Nosing Around Burgundy
Feeling a little dishevelled and tired, Mark and I returned from Burgundy late last night. After we had drained the car of tissues and Sudafed for my cold, Price-lists and directions, and my collection of CD’s (brilliant and cutting-edge) we set about evaluating the trip. We drove up to Beaune on Tuesday, departing from London at 6:00, stopping (and getting gridlocked) in Reims for lunch at about three, and arriving in Beane at around 8:30. We were staying in the centre, at a small hotel close to the recommended Vieux Vigneron restaurant where we ate in the evening. The food was typical and excellent, Mark plumped for the snails whilst I went for the most bland item on the Menu, in an attempt to stave off the stomach upsets I always seem to get on eating such rich food. One thing really struck me, in comparison to years gone by, just how expensive France is in comparison to Britain. No kidding, most of the wines in Beaune wine-shops are cheaper to buy in Roberson, as for drinking in restaurants, how about 1994 Chambertin from Grivot at e550 (incidentally you could buy Rousseau’s 2005 Chambertin for e420, but to drink now!!) Its a tough time to be a British wine buyer at the moment no doubt. The next day, we set off for a busy itenary of visits with producers we work with and some interesting prospects for the future. Our first appointment was with Phillipe Charlopin, a jolly and plain-talking man of the world. After driving around the back of a supermarket and getting a little lost, we found his new winery, a wonderfully modern cuverie with lots of capacity. Phillipe told us of his expansion plans, including the first vintages of his new acquisitions in Chablis where he has brought parcels of Petit Chablis, Chablis, 1er Cru Fourchaume, Lechet and another one I forget now. The tasting went well, across the 2007′s which were all recently bottled. These are obviously wines with big ambitions, bottles and price tags. Interestingly, the Russian market seems to be quite a big one for Charlopin. In terms of the wines, the Chablis showed some poor typicity with ample oak being applied to even the generic Chablis. At the top level the 2007 Corton Charlemagne was excellent with plenty of structure and excellent minerality. The reds were, by and large, more impressive then the whites. The Clos de Vougeot I remember as being particularly excellent. The problem with the wines for us was largely one of price. With the current exchange rate the wines, whilst good were just too much to handle for us. Following Charlopin, we drove to Gevrey where we met with Didier Chevillon, the owner of Dupont-Tisserandot a producer we have started talking wine from. Didier is a lovely man, unassuming and modest given his excellent vineyards and reputation. We tried the 2007′s again from bottle where they were showing beautifully in his dark and damp cellar where I was continually bashing my head much to Mark’s amusement. Also, we tried the pre-malo 2008′s which were tasting very well, despite the modesty of the vintage. In particular the 2008 Mazis Chambertin showed stupendous, compot-like, intensity of berry fruit. Following the tasting, Didier took us to lunch at Chez Guy, a lovely restaurant in Gevrey where he was most offended by my driving protestations and coke-drinking Anglo-Saxonness. From Didier’s place, we drove to a Domaine Balerain, based in Morey. A new estate, well spoken about by Alan Meadows and run by the charming Gilles and Fabienne, who used to work for the negociants Bichot. The couple have set up the estate from scratch, buying land wherever possible, some of it, she freely admits, in poor quality.Gilles told us, on his way out to the vinyeard of his excitement of adding a small plot of Morey-St-Denis Quantities here and very low, on average 1000 bottles per cuvee. The style here is non-interventionalist and easy on the oak with the wines showing great purity. We tried the Bourgogne Blanc, Aligote, Bourgogne PTG, Bourgogne Rouge, Marsannay and Cotes de Nuits Village, all in the 2007 vintage, and their inaugaral vintage 2005 Marsannay to see how it was evolving. The wines were good, with some revealing slight reduction which blew off, after a couple of minutes. We were particularly impressed with the Bourgogne Blanc which contained a small quantitie (10%) of Pinots Blanc, Buerrier, Gris and Muscatel which showed a lovely singular personality. The Cotes de Nuits Village also showed good fruit and a nice plumpness. From Balerain we headed up to Puligny to Domaine Carillon, where we met with the engaging Jacques Carillon who was in the process of getting ready for the bottling of the 2007′s. We tried the basic wines which showed great minerality and purity and then went on the compare the three premier cru’s. The Referts was most showy with a great plumpness and upfront charm. The Champs-Canet and the Perrieres were lean and focussed with a great nervosite and a long life ahead. The wines were showing superbly at this point and should prove to be great buys, particularly with the fair pricing of the Carillon family. The next day, on Thursday morning we collected some of the wines we had ordered previously, visiting Paul Pillot, where I fell in love with Pillots daughter, then Michel Magnien and Dupont Tisserandot. Fully loaded up, we headed off at around 11:30 to a rough channel crossing and eventual return to London.
First Growth Showdown – 1985 and 1995
It is always an event to taste one of Bordeaux’s first growths, but to taste all of them next to each other from the same vintage is a rare privilege indeed. Even better when that vintage is a stellar year like 1985, which Michael Broadbent described as “one of the most perfect vintages, for drinking now and for keeping.” And so it was that a group of twenty or so dedicated followers of claret assembled in the Roberson cellars to compare the ’85 Grand Vin from each of the five first growths and their second wines from 1995 (another great year). As one would expect, it proved to be an illuminating evening of beautiful wines and animated conversation. There had been only one spanner in the works in the build up to the tasting and that was the sheer difficulty of tracking down the 1995 Petit Mouton. The inaugural vintage of Mouton-Rothschild’s second wine was 1993 and the first few vintages were made in small quantities and it proved nigh on impossible to find anything that was at least a decade old. We managed to track down the 1994, which although from a weak vintage would at least give an indication of the character of the wine. Flight One - 1994 Petit Mouton We tasted the first wine on its own as it was not really fair to compare it with the ‘95s, but in actual fact it equipped itself very well and the entire group was suitably impressed with its concentration and youthfulness. 1994 was a very average vintage, but there are plenty of good wines out there for those who don’t have a vintage chart mentality. Great producer + poor vintage = (relative) bargain. Flight Two - 1995 Bahans Haut Brion, 1995 Pavillon Rouge du Margaux, 1995 Carruades de Lafite, 1995 Les Forts de Latour This was a lovely flight of wines that whetted the appetite for what was to come. We kicked off with the Bahans, which had a beautiful nose full of dark fruit and minerals. On the palate there was layers of flavour that were all wonderfully precise and very clean, a great illustration of why Robert Parker feels that Bahans is one of the top one or two second wines in Bordeaux. From there we moved on to the Pavillon Rouge. A more complex nose here with rich damson fruit leaping from the glass and a vague medicinal note lurking in the background. Above all this is a silky wine with beautiful texture and loads of black fruit on the palate - it was no surprise to learn that an unusually large proportion of the wine was Merlot in ’95. Next up was Carruades de Lafite, and almost all of the group were left disappointed with what was the most expensive wine of the flight (and in general the wine with the fastest growing price in the world for the last two years). The nose was attractive, with plenty of dark fruit and a meaty, savoury quality that was promising. Unfortunately the palate was clunky and slightly unbalanced, with acidity that seemed out of kilter with the rest of the wine. It wasn’t universally disliked, but the majority of the tasters were left unimpressed. The final wine of the flight was Les Forts de Latour and here was a wine that eclipsed the Carruades in every department. Like the second wine of Lafite, Latour’s offering is taken predominantly from vineyards separate to the main estate (and source of the Grand Vin) and can be looked at almost as a Grand Vin in its own right rather than merely a second wine made from declassified fruit. And ‘grand’ it certainly was with a beautiful nose full of blackberries and black cherries with a savoury quality that was reminiscent of good beef stock. On the palate it was delicate and soft but with genuine presence, silky mouthfeel and great balance. When the votes were cast the tasters deemed Les Forts de Latour to be the winner (9 votes), with Pavillon Rouge (6 votes), Carruades de Lafite (2 votes) and Bahans (1 vote – which was me!) bringing up the rear. Flights Three-Seven - 1985 Mouton Rothschild, 1985 Haut Brion, 1985 Margaux, 1985 Lafite, 1985 Latour Then it was time for the main event. We took each wine individually rather than tasting them all at once, as is befitting their status. Mouton is the junior member of this elite club, having only been promoted to 1er cru classé in 1973 and it was the first wine tasted out of the five. And what a start! The nose was absolutely stunning, jumping out of the glass and full of classic Bordeaux character. Masses of sweet black fruit with graphite and pencil shavings, layered on top of toasty oak and a beguiling hint of sweet spices. The palate was plump and juicy with very luxurious texture that made it fabulously moreish. A very showy wine that was warmly received by the group, one of few criticisms being that it didn’t quite have the length of finish that was expected. The Haut-Brion followed and here was a wine that really split the group. We were met with a quieter nose that the Mouton (which is perhaps unsurprising) and the Haut Brion was showing a more developed character with a more cooked fruit character. It was very soft on the palate and while many of the group were left waiting for something extra, some of the tasters were seduced by the beautiful balance and elegance. Personally I felt that it lacked a little stuffing in the mid-palate, but it is undeniably a charming wine. As we moved on to the Margaux the group immediately noticed a far tighter and more concentrated nose with lots of primary dark fruit. The palate was elegance in a glass, with satin-like texture and wonderful concentration that promises many more years of development ahead. The sweet black fruit was layered over chocolate and minerals and it seemed to combine the opulence of the Mouton with the softness and elegance of Haut Brion. 1985 was a ‘comet vintage’ (Haley’s comet in this instance) and the Lafite was the only one of the wines to denote this on the bottle. Apparently the atmospheric conditions that accompany a comet improve the quality of the harvest, although how much empirical evidence there is for this I don’t know. The ’85 Lafite was quite subdued on the nose, although there was a very mineral aspect to it that reminded me of pencil lead. The fruit was there although it was somewhat quiet, which prompted some of the audience to question whether the Lafite would ever come out of itself and live up to its billing. Personally I think that it will continue to improve, but even now it is a wine of obvious class and great breeding, if not the sumptuousness of the Mouton or Margaux. The final wine of the evening was Château Latour, scored the lowest of the five by Robert Parker (just 88 points). The nose reminded me instantly of the Les Forts de Latour, with an appetising combination of blackberries and gravy (well, appetising for me but then I am from Manchester). The palate had good weight, with punchy fruit and a creamy texture that showed off more oak that the others. Again the group was split, with many feeling that the Latour was a little hefty and cumbersome in comparison to the elegance of some of the others. The votes were cast, and the clear winner was Château Margaux (14 votes, including me). Haut Brion (2 votes), Mouton and Lafite (1 vote each) picked up the other votes and poor Latour ended up with nothing. A full report has been sent to the relevant authorities and we anticipate a reclassification on the basis of our results, with Margaux being promoted to king of the grand crus. Well, perhaps not, but tasting the wines next to each other in this fashion was certainly an illuminating experience and the entire group was very impressed with how different all of the wines were from one another. Their individual personalities were fascinating to compare, and 1985 proved to be an ideal vintage in which to make the comparison – all the wines are drinking beautifully right now. Read more about this tasting by downloading the tasting brochure from the night.
Dinner at Bentleys
The Roberson team embarked on wet Sunday for the annual ‘Christmas’ dinner – which, this year was in mid-febuary, I hear that it has even been as late as August in the past. The venue was Bentleys in Mayfair, I turned up early and nearly didn’t get in at all. I said hello, the large (but quite camp doorman said hello. Then I: I’m here early, we have a reservation for 7:45, Him: Okay, rather disdainfully: ‘Oh’ Awkward pause. I: Can I come in?, Him: What if I say no? At this point there was a bit of a standoff, I felt very small, like Dick Whittington in the brightlights of London. He did let me in and I think it was all a bit of banter, which was good for him as I think I might have shown him some of my ‘moves’. We had some great food, and the following wines 2005 Pur Sang Dageneau Rather tight and closed, not really showing too well. To be honest, I think I would have guessed this as a bog-standard Sancerre if the tasting was blind. I find with Dageneau’s wines, they either bowl you over or leave you feeling a bit non-plussed depending on when and were you drink them. 1999 Meursault Charmes Morey-Blanc Ex-Domaine Leflaive winemaker Pierre Morey has always been one of my favourites and the Meursault showed very nicely, certainly needs drinking but with a nice honeyed character and good complexity. Quite rich in style which is a little atypical of his style. 2003 Cos Labory Rated very highly by some, this was drinking very well with a qute classic structure for such a hot vintage. Moscato, La Spinetta These wines were followed by some Moscato by La Spinetta, which was perfect, I can not really think of a nicer way to end a rich meal. At this point, the more sensible employees went home whilst us Young Turks went on to drink dubious concoctions of debatable alcoholic content at Trader Vic’s.
One of the more rareified tastings in the calender is the annual release of Domaine de la Romanee Conti‘s wines through their UK agent, Corney and Barrow. Voices are hushed, numbers are low, and even the scruffiest member of the wine trade (I’m sure he works at Roberson) puts on a smart tie and suit. Arranging to meet with an Roberson old boy now importing Burgundy himself, I was there ‘early doors’ at around quarter to nine. An impressive effort I thought. Downstairs in a small room, with Aubert de Villaine around to answer any questions or listen to any fawning from hard-worn wine cynics, who frankly should have more self respect, uttering such remarks as ‘your wines make me fall in love all over again’ Still, if you are going to go weak kneed for any wine, this would be it. My unedited notes below. 2006 Vosne Romanee 1er Cru Duvault-Blochet Pure nose – good expression. Fine but persistant tannins, long finish, quite Beaune like in style. 2006 Echezeaux More ripeness on the nose, floral, violets. Smooth, more velvety tannins then the DB. Drinking surprisingly well. Good wine, but not a great Grand Cru at this point 2006 Grand Echezeaux Forward nose of cherry and pronounced spice. More exotic then previous two wines. Powerful finish with good definition. A wine for the long haul. 2006 Richebourg Floral nose of violets and rosewater. Real power in the mouth with very seamless tanins. Nice style. I am now starting to feel a little quesy/tipsy from drinking at 8:45 on an empty stomach 2006 Romanee St Vivant Feeling better. Remarkable sense of freshness on nose and palate. Very intergrated acidity running through finish. Should last very well. The best wine so far. This year it is offered for the first time at a higher price then the Richebourg and I can see why. 2006 La Tache More obvious oak. Chunky and big. Real Grand Cru style. Toasty. Big and grippy. Still a little unformed at this point. Long finish, but less fruit-based charm then the RSV. 2006 Romanee Conti A sort of hypothetical blend of the RSV and La Tache. Power + fruit definition, very impressive and showing well. Everything in check. Wonderful and with a great future. There we go, let the market respond how it will to my pronouncements.
The Year What Was
2008 was a great year at Roberson despite that fact that we were all getting our credit crunched and the Euro exchange rate migrated south for the winter. Every single one of our tasting events sold out (many of them being extended to accommodate the demand), the new website was been warmly received by wine enthusiasts all over the UK and the shop’s wine selection is stronger, better value and more interesting than ever before. Here are a few of my vinous highlights from the year that was and a couple of predictions for the year that will be. Highlights Of The Year Winning IWC London wine merchant of the year for the first time was a fantastic reward for all the hard work that Cliff and the team have put in over the last few years. On a personal level, tasting 2007 Burgundies from barrel with the winemakers on our buying trip in November was fantastic. Those of you that know me will know how much I love the reds and whites of Burgundy and spending a week tasting and securing allocations from some superb up-and-coming producers was wonderful. Best Wines Under £10 2001 Bourgogne Rouge; Domaine Digioia-Royer – All sold out im afraid, but earlier in the year we got a large parcel of 2001 from this small grower in Chambolle-Musigny and it was absolutely charming. Proof that good, cheap Burgundy is out there if you look hard enough. 2007 Sauvignon Blanc; Main Divide – Im sick to death of Marlborough Sauvignon, but this is the exception to the rule. Fresh and crisp with the classic Kiwi sauvignon flavours there, but not too in your face. Made by Pegasus Bay, one of NZ’s top producers. 2006 Bordeaux Rouge; Grand Bateau – Easy drinking claret from the team at Chateau Beychevelle. It is always hard to find good Bordeaux under a tenner, but this really hits the spot and has been one of our best selling wines on the run up to Christmas. Best Wines Under £20 2006 Macon-Verzé; Domaine Leflaive – Great year for white Burgundies and this Macon is stunning. In my opinion better than their Bougogne Blanc (and cheaper), this is fresh and mineral rather than full and buttery. A slightly better wine than Lafon’s Macon Village, which is also delicious. 2006 Riesling Kabinett; Schloss-Johannisberg – Another entry level wine from a world class producer, and this wonderful dry Riesling from the Rheingau’s top estate is evidence of the value offered by quality German wines. 2005 Rivola; Abadia Retuerta – Juicy, oaky, smooth and very impressive, this is a wine that sells by the truckload whenever it is on tasting. Modern Spanish wine at its best from a boutique producer with a big reputation. For £12.95 this is a wine that overperforms. Best Wines Under £50 1981 Rioja Reserva; Vina Real – Since the first time I tried this I have been blind tasted on it a number of times and always spotted it. Amazingly youthful for a 27 year old wine, it has succulent and vibrant fruit with lip smacking acidity and a beautiful leathery quality. Spectacular. 1974 Chambertin Clos-de-Beze; Drouhin-Laroze – One of our bargains of the year, this (long sold out) beauty was selling for £24.95! From a bad vintage but drinking like a dream, this was proof that a vintage chart mentality will mean missing out on delicious bargains (as was the case with the 1984 Clos du Marquis, also £24.95). Having spent last summer working at Drouhin-Laroze this also had a sentimental value! 1999 Mazis-Chambertin; Frederic Esmonin – Tasted at our Gevrey-Chambertin tasting, this was one of the stand out wines and an absolute bargain at £49.95. One of many wines this year that showed so well at a tasting that we sold out completely on the night. Best Wines from Our Fine Wine Tastings 2000 Romanée-St-Vivant; Sylvain Cathiard – One of the most luxuriously textured wines I have ever tasted. Sublime stuff that left the entire tasting audience (and me) speechless. 1961 Chateau Lynch Bages – Sylvie Cazes said it was the best example of ’61 LB she had ever tasted, and everyone in attendance was massively impressed. 2005 Sine Qua Non Altlantis Syrah – 100 points from Robert Parker and almost impossible to find in the UK. We almost had to break up a fight at the end over who was going to buy the remaining bottles! Worst Wine from Our Fine Wine Tastings 1998 Chateau Bel Air – Parker gave it 74 points, and he was bang on. Shockingly poor for such a renowned estate in a great right-bank vintage. Highlight of the Fine Wine Tastings Michael Broadbent telling me that he came to our Gevrey-Chambertin tasting “to learn more about Burgundy”. I think he forgot more during the tasting than I may ever learn, but an absolute gentleman and it was a pleasure to have him there. Wines We Could Have Sold Out of Ten Times Over 1997 Chateau Figeac at the Parker vs Broadbent tasting. A lovely wine that was hopelessly underrated by Parker and the price reflected that. 2005 Sine Qua Non Atlantis Syrah. We could only get hold of 5 bottles of this – could we have sold 50? Easily. 2007 Monty’s French Red. We sold every bottle we had after the last episode of the series but people are still asking for the stuff. Amazing what a bit of TV coverage can achieve. Best Wine that Nobody Bought 2006 Malbec / Syrah; Vinalba – We sold out completely of the Malbec Reserva by the same producer, but everyone seems to have ignored this wine even though it won best Argentinian red under £10. Surely the stampede is due to start any moment….. Most Interesting Visitors to the Shop Fabio Capello was a very nice bloke and it was great to taste some lovely wines with him in our cellars. Sylvie Cazes was thoroughly charming and it was a pleasure to taste so many wonderful vintages of Lynch Bages in her company. John Duval (former winemaker of Penfold’s Grange) was a lovely bloke who brought in him new range of (excellent) wines and didn’t even mind when I blind tasted him on Grange ’97 (He guessed “new world Shiraz” by the way!). But my favourite of all was Michael Broadbent. A legend and a hero to the whole Roberson team, and possibly the nicest chap on earth. Biggest Disagreements Between the Team on Fine Wine 2005 Nectar Dei; Fattoria Nittardi – Me and Joe have always disagreed about this wine. I love it, he’s not so keen (too much oak for him). When we showed it at our Italian walkabout tasting it got a great reception and we sold plenty of cases of the stuff. 1995 Serpico; San Gregorio – This legendary Aglianico from southern Italy was one of Joe’s wines of the year, but the rest of the team weren’t as convinced as he was. Fascinating wine though. Favourite Food and Wine Match 1990 Clos St Jacques by Armand Rousseau with Duck cooked two ways at Chez Bruce in Wandsworth. The only BYO Michelin starred restaurant in London that im aware of (they have a great wine list too). Most Embarassing Moment Headbutting a fellow taster over the spittoon (causing her to miss it completely) at a vertical tasting of Jim Barry’s Armagh. Never a good way to make friends in the trade. Predictions for 2009 Southern and regional French wines to attract increasing interest due to the great value to be had. Domaine Buisson-Charles Bougogne Aligoté and Domaine Dupont-Tisserandot Bourgogne Passe-Tout-Grains to be two of our best selling wines of the year (both exclusive to Roberson, both under £10 and both brilliant). Lots of wine related businesses to go out of business. Roberson customers to focus on learning more about wine in order to get the best value to money from every bottle. Manchester United to win the Premier league at a canter. Thanks for all your support and custom in 2008. It has been a great year for Roberson and there is lots more to come in ’09 so good luck to you all and we will see you soon.
Fabio Capello Drops In
Last week Mr. Capello dropped in for a tasting in our fantastic new cellars. After we ironed out a few footballing problems for him, the talk turned to wine. The winner was Gaja’s 2003 Barbaresco, which all agreed was drinking quite well, depsite being pretty tannic. What can we say, the man appreciates quality.
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