Thu 29 Jan 2015

Douro Reflections

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It was a huge pleasure to join my colleagues Liz and Mark and our super group of members and their guests in Portugal back in October.

Douro. The Wine Society

Old journals at Taylor'sOld journals at Taylor’s
My involvement was for the Douro’s wonderful unfortified wines, but it was fascinating to hear and re-learn from Mark and our generous hosts so much about this extraordinary region and how the port story began.

There is such a wealth of history here, as these old journals at Taylor’s illustrate, and the small ‘museum’ at Graham’s lodge portrays so vividly. Both are well worth the detour for tasting as well as a history lesson, with the added bonuses of Graham’s restaurant Vinum and Taylor’s top-notch hotel to hand if you’d like to linger longer.

Our first-ever Exhibition Douro red is available now with introductory savings until 8th February)

Jo Locke MW
Society Buyer

Fri 23 Jan 2015

Burns Night: Haggis Wines?

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Burns Night is fast approaching, arriving this coming Sunday. In anticipation of the coming night here are some of my choices for wine and spirits to toast, and then drink alongside the glorious haggis.

HaggisHaggis is a very robust dish with strong meat and spice flavours. Any lightweight wines will therefore be well and truly drowned out. In my opinion, the best options are therefore full-bodied and spicy reds of the Rhône, Greece and Lebanon.

Semeli Nemea Reserve 2010 (£10.95)
This is a wonderful example of agiorgitiko with firm tannins and red berry fruit. From a classic vintage in Greece this is a full-bodied and rich, yet fine and elegant wine that will continue to age for a further five years.

Gigondas Chateau Raspail 2011 (£14.95)
This is classic Gigondas, full-bodied, richly textured, spicy with ripe and round tannins with just the slightest oak influence.

Massaya Silver Selection Red 2010 (£17.50)
This cuvée is a blend of cinsault, grenache, cabernet and mourvèdre made with the help of Chateauneuf winemaker Daniel Brunier. This has wonderful blackberry notes with spice. It’s round, exotic and elegant with firm, ripe tannins.

Chateau Musar 2007 (£22)
One of the great cult wines of the wine-world coming from Lebanon’s most famous producer. This cabernet, cinsault and carignan blend has bags of character, it is powerful and concentrated with dark berry fruit and spice. This should be peaking around 2022 and lasting until 2027, but is drinking fantastically now.

Of course, if you are able and willing to experience the occasion in the true, traditional way then there is no better option than Scotch whisky. Of course it is advisable to have some of Scotland’s greatest export on hand even if serving wine, for after the meal.

The Society's Exhibition Speyside Single Malt Scotch Whisky, 12 Years OldLitre of The Society’s Special 16 Year Old Blended Scotch Whisky (£25)
If you are having a Burns Night party with the whole clan in attendance it may be an idea to keep aside the single malt and pass round glasses of this terrific blend. A blend of fine old malts and grains this has delicate smoke and honey here, with complexity and length reminiscent of far more expensive drams.

The Society’s Exhibition Speyside Single Malt Scotch Whisky, 12 Years Old (£32)
For those looking to splash out (hopefully retaining some liquid in the glass) this is a wonderful option from the Society’s Exhibition range. This 12 year old malt has classic Speyside qualities of wonderful dried fruit, sweet spices, nuts and citrus fruits.

Hugo Fountain
Trainee Campaign Manager

Thu 22 Jan 2015

Postcards from the Rhône

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Whilst I am the kind of person for whom viewing another’s holiday snaps is a punishment both cruel and unusual, I hope that members will forgive my sharing a few photographs of a recent buying trip to the Rhône.

I explain my hypocrisy thus: firstly, a buying trip is, as I am discovering, about as far removed from a relaxing holiday as one can imagine. Secondly, the region is a stunning one, and I hope my amateur photography can in some way communicate its stark beauty. Finally, I managed to snap a photograph of Society buyer Marcel Orford-Williams handling a vintage rifle, which does not happen every day. At least not as far as I am aware.

Some of the fruits of this recent buying trip can be explored in The Society’s opening offer of Rhône and Languedoc 2013, which is available now.

Joe Mandrell
Society Buyer

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Louis Barruol of Chateau Saint-CosmeThe Society’s Exhibition Gigondas is a firm favourite in my household, and so it was a great pleasure to take part in blending the 2013 vintage on a recent trip to the Rhône with buyer Marcel Orford-Williams.

Louis Barruol, pictured, is the enthusiastic and highly talented winemaker at Château Saint Cosme, the source of the Exhibition Gigondas. His family has been making wine at Saint Cosme for 14 generations, and the beautiful, labyrinthine old cellars attest to this. But Louis has also modernised the winery and this, along with his passion and capability, is obvious in the quality of his wines.

The 2013 Exhibition Gigondas is a blend of different parcels and foudres, resulting in a full, well-structured wine with concentrated dark-fruit flavours, hints of sweet spice and wonderful length. It will need a year or two before it’s quite ready to drink, but once there it will be delicious.

In the meantime, our extensive opening offer of other 2013 Rhône and Languedoc wines will be released very soon indeed.

Joe Mandrell
Trainee Buyer

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This is a direct quote from one of my best friends, when he is at any bar or restaurant – it’s his favourite order.

The Wine Society Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2014 OfferOur pick of the 2014 crop of Marlborough sauvignon blanc is available now
It is also a common phrase I hear when indulging in my hobby of blind tasting because Marlborough sauvignon is a blind taster’s best friend: this aromatic and distinctive wine is one that most blind tasters would see as a ‘banker’ because there are a few certain traits:

Highly aromatic (at drinks parties if the hosts tipple of choice is a Marlborough sauvignon you can usually get a whiff of the heady perfume from the car as you pull up!)
Consistent and precise aromas and flavours of intense gooseberry, fresh asparagus, cut grass and passionfruit.
Light body and crisp acidity that makes you crave the next sip.

The consistent quality and recognisable style of Marlborough sauvignon I am sure goes a long way in explaining its popularity.

However, times are changing!
As Marlborough’s wine industry develops and matures, winemakers are noticing subtle differences in the grapes grown across the valley, and are experimenting more with the juice once in the winery.

Cloudy Bay for example produce two sauvignon blanc – one a very refined yet classic example and a second, Te Koko, that they treat very differently in the winery including the use of barrel aging.

As the style of Marlborough sauvignon develops I feel that, as a buyer, it starts to get a little more challenging, but also more rewarding – and I hope that our range accurately represents the best from Marlborough with a good number of classics – led by our Society and Exhibition wines, and supported by members’ favourites such as Three Terraces, Stoneburn and Wither Hills.

However, I hope you might also enjoy a few less typical but nonetheless delicious sauvignons from Marlborough such as Dog Point’s refined house sauvignon and ageworthy Section 94 and te Pa’s fresh flinty coastal wine.

Sarah Knowles
Society Buyer

A selection of Marlborough sauvignon blancs from the fresh 2014 vintage is available here, including a mixed case.

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Wed 14 Jan 2015

The Loire: What To Expect in 2015?

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Olivier Mouraud at BougrierOlivier Mouraud at Bougrier
A quick visit to start to assess the 2014 vintage in the Loire confirms we most certainly should make an offer of these wines in a few months’ time, and we can dare to hope for that rare thing: a really good red vintage too.

I tasted some gorgeous wines with Nicolas Paget, and the generous forward style of his reds this year hopefully means some will be bottled early enough for summer listings.

The line-up at Bougrier in Touraine was an impressive one, representing just a little of their production across their three vinification centres: Nantaise, Angevine & Tourangelle. Olivier Mouraud was particularly enthusiastic about their rosés this year and proved a dab hand at putting together one or two smart-looking Muscadet and Touraine sauvignon blends.

In Vouvray mostly sec and demi-sec styles along with petillant will be produced, all of which need a little longer in tank and cask before they can be assessed fully.

The new tasting room at Domaine Huet, VouvrayThe new tasting room at Domaine Huet, Vouvray

The stylish new tasting room at Domaine Huet provided the perfect opportunity to re-taste the 2013s after close to 9 months in bottle, as well as the new 2010 Petillant Brut, soon to be released, which is beautifully refined and delicate after the richly impressive 2009 (£19.50) which is all but sold out. Clos du Bourg Demi-Sec 2005 was divine, showing that it is now safe to start opening this excellent vintage, and whetting the hungry appetite for a great 2015 vintage!

Jo Locke MW
Society Buyer

Categories : France, Loire
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During a recent trip to the Rhône with Society buyer Marcel Orford-Williams, we were given the opportunity to taste with Daniel Ravier of Domaine Tempier, and were treated to some remarkable mature bottles. But this region remains a well-kept wine secret.

Domaine TempierDomaine Tempier lies at the heart of the Bandol region, cushioned between Marseille to the west and Toulon to the east. The area is a kind of natural amphitheatre, with sloping, terraced vineyards running almost to the Mediterranean shore. The story of Domaine Tempier is a fascinating one, and worth recounting.

First established in 1834, the Tempier family’s estate was initially a house just outside of the village of Bandol. For one hundred years the estate weathered various crises – from phylloxera to the Great Depression – until, in 1936, the young Lucie Tempier married one Lucien Peyraud. Lucien was as in love with the idea of winemaking as he was with Lucie and, following completion of his wine studies, began replanting Tempier’s 38 hectares of vineyards with grenache, cinsault and – vitally – mourvèdre.

Tempier barrelIt is this variety for which Bandol and Tempier are now, justifiably, most highly regarded. Mourvèdre is not an easy variety to grow well. It buds and ripens late, requiring milder winters and a long and hot period of ripening. It also likes water, but not so much that its leaves become so vigorous as to leave the berries in the shade. Susceptibility to downy and powdery mildew completes the picture of a rather fussy and capricious variety.

Tempier’s vineyards, however, are perfectly placed to accommodate all of mourvèdre’s needs: the Mediterranean climate provides the long, hot growing season but with the added bonus of proximity to the sea. The vines can have their heat and also just enough humidity to keep them happy. The Mistral is also still an influence here, providing cooling breezes that help to prevent against rot and mildew. But each vineyard is its own world, and three of Tempier’s stand out so well that the estate bottles them separately: La Migoua, La Tourtine and Cabassaou.

Tempier barrelsEach vineyard’s terroir and aspect contribute to the individuality of the wines there produced. La Migoua is perched on the south-facing slope of Le Beasset-Vieux, a hill of clay soils with some chalk and ancient veins of muschelkalk. The mourvèdre here is complimented by cinsault and also a little grenache, and the wines have a slightly wild, animal note to them. Still, the 2012 we tasted with Daniel was concentrated and complex, with a surprising elegance.

La Tourtine vineyard lies at the top of a hillside near the village of Le Castellet and, as such, is well exposed to both sunshine and wind. The resulting wines (usually made with around 80% mourvèdre) are concentrated and fine, with structure and spice and an obvious propensity to age well.

The Cabassaou vineyard is the most mourvèdre-heavy of Tempier’s three vineyard parcels – it accounts for 95% of the blend. The terroir is perfect for the variety: sheltered from the worst ravages of the Mistral by the hill at Le Castellet, the vineyard receives instead a constant, gentle breeze to temper the summer sun’s heat. The wines are powerful and dense, and are capable of ageing phenomenally well.

After a fascinating tasting from barrel (and Tempier has a wide variety of different barrels!), Daniel treated us to three very special bottles.

Domaine Tempier Bandol Blanc 2005: Honeyed, round with hints of orange peel and nuts, this was absolutely delightful. The texture was creamy yet light and bright with lovely fresh acidity. The finish was long and clean and redolent of butterscotch.

Tempier tastingDomaine Tempier Cuvée Migoua 1987: Spicy, leathery nose with a dried red fruit and currants. There is clove and dried herbs on the palate, with a little sweet fruit and fine tannins remaining. A mature wine, so be sure, but still with plenty of freshness and lift.

Domaine Tempier Cuvée Speciale 1974: The nose is full of gentle spice and tobacco and dried mint. Silky, sweet tannins and wonderful freshness combine to make harmonious, complete wine. Some of the richness and generosity has faded here, but what remains is complex and ethereal.

Joe Mandrell
Trainee Buyer

Categories : France, South of France
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We are uncovering wonderful vinous treasures from the Roussillon.

The present Fine Wine List contains a number of venerable wines, the oldest being a 1948 Rivesaltes from Domaine de Rancy. These are all remarkable wines, matched by a history that is no less remarkable.

Rivesaltes The Wine SocietyThe Roussillon is French Catalonia. The Catalan flag flies alongside the tricolour and Catalan is widely spoken. It is border country with castles dominating much of the landscape.

Up until the arrival of the railway, this was an almost forgotten backdrop. The railway made transporting freight to the French capital suddenly feasible and so the huge agricultural potential of the Roussillon could be untapped.

The Roussillon is the hottest region of France and viticulture had always been important. The wines were more Iberian like than French: strong and often oxidative in character, sometimes sherry like but not at the stage fortified. That came later when entrepreneurs began shipping these sun-drenched wines to a much wider audience.

It was roughly in the middle of the 19th century that the first of a succession of powerful brands were created. Many like Dubonnet and Byrrh were responding to a need from the French government to provide overseas officials and the military with protection from Malaria.

Dubonnet was marketed especially to the French Foreign Legion. The idea was to add quinine to wine along with herbs and spices. The wine base would be fortified and sweet, and modelled on port and Madeira. The town of Thuir became the hub of production and to this day houses a huge cellar with the largest oak vats. Byrrh, Dubonnet and Saint Raphael are all made here.

Roussillon vineyardsRoussillon vineyards, giving a good impression of the area’s striking landscape.

Fortification was not new. In French it is known as mutage and its inventor was Arnaud de Villeneuve in the 13th century. The process, as with port, uses added alcohol to stop fermentation as yeasts are inhibited by high alcohol. In the past alcohol was added after racking and this is known as mutage sur jus. In the other method, known as mutage sur Marc, fortification takes place in presence of grape skins. This method tends to make fuller wines with more depth and weight.

Production peaked during the inter-war period and has since been in decline. The days of empire are long gone and, of course, better ways to combat malaria have been found. The market too has changed with these strong aperitif wines losing out to spirits or table wine.

A lot of grape production has since been switched to making table wine and there are now vines of chardonnay and sauvignon. Luckily wiser heads made sure that the more traditional varieties remained – often to make table wine, under the Côtes du Roussillon label. But the best vineyards have in many cases been preserved to make fortified wine. Rivesaltes is the largest appellation but there is also Maury and Banyuls.

Different styles

Banyuls harbourBanyuls harbour
Fruitier styles have become more popular. These can be red or white and are given ageing, often in tank away from oxygen. The whites are often made from muscat. The best wines though tend to be red and aged like vintage port. These wines often have a vintage on the label and can be known as Rimage.

Other styles are more traditional and the wines are extensively aged, sometimes in barrel, but sometimes too in glass demijohns. The very best are sometimes aged for part of time out in the open and produce wines of great intensity. These are sometimes known as Rancio. Terms like Ambré and Tuilé can also be used, referring to colour.

Grape varieties
Grenache is the workhorse and comes in three colours: red, white and grey (gris). All three can be used in red wines and are then fermented together. Grenache gris always produces long-lived wines and so is an essential ingredient.
Carignan is often used in red wines, typically to 10% of the blend. It adds fragrance and structure.
Macabeu is another Catalan variety and is used for whites, sometimes on its own or with a little grenache blanc or gris.
Muscat, fragrant and grapy, tends to be used on its own in wines like Muscat de Rivesaltes.

Three great appellations
Rivesaltes covers the largest area, extending into Fitou.
Maury covers a tiny area in the valley of the river Agly. Vines tend to be planted on black schists and the wines are typically full-bodied and sweet.
Banyuls, right by the sea and just short of the Spanish border produces a wine that has more complexity and finesse.

These wines are collectively known as vins doux naturels meaning naturally sweet and are of course great food wines.

The reds go really well with chocolate all chocolate-based desserts but are brilliant too with cheese, especially blue cheese. The whites make also good cheese wines and desserts. Old wines are probably best served as an after-dinner treat.

Marcel Orford-Williams
Society Buyer

‘Wines are made to be opened and enjoyed. Tomorrow the wines may not be here or you may not be here.’ – Serge Hochar, November 2014

Serge Hochar Chateau Musar The Wine SocietySerge Hochar pouring Chateau Musar for Society members in June 2014
Lebanon’s great wine luminary Serge Hochar passed away last week whilst on holiday with his family in Mexico. He was 75.

Serge Hochar was the driving force behind Chateau Musar, having taken over the reins as winemaker from his father Gaston in 1959. At this time, the wines were sold exclusively in Lebanon, but under Serge’s stewardship Chateau Musar became one of the great internationally celebrated wines of the world.

However, Serge leaves far more than a monumental winemaking legacy. He will be remembered as much for his charismatic, eccentric personality and sense of fun, which touched everyone who had the chance to meet him.

The Wine Society’s first contact with Serge was during his UK visit in the late 1960s when he met with then Society buyer, Christopher Tatham, to taste the new vintages of Musar. The tasting was a success and The Wine Society became the first wine merchant in the country to ship the wines: the 1967 listed in April 1971.

Chateau Musar Wine SocietyThe first listing of Chateau Musar by The Society, from our 1971 List

Since then, Musar, especially the red, has always held a special place with members of The Society. It is a wine style like no other: both bewitching and baffling, reflecting Serge’s non-interventionist approach to winemaking, his courage to take risks and his determination to stick with his vision. As he once said, ‘I once produced a wine that was technically perfect but it lacked the charms of imperfection.’

It was family friend Ronald Barton of Château Langoa Barton in Bordeaux who persuaded the Hochars to plant cabernet sauvignon, adding to Musar’s exuberant carignan and cinsault bush vines in the Bekaa Valley. It is why Musar red can resemble claret one year and Châteauneuf the next, depending on which variety or varieties appear to hold the most promise.

In 1984 Serge was chosen as Decanter magazine’s first-ever recipient of the ‘Man of the Year’ award, for continuing production in defiance of Lebanon’s 15-year Civil War. And now, three decades on, the wines of Chateau Musar are exported globally with a fervent following around the world.

Serge Hochar with Wine Society Chairman Sarah Evans in May 2013Serge Hochar with Wine Society Chairman Sarah Evans in May 2013

Serge said: ‘I make wine on the edge, every vintage is different. There is no one Chateau Musar exactly like the other.’

Likewise, it is fair to say that there is no personality in the wine world like Serge. He will be missed.

Pierre Mansour
Society Buyer

Categories : Rest of the World
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Pierre MansourIt is a great privilege to be part of the Buying Team here, tasting thousands of samples a year from the world of wine. As a buyer, objectivity is key: it is our job to choose wines that meet members’ high expectations of quality, value and style.

As a drinker though, I choose my wines on my personal taste, and it is with this in mind that I have made this concise selection of Top Wines of 2014. This is the third year I have done this blog and we have had some great feedback from members: not all have agreed with my selection, but isn’t that the point of wine? There is no wrong or right when it comes to personal taste.

So, here it is, in no particular order, a selection of 10 wines that have, quite simply, provided me with the utmost drinking pleasure in 2014, putting aside price and availability.

Pedroncelli Friends Sonoma County Red 2012 (£7.95 per bottle)
A rare example of California offering genuine value for money and a great find by new Society buyer Sarah Knowles. Don’t be put off by the fact that this is a blend of many grapes: the wine is delicious and boldly fruity and would appeal to fans of zinfandel.

• The Society’s Exhibition Old-Vine Zinfandel 2004
I bought this from The Wine Society in 2008 (for £8.95) and held a few bottles back for fun to see how it might age. It has held up particularly well, retaining its richness whilst the flavours have become savoury with age – almost Italian in a way.

• Meerlust Rubicon, Stellenbosch 2009
This lives up to its reputation in 2009- an exceptional vintage from this classic Stellenbosch estate. Elegant, intense and complete. One for the cellar.

Earth and Sky Naoussa Thymiopoulos 2011 (£19.50 per bottle)
A really classy red from Greece which is both individual in flavour and fine in structure.

Salvaje del Moncayo Garnacha 2012 (£7.95 per bottle)
This light, fresh and juicy garnacha is a house favourite. It stands out for its simplicity and moreish fruit: not for those who like their Spanish garnacha with big bruising flavours.

• Château Haut-Brion, Pessac-Léognan 1989
A legendary wine that treads a fine line between harmony and intensity. Understated yet long, tightly woven and remarkably detailed in its flavours. Extraordinary.

La Rioja Alta 890 Seleccion Especial Gran Reserva 2001 (£75 per bottle)
The epitome of traditional-style Rioja from this five-star vintage.

Alfred Gratien Blanc de Blancs 2007 (£35 per bottle)
A gentle, round and exquisite Champagne from Nicolas Jaeger’s first full vintage as Chef de Caves.

• Domaine Henri Boillot, Puligny-Montrachet Prermier Cru Clos de la Mouchère 2010
Outstanding, broad and elegant Puligny which shows why Burgundy is the spiritual home of chardonnay.

• Gonzalez Byass Amontillado Cuatro Palmas 2014 bottling
Over 40 years old, this dry amontillado has a level of complexity that bless just a few wines in the world.

Pierre Mansour
Society Buyer

View Pierre’s top wines of 2013
View Pierre’s top wines of 2012

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