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Only open in case of emergency

Today I write not so much about a particular wine, but a way of life.

For instance, on this past Sunday morning I was sitting in the main lobby of the Marriott Marquis on Times Square and I was chatting with my friends of some 30 years, Neil and Maria Empson.

Their firm in Milan supplies the backbone of our Italian portfolio, wines like Terrabianca, Jermann, Marcarini, Einaudi, Fuligni and Felsina, as well as their very own Cignale, Monte Antico and Bollini. Their latest price list has over 100 pages.

I asked them, as they are only a few months younger than me, why they do not retire. “Michael,” Neil said, “people like you and I cannot retire as this business is our life.” With the Empsons and about 1,000 others, my wife and I had just attended the annual New York Wine Experience put on by Wine Spectator magazine. I think that it was our 23rd. What stories should I share, as there are so many?

Two days of seminars are the favourites of my wife.

Wine Star #1 was Vincente Dalmau Cebrián-Sagarriga of Spain (Don't worry I had never heard of him either). I thought that there was a typo on our programme as it listed a dry white wine from 1986! Vincente explained that after being fermented in American oak and left in these barrels for 252 months, they decided to taste. It was not ready in their opinion so it then spent 67 months in concrete vats. After a few years in bottle it has just been released and we were the first to taste. It was bright and fresh with power and elegance and truly remarkable for a 30-year-old white wine.

When I brought a bag of groceries home on Monday I told the “chef” that there was a message for her in it and darned if she did not say that the favourite message she could possibly have was actually what I had arrived with.

Let me elaborate.

On the morning of Saturday, October 22nd, Wine Star #5 showed us a short film of her beautiful Tuscan estate that is farmed biodynamically. She likes to say that if you take care of the earth it will take care of you and she and her husband are very active with the Rainforest Foundation. She finished her presentation by telling us that she would like to introduce her husband and partner.

He walks on the stage with his guitar and sings us a song he made so popular 20 years before he ever dreamt of being a vintner. Of course it was Sting and the song was Message in a Bottle. Our new little sister, Discovery Wines, actually stocks this wine of the same name and, of course, that was in the grocery bag that I took home. Discovery sells it for $29.20. Trudie Styler is his partner/wife.

Flying with us on the plane to New York was Leonardo Bellacini, the extremely talented winemaker of San Felice in Tuscany.

He had been our house guest for the previous two nights and, as well as a very informative presentation to our sales team, he hosted a wine dinner for 60 at one of our finest restaurants. He was one of four Brunello producers that presented their wines on the Friday morning.

He spoke of how their highly computerised equipment virtually kept track of each vine and advised how it should be treated for optimum quality and consistently excellent fruit. Their Brunello Campogiovanni is our most popular of all that we carry. The 2011 bottles that we have are rated 93/100 by James Suckling and sell for $46.70. We have 2009 magnums for $101.15. If you want the stay of your life, stay at San Felice; it is an ancient, restored Roman hamlet, a winery and vineyards as well as a five-star hotel. The restaurant is as impressive as any in Italy.

One French man who farms his land using a biodynamic philosophy in Washington State spoke of walking through the vines in the morning and feeling them “make love to the soil”. Another presenter spoke of all our world's vineyards being sustainable, organic or biodynamic within 15 years as vintners know that wine is “climate in a bottle” and we must preserve it.

There is so much to tell, but my word count warns me that there is only room for one more experience.

Last year, the Wine Spectator's Marvin Shanken kind of put Baron Eric de Rothschild on the spot when he presented one of the vintages of his Chateau Lafite Rothchild, a wine that in 1855 was not only classified as one of the four Great First Growths, but it was listed as “Premiers des Premiers” or “First of the Firsts”. The good Baron agreed to come back this year with a vertical tasting of six vintages. He and his technical director, Eric Kohler, shared with us the 2012, 2010, 2009, 2005, 1995 and 1985. It was while tasting the 1995 that the Baron told us that it was “OK to drink in an emergency, but it would be far better to wait”. I would have to say that the 1985 has arrived! As we left this historic tasting for the afternoon break, folks asked what I had in my glass. I told them that it was a “room blend” destined for the 21st floor, as heck if I was going to waste the half ounce left in my six glasses or indeed that of my wife's! We actually stock the 1989 Chateau Lafite Rothschild for $1,347.

Maybe I will share more next week and maybe next year you should spend $2,495 for a complete three days of grand tastings, seminars and the comparison of food and wine. You may discover why I actually enjoy “business trips”.

•This column is a paid for advertorial for Burrows Lightbourn Ltd. Michael Robinson is Director of Wine at Burrows Lightbourn Ltd. He can be contacted at or 295-0176. Burrows Lightbourn have stores in Hamilton (Front Street East, 295-1554), Paget (Harbour Road, 236-0355) and St George's (York Street, 297-0409). A selection of their wines, beers and spirits is available online at

Chateau Lafite Rothschild 1989

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Published October 28, 2016 at 9:00 am (Updated October 28, 2016 at 1:52 am)

Only open in case of emergency

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