

Pierre-Yves Colin-Morey 2010 Bourgogne Blanc
Chosen by Nik Byrne of Wine from a Tumbler (@NikByrne)

I had seen a lot of recent hype about this winemaker on Instagram and Twitter, so I jumped at the chance to try this wine when I was out at a friend’s birthday lunch at The Ledbury. This is labelled as a ‘Bourgogne’, which is a generic classification, but it punches well above its weight; it’s clean, classic and classy. Roberson stocks some wines from Pierre-Yves Colin-Morey, though I’m sure the 2010s would have sold out very quickly. It’s great to see the ‘cheaper’ appellations of Burgundy providing excellent quality juice.

Stellenbosch, The Francophile Syrah 2012
Chosen by Simon Woods of Drinking Outside the Box (@woodswine)

If there’s a common thread running through the wines I’m craving at the moment, it’s that they’re refreshing and red. It’s a combination that many parts of the world struggle to get right – Beaujolais can do it, Valpolicella used to be able to do it but seems to have forgotten how. So it was a thrill to come across The Liberator “Francophile” Syrah 2012 from Stellenbosch in South Africa. Forget clumsy Cape reds, this is vibrant young wine with floral notes to its blackberry and blackcurrant flavours, a touch of spice, and the roasted note you often find in northern Rhône reds. Perhaps not a wine to chill, but definitely fresh, perky and – most importantly – very tasty.

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