Mind over Malbec
Our European Buyer Jack Green spots the beginnings of a quality revolution in Cahors Malbec. Love Malbec? Of Cahors we do. On my recent visit to Cahors, a sleepy wine region in Southern France, I visited a new winery named Prieuré de Cénac, which has just been taken over by the renowned ‘Fabre’ family from Argentina. The place is picture perfect; as owner Hervé explained, when he first visited the Château ‘we stood quite still and were both struck by its beauty and overwhelmed with an incredibly good and peaceful feeling’. The principal variety in Cahors is Malbec, which is why this family, pioneers of Argentine Malbec, were so interested in making wine here. You can trace winemaking in Cahors back to the era of Ancient Rome, with some documents showing vineyards being planted around 50BC. That’s an awfully long time to perfect winemaking, and when Malbec vines from Cahors were taken over to Argentina, they discovered its terroir was perfectly suited to this Southern French grape. Argentinian Malbec has since become one of the most recognised wines in the UK and is poured, I imagine, in pretty much any restaurant in the country that has steak on its menu. So, what makes Malbec so popular? That story could start right here at Roberson Wine. Our founder Cliff Roberson cut his teeth in the wine trade many years ago by seeking out wines that supermarkets didn’t list but had huge potential. One of those was Argentinian Malbec. It became so popular for its favourable price and rich, exuberant, velvety palate that soon every wine shop in the country wanted it. For Hervé, having established one of the most successful Argentinian wineries after making his name as a respected wine merchant in Bordeaux, it’s a return to his roots. Cahors is the true birthplace of this magical varietal and it didn’t take him long to decide he had to invest in it. The vines of Prieuré de Cénac are grown on a plateau some 350 meters above sea level. Our favourite from this estate is the Mission de Picpus, recently awarded the Trophy and 95 points at the IWC awards. The wine is beautiful – bursting with dark fruit and soft, earthy flavours. This is a wine destined to be drunk with roasted meats, cassoulets or a lovely wedge of Comté.
Celebrating English Chardonnay
Liz Sagues, author of A Celebration of English Wine (Robert Hale, 2018), investigates the growing success of English Chardonnay English Chardonnay - Something to Celebrate? English Chardonnay: what a world away, in flavour as well as distance, from the gold-hued, oaky, vanilla-sweet examples that gave the grape such a bad reputation, prompted the ABC (anything but Chardonnay) movement and still influence those wine drinkers who have never realised that Chablis is made from Chardonnay. And Chablis is so much better a comparison for English Chardonnay than wines from hotter vineyards. Our home product isn't truly Chablis-like, even though some who make it hint at that. But it does share some characteristics, with a properly British individuality – after all, there can be very considerable similarity in the soils into which the vine roots dig. While English Chardonnay has the crispness of the French classic, there isn't yet the same stony minerality, and the scents and flavours more often evoke the flowers of hedgerow and meadow than tropical fruits. As befits so young an introduction, styles vary a lot, from the very light and almost tart to denser, riper wines. Oak rarely appears – generally, unless the cellar skill is very high, a good thing with such delicate raw material. Older vines, and a little more maturity before wines are sold, will surely raise the 'wow' level soon. Quite rightly, Chardonnay is called the chameleon grape, and England will as the years progress add more colours to the existing spectrum, though they will surely remain bright and fresh. To put the present story in context, a little history is relevant. Chardonnay and Pinot Noir are now by far the most-planted grape varieties in England, a massive switch from the late 20th century, when Müller-Thurgau, Reichensteiner and Seyval Blanc filled the vineyards and the noble varieties were rare. But they were there: Sir Guy Salisbury Jones, the man who revived English commercial viticulture after WWII with his 1950s Hambledon vineyard, had Chardonnay vines. Ripening was a problem, though. Pathé filmmakers recording the 1972 harvest thought the berries were 'too small and too green'; Chris Foss, head of the pioneering wine department at Plumpton College, felt much the same about other plantings a decade later: 'Chardonnay berries were like frozen peas'. The revolution in vine choice has come about for two reasons. One is that noble varieties now ripen properly most years in England, because of the gentle rise in summer temperatures (global warming is less welcome for the weather variability and violence it also brings). The other, probably more influential, is the success of English sparkling wine, where the vast majority of Chardonnay grapes end up. Fizz needs acid, and England's grapes have that. But the increasing, and increasingly good, examples of still Chardonnay are proving that the destination should not always be sparkling. A good number of new entrants release still Chardonnay while waiting for their sparkling wine to be ready for the market – it makes budget sense. There are, though, going to be more and more producers for whom still wine is most important, and significant figures favour Chardonnay. London Cru's 2017 Chancery Lane English Chardonnay is on sale now at £18 per bottle.
Pale and Interesting
Our European buyer Jack Green reflects on the rise of Provence rosé to conquer the world's summer-drinking pleasure. St-Tropez State of Mind In this business we always have one eye on drinking trends, to see if we can spot what the next big thing will be. If you had told me ten years ago that pale rosé from Provence, or indeed anywhere, would be the wine in everyone’s glass, I’d have been surprised and intrigued. I’m sure anyone who has been to the south of France in the summer will say ‘come on, we’ve been drinking it for years’. What’s changing though, is countries outside of France are now cleverly producing rosé wines in the lighter, zippy style commonly associated with Provence. Even our winery London Cru made a rosé last year, which ended up being poured all summer at the Oxo Tower Brasserie in central London. What could be better? For me though, you have to start at the beginning: St Tropez, Provence. It was only when I visited the region for the first time last year, that I realised why Provence and rosé go hand in hand. Those long, hot summers that seem to go on forever, spent wandering the cobbled streets of St Tropez. Those lunches that start at midday and inevitably end up lasting until the evening, watching the sun setting over the Mediterranean. And, if you’re that way inclined, relaxing on your yacht on the calmest, crystal clear water you’ve ever seen. There is only one drink that seems to encapsulate all of this in one glass… a cold, crisp, pale rosé from Provence. Our absolute favourite Château in Provence is Château Minuty, which just happens to be a 20-minute drive from the centre of St Tropez, and one of the first of the 14 Châteaux be crowned Cru Classé along with its rivals Domaine Ott and Chateau Roubine. Our favourite location to enjoy a glass of Château Minuty is at the legendary Club 55. Famous for its fresh, seasonal produce, it’s hard to miss in St Tropez, right on the beach. But what if you can’t make it to St Tropez? Well, we have invited Sebastien Nore of Minuty to join us on the 17th July for a day of everything Provençal. First up, we’ll be enjoying a delicious, typical Provençal lunch, accompanied by our most popular rosé wines, M de Minuty and Rose et Or. Then, in the evening, we’ll be enjoying l’apero - Sebastien from Minuty will be pouring Château Minuty’s entire range, matched with typical snacks from Provence. As well as M de Minuty and Rose et Or, we'll also be tasting Minuty's white Blanc et Or and their exquisite super-cuvée 281. Tickets for both events are on sale now – don’t miss them.
On-Trade Sales Manager David Adamick investigates which wines match best with summer's seasonal flavours. You'll find all of the wines he recommends in our Savouring Summer Collection. Matching Summer's Seasonal ingredients with wine If you’d read my blog some months ago, you’ll recall my aversion to most, if not all things autumnal/hibernal and so will be relieved to learn that I’ve managed to emerge out the other end. Scathed, but still with the will to type. But what a bank holiday weekend that was. And on the assumption it’s put you in the mood also, here’s a seasonal food update on what you’ve got to look forward to: In-Season Ingredients: Veg: Asparagus New potatoes Lettuce Aubergine Radish Peas Cucumber Cheeses: Soft English cheeses Reblochon Bleu d’Auvergne Chablichou Fish/seafood: Crab Mackerel Halibut Tuna Salmon Meat: Pork Lamb The Wines: Given it’s still early season, produce is delicate, fresh and green, and therefore we’re looking for wines of a similar nature. These delicate wines also accompany easily crab and halibut, as their flesh is equally so. Here we’ll look for racy, vibrant green/yellow fruited wines such as Domaine des Cognettes, Muscadet Sèvre et Maine sur Lie – all organically-farmed, hand-harvested fruit, with its invigorating aromas of green apple, sea air, fresh yoghurt and oyster shell; the palate is full of creamy minerality and saline briskness; elegant green fruit with good leesiness to add body and length. This is such an overlooked appellation when the wines are right, and they are certainly so when from this great, great producer. Graham Tatomer’s 2017 Steinhugel Riesling from the Santa Lucia Highlands is of biodynamically farmed fruit on predominantly slate soils also does well here – and easily. Fine-tuned, creamy minerality underpins some lovely, yellow and white stone fruit, and always with the ‘old-world’ structure Graham insists upon. Similarly, zippy rosés are more than appropriate and no less so when in fizz form: 2017 Domaine J Laurens Crémant de Limoux Rosé is both a new addition to Roberson and an indispensable option for the season ahead. The Limoux region’s calcareous soils are ideal for Chardonnay, making up most of the assemblage, with 20% Pinot Noir for colour, red fruit, white pepper and body. Up the ante then, with Chris Brockway’s 2017 Love Rosé: an unusual and fascinating co-ferment of mostly Valdigué (once known as ‘Napa Gamay’) with small percentages of Zinfandel and Trousseau. High aromatics of watermelon and grapefruit with Zinfandel spice and a slightly waxy texture from the Trousseau. And though it weighs in at a mere 11% alcohol, Love Rosé’s acidity, spice and body will have it stand up to heavier, oilier fish as mackerel and tuna. Equally suited and from the eastern face of Mount Etna, Sicily, is a wonderful rosato blend of Nerello Mascalese and Nerello Cappuccio from Cantine Murgo. Its brilliant, Provençale hue is of a properly dry rosé with lots of savoury red, pomegranate/currant fruit and white pepper. Absolutely perfect with ALL the above. Pork and lamb are quite simply at their best this time of year, and to keep things in line with the season’s produce we’ll stick with fresher styled reds: Jean-Paul Thevenet’s Morgon ‘Tradition’, Tatomer’s Santa Barbara County Pinot Noir and Chateau de la Bonnelière’s Chinon all have the structure, mineral core to drive their restrained fruit; no problem at all, either, to put on in the fridge for 25 minutes before serving as this will bring out that acidity just a little more to clean up fattier red meats as the aforementioned. Finally, though lamb dishes will go easily with just about any red wine, its added weight and oiliness tends to prefer a bit more guts in a red – though always wanting that acidity to keep the palate in shape. For this Domaine Maubernard’s 2013 Bandol is a perfect ticket: mainly Mourvèdre with a bit of Grenache, it is full bodied, spicy and big, but with lots and lots of minerality and structure to keep things on an even keel. Bags of dark, savoury, bitter/black fruit; a slight edginess that is wonderfully rustic and with a natural affinity to lamb. Given the small size and output of the appellation, the wines of Bandol are generally on the pricier side which is why we’ve chosen Domaine Maubernard as one of the best estates we’ve come across in a long time. Happy matching!
The Cool Climate Challenge
As we prepare to release our brand new London Cru Chancery Lane English Chardonnay 2017 just in time for summer, our intrepid intern Aaron Gilling sat down with our winemaker Agustín González Novoa, affectionately known as Ag, the man behind this deliciously different expression of English wine. An interview with London Cru's winemaker on making English wine Aaron: So, the first question has to be: why an English Chardonnay? Ag: I mean, why not? Chardonnay is the most widely planted grape on earth. It grows anywhere. This is not a Napa or Australian Chardonnay but it is a superb cool climate wine. Think Chablis. Aaron: Just to confirm, this is your first English Chardonnay? Ag: Most definitely yes! I think there are may be a few other producers making this style of wine but not very many. And especially not from the 2017 vintage, we were very fortunate to be able to produce this wine. Aaron: Is this something that you are excited about as a long term prospect? How do you see this evolving vintage to vintage? Ag: Yeah sure, obviously we rely on the weather of the vintage. That's the beauty of wine; it's not the same every year. The aim is to be able to produce a wine that represents where it comes from and that represents the best of the vintage. Aaron: What were some of the key winemaking decisions you made to achieve this English Chardonnay? Ag: The picking time of the grapes is the most important winemaking decision you can make. Choosing the right date to pick makes all the difference. Additionally, the fact that I vinified everything separately at different temperatures to create 3 ingredients which were blended together was important. Some parts were fermented in oak, some in concrete, and it was all whole bunch pressed. But, really, the only recipe is that there is no recipe. It changes every year. The quality is in the grapes. Aaron: Any interesting evolutions from its initial vinification to bottling? Ag: Yeah sure, a little bit of the wine went through malolactic fermentation and that reduces the acidity. The wine still has a lovely fresh acidity, but we expect that from English wine. The real effect is that all of these bright fruit flavours are starting to be matched by other evolutionary aromas in the wine and this means it is showing complexity. I am very pleased with it. Aaron: Picking up on aromas a bit, how would you describe the bouquet of this wine? Ag: Well, it’s definitely got plenty of fruit, particularly pear and green apple, and this “pear drop” character that people keep telling me about – I’ve still never actually tried one by the way. But there are also lavender notes and more floral aromas, it’s not only fruit. Aaron: How do you see people enjoying this wine? Ag: I think it's a great summer wine. It's a light Chardonnay, but one with structure. It is the sort of Chardonnay to have with a starter or as an aperitif on a beautiful summer's day. But really I can see people drinking this any time. It's a very versatile wine. Chardonnay is the best style for this kind of versatility. Aaron: Do you have any food-pairing suggestions? Ag: Well, what Simon's eating would be ideal... **cut to RW Head of Consumer Sales Simon Huntington tucking into a sumptuous carton of Pad Thai from our staff’s favourite Fulham street food truck** [laughs] Aaron: [laughs] So Pad Thai from the food truck then? Ag: Exactly! But seriously, it is such a versatile wine that it would go well with most things, including but not limited to Pad Thai. It has this incredibly acidity which makes it a superb wine to pair with food. As long as the food is delicious, this wine will only make it better. Aaron: So what kind of wines do you enjoy drinking? Ag: Obviously it is a difficult question for a winemaker but I do have a special passion for Pinot Noir, and for Burgundy in general. I really like Chardonnays and enjoy making them. Making white wine in general is very rewarding because of the complexity of aromas you can develop. That’s what I enjoy, and I can’t wait for everyone to enjoy this unique expression of English Chardonnay. Aaron: Thanks so much Ag, we will have to get you a bag of pear drops sometime soon so you can finally taste this flavour in your wine! Ag: That would be very, very cool. Thank you! You can pre-order our Chancery Lane English Chardonnay 2017 now.
Champagne's Particular Prestige
Private Client Sales Manager Paul Williamson investigates the continuing appeal of prestige cuvée Champagne. The Appeal of Prestige Champagne is a fascinating thing. A sparkling wine first created by mistake, produced in a region with a climate not entirely ideal for growing grapes. Yet if you asked anyone to describe what Champagne means to them, most responses would be associated with quality, prestige and celebrating good times. The recent explosion in popularity of Prosecco has done nothing to dim the appeal of Champagne, if anything it has highlighted the sheer class with which Champagne continues to imbue. Another fascinating aspect in the world of Champagne is the rise of 'Grower Champagnes'; small, artisanal producers creating beautiful, terroir focussed wines in a way which reflects a Burgundian raison d'etre. We are big fans of the complex styles and techniques that these growers bring to the genre, in fact we import directly from two fantastic producers, Egly-Ouriet and Champagne Dosnon. There is no doubt that the big name, Grand Marque Champagne houses have become a little nervous by these external forces stretching the market and appeal away from their big brands. However there is one sub-sector of the fascinating Champagne scene that continues to appeal, and which is even growing in popularity all of the time, that is the Prestige-Cuvée. These are the top wines of any producer, the utter epitome of the style and class of Champagne. Prestige Cuvées are often released onto the market with a fanfare and with big marketing campaigns to back it up. Some may think that this world of prestige and grandeur would not appeal to the Grower Champagne lovers, those who appreciate the craft and graft of the small producer, but the opposite is true, the two products are not mutually exclusive. I don't know anyone who would turn their nose up at a glass of aged Dom Perignon or Krug Grand Cuvée. The thing is, Prestige Cuvées represent all that is brilliant about Champagne. Generally, they are made from a producer’s best plots of vines, produced only in top vintages and are kept in the cellars for longer than normal to be meticulously crafted and matured to perfection. They are often richer and more complex than your average bottle of Champagne and when all the best factors come together they can be the most stunning and divine vinous creations imaginable. These Champagnes can be brilliantly age-worthy, continuing to gain complexity and texture in the bottle for decades. As a consequence of the relatively limited amount of production of these top wines, and because they get drunk frequently, demand begins to outstrip supply. Buying on release can be the most economical way of getting your hands on them. For example, the current market price for the magnificent 2002 Krug is more than 40% higher than when it was released 2 years ago. Two recent releases that are worth highlighting are Bollinger R.D. 2004 and Taittinger Comtes de Champagne 2007. Both classic examples of their house style, and well worth adding to any collection. In the near future we are also expecting to hear news about the highly anticipated 2008 Louis Roederer Cristal release and Salon 2007, all of which collectors will be scrambling for. If you would like to receive information about any of the recent and upcoming releases, please don't hesitate to get in touch. Paul Williamson Private Client Sales Manager 020 7381 7881 firstname.lastname@example.org
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