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.
Visiting Château Minuty
Memories of Provence: We peeled ourselves away from the turquoise shores of Pampelonne beach, excited for our imminent meeting. Dodging the Mini Moke drivers and immaculately dressed Tropézienne, we jumped in the car; our destination - Château Minuty. We found Minuty nestled below the hill tops of Gassin. We took a left turn up a long gravel drive, invited in by huge signs, which led us into the beautiful 19th century estate, ready to taste the finest of Provence rosés. Warmly welcomed by the team at Minuty, we embarked on a tour of the vineyards, where we were encouraged to taste the Grenache, Syrah and Cinsault berries, which were juicy and ample, with just weeks to go until harvest. We learnt that on the first Sunday of the harvest, all the pickers are blessed in the beautiful 19th Century chapel which overlooks one of the main vine plots. The Minuty story began in 1936, when the estate comprised only 17 hectares of vines; today the estate owns an impressive 110. Fortunately, the vineyards escaped the forest fires that swept across the region in recent weeks. We wove our way through the fruit-laden vines, to the beautiful Napoleonic Château that has been home to the Matton-Farnet family for four generations. We could hear the laughter of the grandchildren as they frolicked in the pool with their bright pink inflatable flamingos - a perfect image for Minuty’s Instagram feed. Next it was time to head to the tasting area, through the oldest part of the cellar. Passing concrete vats, stainless steel tanks and barrels, we emerged into the newly refurbished, state of the art tasting room, where we sat down for the best part of the tour. Château Minuty Rose et Or was my personal favourite from the tasting - pale with crystal reflections like the nearby sea. On the palate, intense freshness and finesse, with notes of pink grapefruit and white peach. One sip didn’t seem enough! So what is it that makes Minuty so special? Why is it regarded as one of the finest Provence rosés, drunk in over 75 countries and served in some of the best restaurants across the world? Having now visited the heart of it, where it all began, I think it must be the overriding feeling of family and tradition at Minuty, all wrapped in an attitude of modernité and a constant drive for innovation.
Top Wines at the Good Food Guide's Top 20
Launched in 1951, the Good Food Guide has become a noted authority on the finest places to eat in the UK. A listing in the Guide’s annual top 50 is a sure sign of a restaurant being a fabulous place to eat. Restaurants in the Guide aren’t rated just for the quality of their cooking, but for the overall dining experience, meaning that food, wine, atmosphere and staff are all taken into account. While the Guide’s taste tends towards more classic, high-end restaurants, as opposed to trendy local spots, the more memorable the dining experience, the higher the restaurant is ranked. All of which shows that the more formal dining experience continues to re-invent itself and stay relevant. The restaurants and chefs highlighted in this year’s Good Food Guide continue to be some of the most influential advisors for how and what we eat, with many committed to fair trade, locally-sourced ingredients and sustainable fish sources. So we’re incredibly proud of the fact that we work to supply wine to two thirds of the restaurants listed in this year’s top 50, including 11 out of the top 20. We certainly wouldn’t want to take all the credit for their achievements, but we’re delighted that we could play our small part. How many Roberson-supplied restaurants have you eaten at? Good Food Guide 2017 Top 20: Restaurant Nathan Outlaw L'Enclume Pollen Street Social* Restaurant Sat Bains* The Fat Duck Restaurant Gordon Ramsay* Hedone* Restaurant Andrew Fairlie Claude Bosi at Bibendum* Casamia Bohemia Ynyshir* Dinner by Heston Blumenthal* Fraiche Marcus* Le Champignon Sauvage Adam Reid at The French The Ledbury* André Garrett at Cliveden* Midsummer House* *Restaurant clients of Roberson Wine
The Domaine by Lidewij Van Wilgen, pt.3
At the height of her career, Lidewij Van Wilgen gave up her job at Saatchi in Amsterdam to start a new life in the French countryside and become a wine maker, producing the beautiful Mas des Dames. She wrote a book about her experience, Het Domein (The Domaine), which became a best seller in The Netherlands. Read excerpt one: First Impressions and excerpt two: Where I'm From now. Chapters 6 and 7: First Weeks at Mas des Dames The winery is like an island. We’re all alone in this sea of green fields. Every once in a while, out in the distance I see a farmer on an old tractor looking in our direction. I follow his gaze, see our brand new machinery glinting in the sun in front of the cellar, and wonder what he makes of it all. In the shade of the almond tree in front of the wine cellar, Siebe, our vintner, is talking to Bruno, our main worker. I stare at the white jerry cans on the ground with their death heads and choking fish symbols. I kneel down to read one of the labels: très nocif pour le milieu aquatique - highly toxic to aquatic organisms. I think of the small stream down below and the little fish swimming in it. ‘Is it really necessary to do so much spraying?’ I ask. Bruno frowns at me. Suddenly, I see myself as if from a distance, the city girl in her trendy skirt. What would I know about weed killers and pesticides? Four days later, Adrien and I drive two anxious little girls to school. As we park our sleek blue Land Rover between two old Peugeots, I feel ill at ease – it’s shocking to see just how out of tune we are with our surroundings. At the school gate several small groups of women are chatting idly. Adrien's jovial 'Bonjour!' is acknowledged, albeit grudgingly, but is followed quickly by a resounding silence. These people all know each other; we are complete outsiders. Intruders almost. When we walk outside Adrien puts his arm around me. His attempts at reassuring me are quickly smothered by a scene in my mind’s eye that is so overpowering it leaves me gasping: Marijn, sitting on the floor in a beam of sunlight at her Montessori school back in Haarlem. I feel the tears welling up as I picture the jigsaw puzzles spread around her, the children's artwork hanging on the walls, all her little friends. What on earth are we doing here? --- 'Hey, that’s a perfect job for me!’ I say a few days later when Siebe is about to send Mia back into the vineyards to test the grapes for ripeness. Siebe fires me an admonishing look. ‘No, no,’ he says, gesturing at me to sit down. ‘Look, for this kind of work you have to be systematic. You can't just pick one hundred individual grapes at random; you have to have a system. ‘Fine,’ I say, ‘then I'll choose a couple of different rows in each section, and I'll make sure to pick at different heights.’ I stand up to go but Siebe doesn’t move, so I sit down again. He sighs and says: ‘No, Lidewij, I can't let you do this, no way. We’ve been using Mia's system right from the start. The results wouldn't be consistent if I suddenly let someone else pick the samples. It’s just not possible, sorry.’ ‘Are we going to harvest the grapes soon?’ I ask Siebe when he stops by that afternoon. ‘Harvest? Us?’ He regards me with something approaching pity, the silly child who's asked yet another stupid question. ‘Lidewij,’ he says wearily, ‘you have to understand that our quality criteria are a lot different from those of a cooperative. They have to gather the grapes on time from a host of different coopérateurs. So they have to start early. But we can wait until that precise moment of optimal ripeness.’ He takes a grape from one of the bags on the kitchen counter. ‘Here, take a look at the seed.’ He pops a grape into his mouth and then shows me the seed on the end of his index finger. ‘See the tip of the seed? It's still green. A grape isn't ripe until the seed has gone completely brown.’ I put a grape into my own mouth and take out the seed. He’s right; the top of it is still green - not yet ripe. ‘You can taste the seed as well,’ he goes on. ‘A ripe one has a roasted-almond flavour, not that sour, greenish taste.’ He takes another grape and bites it in half. ‘Look at this one. Do you see that? The seed is still stuck to the flesh. In a grape that is ripe the seed comes away real easy.’ I have just learned three extremely useful empirical criteria, with the result that I end up eating a lot more grapes over the next few days than is strictly necessary. I get a kick out of being able to follow the grapes' maturation process myself now using this simple, timeworn method. It comes as no surprise to me a week later when Siebe announces that the grenache blanc grapes are ready for harvesting. I had already come to the exact same conclusion myself. As Mas des Dames' UK importer, we're publishing a series of excerpts from Lidewij's book. Read excerpt one: First Impressions and excerpt two: Where I'm From now - and check back soon for the next part.
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