The Wines of Sean Thackrey
We have just recieved the new vintage of Sean Thackrey’s new ‘house’ blend, Pleides XVIII and I just wanted to share an extract of an interview with this most compelling of personalities. I think it gives a really honest, intelligent and humble expression of the winemaking art and why anyone should consider buying one of his wines. To, me his wines express everything that’s good about wine. “Someone once asked me why they should buy my wines, when there are so many others out there; I replied that there are many people out there, too, but only a few are friends. They aren’t interchangeable, and I like the thought that my wines would be prized in the same way – for offering pleasures uniquely their own. Of course this means my wines will have an equally individual audience, for that very same reason; after all, while they may be my friends, they won’t be everybody’s. “So I like to think of myself as making wine first of all for myself, not from ego, but as a plain necessity of procedure. I have to make the decisions and carry out the work, and I don’t know any way to do that other than to proceed according to my own pleasures. But this does simplify the question of offering those pleasures for sale: since I never offer wines I don’t enjoy drinking myself, my entire “marketing strategy” is simply to find those whose pleasures agree. Some don’t; no doubt there must be wine-drinkers who can’t imagine why anyone would like my wines; but then, there are far more than I can supply who think they’re some of the best wines they’ve ever tasted. “Well, guess what? I just want my wines to go to the second group; that’s all. “That’s their natural market. We agree about what we enjoy, and that simplifies life in the best way. Since I never release a wine I don’t like, I can be pretty confident they’re going to like the wines I do release, simply because I like those wines myself. In other words, we agree about what good company is, and good wine should never be less than that. Why have dinner with a wine whose company you wouldn’t enjoy if it were a person? “The Pleiades is the perfect example, since its only intention is to be good company. But what is one’s idea of good company if not the immediate expression of one’s actual personal pleasures? When I used to eat at La Coupole in Paris years ago, I’d be seated next to a hooker, or a Marxist accountant, or a pig broker and his wife from the Auvergne, and I’d find out all sorts of things about which I hadn’t had a clue before; while being benevolently supplied with Belons and Sancerre, confit and Vacqueyras, and of course I’d wish I could eat there every night. So of course I want the Pleiades to be that sort of company; on the other hand, that isn’t the sort of company everyone wants.”
Bordeaux En Primeur 2009 – The Story So Far
I’m not sure if you’ve heard, but Bordeaux 2009 is the most amazing, most spectacular, most investment-worthy and sought-after vintage since 2008. If you want to have the privilege of buying some, then join the queue now but be prepared to trade in your house, mother and all your worldly possessions for a chance to, maybe, if your lucky, buy one case of Lafite’s seventh wine. OK, so that’s how some people are looking at the En Primeur campaign, but many of us are genuinely excited about buying in to what is undoubtedly a superb Bordeaux vintage. Wading through all the hype surrounding the ‘09s is proving to be a hard task, but the question on many people’s lips is “how is the campaign shaping up so far?” The releases continue to trickle out at a snail’s pace and after the initial hoop-la in the press we are left waiting anxiously for the first of the big guns to drop. It has been mostly low to mid-level wines released to this point (at quite reasonable prices, generally about 20% higher than in 2008). This has been great news for people looking to buy top quality wines for drinking, with most producers excelling in an almost perfect season. Some of the more notable releases in the last month have been Ormes de Pez, du Tertre, d’Angludet and Certan de May along with most of the Sauternes and Barsac wines (apart from top dog d’Yquem). The good news, if you haven’t heard, is that it’s a fine vintage, on a par with 2000 and 2005 – especially for the Left Bank communes including Sauternes and Barsac. The bad news is that even the relatively low level wines released for far have been selling out rapidly, leaving many would-be customers disappointed. Sadly, this does not bode well for the more popular classed growths and top investment wines, which will be sold on an allocation only basis – and a strict one at that. Part of the reason for the drawn-out release programme is down to the efforts of the Borldelais to encourage Asian buyers into the En Primeur market. Most of the top producers were hawking their wares last week at the monster trade show that is Vinexpo in Hong Kong. With that over and done with, we are expecting a slew of releases early next week, with the campaign hotting up for the month of June. A strong Chinese Yuan (and U.S Dollar) will make the top wines a better proposition in foreign markets than here in the UK, where prices will be high compared to previous years. Even if the Bordelais ‘only’ go back to 2005 prices (which is unlikely), we are looking at a net increase of at least 30% in real terms. When you consider the fact that most producers are releasing less wine each year en primeur and to much greater worldwide demand, it’s easy to see why the top wines are becoming commodities rather than something to share with friends. The added demand and fevered speculation surrounding 2009 is also beginning to drag up prices from previous vintages, many of which are currently looking decidedly undervalued by comparison. With this in mind we are recommending not only 2009, of course, but also 2008, 2006, 2005 and 2003, all strong vintages with great wines for drinking and investment.
Judging at the 2010 Decanter World Wine Awards
A couple of months ago I was approached by the good people at Decanter Magazine to join the judging team for the 2010 Decanter World Wine Awards. It is a four day affair that takes place in London’s Parson’s Green and after putting myself forward for the Burgundy and Languedoc & Roussillon panels (naturally) I was delighted to get L&R – could have been something like Croatia or, heaven forbid, Bordeaux. So how does it work? Well, after arrival (breakfast was laid on, as was a delicious lunch) we assembled in a large room that was full of round tables. There were two tables per regional panel and each one was for four judges and their twelve glasses. Some of the judges rotate throughout the week – for example Oz Clarke (lovely guy and genuinely passionate about wine) was with us on Languedoc & Roussillon for Wednesday but on Thursday he had disappeared to pastures new. A number of flights are delivered to the tables throughout the day and it is up to the judges to pour, taste, make notes, score the wines, discuss them in the group and finally settle on whether the wine should be non-commended, commended, bronze, silver or gold. Each panel has a regional chair who is almost like a referee, courting opinions from his/her judges and then either agreeing with the consensus or overruling in favour of their own opinion. Apparently all the regional chairs have their own ways of doing things and some of them can be a little forceful when it come to the final decision, choosing to go with their own opinions over that of the judges on the panel. My chair was the esteemed journalist Andrew Jefford (one of the very best wine writers there is imho) who was not only a lovely bloke but also very democratic in how he came to a final decision on the wines. All the wines are served blind and the judges are given a spreadsheet informing them of where the wine is from, the varietal blend, alcohol level and an approximate price. The flights tend to vary between six and twelve wines and there are different quality levels of wine in the same group – the common thread tends to be the appellation that the wines come from. When a wine is deemed to be worthy of a Gold medal it will always be referred to the regional chair and often to the guvnor himself – Steven Spurrier. Mr Spurrier prowls the rooms sniffing out the potential gold medals and a hushed silence falls when he is presented with an aspiring wine. In a Del-Monte like moment he will then give it the yes or no and an affirmative answer is usually greeted by whooping and hollering from the panel that selected it. I only had three or four opportunities to whoop (or indeed holler) and only in one of those cases had I scored it as a Gold medal myself. Still, it is always nice to see winemakers get rewarded for all the hard work they have put in. So, after a tiring (yes, really) couple of days what did I think of the whole thing? Well, it was great fun and definitely something I would like to do again, although I must admit to having reservations about scoring wines by committee. I think there is too much room for compromise and in a field as subjective as wine criticism, I would sooner take a single opinion from an individual that I trust rather than an aggregated opinion from a group. That said, when everyone agrees that a wine is superb you can be pretty sure that you are on to a winner.
The Wines of Bruno Giacosa
We were very privileged to have Bruna, the daughter of Bruno Giacosa, the ‘professor’ of Nebbiolo in a while back to present the latest releases from the hallowed estate. We started off with the 2004 Spumante, a wine first made in 1983. 100% Pinot Noir purchased from a single grower, this is interestingly enough one of Bruna’s favourite wines. With no dosage, this still shows great fruit and ripeness. For me, good but perhaps a touch overpriced. The 2008 Roero Arneis shows pure, soft fruit and good accessibility. But for me, not a profound wine. Moving to the 2008 Dolcetto D’Alba, berry notes give way to a touch of almond and aniseed. Good Giacosa style. Not overdone. The 2007 Barbera D’Asti comes from a vintage that Bruna describes as being better then 2008 and comparable in quality to 2001 or 1998. This was a good step up with grip and some good persistance. The Barbaresco Asili 2005 showed fantastic persistance and real classic structure. For me the wine of the tasting, taking into account reputation and cost. From the same vintage, the Barolo Faletto 2005 offered up slighltly more ripe aroma’s, cherry and herb notes. Very good. The 2005 Barolo Rocche de Faletto, made from a small section of the Faletto vineyard, located towards the top of the hill, gave an extra dimension of depth and ageability. Still preferred the Asili though.. The final wine, 2004 Barolo Rocche de Falleto Red Label Riserva is a wine of some repute with Antonio Galloni annointing it 99+ points and calling it one of the greatest Giacosas he has ever tried and comparing it to the 1989. What did we think? Well, I must confess, I found it a little soft and forward and I get the impression that Bruna doesn’t rate it quite as highly as Galloni.
Happy Christmas from Roberson. Every year, once I have downed around half a bottle of Burgundy, I feel prepared to set the annual quiz. Marks are deducted for picking apart my questions and general facaetiousness. Please find below a small section for you to ponder over during this quiet lull between Christmas and the New Year. Who founded Penfolds Grange? In what year? What 1990′s vintages were famously disappointing for: a) Mouton Rothschild b) Denis Mortet 3. Put the following Napa wines in ascending price order for the 1997 vintage: Harlan Estate, Screaming Eagle, Shafer Hillside Select, Peter Michael Les Pavots Which Rhone producer, famous for parting company with his old family domaine when it was taken over by the Frey family, said that Mark had a face ‘like a baby’? Olivier Leflaive is what relation to Anne-Claude? Patrick Essa at Domaine Buisson Charles is related to a famous Meursault-based grower, who? Name 5 Bordeaux properties owned by Gerard Perse. Name 5 Chapoutier Selection Parcellaire wines. What is a Marie Jeanne? Who makes Bin 60A and from what grape? What wines are Benjamin Romeo associated with? Where is the Bordeaux wine Marojallia made? Peter Michael owns a restaurant and hotel in England, where? What is a Vaslin? What is the oldest bottle for sale in Roberson? Why was Homer’s line: ‘The wine dark sea’ important to historians? What was the favourite wine of Napolean? Churchill? James Joyce? The favourite tipple of Hunter S Thompson Francis Bacon Who makes the Sauternes Cuvee Madame? What is proposed to go through the heart of the Mosel valley? Which way should the Port be passed? Bonne Chance, see you in 2010!
The Road to Rhône
You have got your passport haven’t you Mark? With those seven words horror passed through the car as we realized the long drive to Burgundy was going to get even longer. Still, the way I figured it, everyone is allowed to forget their passport once in their life, if you do it for a second time, you’re an idiot. I have forgotten it once, and pray I have learned my lesson. Sure enough, by the time we settled down in our room in Beaune at midnight we were pretty beat but also excited about the packed itinerary we had for the next week, seeing some of the most exciting producers in the Rhone Valley and Burgundy in a week long sourcing trip Monday morning. Washed and groomed, I poked my head out of the hotel window to a crisp Burgundy morning with a wonderful blue sky. As coffee (and a cup of tea that Mark was so disgusted by he didn’t even touch it) further eased us (well, me anyway) into the day, we set off on the short drive to Puligny Montrachet to a visit with Olivier Leflaive, one of the biggest personalities in the village. With lots of changes in the UK market this year, our ‘intentions’ were immediatletly questioned by Olivier before heading to a tasting with Franck Grux the winemaker. Grux sharpened his teeth working for Guy Roulot in Meursault before joining Olivier in 1988. He went on to describe some of the hallmarks of the 2008 vintage. Low yields, uneven ripening but good balance and ripeness. We tasted through the Bourgogne Rouge, the village, premier and grand cru’s and found some impeccable wines with purity and freshness, for me perhaps almost too correct and lacking a bit of personality. Saying that, the power of some of the top wines made me think that these should last very well and the visit really reinforced the reliability of Oliver as a top source of beautiful, straight-down-the-line, quality Burgundy. Making our excuses to leave the lovely meal at his restaurant we had been invited to we headed to Chavy-Chouet in Meursault. What a contrast. From the polished oak boardroom and modern winery of Olivier Leflaive, we turned up to what looked like a slightly down-at-heel village farm, complete with dogs and assorted farming equipment. I wandered around, trying to find someone to talk to. Only managing a low level conversation with a wheezing English Bulldog (with most of the conversation coming from me) we couldn’t work out what was going on. Where was everyone? The doors were all open but no-one seemed to be in. After a couple of phone-calls, the young Romaric Chavy turned up. Dressed in a shell-suit, his hands were dirty from coming straight from the vineyards. No urbane ambassador here, just a hard-working man doing what turned out to be amazing things with his vineyards. The history of Domaine Chavy-Chouet is a mixed one. A large proportion of the wine was sold in the past to local negociants and it was only with Romaric that complete Domaine bottling came, a few years ago. Romaric is a young guy, but one with broad horizons. After working at Radford Dale in South Africa he joined the Viticultural Institute in Beaune and got to work early in his father’s Domaine. Clearly there is still significant work to be done here, yet the buzz we heard in the UK was fully justified in the wines. Romaric is blessed with some great vineyards and he does them justice. The style is not one for long ageing, rather it is one of minerality, pure fruit, and, above all, great balance. What’s more, these wines are all remarkably fair priced. This is a domaine that we left in a state of some excitement about. It just felt right. Speaking of feeling right, it was about now that my famous aversion to rich French food was kicking in, and I made my first stop to the chemist to get some milk of magnesia. I didn’t feel right. Stomach fortified, we enjoyed a rather lovely lunch in Meursault and a moment of Ministry of Defense style madness, where I left the highly sensitive Roberson ‘Dossier’ of appointments in the restaurant. Dossier recovered, we GPS’d our way to Santenay to an appointment with Lucien Muzard in Santenay, a producer who looks set to be considered the finest producer in the village. Claude resembles Mel Gibson, with something of a strapping physicality, while bespectacled Hervé has an erudite air. They complement each other well, and they consider themselves a part of a distinguished tradition of wine-making that has existed in this proud village for centuries (the Muzard family traces its lineage in Santenay back to 1645). Their wines emphasize fruit and terroir, with new oak playing no more than a supporting role. Typical for Santenay, roughly 95% of Claude and Hervé’s production is in red wine Now Santenay, I must confess, always feel leaves me a little cold. I know that it’s easy to call a wine ‘rustic’ and to ignore its charms, because, lets face it, not every village has the exposure of Vosne or Chambolle, but it’s just not one of my favourites. Saying that, the wines we tried were great, and the whole operation exuded class on every level. The premier crus were wines of real excellence and really transcended the appellation. From Muzard, we went on to Domaine Bouzereau-Gruere, now run by Marie-Anne and Marie-Laure, Hubert’s two daughters. Having trained wit Jacques Carrillon, one of Puligny’s greatest growers, Marie-Anne is more than qualified to make top white Burgundy, while her sister, Marie-Laure, has taken the commercial reins. Going down to the cellars, we tasted through the whole range of 2008’s. We liked the wines, they had good definition, good fruit. Perhaps a little nondescript for me, if I’m being harsh. But built so well, with great acidity and length. It’s difficult, because commercialism comes into the equation, but we felt that these wines would be difficult to work with. After tasting what must have been around 40 wines, we had a quick bite at La Vieux Vigneron in Rue Magdelaine, where Mark had snails, and I had pig’s trotter, which unsurprisingly was a bad move as it didn’t agree with me and my haughty stomach at all. A couple of Heinekens later, we were ready to turn in, as we had another packed day of tastings tomorrow and another early start.
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