A few weeks before England’s harvest in September, a few colleagues and I were fortunate enough to visit Ridgeview Wine Estate in Sussex. Some of us at The Wine Society are currently undergoing our Level 3 studies for our WSET (Wine & Spirits Education Trust) qualifications. The purpose of the trip I organised was to understand and learn about the whole process of producing wines. Not being able to travel the world to further my studies, I thought the best or more viable chance would be to visit a UK winery.
Ridgeview’s multi-award-winning sparkling wine is well known worldwide. First founded in 1994 by Mike and Chris Roberts, it’s a family company dedicated in the production of the highest-quality sparkling wine using traditional sparkling grape varieties and methods at the foot of the South Downs in Sussex.
After a three-hour journey from The Wine Society in Stevenage (it would have been shorter had we not been caught up in the Tour of Britain bike race!), we were greeted with a lovely lunch put on for us by Ridgeview, before heading off on a vineyard tour. This was presented by Daniel, one of the very knowledgeable and experienced assistant winemakers. He told us about the techniques that Ridgeview uses to grow and produce such great-quality grapes which go in their sparkling wine.
Thirteen French clones of chardonnay, pinot noir and pinot meunier on three different rootstocks were selected to emulate l’assemblage of the Champagne houses that combine together the vintages of small vineyards, thereby creating imaginative blends.
Since then, they have expanded from the single site to develop close partnerships with local growers who are predominantly in or adjacent to the South Downs National Park. Only being 70 miles (as the crow flies) from the Champagne region of France, their soils and climate are not too different. The location is also good for producing fully ripe grapes with great flavour, but which aren’t high in alcohol. With the climate of the UK (we get cold nights even in summer, after all!) English grapes have super acidity, a prerequisite for high-quality fizz.
The winery is purpose built with an underground cellar where the wines can be stored in perfect conditions for the secondary fermentation and lees ageing. Their grape press is capable of pressing four tonnes of grapes to create 2,000 litres of grape juice after the free-run is discarded and gyropalates help rotate the bottles, moving the dead yeast lees to the neck of the bottle before the final closure is made.
Afterwards, we were fortunate to have a special tasting hosted by Mardi Roberts (sales and marketing manager) who gave us an informal tutored tasting of their range.
At present, we stock two of Ridgeview’s sparkling wines. The Ridgeview Bloomsbury 2011 (£23 per bottle) is a chardonnay-dominant blend which is supported by the fullness of the red grapes pinot noir and pinot meunier. It has a light gold colour, a lovely mousse and an enticing nose of citrus fruit with a hint of melon and honey. The chardonnay brings finesse, along with crisp fruit freshness and toasty notes, while the two pinots add depth and character. This will age very gracefully, if you can be patient!
Both wines, price wise, are very similar to many Champagnes and dare I say give more of a pleasurable experience both on nose and palate compared to wines 80 miles south of Ridgeview – but that’s my opinion and feel free to disagree!
If you are ever in the area, I would highly recommend popping by to visit. More information can be found on the Ridgeview website. We would like to say a huge thank you to those from Ridgeview for providing us with a very educational and interesting experience in visiting their winery.
Our Members’ Favourites offer, which closes on Sunday 28th September, counts down our 35 bestselling producer-label wines. It is selected by Society members voting with their feet, yet many also take the time to tell us what they think of the wines.
At a Showroom tasting, we caught up with a number of members to get their views on some of the top sellers from this year:
What do YOU think?
Submit a written review of one of the Members’ Favourite wines on our website by noon on Tuesday 30th September for a chance to win a bottle of this year’s straight-in-at-number-one wine, Prosecco Brut I Duecento. The authors of the most interesting, amusing or striking reviews will receive a bottle, so good luck!
To leave a review, simply scroll down to the bottom of the wine’s product page on our website and click ‘Write your own review’ (you’ll need to be logged in to do this).
We were delighted to see former Society colleague Richard Mayson win the International Wine Feature Writer of the Year award and Society contributor Nina Caplin named International Wine Columnist of the Year, for their work in The World of Fine Wine and New Statesman respectively.
The Society’s foremost aim is, of course, to offer our members the best wines at the best possible prices. However, we also aim to provide as much good-quality information about them as we can, whether for the inquisitive beginner or the seasoned expert.A key part of this process is our long and proud history of hosting exclusive articles from the best professional wine writers. It is therefore particularly pleasing to see Richard and Nina’s efforts recognised by this top-class judging panel.
Read Society articles by the winners
For those wishing to explore the work of these award-winning writers on The Society’s website, we present some of Richard’s and Nina’s most recent contributions below:
• Richard Mayson: ‘Vintage Port: A Rich Tradition’
‘The declaration of a new port vintage brings out the historian in me,’ wrote Richard Mayson when 2011 was declared. Here’s his look at the history of this noble wine, from its origins in the 18th century to the present.
• Nina Caplin: ‘A Precious Inheritance’
Nina’s father, Harold Caplan, served on The Wine Society’s committee of management for 11 years, chairing the wine sub-committee for four of those. This lovely piece explores how the love of wine is among the most valuable of heirlooms.
• Nina Caplin: ‘Your Granny Wouldn’t Like It!’
A lament to the fact that sherry still carries the albatross of being perceived as as a sweet digestif for the superannuated, and attempts to right the wrong in this enlightening piece on the diversity of styles and value for money offered by this perennially underrated wine.
• Nina Caplin: ‘What To Drink At Easter’
Last Easter, we published this reflection on similarities and differences between Jewish and Christian Easter festivities and rituals and how, when it comes to choice of wine, ‘France is still the Holy Land’ in Nina’s opinion.
Wonderfully, the wines on this trip stood up to the pretty astonishing surroundings.
I had a wonderful tasting with Annika, owner of the small but perfectly formed Mount Koinga vineyard. The Wine Society has been the exclusive customer for the wines from this property managed by Mike and hand crafted by Paul Pujol at Prophet’s Rock.
I went on, with Paul, to visit a number of his vineyards including the one where the Exhibition Central Otago Pinot is sourced from.
Aptly named Rocky Point, as you can see from the photos, it is on a steep aspect overlooking the mirror-like Lake Dunstan and snow-capped mountains beyond. A tough vineyard for vines, encouraging complex flavours to develop in these concentrated grapes.
I was able to try the next vintage of the Exhibition wine which, although just bottled, had plenty of sour cherry and cranberry notes, fine tannins and great length.
A full tasting of the wines from Prophet’s Rock including some back vintages also really demonstrated how well the pinots and rieslings can age, becoming very complex and fine.
On to Victoria on this whistlestop trip.
Society Buyer for New Zealand
I am currently on my first buying trip Down Under with The Wine Society.
Marlborough lived up to its great reputation, with added sheep! I had two full days here, seeing 12 producers spanning long-term Society favourites to new suppliers.All in all I managed to taste the new 2014 sauvignons from Greywacke, Seresin, Villa Maria, Brent Marris‘s Three Terraces, te Pa, Dog Point, Framinghams, Isabel, Lawsons, Wither Hills, Mahi and last, but by no means least, Hunter’s.
Everyone is describing 2014 as the vintage of two halves: those who picked before the rains (harvesting healthy concentrated grapes) and those who didn’t (who got left with dilute swollen fruit). I am delighted to assure you that all of our producers worked hard this vintage to pick early and carefully craft some wonderful 2014s. What’s more, I hope the photos from our travels – a menagerie of farm animals and talented winemakers – dispel any ideas of very large corporate wineries. We really are working with the cream of the crop.
The 2014 sauvignons that I tried had great purity, typical concentration, and fresh acidity. I also had the opportunity to work with a number of winemakers to blend our own unique wines which I hope you will enjoy next year!
I can’t write this blog post without quickly mentioning the unsung heroes of the tastings though: chardonnay and pinot noir. Without a doubt these made up some of the best wines I tried over the two days.
The 2013 and 2014 Marlborough chardonnays were tasting wonderfully, rich in apple and citrus flavours, integrated and balanced oak notes, and plenty of cut lemon acidity. We’ll definitely be stocking a few more in 2015.
The pinots also really shone. Elegant, tightly grained with opulent red berry fruit perfume, the 2013s were showing well.
Roll on Central Otago and then on to Oz!
Society Buyer for New Zealand
When preparing an article for Decanter magazine, I was able to compare a run of older vintages at two outstanding but very different Margaux châteaux.
Palmer, which now sells for very top-end super-second prices, was long a favourite of Wine Society members originally because of its outstanding record in the sixties and seventies when many of its neighbours were under-performing. The 1966 was one of the wines of the vintage and its 1970 outshone first-growth Margaux by a long way. One of the secrets of Palmer’s success in cooler years was the quality of its merlot planted on great terroir.
Rauzan-Ségla, whose place at the top of the second-growth in the 1855 classification is testimony to its potential suffered because its succession of owners lacked the means or the will to invest in vineyard and cellar. Since its purchase in 1994 by the Wertheimer family, who own Chanel, and their considerable investment in draining, restructuring the vineyard, rebuilding the cellar and far greater selection for the first wine Rauzan-Ségla has been steadily regaining its rightful place.
Here are some recent tasting notes for members lucky enough to have older vintages from either property.
All wines were decanted two hours in advance.
1995: A big wine with rich tannic structure without a trace of astringency, but currently not quite ‘married’. Seems to be in a dip. Good keeper till 2020 plus but leave now for a couple of years. 40% cabernet sauvignon, 51% merlot, 9% cabernet franc. Now–2025.
1996: Much more expressive than 1995 now with silky texture, lovely middle palate and freshness and vitality. Lots still to give but delicious now. The last year cabernet franc was used at Palmer. 55% cabernet sauvignon, 40% merlot, 4% cabernet franc, 1% petit verdot. Now–2020.
1998: Lovely ‘blackcurrant’ fragrance. Glorious rounded fruit. A great Médoc success in this vintage. Still in its first phase of maturity. 48% cabernet sauvignon, 52% merlot, 5% petit verdot. Now–2020.
2000: Pure salivating fruit. Firm long palate with minty touch. Wonderful to taste now, but probably a mistake to drink with food because almost too ‘big’ and will be finer in ten years. 53% cabernet sauvignon, 47% merlot. Now–2025.
2001: This vintage is completely ready with fragrant bouquet, creamy texture and peppery finish. Good rather than great. Would go well with chicken and mushrooms. 51% cabernet sauvignon, 47% merlot, 7% petit verdot. Now–2022.
2004: Has just ‘opened’ up in spring 2014. Serious dark fruit, succulent, with body and fruit and highly enjoyable now with a real touch of class too. First phase of maturity. Thomas Duroux arrived this year and changed the way the vineyards were worked and made stricter selection. 46% cabernet sauvignon, 47% merlot, 7% petit verdot. Now–2025.
2005: Absolutely gorgeous with an abundance of fragrant fruit, dense ripe, rich and naturally sweet. This will close up and should be kept. 2017–2030.
Palmer will be 100% organically cultivated from 2014, after beginning with a one hectare trial in 1998.
Since manager John Kolasa arrived in July 1994 with the Wertheimer purchase, huge long-term improvements have been made to vineyard, cellar and in precise vinification. Such changes take time to show but are now fully effective. Second wine Ségla is an excellent buy.
1995: A big wine which smells evolved but remains powerful and tannic-structured. Very good merlot this year. Will be better still from 2016. 60% cabernet sauvignon, 36% merlot, 4% cabernet franc. Now–2025.
1996: Delicious claret to drink now, in 2014, with vivacity and liveliness. Would go well with a juicy steak. 60% cabernet sauvignon, 40% merlot. Representing 42% of the crop. Now–2020.
1998: Ready to drink but best decanted two hours in advance as quite slow to ‘open’. Blueberry bouquet. Chicken and mushroom wine. 65% cabernet sauvignon, 35% merlot. Now–2018.
2000: Serious, rich, big-style claret, ‘like 1986 but better made’ with power and structure. The petit verdot helped fill the middle palate. 61% cabernet sauvignon, 36% merlot, 3% petit verdot. From 2019–2025.
2001: Tastes a shade pinched and at this stage the 2002 is better. Maybe better in two years; from 63.5% cabernet sauvignon, 33.5% merlot and 3% cabernet franc. 2016–2022.
2004: Enjoyable now with fresh, soft fruit and elegant Margaux finesse. 52.5% cabernet sauvignon, 42% merlot, 4% petit verdot, 1.5% cabernet franc. Now–2022.
2005: Great wine. Ripe and very classy but worth holding till 2020. 2017–2030.
Sebastian Payne MW
Society New Zealand buyer Sarah Knowles and I arrived in Auckland Friday before last, after a 26-hour flight from London. Within a couple of hours of landing we were sampling some of the greatest chardonnays that New Zealand (if not the entire Southern Hemisphere) has to offer, venturing 15 miles north of the city to the Kumeu River suburb, home to the eponymous winery.
Kumeu River is one of the first New Zealand producers with whom The Wine Society worked, and is very much a family affair. The late Maté Brajkovich first planted vines in the area in 1944, and his wife Melba is still at the winery most days, welcoming visitors from around the world and telling the Kumeu story with infectious enthusiasm.
Melba and Maté had four children, and all are closely involved in the business today, in different capacities. Michael is the winemaker, and the first ever Kiwi to be awarded the Master of Wine qualification, back in 1989. He took us on a fascinating tour of the cellar, pipette in hand, treating us to an extensive and very impressive barrel tasting of the 2014 chardonnays.
It was like being in a small Burgundy domaine, sampling wines from different vineyards and from barrels sourced from several different Burgundian coopers. 2014 is one of those rare vintages (in the Kumeu area at least) that produced high-quality grapes in copious quantity. The wines that we tasted had not begun the malolactic fermentation, but the potential was there for all to see, and Michael could barely contain his excitement for the 2014 wines, particularly after the tiny 2013 crop.
Milan Brajkovich, one of Michael’s siblings and the vineyard manager at Kumeu, then took us into a couple of the estate’s most highly regarded vineyards. Maté’s is the original vineyard, and consistently produces the best wines from Kumeu.
Members might be interested to know that The Society’s Exhibition New Zealand Chardonnay comes from a small vineyard attached to Maté’s. We are lucky to have exclusive access to this high quality fruit, and at £13.50 the wine represents a genuine bargain, giving a real flavour for the style its big brother, Maté’s. We also paid a visit to the Hunting Hill vineyard which, like all of the family-owned vineyards, is trellised using the lyre system, which ensures that yields are kept under control and air circulation is maximised, thus reducing the incidence of botrytis (rot) in this relatively humid climate.
The vineyard visit over, Sarah and I tasted newly bottled 2012 wines, which are due to be released next year. The entire range of chardonnays showed the classic minerality and crystalline freshness that Kumeu River has made its hallmarks over the past 20 years. A great visit to kick off our visit to the Antipodes.
Head of Buying
Ducru-Beaucaillou, owned by the Borie family since 1941, has been a byword for elegance, finesse and longevity since the 1950s, with only a blip in quality between 1985 and 1990 because of a cellar problem.
Léoville-Poyferré, a very famous part of the Léoville trio of vineyards in the early part of the 20th century, went off the boil then took on new momentum with the arrival of Didier Cuvelier in 1978. He made major changes to the vineyard, completed in 2000, and the property has since been making consistently fine wine.
1996: Real Médoc class and charm, just beginning to open and will be better still in five years. Big success in this year. Elegance rather than power. Now–2040.
1998: Elegant, stylish with an old-fashioned touch of freshness from less fully ripened fruit. At its best now but will keep to 2020.
2000: Wonderful potential but closed. Satin-like texture. Serious quality but not ready. Keep till 2020–2050.
2001: Fresh, elegant, scented and open. Why wait? Perfect now. Now–2035.
2004: Potentially a huge crop, so half the grapes were cut off in the vineyard to concentrate the rest. Classic cedary Saint-Julien to drink now. 2015–2040.
2005: Sensational bouquet. Fresh, beautifully balanced. Like 1961, you can drink it young but it will be better left 15 years. 2020–2050.
1996: The cabernet sauvignon was excellent giving a lovely supple texture. Still youthful but some irregularity with bottling.
1998: Fresh, a bit strict and a touch dilute. The merlot was great but the cabernet was a bit fluid. The 1999 is better balanced. 62% cabernet sauvignon, 38% merlot.
2000: Great year for merlot. A rich powerful, massive wine with lots of matter and fully ripe tannin. 65% cabernet sauvignon, 30% merlot, 5% petit verdot. Will keep and improve. Now–2020.
2001: 65% cabernet sauvignon, 30% merlot, 5% petit verdot. Balanced, fine, ripe, round and charming. Lovely now. Now–2020.
2002: 80% cabernet of excellent quality. Great now but still a baby. A much underrated vintage in the heart of the Médoc. Now–2022.
2004: Open, ripe, ready to drink. Generous if relatively uncomplicated. Balance is good and wine is ready. Now–2024.
2005: Wonderful bouquet. Lots of sunshine and light but never too much. Fresh too. Decant four hours in advance if you drink it now but better to keep. 2010 is in the same mould. 2017–2030.
Sebastian Payne MW
Delicato grows grapes and produce wine across most of California (The Society’s Zinfandel comes from vineyards in the Central Valley and Monterey) and in Napa they have an estate (Black Stallion) and winemaking facilities. Although there has been some damage, fortunately there have been no significant injuries. We wish them well in dealing with the aftermath.
As I’m sure you are all aware, an earthquake with a magnitude of 6.0 occurred near American Canyon at 3:20 a.m. yesterday, and violently shook the southern Napa area. I am relieved to be able to tell you that all of our employees and their families are safe. While there is a considerable amount of damage done and a good amount of clean-up required in homes, thankfully there were only a few cuts and bruises suffered.
Black Stallion Winery came through the quake with only minor damage. As would be expected with such a significant earthquake, damage was limited to a few broken pipes, some loose stones in the façade and some broken glassware in the tasting room, but fortunately no barrels fell and no tanks fractured. We are beyond fortunate compared to many of our neighbors.
At Delicato Napa Bottling, closest to the epicenter, fire sprinkler lines shifted from their original position, a small amount of flooring buckled, and there was some damage to the sheetrock and ceiling tiles. Damage, however, was not as bad as might have been feared and the line is running this morning bottling Black Stallion Los Carneros Pinot Noir.
The Napa office suffered minimally as well. Most of the loss was limited to wine racks that fell over with some broken bottles, but no structural damage.
Our sincere thanks go to everyone who quickly responded after the earthquake to check the facilities and ensure that all equipment and wine was secure. During times of unexpected crisis, families come together to support and help rebuild and repair — and Delicato is no different. We will work together to clean up and repair what was damaged and remember to offer a helping hand to our colleagues who may need our support.
We have been delighted with members’ response to our first-ever offer of Austrian wines.Explore Austria is available until Sunday 31st while stocks last (and some are already running out!) features a wealth of new discoveries selected by our new buyer Sarah Knowles, aiming to shine a light on this exciting and oft-underrated wine-producing country.
If you’re not sure where to start, Sarah has written a new guide, How To Buy Austria, while the below reviews from The Wine Gang (a collective of top wine writers Tom Cannavan, Joanna Simon, Anthony Rose, Jane Parkinson and David Williams) may also be of help.
They note that ‘Prices per bottle are all modest by Austrian standards (where £9 or so is entry level) but this is a really solid set of 87- to 90-point wines that would make a fine introduction to the country’s main red and white wine grapes and styles.’
Here are some of their reviews:
Rainer Wess Wachauer Riesling 2013 (£11.50)
There’s a tinge of gold to the colour here that immediately suggests ripeness and concentration. On the nose it has depth, with touches of straw and grapefruit, and lots of character. On the palate it is off-dry – just – with so much ripeness and hint of sugar playing against a blast of orange and grapefruit bittersweet fruit and rushing acidity. Gorgeous stuff, with length and delicate spices around that shimmering finish. What a class act for cooling down on balmy August days. 91/100
Bernhard Ott Am Berg Grüner Veltliner 2013 (£10.95)
Founded in 1889, Bernhard Ott is a family-owned company and the current Bernhard is the fourth generation of the family to run the business. This is an extremely pale, delicate, sherbet and floral scented take on GruV, with a palate that is racy and Riesling-like, with cool minerals, tart apple and cleansing lemony acidity. A hint of spice adds more interest to a very appealing, long and balanced wine. 90/100
Schloss Gobelsburg is the estate of the Cistercian monastery at Zwettl which has produced wine for more than 800 years. Singingly crisp, citrus nose with real brightness, a touch of star fruit and crunchy Asian pear. On the palate this is light, clear and refreshing, with a hint of mid-palate sweetness before a rush of cleansing, summery acidity. Lovely aperitif or white fish style. 89/100
Hannes Sabathi Scheurebe 2013 (£8.95)
Styria is a relatively new quality wine region in the south of the country, where Sauvignon Blanc has been a big success. But Hannes Sabathi are masters of aromatic varieties, and this Scheurebe is peachy and floral, flecked with green herbs, and succulent. It is really quite dry on the palate despite the floral enticement of the nose, quite full bodied, but long, lemony and tangy. Refreshing and different. 87/100
Hans Igler Zweigelt Classic 2011 (£9.50)
Zweigelt is Austria’s other important indigenous red grape, actually a cross between Blaufränkisch and Sankt Laurent. Brimming with clove and cheery, and the loveliest floral nuances of freesia and violet, the aromatic fireworks give way to a juicy palate, all tart cherry and cherry skins, spices and an earthy, dusty gravel dryness with grippy tannins and relatively high acidity to add freshness. Serve lightly chilled with tomato-based dishes. 89/100
Tinhof Noir Burgenland Zweigelt & Co 2011 (£9.50)
A blend of Austria’s three principle indigenous red varieties, Zweigelt, Blaufränkisch and St Laurent, this is both spicy and boldly fruity, with a nice overlay of cedar on ripe berry fruit. On the palate there is sweetness and ripeness, a softer structure than some of the straight varietals in this Wine Society offer, but a nicely spice-touched, firm note in the finish. 87/100