CLEMENT Robert is the wine world’s Godfather. He is the Group Wine Buyer and Head of Beverage at The Birley Clubs. When he entered the room at the most recent Birley Wine Club at Annabel’s, attendees sat in awe as he talked us through the selection of wines for the night.
Robert’s CV is studded with Michelin star institutions, and his current role sees him working with some of the worlds finest winemakers. We sat down with him to talk about all things wine-related at The Birley Wine Club, along with finding out which wine regions to look out for in the future.
What does your role as Head of Beverage at The Birley Clubs entail?
In my role as The Group Wine Buyer and Head of Beverage, I oversee the entire drinks program for The Birley Clubs, which consists of five exclusive Member’s clubs: Annabel’s, George, Harry’s Bar, Mark’s Club and Bath & Racquets. All clubs share the values of discreet and attentive service, scrupulous sourcing of food and wine and meticulous attention to detail. My day-to-day consists of purchasing, wine list curations, sommelier recruitment/training and organising wine and spirits events.
We have an amazing and incredibly hard-working team across the clubs. A couple of years ago, we opened Matteo’s Italian restaurant in Annabel’s with the largest collection of Barolo, Masseto, Sassicaia, Monfortino and Dom Perignon anywhere in the world. To build this stunning wine list, our team had to challenge producers, importers, and themselves to an all-new level. The result is extremely rewarding though – we literally have every vintage ever made by the Iconic Tenuta San Guido Sassicaia!
In lockdown last year, the team came together to think of a really special way to engage with our members at home. The Birley Wine Club was born as a result, and we opened the Annabel’s wine cellar for the first time, giving members the chance to purchase their favourite bottles and have them delivered directly to their doorstep by our Annabel’s driver. Over the last year, the wine club offering has evolved to include even more spectacular experiences from exceptional producers of wines, spirits and cigars.
It is the best job in the world!
What makes The Birley Wine Club so special?
The Birley Wine Club is so special because we offer our member’s the most exclusive access into the world of fine wine. Through unforgettable experiences, members have opportunities to meet renowned wine personalities and attend world-class dinners, tastings and talks across all The Birley Clubs (Annabel’s, Harry’s Bar, George, Mark’s Club).
We offer a truly unique list of rare wines and are proud to be able to offer these at a considerable margin below retail prices, some are even allocated “en Primeur!”. Members have access to an expert concierge service where they can seek advice on wine investments, cellar management and can even ask us for our recommendations wherever they are dining in the world.
Hopefully, when travel restrictions are fully lifted over the next year, we can invite members further afield to visit vineyards and distilleries across Canada, Scotland and Iceland. Like a fine wine, the experiences and dinners will only continue to become more special and more unique!
Opus One wine
Over lockdown, how did The Birley Wine Club reach members at home?
Wine is an important element across our clubs, so launching The Birley Wine Club during lockdown felt like a natural continuation for members who would usually be enjoying our wine list at one of our clubs. Through a series of ‘At Home’ online videos, members could continue to explore the best producers via exclusive content, online tastings, and food tastings in the comfort of their home but still in the spirit of The Birley Clubs.
Episode one featured Financial Times Drinks Columnist, Alice Lascelles, who guided wine club members through a tasting of one of our favourite White Burgundy’s, Domaine François Carillon: Puligny Montrachet 1er Cru Les Champs Gains 2015. Alice took us to the vineyard, virtually, and gave her insight into this outstanding wine.
Later episodes included expert advice by world class wine specialists such as Tim Tiptree MW (Wine Director at Christie’s), Tim Atkin MW (Wine Critic) and star vineyards such as Roagna Gaja in Barolo and Dom Perignon in Champagne.
Each experience explores a different wine producer. What is the selection process like for choosing who is featured in the wine club?
We always offer our members spectacular experiences, and so with this in mind, we choose the most prestigious estates. This year, we are very proud to be hosting world-class vineyards such as Opus One, Domaine Leflaive, Domaine des Lambrays, Chateau Margaux, Chateau Cheval Blanc & D’Yquem, Sassicaia Tenuta San Guido, Tenuta dell’Ornellaia, Grange by Penfold’s, A.Gaja, Dom Perignon and Rare Champagne.
Talk me through some of The Birley Wine Club’s highlights so far.
At the end of December last year, we had the unique pleasure of hosting an incredibly special evening: ‘The Iconic Wine Family Dinner’, serving one wine from each legendary estate including Pol Roger, Château de Beaucastel, Antinori, Sassicaia Tenuta San Guido, Vega Sicilia, Château Mouton Rothschild and Symington.
It was a very memorable dinner for all, as many of our members had never had the opportunity to taste these incredible wines side by side. Tim Atkins MW, Wine Critic; Chris Campbell, CEO of Rothschild and Anthony Symington co-hosted the event and at the end of the night, Tim Triptree MW, Director of Wines at Christie’s, conducted a wine auction which raised more than £25,000 for The Caring Family Foundation.
Opus One wines
The most recent wine dinner featured Opus One. Why was the vineyard selected?
Opus One is iconic because it was established in 1979 as a joint venture between Baron Philippe de Rothschild (the best of Bordeaux) and Robert Mondavi (the famous Napa Valley wine producer). This super joint venture was a first of its kind in the wine world.
Since the release of the first vintage in 1984, many joint ventures have blossomed across the globe but none of them are quite like the infamous Opus One. It was a pleasure for our Member’s to experience such a prestigious vineyard.
Can you share any details of who will be the focus of the next wine club?
We have an exciting events program planned for the rest of the year! The next Wine Dinner will be at Annabel’s, in our decadent Italian restaurant Matteo’s, hosted by the finest Puligny Montrachet producer, Brice de La Morandiere, for an extraordinary evening dedicated to Domaine Leflaive. Members will have the chance to taste our star wine Batard Montrachet (98pts).
In October, we are bringing The Birley Wine Club to Scotland, organising an exclusive trip to a recently re-opened whiskey distillery, and in December, we will be releasing a carefully curated Christmas Wine Club offering to Members.
The most recent The Birley Wine Club
Are there any smaller, upcoming wine countries that will feature in The Birley Clubs soon?
Within the clubs, 95% of wine sales come from the classic wine countries such as France, Italy, Spain, USA, Australia, Argentina, Chile and New Zealand. We monitor trends very closely and if we start to see more requests for upcoming regions from our members then we curate our menus to reflect this.
Georgia is an exciting upcoming wine region where the native Saperavi grape is producing fantastic age-worthy reds. The Assyrtiko grape, indigenous to Greece also makes dry, mineral and very precise white wines which are perfectly paired with seafood. Perhaps we will see both in the clubs in the next few years.
Lastly, what is a wine that never fails to impress?
Through The Birley Wine Club, sommeliers are on hand to advise members on the most impressive wines wherever they are in the world. Non-vintage Champagnes are the safest and most consistent wines. It is a real work of art for Cellar Masters to be able to reproduce a style of wine time and time again despite working with new vintages.
At The Birley Clubs, the house special is Henriot Brut Souverain, which is a beautifully made Champagne that can be ordered year after year and never fails to deliver. On a special occasion, we would serve the Krug Grande Cuvée which, to us, is the best Non-vintage Champagne in the world. And of course, if you really want to taste something impressive, The Birley Wine Club has an extraordinary wine list awaiting Member’s to try!
by Katrina Mirpuri