The deadline for Christmas delivery is now past, but our Cellar Showroom in Stevenage will be open up until Christmas Eve for those nearby or able to make a last-minute trip. We look forward to seeing you. You can view our opening times here.
Recently I recommended a rather higher-alcohol option for members seeking a little Christmas spirit; however, whilst it is certainly the season to be jolly, watching one’s intake of everything indulgent is always something to be aware of. And of course we need not overlook those who have to drive or choose not to drink.
For those not drinking alcohol, the James White Suffolk Bramley Apple Juice and Cox Apple Juice (both £2.25 per bottle) are great non-alcoholic drinks and can easily be spiced up with the addition of mulling spices and/or even warmed up a little. The Thorncroft Elderflower Cordial (£2.50 per half) brings a slice of summer and lifts a fruit trifle with its floral notes. An effervescent offering can also be found in Gratien & Meyer Festillant Sparkling Sans Alcool (£4.25 per bottle), a sparkling wine has the alcohol quite literally spun out it by a centrifuge, but still retaining a lovely off-dry quality.
Green Ridge Chardonnay Spring (£2.50 per bottle), a blend of spring water, chardonnay and grape juice, delivers a modest 0.5% with a lovely lemony tinge.
However, lowering one’s alcohol intake need not involve adding lemonade or soda to our drinks, and there’s an array of bottles that not only provide palate-pleasing moments but also offer an alternative to dilution at this time of year.
Our frothy and off-dry Moscato d’Asti, Elio Perrone 2013 (£7.50) will charm you with its sweet-fruited effervescence, and at a conveniently low 5% ABV.
If seeking out lighter reds, 12%-alcohol options include the easy-drinking Pinot Noir, Vin de France, Jacques Dépagneux 2011 (£5.95) from France’s upper Aude Valley and the ripe Beaujolais-Villages, Château de Lacarelle 2013 (£7.95). These would both make great lunch options in the winter months.
For whites, The Society’s Côtes de Gascogne (£6.25) and the aromatic Bruwer’s Dry Mountain Muscat, Robertson 2014 (£5.95) from South Africa both offer lots of pleasure at under 11%. A quartet of dry favourites which weigh in at 11.5% can be found in the form of Piemonte Cortese 2013 (the Gavi grape in a lighter, easy-sipping style; £5.75), Val de Loire Sauvignon Blanc, Bougrier 2013 (a party sauvignon from the Loire; £5.95), The Society’s Vinho Verde (a smoked-fish-friendly delight; £6.25) and the gewurztraminer-esque Hilltop Estates Cserszegi 2013 (£5.95) from Hungary.
Lastly and definitely not least, the lower-alcoholic nature of many German wines is well documented and the delicate flavours make them, for me, perfect aperitif. I recommend The Society’s Saar Riesling (9.5%, £9.50) or Ruppertsberger Hoheburg Riesling Kabinett 2013 (10.5%, £6.95). I have personally stocked up on Ockfen Bockstein Riesling Kabinett von Kesselstatt 2013 (8%, £12.95), which I’ll enjoy while peeling my parsnips and blanching my brussels in preparation for the main event!
I hope this demonstrates that lowering alcohol need not mean lowering enjoyment.
Whatever you’re drinking, I hope you have a fun, safe and Merry Christmas.
The Cellar Showroom
We have extended our UK Christmas order deadline 24 hours to midnight, Thursday 18th December for most addresses.
As you might imagine, Christmas is by some distance The Society’s busiest time of the year, and, thanks to your support, 2014 has been our busiest to date.
Despite this, and despite other retailers reportedly experiencing problems, our nationwide delivery network has been operating efficiently with no backlog thanks to some improvements we have made to our procedures.
So much so that we can extend the deadline for guaranteed Christmas delivery by 24 hours to midnight, Thursday 18th December for most UK addresses (click here to see the exceptions).
What’s different this year?
A few years ago the run up to Christmas saw a nationwide cold snap that put enormous pressure on our delivery network. Since then we have been streamlining our processes to ensure that we run as efficiently as possible. This year for the first time we introduced double-shift working in our warehouse so that we could prepare members’ orders round the clock, and we have reviewed our contracts with third-party carriers to get the best service we can for members.
These changes, and a clear weather forecast for most of the country, mean that there is no backlog and the capacity to extend our deadline to most UK addresses.
We hope you find this extra time useful!
Thank you for your support and please accept our very best wishes for a very merry Christmas from all of us at your Society.
Head of Member Services
You don’t have to love wine to work here, but it helps, and every two weeks members can find a new ‘Staff Choice’ on The Society’s website, detailing something one of our team felt was so good that they wanted to share the experience.At a time when some heads are still being scratched over which wines to enjoy on the big day, and Wednesday night’s order deadline for UK Christmas delivery fast approaching, we’ve asked a number of Society staff about what they themselves will be tucking into. We hope it provides some inspiration.
Liz Brown – Recruitment and Retention Manager
‘Tis the season to be jolly, and what brings a smile to my face is a chilled glass of The Society’s Vin d’Alsace (£8.50 per bottle). It’s a versatile, dry, yet full-flavoured white. I enjoy this as an aperitif while cooking, with festive food and when just relaxing watching a Christmas movie with my family.
James Malley – Member Services Adviser
It’s just gone 7pm on Christmas Day, the Christmas presents have been opened, the frantic scramble to find enough batteries in the house to get the kids’ toys working has finished and the older members of the family passed out asleep still with their Christmas hats from the crackers still on their heads.
What better way to settle in for the evening than by opening a half bottle of The Society’s Exhibition Sauternes 2012 (£9.95 per half)? Its lovely full luscious tropical-fruit aroma and its sweet but slightly oak-influenced palate will shine with creamy, salty cheeses or rich pâté from the earlier feast, and if there is anything left from the bottle, it would make a nice little tipple to any family or guests that are round for Boxing Day.
Pinot noir is a fabulous wine for Christmas, particularly when you find one of the quality of Martinborough Vineyards Te Tera Martinborough Pinot Noir 2013 (£13.50 per bottle) but at a very reasonable price.
This makes for a lovely glass of red wine without food, punching well above its weight and – for me – verging on being a fine wine that far outshines many a pricier bottle of red Burgundy.
With food, this Martinborough pinot is a wonderful match for the Christmas dinner – whether it be turkey, duck, lamb, gammon, or even game. It won’t overpower a nut roast for vegetarians either.
Gorgeous red-berry fruit, hints of beetroot, spice and wonderfully balanced acidity. This is sheer elegance and class that will add to our festive cheer.
Conrad Braganza – Cellar Showroom
Size matters for me at this time of year: the generosity a magnum offers reflects the season. I always seek out a large-sized bottle at Christmas and this year The Society’s Exhibition Rioja (£29 per magnum and £13.95 per 75cl bottle) will take pride of place at the Braganza dining table.
The ripe sweet fruit is a crowd pleaser and should stand up nicely to the accompaniments that make Christmas lunch such a hard meal to match. Its silky palate also imparts an elegance that lends itself to contented sipping after the meal and prior to 40 winks. As they say in Spain, Feliz Navidad!
Olivier Leflaive, Bourgogne Oncle Vincent 2013 (£16 per bottle). Leflaive is one of my favourite white Burgundy growers. To me, his wines are the perfect embodiment of what Burgundy does so well with the chardonnay grape: luxurious complex rich oaky flavours while retaining a genuine freshness and bite. Unfortunately, his wines are usually out of reach for a father of two on an honest copywriter’s salary. So when I spotted this wine at less than £20 a pop and on which Olivier had been proud to put his legendary uncle’s name, I jumped at the chance. The 2012, now sadly sold out, certainly didn’t disappoint. It was exquisite. Gloriously opulent and nutty on the nose with a palate combining pure citrus fruit with tropical pineapple notes all underwritten by a mouthwatering, oh-so-moreish freshness. Such complexity and length! If the 2013 is half as good I’ll be a happy bunny with a glass of this and a well-stocked cheeseboard come the Queen’s speech.
Shaun Kiernan – Fine Wine Manager
I’ll be enjoying a delicious Half bottle of Williams & Humbert As You Like It Medium Sweet (£22 per half), which was one of my WOW wines of last year. Just so many different flavours going on in the glass. Definitely one for a cold Boxing Day afternoon by the fire watching some sport too.
Gareth Park – Marketing Campaigns Manager
Alheit Cartology, Western Cape 2012 (£24 per bottle; low stock). This South African Chenin stopped me in my tracks earlier this year and has to be one of the most outstanding whites I’ve tasted while working at The Wine Society. Made in ridiculously small quantities, this is deep, rich and wonderful and will be replacing the tried and trusted Exhibition White Hermitage on Christmas day. High praise indeed!
Christmas will certainly include fizz – either The Society’s Champagne (£29.50 per bottle or £19.92 when you buy six in our current Champagne offer) which I am always proud to serve, or something more local which might be our own excellent Crémant du Jura (£12.50) or something as yet undiscovered.
Jon Granger – Tastings Team
We will be devouring a turkey on Christmas Day with all the trimmings. This generally consists of potatoes (par boiled, fluffed and roasted with garlic & rosemary), sprouts (chopped up with chestnuts, cream & bacon), carrots a la Tom Kerridge, honey-roasted parsnips, cabbage (gently fried with ginger) and gravy.
Rather than looking for a wine to match any specifics from the cornucopia of flavours on the plate I would always try to find a wine that sits well with all of it. Year after year I have found that southern Rhône blends work really well for me.
My wine of choice for this year would be Châteauneuf-du-Pape Les Chapouins Vieilles Vignes, Famille Perrin 2006 (£40): a wonderful full-flavoured wine dominated by juicy ripe grenache from old vines and from a very good vintage. Still tasting quite youthful with lots of sweet fruit and well-balanced tannins and acidity, perfect for all those yummy flavours on the plate but with the potential to age gracefully over the next 10 years or so too.
Sadly my dwindling stock of mature vintage port is not readily available this Christmas, so I decided to opt for a 20-year-old tawny port comparison.
Port because the gathered assembly regard it as essential to Christmas as it is traditional, perfect with nuts, cheese and those splendid preserved fruits that sit in the sideboard and taste even better at leisure on Boxing Day or the day after.
Indeed, my colleague Janet Wynne Evans has also pointed out in the video below that tawny port is often a better match than vintage for cheese.
20-year-old because it is the perfect age for tawny port. A comparison because there will be several of us and one bottle would simply not have been enough – and besides which some of us need little if any excuse to compare different wines.
They will be served cellar cool to an eager audience, and my guess is that Taylor’s (£34) may win for finesse and class. Graham’s (£37) will score well on account of its depth and rich fruit, and that Noval (£40) will seduce us with its charm.
I look forward to finding out.
Sebastian Payne MW
Many pleasant discoveries have been stumbled on by chance. This is all too true in the culinary world (Lea and Perrins Worcestershire sauce for one!). Legend has it that noble rot’s effect on grapes to make sweet wine was a similarly accidental discovery.
To these, add Pineau de Charentes.Over 400 years ago, or so the tale goes, unfermented grape juice was poured into what was believed to be an empty vat, but which actually contained brandy.
Upon returning to the cask after several years, the resultant mixture was found to be extremely palatable and a Pineau de Charentes was born.
Now this wonderful accident has its own appellation stating amongst other things that it must be freshly harvested grape must and year-old cognac, and be aged for a minimum of 18 months (12 of which must be in barrel).
The festive season seems to be the perfect period for Pineau. Amber in colour and with the warmth and depth of Cognac and an appealing sweetness, the beauty of this blend to me is it can perfectly book end a meal.
Chilled it offers itself up as an ideal apertif, but then is equally at home as a companion to cheese, especially blue cheese, or even when presented with puddings, including those that contain chocolate.
Indeed, Pineau can also be added to the meal in sauces which, along with its ability to be left open for a few days, makes this a worthy addition to the season’s drinks cabinet.
So over the next few weeks, whether you’re looking for something to sip prior to a meal, during a meal or even after the meal, why not enter into the sprit?
Should you wish to join me in doing so, we offer a Pineau from Château d’Orignac (£16 per bottle) that combines Cognac with the must of red grapes to produce a special drink.
The Cellar Showroom
For many, Christmas is a time of joy, happiness and late-night panic buying. For the little elves in the Tastings Team, however, tucked away in a little corner of The Wine Society it is time to tackle the nightmare before Christmas of food and wine matching.
As with previous years, we arranged a series of informal tastings across the country dedicated to Christmas food and wine. This time, it was a chance for me to put together a list of 20 wines that I believe to be ideal for any Christmas situation; from light, easy-drinking party wines to lusciously sweet/fortified wines for the quiet moments once everyone has gone to bed.
On Monday 24th and Tuesday 25th November, I was joined by my fellow Tastings colleague Jon Granger in Leicester and Bradford in order to showcase these wines for a number of members. For those that have been to a Wine Society tasting of a similar theme before you will know that at the end of the evening we like to take a quick vote in order to ascertain the favourite wines of the evening.
For the Christmas Recipe Tastings, however, I decided to break up the voting into the five separate categories. By doing this, my ‘20 best wines for Christmas’ became your ‘Wine Society Member Top 5 Christmas Essentials’.
Here were the results from both days:
Leicester AND Braford: Nyetimber Brut Classic Cuveé 2009 (£27.50 per bottle)
Leicester: Saint-Chinian, Domaine Raynier 2013 (£5.95 per bottle)
Bradford: Duo Des Deux Mers, Sauvignon-Viognier Vin de France 2013 (£6.25 per bottle)
Leicester AND Bradford: Domaine Cordier, Pouilly-Fuissé Vers Pouilly 2011 (£25 per bottle)
Boxing Day and Beyond
Leicester: The Society’s Exhibition Rioja Reserva 2007 (£13.95 per bottle)
Bradford: Ockfen Bockstein Riesling Kabinett, Von Kesselstatt 2013 (£12.95 per bottle)
Special mention should be given to both the Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Domaine Du Vieux Lazaret 2011 (£17.50 per bottle and £9.50 per half bottle) and the half bottle of Stanton and Killeen Rutherglen Muscat, 12 years old (£16 per bottle) that both came to within two votes on both evenings!
Following this, it was up to Tastings & Events manager Simon Mason and Tastings & Events co-ordinator Emma Briffett to take the reins in Reading and Swansea on the 1st and 2nd of December respectively. Amazingly, both evenings shared the same result as Bradford a week previous!
So, it would seem that no Wine Society Members Christmas Holiday period is complete without:
• Nyetimber Brut Classic Cuveé 2009 (£27.50 per bottle)
• Duo Des Deux Mers, Sauvignon-Viognier Vin de France 2013 (£6.25 per bottle)
• Domaine Cordier, Pouilly-Fuissé Vers Pouilly 2011 (£25 per bottle)
• Ockfen Bockstein Riesling Kabinett, Von Kesselstatt 2013 (£12.95 per bottle)
• Maydie Tannat 2011, 50cl (£13.95 per bottle)
Tastings & Events Team
After visiting Taylor’s Port Lodge, we wound our way up the Douro Valley and arrived at Quinta do Vesuvio – at its very own railway station!The property is set amidst orange and olive groves, orchards and, of course, vines, and we were welcomed to this beautiful setting by Johnny Symington and João Vasconcelos.
Johnny is one of the five Symington cousins who share the responsibility for all aspects of the company. The Symington family has owned Quinta do Vesuvio since 1989 and has been directly involved in port for five generations, since 1882 in fact, when the first Symington, Andrew James, moved from Scotland to Portugal to work for W & J Graham’s.
Johnny hosted our tour of this impressive quinta which boasts the largest house and some of the biggest traditional stone lagares (time-honoured fermentation vessels) in the Douro. It was exciting to find that they had only just finished foot-treading the grapes the night before our visit so the lagares were full of the grapes that would become the 2014 vintage.
After our tour, we tasted Quinta do Vesuvio’s range of Douro DOC red wines, including Pombal do Vesuvio 2011 and Quinta do Vesuvio 2010 and 2009, and the intensely rich Quinta do Vesuvio single-quinta vintage ports from 2009, 2011 and 2012. The Wine Society currently lists Quinta do Vesuvio 2004 (£36 per bottle).
Following a wonderful lunch of a delicious Portuguese speciality Bacalhau Fornado (a fish pie made with dry, salt-cured cod) and local cheeseboard accompanied by an exclusive 1992 Quinta do Vesuvio tawny port, taken direct from cask at the Quinta, we were in for another treat.
It was time for my ‘James Bond moment’: a speedboat trip with Johnny at the helm down the Douro river with wonderful 360-degree views of the surrounding terraced vineyards.
Thank you to Johnny, João and the Symingtons for such a wonderful day in this idyllic part of the world; great company, setting and wines – life couldn’t get much better.
To find out more about Quinta do Vesuvio and the Symington Family estates visit their excellent website.
Recruitment & Retention Manager
Fine wine manager Shaun Kiernan was the original manager of The Society’s Cellar Showroom in Stevenage when it opened 25 years ago. We asked him to share some of his memories following a celebration of its anniversary last week
It is truly amazing to think that it is now 25 years since Lisa Fletcher and I opened The Wine Society showroom in November of 1989. It was, as you can imagine, a full-on couple of months in the lead up to our first Christmas serving members and getting used to our new environment; something that had been in the planning for a full 12 months prior to this.
Members embraced their new facility enthusiastically, I recall, and we were busy from the off with systems not quite bedded in and our warehouse not used to having to supply a new shop with a just- in-time stock feed as well as double the number of members’ daily orders.
With only the two of us to start with we quickly realised we had underestimated just how popular the new Showroom would be and we immediately had to call for back up in the form of Samantha Vooght, who along with Lisa has been there ever since.Because we hadn’t had a facility like this before there had been no outlet for selling the small quantities of wines that necessarily collect over the years. One of the things that gave me enormous pleasure was trawling through the hundreds of pallets (named ‘RB’ pallets after Ron Bracey who headed the warehouse at the time) of wines we had at our fingertips for sale in the Showroom. Small stocks of hundreds of different wines which had been untouched for years and that I had to log, price and make available for sale to delighted members. Some of these were very old and very fine indeed.
Another of my abiding memories in the first year was in the lead up to Christmas when our lift broke down and so we were no longer able to get stock or members’ orders from the warehouse. I could barely watch while staff members hauled tottering pallet after pallet down Norton Green Road while queues of members formed very quickly in the Showroom waiting for their Christmas cases.
It was very nice the other night, when we celebrated the first 25 years, to see so many familiar faces from when I first opened the Showroom with Lisa and to know that they still continue to visit – testament in no small part to Lisa and her team who have succeeded in improving and developing the Showroom over the years and welcome the members just as enthusiastically today as they did then.
It was Lisa’s idea to contact growers that have had a long relationship with The Society to contribute wines for a special tasting. Along with the wines, many chose to send their good wishes and messages of support for The Society which we thought members would like to read. There’s a selection below and more on our website here.
Here’s to the next 25 years and beyond!
Fine Wine Manager
- Alister Purbrick, Tahbilk Wines
• ‘I love to work with The Wine Society – a very honourable company with wonderful people sharing the passion for wine.’
- Annegret Reh Gartner, von Kesselstatt
• ‘There are few companies I would describe as a jewel in the crown of distribution. The Wine Society is certainly one that stands out. The professionalism and knowledge of the teams at all levels is second to none.’
- Charlie Sichel, Maison Sichel
• ‘We are immensely proud of our century-long association with The Wine Society. We have always found kindred spirits in the people who work at The Society; people who love wine and the regions from where they come from and who really understand what goes into making great wines, and we appreciate their profound knowledge of what we do.’
- Paul Symington, Symington Family Estates
• ‘Nowadays, Marcel Orford-Williams and The Wine Society are probably the best Alsace ambassadors in the English speaking world. I have also to insist on the quality of our relationship, which is much more than just business, it includes comprehension, respect, loyalty and much pleasure.’
- Marc Beyer, Maison Léon Beyer
• ‘The Wine Society have supported me and my wines with faithful regularity and I can honestly say that I have been a grateful and convinced promoter of The Society. I am frequently asked by friends and even chance acquaintances ‘where can we buy your wines?’ and I have no hesitation in suggesting the The Wine Society.’
- Anthony Barton, Langoa and Léoville Barton
No, we’re not in America. However if you, like me, went to the NFL Wembley games last month; watch so many American crime/comedy dramas on TV that your accent is in danger of changing; or attend the opening of every new burger joint in town…
Tomorrow our cousins across the pond will be celebrating Thanksgiving, and why should they have all the fun?!
This year I will actually be visiting my sister who lives in New York to see the Macy’s parade and eat turkey and pumpkin pie by her Chelsea (Manhattan, not SW3) apartment fire.
Its characteristic unevenly ripening bunches mean that the resultant wines often have both a sweet raisin and sour-cherry note, the low tannin level and juicy acidity make it a pretty good pairing with turkey and cranberry sauce.
The Society’s California Old-Vine Zinfandel is a great example of this style. If you fancy giving it a go either with a late take on an American Thanksgiving dinner party, or indeed as a possible pairing for your Christmas turkey this year then I humbly suggest now the time to give it a try!
Society Buyer for North America
Tetramythos (stress the second syllable) has deservedly been getting attention for its Retsina (£7.95 per bottle) from people who know what they are talking about:Tim Atkin MW said, ‘This is no ordinary, drink-it-on-holiday Retsina. It’s biodynamic, fermented in amphorae with wild yeasts and highly unusual. The pine resin notes are restrained and enjoyable, adding a Mediterranean herb like dimension to the pear, beeswax and honey fruit. The wine finishes tangy and dry.’
David Williams of The Observer called it ‘the first I’ve tried outside Greece that actually invited a second sip. The pine is restrained, the base wine brisk and lemony: a match for fishy meze and stuffed vine leaves.’
The winery, owned by brothers Aristides and Stathis Spanos, is in fact beautifully equipped and spotless having been totally rebuilt in 2008 after the former place and much of the local village (but not vineyards) was destroyed in a horrific bush fire the year before.
The secret of their Retsina is that it is based on an excellent-quality white from the roditis grape. The pine resin, which I watched Stathis gather from their trees overlooking the Gulf of Corinth, is suspended in its amphora in a kind of tea bag, just enough to add a herby touch.
The amphora allows some oxygen in to help the wine develop without altering the taste with wood.
The wine is fermented without sulphur (a minimal amount is added afterwards) and the grapes are wholly organic. The wine can do you nothing but good!
Sebastian Payne MW
Society Buyer for Greece
This wine is currently available in our Look East offering, which covers a number of exciting wines from Greece, Hungary and the Balkans, including three mixed cases.