Stars of Piedmont
You might remember that after a superlative bottle of the 1998 Rocche de Faletto Giacosa over Christmas, I made my New Years resolution to drink more Italian wine. How am I getting on? Not too well, my vinous diet seems still to be mostly composed of dodgy samples from various samples and producers, oh, and a lot of beer! Having not made a great effort off my own back, it was good fortune that I was present for our recent ‘Stars of Piedmont‘ tasting which proved to be one of the most exciting tastings I have been to in recent months. We decanted the wines at about 4:00 and sat down about 7:00. The wines we tasted were as follows... 1998 Barbaresco Brico Asili Ceretto A subdued start to the evening, nice, muted notes of cherry and strawberry, fairly traditional style, low-key but nicely in balance. 1998 Barbaresco Starderi, Spinetta A first look at a slightly controversial style of Barbaresco, forward, toasty and exotic on the nose. Undeniably an attractive bottle of wine, but not quite the style that I go for. Some liked it more then others. 1998 Barbaresco Rabaja Giacosa Coming after the Starderi, this was the absolute counterpart to the Starderi, elegant, precise and high in acid. ‘Dances on the palate’ I think someone said on my table – Quite right! 1998 ‘Barbaresco’ Langhe Costa Russi Gaja Our first look at Gaja and the appeal was there to see, toasty, elegant and instantly appealing, wonderful stuff which most people like more then me. I’m a horrible old (young) cynic and I feel that the style is a bit over-made. A relative thing, as I would still bite off the arm of anyone offering this to me. 1998 Barbaresco Bricco Roche Cerreto The nose on this wine had several people checking their sheets to make sure that it was the same producer who’s wine we tried first of all. Toasty, extravagant nose with an expansive palate that still doesn’t quite live up to the promise of the fantastic nose. Very good. 1998 Barolo Ciabot Mentin Ginestra Clerico Can’t remember much about this wine I’m afraid. Think it was quite good though. Sorry. 1998 Barolo La Serre Voerzio A great wine, modern in style but with very nice acid structure, this found lots of support in the room and most felt that this had a really long life ahead. 1998 Barolo Rocche de Faletto Giacosa Confession, I’m in love with this wine, I think it is a fantastic hommage to the Nebbiolo grape and I think I could find an interesting facet in this wine for years. Not dark or extracted, a ittle medicinal but nothing out of place. Unique style and beautifully done, this was very well received. When Parker first scored this wine he gave it 98 points and I would say deservedly so. 1998 Barolo Sperrs Gaja Another very impressive, tight, finely tannined wine from Angelo, I was still tasting the Giacosa myself. Barolo Monfortino Giacomo Conterno Wow! what a beast. Such an intriguing wine. Everything else in the tasting seemed to fit in my mind on a line between modern and traditional styles, but this seems so complete and modern yet traditional and so many of the flavours are paradoxical, managing as it does to combine weight and lightness. Still a little young but what a wine. My top wines: Rocche de Faletto Monfortino La Serre Voerzio The group's top wines: Monfortino Sperrs Rocche de Faletto And that was, as they say, it, Mark and I had a beer, discussed just how good the wines were and as I left, I gave a sigh of satisfaction, for the bright stars of Piedmont, and for being off the next day, avoiding sorting out 200 tasting glasses on Friday morning. Phew! Read more about this tasting by downloading the tasting brochure from the night.
Vega Sicilia Come to Roberson
Last night we held one of our most exciting tastings of the year – a fascinating look at Spain’s aristocratic wine estate, Vega Sicilia. Winemaker Xavier Ausas took charge of proceedings, which consisted of a tasting of Pintia ’06, Alion ’04 and ’05 before the main business of the evening, four vintages of Valbuena (’04, ’02, ’97, ’83), four of Unico (’99, ’80, ’74, ’69), a lot (if that’s the right word for this non-vintage blend) of Unico Reserva Especial and a 1976 Oremus Tokaji just to finish things off. Personally I thought the ’74 Unico was the most outstanding – a really fascinating wine at its peak now and with an indescribable character that was sheer perfection. Thanks everyone for coming to this brilliant event, and especially thanks to Xavier for presenting the wines. There’s one more tasting left in this session, The French Walkabout, which should be a really enjoyable evening so don’t miss it. The next schedule is being finalised as we speak and will be posted in the tastings section of the site in the next couple of weeks – check back often. Read more about this tasting by downloading the tasting brochure from the night.
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.
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