An incomparable three bottles: Roy Richards

In the text below I have a challenge. I have some diamonds, perfectly cut. They are beautiful in themselves. To set them in metal seems pointless; it’s tempting to leave them as they are. But grapes need crushing, juice needs fermenting, wine needs bottling.

Roy Richards founded Richards Walford with business partner Mark Walford in 1982. The wines that they introduced to the UK were and are at such a level it would seem that they knew a good source of winning lottery tickets. As it is I think that they just knew what they were doing. Ghislaine Barthod, Etienne Grivot. Clos des Papes, Isabel Ferrando, Eben Sadie. Good enough? Comte Liger-Belair. Erm … Henri Jayer. Le Pin. Find me any of the great wine lists in the country and if there isn’t a Richards Walford wine on the list then I’ll eat it.

I have had the pleasure of tasting with Roy on a few occasions.  The language, or rather its inference, might not be pure but the knowledge, the skill, the sheer nous, is so clean, focussed and simply correct I struggle to describe it.

Roy: thank you.

What was the first wine/bottle that got you into the whole wine thing?

This is possibly an embarrassing anecdote, which may seem perverse to a modern sensibility, but one must not judge the past self righteously by the standards of the present. As Rimbaud, loosely translated, wrote, ‘Humanity is the shoe leather of progress’, and today’s orthodoxy is not necessarily superior to that of yester year’s.

My prep school was a happy place, and the headmaster was a gentleman schoolmaster, the son of a landed Norfolk clergyman, who followed religiously the adage, ‘spare the rod, spoil the child’. I was frequently in trouble. Once in the top year, provided one was well mannered enough to say, ‘thank you, Sir’, after the chastisement, then correction would be followed by a glass of wine.

The headmaster, of independent means, and a decorated army major, drank well and was always trying to educate in the broadest sense – he used to give French lessons in the school kitchens. On one occasion, after doubtless well-deserved punishment, he produced a bottle of 1945 Ch. Mouton Rothschild. ‘L’Annee de la Victoire’, he said, showing me the iconic label. We shared the bottle; it was rich and concentrated, almost pungent. As he thought about lost comrades, a tear trickled down his cheek. I have drunk the same wine on a number of occasions since then, but never with the same intensity of emotion.

What was the first wine/bottle that took you closer to your maker?

The epiphany question. I was brought up rather conventionally. My father drank Rioja – Murrieta – as his daily tipple with Bordeaux and Hermitage on high days and holidays. Later, at Cambridge, there was more, rather grander, Bordeaux – mature, ridiculously affordable and gracious – buckets of vintage port, Rhein, Mosel, some white Burgundy, but little of the same in red, at least, wine of quality. it was the era of over-production, adulteration and, quite often, of English or Scottish bottling: nothing to inspire love of, or confidence in, the world’s greatest expression of Pinot Noir.

Then came my first research trip to Burgundy with Mark Walford, my business partner in Richards Walford. We were tasting principally the 1980 vintage, although at this time growers would have three or four vintages for sale. On a recommendation, we went to visit a vigneron, then unknown in England, who lived in a frankly unpromising modern house in Vosne-Romanee. His cellar was under the garage: no Cistercian stone vaults encrusted with cobweb and fungus. This tasting, however, was to change my life in so many ways: a purity, a joyous sensuality, quite literally, a revelation.

Invidious, perhaps, to pick out one wine, but it was a premier cru I had never even heard of. Henri Jayer’s Vosne Cros Parantoux 1980 out of barrel was unquestionably a divinely orgasmic experience, and I took the path to Burgundy.

What was the best wine/bottle you have had this year? – OK, the past twelve months.

I am going to cheat here, as the wine in question was not exactly a finished one, but more a series of components. I have not been, for some years now, responsible for buying Bordeaux en primeur, so am spared the annual indignity of having to take buying decisions based on a mixture of sample bottles which could contain anything and of the marks of self important journalists. I do, however, try to taste once a year at my preferred Chateaux, where long term friendship continues to trump commercial interest.

One such Chateau, owned by the Flemish family Thienpont, is Vieux Chateau Certan. As I tasted from barrel, lot by lot, the 2014 vintage, I started wondering why much of the rest of Pomerol and St. Emilion had managed to make such a mess of their Merlot, when Alexandre Thienpont, with the exception of one cuvee of young vines, had succeeded sublimely; of course, he had in addition his old vine Cabernet Franc to lend sinew, perfume and finesse. We made a trial assemblage and it was breathtakingly beautiful, comfortably of first growth quality, and a worthy heir to the 71, 64, 55, 48 and 29, and that’s about as far as I go…..

Thank you again, Mr Richards.

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