Great Importer’s Who Shaped My Palate – Robert Chadderdon Selections

1st May 2024

Glass of Bubbly on the Beach

I was taught at a young age to be a book hound, exercise your brain by reading current up to date information accumulated from field leaders, vinous leaders like Michael Broadbent and Hugh Johnson. These two Masters of Wine advised rules I’ve always followed: review the bottle’s back label to see who the importer is, and by extension the company’s portfolio they keep; words I have consistently lived by. But who were the mentors who trained these sophisticated wine arbitrators? Robert Chadderdon had been trained by the legendary Frank Schoonmaker, who trained by himself post WWII seeking great producers who survived. I had a professional successful collaboration with Robert Chadderdon Wine Selections from 1986 until 2013, however, I first heard of Chadderdon Selections via a Manhattan retailer during a layover in February 1975 en route to Paris. The following week I recognized one of the labels on the wine list when dining at Bistro Bofinger (the Latin Quarters Ile de la Cite, Paris’ 4th Arrondissement); I ordered Belon Oysters with Mignonette sauce as an appetizer to accompany Domaine de la Tourmaline Muscadet. I was a dumb young kid, but I’d never experienced such a delicious, naturally effortless pairing. The Muscadet Loire bottle with distinctive matte Black label and Silver print imported to the USA by Chadderdon; listed are some of Chadderdon’s other legendary fine wines: in addition to the Muscadet Tourmaline, the “Coulée de Serrant” Savennières by the biodynamic pioneer Nicolas Joly, and Vouvray vineyards of Gaston Huët. The Côte d’Or winemakers Paul Pernod, and the astute Marc Colin (now run by his son Pierre-Yves Colin-Morey). The Vosne-Romanée Henri Jayer estate including the prized Cros Parantoux vineyard. And Bordeaux from the Haut-Medoc Châteaux Potensac. This winery helped revolutionize the Old World by bridging the New World technology and climate science. This is just the beginning how Mr Chadderdon disrupted the way quality wine was sold.

New to me, however, was the Billecart-Salmon Champagnes, represented nationally by Robert Chadderdon Selections since the nineteen-seventies. This was a Champagne producer who deftly balanced the public’s image perceived as a prestigious grower’s domain while supplying the reliable distribution of a Grandes Marque Champagne house. The non vintage Billecart-Salmon Brut Resérve is a complex blend of Chardonnay, the Pinot Noir, and Pinot Meunier all sourced from Mareuil-sur-Aÿ vineyards exemplifying the thought provoking chalky mineral house style with hedonistic flowery flavors of the Aÿ terroir.

A wine’s quality is always my foremost goal by focusing on the wine’s balance (structured ripe fruit tannins versus acidity), the overall complexity, and ultimately its length of flavor and intensity. This occasionally found me at odds with the corporate distributor’s 800 pound gorilla sales marketing arm attempting to move cases of lackluster products. These wines are often sold on promoting the winery’s Public Perceived Quality via the winemaker’s rounded finished sample bottles, or with ersatz coloring tinctures to flatter an unsuspecting public (presenting dry, when in fact selling sweetened cushy wines). I soon realized my employer could get along with other distributors, only if I played with the big boys too. If a slow to sell wine could be binding my inventory dollars, the wine needed to be well stored and protected for the assets’ age-ability, and hopefully value appreciation. Choosing the lesser of two evils, I dug deeply into the distributor’s portfolio for hidden gems that distributor sales leaders may have viewed as non essential, but a wine presented for sale is a wine case sold. These large distributors are motivated by huge volume sales quotas presenting SKU’s big box products. The distributors prize the quarterly depletion reports, but in the end, you can make numbers dance, but they will not lie!

All this Chadderdon back story is to offer my reasons for looking forward to May. I would reserve cases to be delivered in the fall of the Piedmontese Chardonnay and Pinot Nero sparkling by Rocche dei Manzoni Valentino Spumante Elena Brut Riserva. I was delighted to be working with the team of San Francisco’s Rose Pistola, an homage to Ligurian cuisine on Columbus Avenue in the North Beach neighborhood. The restaurant was a gang buster from opening St Patrick’s Day 1994. We served a daily average of 2,200 guests from a 188 seat dining room (with a 48 seat lounge bar). My relationship with the Robert Chadderdon President Alan Sobzcak went back a decade but he was well acquainted with the chef / owner Reed Heron. This was a dream job, working with a committed “quality all the way” team, and no distributor politics because everyone wanted to work with Rose Pistola. The opening Beverage Director was Reed’s old friend from Texas, Ward Robillard. He assembled perhaps the most successful Northern California wine list balancing Old World and New World California / Italian varieties. Our cellar was small but this encouraged intelligent ordering and a streamlined inventory, Life was incredibly fortunate. As we prepared for the fog bound SF June Gloom and looked forward to autumn’s arrival, an Alaskan Whole Coho Salmon was introduced to our wood oven roasted with quartered Fennel bulbs, black Nicoise olive tapenade and Puget Extra Virgin Olive Oil, but what wine to serve? We featured a Pigato BTG (a Ligurian pigmented clonal cousin to Vermentino), but how about a vibrant red wine? The Rocche dei Manzoni 1994 Bricco Manzoni (60% Barbera / 40% Nebbiolo) was the wine chosen with red spicy fruit, lifted acidity and soft tannins that cozied pillow talk to the Roasted Coho and Fennel. End of the summer presented more orchard delights from Frog Hollow Fruit Company in Brentwood Southern California. Grilled nectarines with Rotisserie Pork, and a bonus summer end White Peaches which we puréed to make Rocche dei Manzoni Valentino Spumante Elena Brut Riserva Bellini’s! Our presentation was more upscale than the Prosecco example, originally at Harry’s Bar of Venice. The vintage has 42 months aging in bottles from the year shipped so a round texture, and bottle freshness were assured. Displaying Champagne autolytic yeast aromas, and body development made the Valentino Spumante Elena Brut Riserva a sophisticated drink with the white peach purée.

Peter Birmingham

Restaurant General Manager, Corporate Beverage Director, & Hospitality Consultant, with these qualities he represents a Triple Threat: a culinary tableside historian, an accomplished wine taster with the casual ability to make flavor relationships and beverage quality value accessible.