Armit Wine has one of the most enviable portfolio lists in the business. MD Brett Fleming celebrates three years in charge this November, and its Autumn Portfolio Tasting gave the team (and those producers that could get away from harvest duties) the chance to showcase their wares to an expectant client base of private clients, restaurants, and well-heeled independents. We sent Mike Turner along to get a taste of what Armit has to offer.
“We’re selling ultra-premium fine wine. We need to make sure we’ve got enough time and commitment in our days to stay in front of our producers and make sure we’re doing what they need of us,” says Armit MD Brett Fleming.
This was my first time at an Armit Wines tasting. Peter Dean at The Buyer HQ usually bagsies this one for himself and as I walked out of their Autumn 2022 tasting I could certainly understand why. Armit has some exceptionally illustrious wineries in its portfolio, including true icons of their regions and, in the cases of the likes of Tenuta San Guido and Domaine Leflaive, icons of the world of wine.
Promoting brand equity
Brett Fleming has been at the helm as managing director since November 2019. He was quick to point out that the fame of their producers is a key focus of how they do business.
“We’re fortunate to be a position that our suppliers have a huge amount of brand equity,” stated Fleming, “our job is to promote that.”
Fleming’s idea to get each producer to show a ‘library stock’ vintage of wines on each table is not only a draw for trade, but also a way to show off these producers and wines at their pinnacle. This tasting boasted the chance to try 2001 Sassicaia, Leflaive’s 2002 Puligny Montrachet Premier Cru Les Combettes, and 1997 Château Lafleur to name but a few (What! Think I’m doing next year’s event Mike – Ed.)
At the time Fleming took over at Armit, the company was in the news for all the wrong reasons. Although 2019’s well documented financial situation is clearly still on his mind, it makes it easier to talk about the following three years of increasingly solid financial performances from the team. All this despite operating in some of the trickiest economic waters any of us have experienced for decades.
“Our three key client bases have given us a lot of strength,” explained Fleming. “Our Private Client business benefits from those clients going out to shop at our Independent Retailer clients or going out to eat at our On-Trade accounts. These synergies are really important for us, and a key reason our producers work with us.”
That base of producers is continuing to expand. One quick glance at the tasting book pointed to a handful of top names in the world of wine that have come onboard in the last three years. The review of producers that followed Fleming’s arrival identified holes in Armit’s portfolio that needed filling. Recent additions have included the highly regarded Elena Walch from Alto Adige and Mendel from Mendoza.
The Barossa-shaped hole has been filled this year by the fabulous Rockford, making their return to the UK market for the first time in nearly a decade. Jonathan Stevens looks after Rockford in the UK and Europe and was very forthcoming in his praise for their new partnership.
“That triumvirate of sales angles that Armit has was a perfect fit for how we want our wines positioned,” reflected Stevens. “Their last two or three years have been seriously impressive and we can’t wait for the wines to arrive in the UK, hopefully by the end of the year, and see them back in the premium on and off-trade.”
The producer-focused approach is an integral part to the clearly thought through growth strategy at Armit. Fleming has an upper limit of turnover he thinks they can deliver whilst staying true to their values as a company. “We’re selling ultra-premium fine wine. We need to make sure we’ve got enough time and commitment in our days to stay in front of our producers and make sure we’re doing what they need of us.”
My Armit mixed case
The portfolio boasts an impressive line-up of wines and I was lucky enough to get to try through as many as my day could fit in. I’ve picked a selection of six wines here that I think show off not only the fabulous producers that were at the tasting, but also the ranges that these producers are selling through Armit.
Punset, Langhe Arneis 2020, Piedmont, Italy
Winemaker Marina Marcarino is the reason I nearly didn’t make it round the whole tasting. I could have talked to her for hours. Based in Neive, she converted her 17 hectares to organics in the 1980s and by 1990 was practising biodynamic viticulture. 30 years ago, joked Marcarino, she was the “weird lady” but now she’s apparently the local expert. How times change?!
Marcarino’s range of minimal intervention Piedmont favourites were really enjoyable, but I picked out her Arneis for special praise. 50% of the blend had 10 days of skin contact, followed by fine lees ageing, and bottled using only a paper filter to clarify the wine before release. Supremely pronounced green apples, lemon citrus, and apple blossom, with a dill herbal note and long textured finish. Not sure it’s one for you “by the glass” list, but it’s one that your wine-geek clients will love. RRP £22.45
Dauvissat, Chablis Les Brèches de Fyé 2020, France
There are not many more iconic names in Chablis than Dauvissat. And although this is not Vincent Dauvissat’s wine but his cousin’s Didier and wife Agnès I have chosen it for my mixed case because it stands up on its own two feet. I’ve done it because Chablis is in danger at times of getting overlooked in favour of more complex and funky wines from across the globe. But there’s something incredibly satisfying about a well-made, restrained, subtle, and expressive cool climate Chardonnay. High acidity, but beautifully balanced by concentrated green and citrus fruits, and the stony and lees texture riding out the long fresh finish. Pure class. RRP £24.40
Rockford NV Sparkling Black Shiraz
I was trying to work it out, but I reckon it was about 10 years ago that I went to a Planet of the Grapes dinner for Rockford wines. Their range of high-end Barossa wines was the first time I’d drunk truly impressive wines from Australia, with the Rifle Range Cabernet and Basket Press Shiraz two utter stars. But it was Sparkling Shiraz that found a special place in my heart, and to get to come across it again at this tasting was a special treat. Full of blue, black, and red fruits culminating in a long, sweet cherry and blueberry finish but with enough tannin to round everything off. It’s like no other wine I’ve had before or since. If you can find some aged examples, or have the time to buy some now to lay down for a while like I did about a decade or so ago, you’ll thank yourself! RRP £78.70
Bien Nacido Estate Chardonnay 2018, Santa Barbera, California
During the day we were treated (and I mean treated!) to a masterclass by Master Sommelier and Bien Nacido brand manager Will Costello. A font of knowledge about all things California, he presented wines from Bien Nacido and their sister estate Solomon Hills. We tasted their Chardonnays, Pinots, and Syrahs side by side and, despite all being wines I would happily recommend to any of you, the 2018 Bien Nacido Chardonnay won it by a nose. Slightly further inland, I felt the riper fruits suited the oaked style perfectly, and left a full bodied, creamy and toasty finish that you could enjoy when the sun is cracking the flags all the way to the colds of winter. RRP £46.70
Dowie Doole, Grenache 2021, McLaren Vale, Australia
Not a producer I knew anything about until this tasting, but it’s one that’s now definitely on my radar. The precision in each of the Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz, and Grenache wines was fabulous given what is, amongst these highly priced icons, a pretty modest set of prices. The Grenache was a beautifully bright, light ruby in the glass and full of fresh crunchy red fruit and peppery on the finish. RRP £16.45
Tenuta San Guido, Le Difese 2020, Tuscany, Italy
I could have wandered over to this particular table, picked up my sample of Sassacaia 2001 and turned on my heels and moved on. But firstly, the ethos of Armit is to allow the producers to show off the full range of what they can do. Secondly, I would have missed getting to talk to Elena Brachini from Tenuta San Guido, one of the smiliest people I’ve ever met… although that might have had something to do with it being the last 15 minutes of the day!
Le Difese is a blend of Sangiovese and Cabernet Sauvignon, with the 2020 vintage a clean 50:50 split between the two thanks to the exceptional vintage for Sangiovese. Full of ripe red, black, and blue fruits and lifting tomato leaf and sage, I loved everything about this wine and thought it was a fabulous option for people whose pockets might not stretch deep enough for its ‘big brother’. RRP £21.70
If you want to find out more about the portfolio at Armit Wines please contact Vicky Major on firstname.lastname@example.org
Armit Wines is a supplier partner of The Buyer. To discover more about them click here.
Mike Turner is a freelance writer, presenter, and educator and regular contributor for The Buyer. He also runs a wine events business, Feel Good Grapes, that explores and discusses the idea of sustainability in the wine trade.