Harvest 2017: Roberson Reports, Pt.2
Wondering how vintage 2017 is shaping up? We’ve been checking in with a number of our producers from across the northern hemisphere, to find out how this year’s harvest has gone. Last time we spoke with John and David Viano from Contra Costa County, California - this week we're heading to Piedmont to hear from Elisa Giacosa of Bric Cencurio and Rizieri. Part 2: Piedmont, Italy The unique features of the 2017 growing season were severe frost in April and severe heat in August. The frost caused heavy damage to the vineyards and reduced yields, while the heat resulted in drought conditions, smaller than average berry size, and an early harvest. What were the challenges of 2017? In August it looked as though the harvest would be particularly hard – temperatures were averaging 38-40 degrees and the vines were under severe water stress. But thanks to rain in early September, the vines were reinvigorated and underwent a burst of physiological ripening, catching up with the sugar ripeness. Although quantities were affected, the wines have ended up being much better balanced and of higher quality than expected. How did you respond to these challenges? We checked grape maturation constantly and picked a month earlier than the average of previous vintages. We were lucky that September was much cooler after August, with large temperature differences between day and night. These were ideal conditions for producing perfectly mature Nebbiolo and Barbera. What is the result of the harvest so far? We are happy and satisfied. The only problem will be smaller quantities than are usually available. Do you have any interesting anecdotes or stories to tell? The early harvest and great weather during September meant that we were all able to go to the seaside and get suntans. That was our holiday for this year!
Sad news from California
California Burning Wildfires in California are nothing new, but when I woke a few days ago to see pictures of wineries and vineyards burning, it was unsettling. Just last month I had been basking in 30+ degree weather in Glen Ellen, sitting on my friends’ deck, looking across the Valley of the Moon to the hillsides and vineyards within view. Their house is now gone, burned literally to the ground and although they are safe, the fires are still raging through Santa Rosa, Atlas Peak and Potter Valley in Mendocino County. The wine industry is resilient and close-knit in times of difficulty and it will rebound without a doubt. But the fires have destroyed large swathes of irreplaceable vineyards and, most importantly, the homes and communities of those who work within the business. At Roberson Wine we take pride in our eclectic collection of producers. To us they are friends; individuals (not companies or corporations) who produce wines filled with their own personalities, quirks and passions. Only time will tell how devastating these fires have been to the wine industry, but we hope that the wine community and all the individuals who make it such an amazing place are safe in the coming days. Help us raise £10,000 In conjunction with other friends in the wine trade, we're aiming to raise £10,000 to support the wine communities of California and will be donating a proportion of the proceeds from our Californian wine sales during October. If you'd like to help out too, you can donate at the JustGiving page.
Cleaning up at The Dirty Dozen
Last month Roberson joined eleven of the UK’s most interesting independent wine importers at The Dirty Dozen. This annual tasting event champions smaller producers, who focus on “wines of integrity and authenticity”, that are “real before synthetic” and “that speak of the terroir”. The demand for these organic, biodynamic and natural wines was plain to see. As a society we’re ever more conscious of what we put in our bodies, and the wine trade is adapting well to this growing market trend. Tucked away in the basement of one of London’s leading record stores, passers-by would never have guessed that over 250 wines were being swirled, sniffed, slurped and scrutinised by some of the country’s finest sommeliers, wine retailers and wine journalists. Favourites among the Roberson selection were identified as the Plein Sud 2016 from Vignerons d’Estezargues, Rudolph Trossen’s Silbermond Riesling 2016, Seth Kunin’s Santa Barbara County Syrah 2015 and the wines of our new agency Vinca Minor. Vignerons d’Estezargues Plein Sud 2016 – A 50/50 blend of Viognier and Roussanne from the Cote de Rhone, Estezargues make their wine as naturally as possible, with minimal SO2. This wine displays a floral, fruity nose and juicy stone fruits on the palate, rounded off with great minerality. Trossen Silbermond Riesling Fienherb 2016 – Pioneers of bio dynamism, Rita and Rudolph Trossen produce organic fruit in the Mosel valley. Working in harmony with the land, the winemaking process is synchronised with the biodynamic calendar. With minimal intervention in the winery and use of indigenous yeast only, the end result is slightly off-dry, packed full of citrus fruit with a dazzling minerality that lingers on the palate. Kunin Santa Barbara County Syrah 2015 – Seth Kunin, a transplanted New Yorker, first arrived on the west coast to work in California's fine dining scene, where he fell in love with wine and ended up quitting the restaurant business. A fan of wines of the northern Rhone, this Syrah is a new world expression of a classic Saint-Joseph. This wine is silky and elegant with spiced blackberry fruit and hints of smoked meats and olives. Amelia Singer (ITV2’s The Wine Show expert and UK ambassador for California Wines UK) is a huge fan of Kunin and praised the wines while she tasted at Roberson’s stand: “I love how the ripeness of baked red plums is equally matched with a peppery, charcuterie-esque nuance. It really shows how Santa Barbara’s terroir allows winemakers to straddle the savoury and fruity aspects of Syrah.” Vinca Minor Santa Cruz Cabernet Sauvignon 2016 – Using organic fruit from high altitude sites in the Santa Cruz Mountains, this Cabernet is fermented with native yeasts and aged in neutral French oak to preserve the freshness of fruit. Bottled un-fined and unfiltered, this is a brilliant example of minimal intervention winemaking. Peter Richards MW from BBC1’s Saturday Kitchen tasted it at our table, describing it “as adorable as an eager and super-fluffy puppy”.
Anna Von Bertele
Harvest 2017: Roberson Reports
Wondering how vintage 2017 is shaping up? We’ve been checking in with a number of our producers from across the northern hemisphere, to find out how this year’s harvest has gone. We’ll be publishing thoughts from several key growers across Europe in coming days, but first, we’re heading to California to hear from John and David Viano. Part 1: Contra Costa County, California “Hey John, how’s harvest going for you this year?” John: “In a word, crazy!” In Northern California, harvest kick started after a heatwave in the last two weeks of August. The vintage itself had huge potential, with a great warm year and much needed early season rain after many years of drought - “with all the rainfall this year we were expecting to see large berry size, but to our pleasant surprise, size remained normal.” This means the grapes have concentrated flavour, rather than being weak and diluted. However, the end of summer heatwave put up some obstacles to an easy year. Out in Contra Costa, a region with only a few wineries, the Viano brothers suffered from lack of available labour and harvested at least 80% of their grapes themselves. 35 tons of fruit were harvested by 4 people in 10 days, not forgetting the other aspects of production that need doing at the same time! But experienced winemaker brothers John and David have not let some strong sunshine get in the way of their crop. They’re used to these kind of hot conditions, so wild-farm their vines with huge canopies of growth protecting the grapes. Any exposed grapes that did suffer from sunburn or shrivelled in the heat have been abandoned, meaning their crop size is smaller than average, however they still believe that what they have managed to pick is above average. We look forward to seeing the results when the wines are released in 4 years’ time.
The Great Game
Matching wines with the flavours of the new season As loathe as I am to admit it, autumn is coming. You may have noticed also. It’s been coming since about 28 July, as I make it. And by mid-August I was reminded almost daily of that cruel, soul-corroding British ‘joke’ about ‘summer falling on a Wednesday this year’. Ha ha. It’s inevitable. So what else to do but drink well and therefore happily, and happily the silver lining comes in the form of wonderful autumnal game offerings to help do so: grouse, guinea fowl, venison, wood pigeon, partridge, rabbit… wild mushroom. Here are autumnal flavours for the taking, with not-so-little help from those reds which have the guts, acidity and structure to stand up to the deeper, earthy and nuttier glories of the season. But let’s for a moment resist the Pinot Noir default reflex and look further afield: Nerello Mascalese from Sicily. Cantine Murgo’s 2015 Etna Rosso has wonderfully fresh acidity and nice sweet/savoury, zippy and spicy red fruit flavours and also fits in where a good Gamay would. Grown on Etna’s volcanic soils and aged 8 months in the traditional chestnut, just about any fowl will be game with Le Cantine’s cuvée. Get some ceps, chanterelles or porcini involved and things get really exciting. Moving along the spectrum of flavour we get darker power with wood pigeon and wild boar. Accordingly, things should get weightier with the reds, though with a need to keep that acidity up - Sangiovese being the easy option. But let’s again go off-piste to the curious little Catalonian appellation Costers del Segre (no, I’d not heard of it either). Real freshness and depth to be found in Costers del Sió’s 2014 ‘Les Creus’, an invigorating blend of Tempranillo and Grenache (85% / 15%) giving enough weight and brightness to balance all elements. Red berries, spice, earthy minerality and cleanly finishing off any lingering gaminess. This is right. Finally, the end game (sorry, I’m almost done) is venison. Big, bold, rich… and though Napa Cab with deer may not be so uncommon, an affordable and fresh expression of the former often is. 2015 Hunt & Harvest Napa Cabernet Sauvignon is black, sweet, deep and supple but with that green pepper typicity to give life and verve to what can sometimes be a cloying experience for the palate when getting through such-sized elements. I return again to acidity and structure: they are here as they must be and all helped along with a wee bit of Malbec, Petit Verdot, Cabernet Franc and Merlot in the mix. Weighty, fully-flavoured, refined tannin & freshness, H&H cleans up and redeems beautifully a seasonal culinary experience. Get on with it, autumn.
What Do Wine Tasting Terms Mean?
Lost in translation? Common wine tasting terms explained: Ever read a wine tasting note and thought, “what on earth does that mean?” The descriptive terms used in tasting notes can sometimes seem downright odd. After all, there are no twigs in an oaky white, or pebbles in a mineral red. Often, this is because language is just really bad at describing the sensations we feel. This is especially true of senses as primal as taste and smell, which evolved long before we developed language. Wine tasters, therefore, are forced to convey their impressions via metaphors. As a parallel, think about how hard it would be to describe pain without metaphor. A stabbing pain doesn’t literally have to mean you’re being shanked, and you don’t have to be sitting too close to a radiator to have a burning pain (although you should probably get that checked out). With wine, there’s the added problem that, if tasting notes are written immediately after a particularly lengthy and enjoyable tasting, the creative juices can be a little over-stimulated. But we’ve read many wine tasting notes that seem like they could only have been written by a random wine review generator: “The 2011 Syrah from Champs de Merde incorporates flippant shrimp midtones with a complex millet essence….” Wait… what? We can’t promise to explain what a flippant shrimp tastes like, but we can explain what many of the most common tasting terms mean. Wine Tasting Terms - The List: A.B.V. Abbreviation of ‘alcohol by volume’. It is normally listed on a wine label in percentage format to let you know how much alcohol is in the bottle you’re about to drink. ACIDITY Acid is present in all grapes and is an absolutely essential part of any wine. It can be detected by the sharp, crisp character it gives wines. It is responsible for making a wine taste fresh and is an important balance to any sweetness. AUTOLYTIC Wine described as having an 'autolytic' character have a yeasty or bread-like smell or taste. Often this comes from ageing the wine on its lees. BALANCED When a wine has all its essential components (acid, tannin, sugar and alcohol) in harmony, so that one component does not overwhelm any of the others. BARREL Barrels in winemaking are usually made from oak - either French or American - and are often used to age wine or sometimes as a container for fermentation. American oak tends to impart a stronger, sweeter flavour than French oak. Either can be toasted before use to bring a different dimension, but the most common distinction made between barrel types is between old and new. New barrels can overwhelm the natural flavour of the wine if they're overused, so older ones, or a mixture, are often preferred. BARRIQUE A special type of barrel. Barriques have a capacity of 225 litres and are relatively tall. Although they are all a set size, the term barrique does not indicate whether it is old or new oak, or the level of toasting inside. BIODYNAMIC WINE Biodynamics is a farming practice that advocates harmony between the earth, the vine and the cosmos. Its theories hail from anthropologist Rudolph Steiner who proposed that everything is connected and cyclical when it comes to agriculture. Proponents of this system say that their wines are more stable and are truer expressions of their vineyard. Some of our growers use biodynamic practices, but whether this is what makes their grapes so good, or whether they are just good growers anyway, is open to debate. BLEND Individual wines can be blended together to make something with better balance. Blending might be between wines made from different grape varieties, grown in different vineyards, harvested in different years, or treated differently during the winemaking process. BLIND TASTING A tasting where the identity of the wines being tasted is withheld from the people doing the tasting. It’s a pretty good way to sort out wines that legitimately taste amazing, from those relying on their label and/or reputation to influence the tasters. BODY Term to describe the weight of a wine in the mouth. Full-bodied wine is heavier, with more power, more alcohol, tannin and flavour. Lighter-bodied wine is more delicate. CLOSED / TIGHT A wine that’s not very forthcoming with its characteristics and maybe needs to breathe, or age for a bit longer. It doesn’t necessarily mean a bad wine – like a person who’s not very open and friendly at first, but then turns out to be really nice once you get to know them, sometimes you just have to give a wine the benefit of the doubt. COMPLEX Not a wine with emotional problems, but a wine with lots of different flavour characteristics, all working together. Generally considered a good thing. CORKED Cork taint is a specific wine fault caused by a fungus which can lay hidden deep within cork bark. Its effects can range from the barely detectable to the severe. At the less serious end of the scale, it’s often difficult to say for certain that something is amiss without opening a second bottle for comparison. The fruit flavour of the wine may appear dull and muted, and the wine may finish short. In more severe cases, the wine will smell distinctly musty and, in extreme instances, of rotting cardboard or like a mouldy dog. A wine with a few bits of cork floating around in it is not corked, although you might want to have a word with the person who poured you your glass. CRISP A wine (typically white) with higher acidity and leaner fruit, which comes across to the drinker as fresher, more zingy and more enjoyable to drink on a hot day. If it tastes of cheese and onion, you’re not drinking wine. CRUNCHY Some wines have a taste of red fruit, combined with juicy acidity, which is best described as “crunchy”. Think of a crisp red apple, or a firm red plum. CUVÉE A French term for a particular batch, blend or type of wine. DRY A wine is dry if it contains little or no residual sugar. A common mistake is to believe that a wine is not dry if it tastes of sweet things, such as fruit. The flavour of the wine is unrelated to whether a wine is dry or not. EARTHY A wine with more savoury flavours and aromas of forest floor or mushrooms might be said to be earthy. It usually also indicates a style of wine with less impression of fruit sweetness. FLABBY A wine that lacks acidity. Think how less refreshing fizzy drinks become when they go flat; the carbon dioxide bubbles give these drinks more acidity and, once it’s gone, they’re not as nice to drink. FINISH When you swallow a wine (or spit it out… like that’s a thing) the flavours and sensations of the wine will stay with you for a period of time. Poor quality wines tend to disappear from the mouth quickly, whereas high quality wines are said to have a long finish i.e. the flavours last a long time. If you like the taste, that’s a good thing! FRUIT FORWARD A wine which emphasises ripe, jammy fruit character as its principal characteristic, as opposed to an older wine, which might be more earthy and gamey, or an oaky wine dominated by aromas of toast or vanilla. HORIZONTAL TASTING A tasting of wines from the same year, but from multiple producers. Usually organised around a theme such as grape, region or style. LEES The particles that settle at the bottom of a tank or barrel after fermentation or ageing, made up of dead yeast cells and grape fragments. Leaving a wine to age on these lees can impart additional complexity to the finished product, adding silky texture and bready aromas. MINERAL / MINERALITY Vines growing on particular types of soil – for example Santorini’s volcanic soils, or Chablis’ Kimmeridgian chalk – are said to impart a mineral characteristic to their wines. While it’s hard to define what constitutes a mineral flavour, research conducted by Dr Wendy Parr of Lincoln University, New Zealand found that most tasters agree that mineral wines tend to taste of citrus, with fresh zingy notes, a smoky character, and chalky texture. OAKY A wine smelling or tasting of characteristics derived from ageing in oak barrels. These can range from sweet vanilla (indicating use of American oak) or more subtle buttered-toast notes (from French oak). OLD VINE As vines get older, they become less vigorous and produce fewer grapes, but the grapes they do produce become more intensely flavoured and complex. There’s no legal definition, but as a rule of thumb, vines would need to be aged around 50 years to be considered old. If a vine produces less fruit, this means less wine can be made, so as well as being better, a wine made from old vines is also likely to be a little more expensive. OXIDISED This is what happens when a wine has been exposed to oxygen for too long. This can happen during the winemaking process, or if it has been stored incorrectly and the closure has failed. It’s why your wine starts to taste like vinegar after a few days of being left open. POLISHED No Mr Muscle involved. Just means a well-made wine with smooth tannins / texture. SOMMELIER A specialist waiter in a restaurant, who oversees the wine list and advises customers on wine choices. Not everyone who loves wine, or whose profession involves wine, is a sommelier. STRUCTURE Acidity and tannin are two major components of a wine that give it structure, texture and the ability to age and improve. Think of a glass of wine being a bit like a body – the fruit is the muscle and the acidity and tannin are the skeleton – neither would work without the other. A well-structured wine is one where these different components are in harmony with each other, and this might also give the impression that the wine could age well. SWEET Some wines are actually sweet – in other words, they contain a significant amount of sugar. Others may be incorrectly described as sweet, even when they’re actually bone dry, because their ripe fruit character gives an impression of sweetness. TANNIN A bitter compound that naturally occurs in the skins, seeds and stems of a grape. They give wines dryness and structure, and can add complexity. Tannins are also an antioxidant, working to protect the wine as it ages. Tannins can be detected in many wines - they feel grainy and drying on your gums. TERROIR A French term, which doesn't have a single direct equivalent in English. It refers to the combination of factors that influence the quality and character of wine in a particular area or vineyard, including soil, climate and grape variety. If a vineyard or region is said to have good terroir, it means that it is all of those factors are favourable for the production of good wine. A wine tasting of its terroir indicates that it is typical of its region and/or vineyard. VERTICAL TASTING A tasting of the same wine, but from different vintages, alongside one another. VINTAGE The year a particular wine’s grapes were picked. If a wine is 'non-vintage' it means it is made up of a blend of wines from different years, and not that it is of lesser quality. Most Champagne, for example, is non-vintage. WET STONE Who’s ever actually tasted a wet stone? Not us! This is one of those difficult-to-define, evocative terms, indicating something like the smell of a pebble beach in the rain, with hints of salinity and earth. WINEMAKER A person who lives in a winery and occasionally makes wine. Anything you think we missed? Get in touch with your best / worst / funniest wine tasting notes and we’ll do our best to decipher them and get them added to our list.
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