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.
A Journey man could describe an apprentice before reaching craftsman status, a jobbing football player like Dean Windass or in this case, a super-premium wine made by the cult outfit Boekenhootskloof. Interestingly enough, this new, Cabernet Franc dominated wine is not for sale. Marc Kent has decided to give away all 5 barrels, or 100 cases. Here at Roberson we were given a couple of bottles by the UK importers. A quite lush and forward nose, with a juicy, complex, fruit centric palate. Not too full-bodied at 13% Well balanced and nicely intergrated with the 26 months of French oak ageing nicely done. Impressive, but I think note much of an advance over the Syrah, their strongest wine in my opinion. As they are not making any wine in 2006, Mark dismisses it as ‘pointless’ and a ‘wine for a new-world fan’ but there you are. I liked it well enough.
Drinking Now – 05 Prulier? Madness
A recent evening out with an old colleague now at John Armit and some friends saw us catch up and become less coherent over the following a couple of nights ago. 2005 Wynns Coonawarra Cabernet Another good vintage from Sue Hodder, and fine, but a bit of a case of a wine reaching not surpassing expectations. Light, fruit filled but with not much secondary development. A problem for me, even with aged Wynns wines. 2002 Chateau Teyssier A great value wine from frighteningly intense Englishman Jonathon Malthus. From estates located in good terrois and made in the same winery as Le Dome and the other wine he makes that I can’t remember. Lovely soft fruit, good length and very complete. Not massively complex but there’s a limit to what inexpensive young Bordeaux can aspire to, and this overperforms. 2005 Nuits St George Prulier Gouge When I asked Paul to bring around something, ‘about fifty quid, drinking well’, I wasn’t quite expecting 2005 Gouge 1er cru, and quite frankly, I should have asked him to take it all the way back to the shop and pick up something else. Unbelievable. Anyway, a very nice wine, still needing another five years, perhaps a bet lacking in the size I would like from a Gouge 1er, but there you are. 2002 La Landonne Guigal Picked up for a very favourable price, this showed exceptionally well, even from this lighter vintage the wine complete, deep, with perfectly intergrated tannin and fruit, notes of coffee, cherry cola and minerals, this will keep but was drinking extremely well. For what it’s worth, I think I almost prefer the more classic styles of Northern Rhone wine, but one couldn’t fail to be impressed with how this wine was showing. 2004 Promis Gaja As we were having some Italian food, this was probably the most appropriate wine, however, I must admit, I am not a big fan of Gaja’s ‘extra marital’ wines made away from his native estate. Opulent and polished, sure, but so are most wines at that price. I’m just not sure that he can offer anything different and special from the Tuscan terroir. Anyway, a very nice evening, culminating in a horrible hangover after some coffee and Bourban and apparently, some touching of my bum from Paul Fisher (which I can’t remember). We’ll leave that to be explored another time I think.
A Great Lunch Courtesy of Ridge
Located on the San Andreas fault line, barrels of Zinfandel used to jump around the winery during the 1970’s, or maybe it just seemed that way to the dope smoking, free thinkers of Ridge Vineyards who revolutionised the way this grape was seen through their masterfully complex Geyserville and Lytton Springs bottlings. To celebrate the 40th year anniversary of Geyserville, the importers of Ridge and president, Don Giesson, held a small series of lunches in London, pouring past and present vintages of the wines to an appreciative group of sommeliers, merchants and journalists. Our dinner was held at the Farringdon bistro, Vinoteque, where we escaped from work to enjoy some superb food and wine matches, culminating in a brilliantly slow-cooked lamb paired with the prodigious Montebello 1997, a wonderfully mature specimen of this outstanding terroir, full and elegant with a St-Estephe-like palate of mineral and spice. Don proved a very amiable host, with an almost evangelical zeal for the wines, and why not? The 2005 vintage we tasted from was one of the best for a long time, and we heard how the Santa Cruz was described by winemaker Paul Draper as being ‘as good as the top third of Montebello’s’, high praise indeed but certainly warranted by what we tasted in the glass. After some quality cheese and a top up, it was multiple espressos all-round and a dash back to work for a decidedly woozy-headed afternoon’s work from the participants.
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