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Scottish Wine Guru Appreciates California Vineyards, Treasures a Good Champagne and Loves a Great Wine Rap

Talking Grapes With Clos Pegase's Robin Akhurst

BY // 03.19.20

I love to talk about wine with people who share my passion for it. We open bottles, we trade stories about travel and soil types, terroir and residual sugar, and we talk of taste and food and restaurants. We recommend wines to one another, we drink, and we learn a lot.

In Wine Talk, I introduce you to some of my friends, acquaintances, and people I meet as I make my way around the world, individuals who love wine as much as I do, who live to taste, who farm and make wine. You’ll appreciate their insight, and I hope you’ll learn something from them as well. 

The man possesses an impressive CV. An undergraduate degree in environmental sciences from the University of Edinburgh. Graduate degree in viticulture and enology from Lincoln University in Christchurch. A formative stint at Domaine Leflaive, as well as Barossa Valley and Napa harvests.

Yes, Robin Akhurst, now winemaker at Clos Pegase, knows his way around a vineyard and a crushing floor, not to mention a cellar. The Scot, who was guided to California in 2009, when he worked harvest with Thomas Rivers Brown, went on to ply his craft at a custom-crush project, Envy Wines. In 2015, Swanson Vineyards hired him as a winemaker.

All the while, Akhurst worked on his calling and craft, which resulted in a call from Clos Pegase, where you’ll find him today.

I visited the winery last year, and if you like architecture and wine, it is a place you must seek out once travel returns to usual in this coronavirus world. Michael Graves designed the winery, and spending an afternoon there in the tasting room or out back on the patio is a pleasant interlude.

Let’s find out what Akhurst has to say in Wine Talk.

PaperCity: Tell us about three wines you think are drinking well at the moment. What makes them worthwhile? How about a food pairing for each one?

Robin Akhurst: First, the 2015 Lupicaia, Castello del Terriccio – Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Petit Verdot.  The wine shows green notes of grilled herb and a sharper, more defined level of fruit intensity. This wine is profound and deep.

The tannins are very well integrated, and the wine shows a vertical softness that makes this vintage stand out from the rest. Very food-friendly. I would eat with roast beef, potatoes au gratin, roasted winter vegetables and creamed horseradish. Last opened a bottle of this back in Scotland on Christmas day with all the family whilst snow fell outside, great memories. Around $140

Robin Akhurst, winemaker at Clos Pegase, has a soft spot for Merlot, and Bollinger. (Courtesy Clos Pegase)

Then, a 1996 Bollinger R.D. Extra Brut Champagne. It’s my favorite Champagne house. This version is toasty, yeasty, yet with lemon, citrus and berry notes and a bracing acidity that keeps it all in check. I drank this when I gained my postgraduate diploma in viticulture and enology, in New Zealand. As a dirt-poor student it was an extravagance, but totally worth it.

Finally, the 2018 Clos Pegase Mitsuko’s Vineyard Chardonnay. It’s a well-balanced Chardonnay that shows an even-handed addition of French oak alongside bright acidity and a food-friendly finish. The soils and microclimate of this vineyard demonstrate how a wine can be full bodied with oak maturation and full malolactic fermentation yet still be crisp, clean and refreshing.

Best paired with classic roast chicken, vine-ripened tomatoes, a French baguette, and a knife. You can find it for around $30.

PC: If cost was no consideration, tell us the one bottle you would add to your personal collection, and why?

RA: A 2008 Domaine Leflaive Chevalier-Montrachet. I had the honor of working with the domaine for the 2008 harvest. I met a lot of good people, and it’s been an inspirational time of my life ever since. It has a special place in my soul.

PC: What is your favorite grape, and why?

RA: I would find it hard to say a favorite, but I have been really enjoying working with Merlot. I love how well it integrates with oak, how it always gives generous aromas, and how, if farmed right, can give serious age-worthy wines that continue to improve and fascinate for decades.

Aspara Cellars is high on Akhurst’s list.

PC: How about one bottle that our readers should buy now to cellar for 10 years, to celebrate a birth, anniversary, or other red-letter day? 

RA: I recommend the Apsara Cellars 2015 “Amoenus Vineyard” Cabernet Sauvignon, from Napa Valley. 2015 was an outrageous vintage, giving concentrated fruit, intense flavors and robust tannins. This wine would be perfect for any special occasion, and if needed will last two decades and continue to improve.

PC: Where is your go-to place when you want to have a glass or bottle?

RA: It would be sitting on the beach at Point Reyes National Seashore on the California Coast with my wife, daughter, and golden retriever, Knox. A bottle of Clos Pegase Rosé would also be accompanying us.

PC: If there was one thing you wish everyone would keep in mind when buying and drinking wine, what is it?

RA: Tough question. It would probably be to remember to enjoy it, enjoy who you’re with, what you’re doing, and don’t forget to take a moment and consider how lucky you are to be alive in this wonderful world.

PC: What is your “wine eureka moment,” the incident/taste/encounter that put you and wine on an intimate plane forever?

RA: It would be the tastings I was invited to when I worked for Lea and Sandeman in central London, exploring the great depth of French and Italian wines and learning about the history of how the classic wine styles came into existence.

PC: What has been the strangest moment or incident involving wine that you have experienced in your career?

RA: Falling into a tank of Merlot and having to walk all the way back to the house leaving red boot marks from the winery to the front door.

PC: What is your favorite wine reference in a work of literature?

RA: Mic Flo.

In Napa with the wine flowing,
Spitting rhymes that are mind-blowing.
Looking at my daughters like, “Damn
where is time going?”

I’m a new dad, so this means a lot to me. If you like lyrics about wine, life, and parenting, check out Mic Flo.

Part of the Special Series:

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