With English Wine Week beginning on 27th May, Steve Farrow gets us in the mood with some food and wine ideas to try out…

English wines and winemaking have come a long way just in the 25 years that I have known and tasted them. With increased investment in vineyards and wineries, more experienced winemakers and even, it must be said, better temperatures for grape growing, English wine has now firmly earned its place on the world wine map.

Ridgeview in Sussex, the source of our Exhibition English Sparkling WineRidgeview in Sussex, the source of our Exhibition English Sparkling Wine

In terms of grapes, we’re now masters of the mostly Germanic varieties we first started growing in the 1950s, including müller-thurgau, huxelrebe, reichensteiner, scheurebe, seyval blanc and madeleine angevin. But English soils often have similarities to those across the Channel in Champagne, and we’re beginning to triumph with the famous bubbly’s preferred grapes of chardonnay, pinot noir and pinot meunier too.

So it seems fitting for me to begin my food and wine matching suggestions with our fine English fizz.

English sparkling wine
Our bubbly is made in the same way as Champagne and is an excellent food match. What with? Well, the short answer is seafood.

English sparkling wine’s zesty, lively character cuts through the crunchy batter and flaky fish of a traditional fish and chips, the acidity and zingy bubbles are like drizzling lemon juice over smoked, oily fish like salmon or trout, and the fruit and bite will be a winning partner for a crab or lobster salad.

Fish and chips

One dish that I can personally vouch for is (although perhaps old-fashioned these days) is a glass of our very own Exhibition English Sparkling Wine (£21 per bottle) with herring roes on toast. The gentle bready character of the wine melded with the hot, buttered toast, while the citrus cut of the acidity lifted every mouthful of the soft, floured and fried roes with their dusting of sea salt and white pepper.

Bacchus
Beyond the bubblies, bacchus is probably the darling of the English wine scene. A cross between müller-thurgau and a sylvaner-riesling cross, it shares aroma and flavour characteristics with sauvignon blanc, and often shares food matches with this grape too.

This fragrant, acidic style is a match for many cheeses – think the fresh sharpness of goat’s cheese, crumbly Lancashire and Wensleydale, as well as saltier cheeses like sheep’s milk Berkeswell or Manchego.

Cheese

The grassy, nettley, elderflower character is a summer food dream, from a herby pea risotto to a seared salmon fillet with green veg like asparagus, mangetout or runner beans.

Smoked salmon with a cucumber salad or gravadlax with a sweet, sharp mustard sauce will also cut the… well, mustard.

Try:
Chapel Down Bacchus 2015 (£11.50) from Kent
Camel Valley Bacchus 2015 (£13.75) from Cornwall

Aromatic English blends
Many English whites are a skilful mix of some of the Germanic grapes I mentioned in the intro, and these gently floral and fruity wines make for excellent summer drinking, especially with light, aromatic foods. Try them with fragrant Eastern Asian dishes like Thai, Szechuan, Vietnamese – perhaps a sea bass fillet steamed with ginger, lemongrass, basil and garlic, or a good old Chinese takeaway.

thai ingredients

Try:
Three Choirs Payford Bridge 2016 (£8.50) from Gloucestershire.

Pinot Blanc
Alsace fans will be pleased to learn the great waves English winemakers are making with pinot blanc, creating crisp, fresh, non-aromatic but vivacious wines that match a range of seafood (see the suggestions for the bubbly above) and also the same cheeses mentioned in my bacchus recommendations.

The fruit and freshness can also cut through the richness of quiche Lorraine, mac and cheese or a fondue.

Quiche

Try:
Stopham Estate Pinot Blanc 2015 (£12.95) from Sussex.

Rosé
Last but by no means least, our Three Choirs Rosé (£8.25) is a crisp, red-fruited winner that will happily stand with a roast chicken or pork dinner, a bowl of pasta in any tomato-based sauce and simply grilled lamb served juicily pink and scattered with rosemary. Rather like a light red, this rosé is also lovely with salmon steaks fresh from the pan or grill, and a couple of thick slices of ham, whether with chips or a major salad, will offer a melodic duet indeed!

As English Wine Week unfolds, I do hope you can give our homegrown wines a chance to shine with some of your spring dinner delights, or even just to sip as a palate awakener or to accompany the view as you look at your handiwork in a sun-blessed garden. They are just so fresh, vibrant and delicious – they really do deserve your attention.

Categories : England
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You’ve been busy! It has been great seeing so many Society members sharing their thoughts on wines they’ve ordered recently.

Eager to spread the love and (hopefully) put you on to something new to enjoy, we couldn’t resist sharing a few recent reviews, all of which were accompanied by 5-star ratings from your fellow members.

Five-star wines

Help other members by rating and reviewing any wines you’ve purchased from your Society via My Wines.

Teroldego Rotaliano Riserva, Mezzacorona 2012
£8.25 per bottle
“This wine really is very good, and it’s quite astounding value given the price. I have tasted inferior wines that cost double the price. I ordered this as one of our wedding wines last summer, and all our guests were raving about it. I still have a few bottles left that are drinking very well. I will be ordering more when I run out.” – Mr Lawrence Sorrentino

The Society’s Exhibition Alto Maipo Cabernet Sauvignon 2012
£13.50 per bottle
“I’m still working my way through mixed cases to learn what I like but this bottle went straight to the top of the favourites list. Delicious from the moment it was opened. Perfect round mouthful of loveliness. I just can’t believe that my non wine drinking husband used half of the second bottle in a sausage casserole. It was a very good casserole!” – Mrs Shirley White

Adega de Pegões Colheita Seleccionada, Península de Setúbal 2015
£7.25 per bottle

PW5731

“I have bought every vintage since 2012 and I think this one is the best so far. There is a complexity to it, with a great creamy texture and finish, and at this price, it is an absolute bargain. Keep it coming……” – Mr John E Curtis

Grignan-les-Adhémar, Delas 2015
£7.25 per bottle

RH43541

Gorgeous, far better than a glugable red at a ludicrously low price. Served with a rack of lamb, it went down a treat and I got the somewhat undeserved plaudits. Totally recommendable from a top Rhone producer!!” – Soorat Singh Esq

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After reading our head of Information Systems David Marsh’s excellent piece on Italy’s Barolo & Barbaresco regions in Travels In Wine, I was sure his Staff Choice would be a high-born Italian. Not so!

Instead he surprised me with a delicious organic New Zealand pinot noir that’s friendly on the wallet and, apparently, a dab hand with moussaka (see below!)…

You can find a full archive of Staff Choices on our website here

Momo Pinot Noir 2014

Momo Marlborough Pinot Noir 2014

This pinot noir is a firm family favourite, having been purchased a number of times over the years. We find New Zealand pinot noir a versatile food wine, able to be matched with a variety of meat and vegetable dishes, or perhaps a rich salmon dish. Our most recent bottle was served with moussaka (reheated from earlier in the week when it is even nicer than the first time – the moussaka was reheated, not the Momo).

David Marsh

Momo is made by Seresin and is a very attractive pale red, typical of pinot noir and a lovely nose of red currants and raspberries, a fresh but not sweet summer pudding. The taste is between a Burgundy and some new world pinots, elegant but certainly not lean. This is a mouthwatering wine that leaves one wanting another glass. Organically produced, with a tendency, at least in our house, to evaporate in the glass!

David Marsh
Head of Information Systems

£11.50 – Bottle
£138 – Case of 12
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Categories : New Zealand
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How a desire to ‘do the right thing’ and ‘look out for your mates’ resulted in one of the Australian wine industry’s great success stories…

One of the things I love about my job is finding out about the stories behind our wines. Despite the fact that this member favourite has been on our List for several years now, for some reason the story behind its name had passed me by.

88 Growers is a label exclusive to us and is made for us by the Peter Lehmann winery in the Barossa, South Australia. The name is a reference to how this winery came into being when its founder, Peter Lehmann put his neck on the line to save the independent grape growers of the Barossa Valley.

Affectionately known as ‘the Baron of the Barossa’, the late Peter Lehmann is credited for virtually single-handedly preserving the tradition of grape growing in the valley and thereby rescuing many of its old vineyards from destruction.

Peter Lehmann (far right) and Barossa growers in the 1970s.Peter Lehmann (right) and Barossa growers in the 1970s.

Going beyond the Barossa, the story is tied in with the history of Australian winemaking itself.

Back in the 1970s when overproduction and a change in consumer tastes away from reds to fruity whites led to something of a wine glut, Peter Lehmann, chief winemaker and manager at Saltram at the time, was instructed by his directors, to renege on agreements to purchase grapes from the network of small family grape growers with whom he had built up close ties over many years.

Peter refused to carry out this instruction, believing that a man’s word should be his bond and recognising that the livelihood of so many of his neighbours depended on the grape harvest. Instead, at great personal risk to his own livelihood, Peter put together a rescue package for the growers, raising funds to buy the fruit and then processing it at Saltram before selling on to other wineries.

Peter was of the view that wine is made in the vineyards and that without growers you have no wine industry. ‘Wine is not made in the boardroom,’ he famously said. With the government offering incentives to the growers to grub up their vines, the wonderful legacy of this region of old vines was also under threat. Peter had the foresight to understand the ‘pendulum’ nature of agriculture and was sure that the trend for red wine would come back again in time.

Saltram allowed this side-project to continue, officially managed by Peter’s wife Margaret. The project was named ‘Masterson’ (after famous gambler Sky Masterson from Guys and Dolls), but unfortunately in 1979, Saltram was sold and the new owners put a halt to the operation.

Taking another massive gamble, Peter decided to resign from Saltram, taking a breakaway team with him that included talented winemakers Andrew Wigan, Charles Melton and Leonie Lange. They were up against a tight deadline with little time to find a new venue to process the estimated 10,000 tonnes of fruit soon coming their way!

They rallied around friends and business contacts to raise funds yet again and by a piece of good luck, a local winery on the outskirts of Tanunda came up for sale just at the right time. Peter and his wife bought the adjoining plot and built a house there where Margaret still lives.

The plan was to process the fruit as before and sell it on to other wineries and this worked well for the first two vintages. However, in the 1980s the industry took another nose dive and the market for bulk wine collapsed.

88 Growers

Peter and the team were forced into the market of selling bottled wines. They also had to come up with a name under which to market their wines – Peter Lehmann Wines made sense to most people, though Peter wasn’t initially that enthusiastic about the name as it didn’t reflect the team effort required to make the whole thing work.

Suffice to say, in 1982 the name was made official and the next stage in the adventure began. Because of the great relationship that Peter had with growers across the Barossa region and his in-depth knowledge of the different sites and micro-climates, he was able to start isolating different plots to bottle separately.

So when in the late 1980s when shiraz started to see a resurgence in popularity both at home and abroad, the old unirrigated vines of the Barossa were particularly valued and Peter and his team had access to some of the best.

Just as Peter had predicted, the pendulum nature of the agricultural industry has indeed been manifest again, with the demand for dry whites in ascendency. Once again, Peter Lehmann wines found themselves in a good position to have access to interesting parcels of grapes from mature vines.

Semillon in particular has become one of their signature grapes and in the early 1990s, Peter and chief winemaker Andrew Wigan went against the current trends for vinifying the it, eschewing oak and picking early to retain freshness and acidity which would allow it to age.

Peter Lehmann wines now have a network of more than 140 families of growers supplying them with grapes, but the label developed exclusively for The Wine Society, is named after the original 88 growers whom Peter Lehmann stood by back in the 1970s.

And when it came to choosing grapes to tell the story, of course, it had to be shiraz for the red and semillon for the white.

Next time you order a bottle, think about the story behind the wine and the bravery, loyalty and commitment of the winery’s founder.

Joanna Goodman
Communications Editor

Browse for more wines on our website from Peter Lehmann Wines

Categories : Australia
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Wed 03 May 2017

Food Without Fuss: Recipes For Spring

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These recipes, while hopefully of use and interest to all, was written with the latest selections of our just-revamped Wine Without Fuss subscription scheme particularly in mind.

Friendly, flexible and commitment-free, Wine Without Fuss is now better than ever, with a wider range of options than ever before. If you have trouble selecting from our huge range of amazing wines, this service makes the decision easy, with five plans to suit every taste and budget. And you can cancel, change or skip an order at any time. What’s not to love?!

Why not join the growing band of members who let their Society take the strain, and are regularly glad they do?

Wine Without Fuss

I have decided that spring is my favourite season of the year. You may think that this is a strangely overdue epiphany for someone who has enjoyed more than 50 summers but there it is.

The other day, after many, many years of thinking that summer was without question my favourite season, I finally gave in to what had spent such a long time creeping up on me.

What finally clinched it was twofold. Firstly, while hunching against a particularly knife-like blast from (and up) the nether regions as I strolled across our goods-in yard here at Stevenage, I was enveloped in the scent of blossom from the trees and bushes that have been planted around our HQ. The bosky, almondy scent was an absolute delight and I found myself taking an almost involuntary moment to inhale deep breaths of it. The sun was shining, many a bird was chirruping and I just stopped in my tracks to enjoy it.

The second incident was the arrival of our supermarket delivery driver a few days ago. It was not he who induced the moment, lovely chap though he is, but rather the arrival in our crates of some fairly early Suffolk asparagus and a bag of one of my favourite things, Jersey Royal potatoes. The knowledge that they should, and would, be savoured for their recently picked depth of flavour and sweetness meant I knew that I had to include them in some small way in this blog. Both are very available and very delicious and, while they might share the billing with the chicken with morels recipe below, they really help lift the dish with their own characters.

Lamb gets a look in too because it is spring! ‘Nuff said. The recipe I give here, culled from Raymond Blanc’s Foolproof French Cookery, published by the BBC in 2002, is an oft-repeated pleasure in our house, tweaked for our pleasure and flexible and forgiving enough to accommodate variations on the ingredients as I do here.

The second recipe is another French classic, from the Jura region in the east which abuts Switzerland. A silky sauce of spring-fresh morel mushrooms and fino or manzanilla sherry (which is a good-value alternative to the delicious but considerably more expensive Vin Jaune wine indigenous to the Jura region) coating tender chicken.

Finally, a delicious pork fillet recipe. Apples and pork may not be a spring thing but I hope cider can be forgiven!

Steve Farrow

THE RECIPES

Chicken and Morels in a Sherry and Cream Sauce
Serves 2

Ingredients
• 2 chicken breasts or suprémes, skinned and slightly flattened out, and seasoned with salt and pepper
• 25g unsalted butter
• 250ml Vin Jaune, or dry sherry like fino or manzanilla (or a Jura savagnin, or oaky white wine such as Rioja Blanco if you prefer)
• 250ml double cream
• 100g fresh morel mushrooms or 30g dried morels (or use dried porcini which have a stronger flavour)
• 100g button mushrooms, halved, or chestnut mushrooms sliced

Cream sauce

If using dried morels, soak them in boiling water for half an hour, then drain and reserve the soaking liquid. If using the fresh morels, give them a brush and a shake to ensure that the crinkles, nooks and crannies are free of grit and any creepy crawlies. If the morels are pretty large cut them in half length-ways.

Put a large frying pan over a moderate flame and add the butter and let it froth before laying the chicken breasts in the pan. Sauté over a moderately high heat until they are a deep golden brown and turn over to repeat. This should take about 6 minutes, 3 on each side.

Remove from the pan, leaving the butter, which should be a nutty golden brown, before throwing in the mushrooms, and sautéing for minutes. Pour in the sherry (or wine) and bring up to a boil to evaporate away the alcohol, and then lower the heat and reduce the liquid by about two thirds. Pour in the double cream and bring back to the boil and reduce until the sauce is well combined and reduced to a coating consistency (i.e. the sauce will cling to the back of a spoon).

At this point taste the sauce for seasoning. If using the dried mushrooms you can decide if the sauce is strong enough for your taste and if not you can add some or all of the reserved soaking liquor, suitably strained through some muslin or a sheet of kitchen roll to remove any grit, and reduce a little more to account for the liquor being added. Put the chicken breasts back in to the sauce with any juices they have exuded, and simmer gently until the chicken is cooked through, about 7 or 8 minutes.

In France the dish is often served with boiled rice. In the spirit of the season I suggest boiled or steamed Jersey Royal potatoes and asparagus.

Wine matches: serve this with a glass or two of white Rioja like the Bodegas Murua Blanco, Rioja 2014 (part of the Wine Without Fuss Worldwide Wonders case), or Laudun Côtes-du-Rhone Villages Blanc, Château Courac 2015 (French Classics case, and available for £9.50) or a lovely Bulgarian white, the Cuvée Bella Rada, Borovitza 2015 (Discovery case).

Braise of Lamb Neck Fillets with Broad Beans, Bacon and Garlic Sausage

I am very fond of Raymond Blanc and his food. A self-taught chef of immense talent and influence who clearly loves to eat and to cook for those who want to eat. Here I reproduce one of his lamb recipes, tweaked slightly to provide a lighter touch for spring, using broad beans rather than butter beans. These really lift the dish and make it especially attractive as a spring plateful.

Braised lamb

Ingredients
• 4 x 300g lamb neck fillets, trimmed of sinew and some fat
• 25g unsalted butter
• 1 tablespoon olive oil
• 5 ripe tomatoes, cut into quarters and then in half
• 6 peeled, whole garlic cloves
• 1 bouquet garni
• 750ml water
• 250g broad beans squeezed out of their skins
• 100g fresh or frozen garden peas
• 100g smoked streaky bacon cut into lardons or strips
• 200g garlic sausage, skinned and sliced or chopped
• Salt and pepper
• Chopped fresh parsley to garnish

Preheat the oven to 110C/225F/Gas Mark 1/4

Season the lamb fillets on each side with a little salt and pepper. Place a large frying pan over a medium heat and heat the butter and olive oil until the butter begins to foam. Sear the lamb fillets until a deep golden brown, turning regularly to get an even colouring. This should take about 8-10 minutes. Then transfer the meat to a large casserole dish.

Spoon out the fat from the frying pan and, still over the heat, deglaze the pan with 100ml of the water, scraping up any bits and to amalgamate the juices and water. Pour over the lamb in the casserole.

Add the cut tomatoes, garlic, water and bouquet garni to the casserole, season with salt and pepper and bring to a simmer on the stove. Once it comes to a simmer cover and put into the pre-heated oven for 1 hour.

After 1 hour, take the casserole out of the oven. The broad beans need not be added until later. As well as fresh beans, add the bacon and chopped garlic sausage, cover the casserole and return it to the oven for a further 1 hour. The skinned broad beans and the peas need not be added until there is only ten minutes left to warm them through but also to preserve their wonderful green colour. The broad beans can also be scattered into the bowl at the very last minute.

After the second hour of cooking is up test the lamb with a fork. If it is not yet tender enough for your taste cook for a further 15 minutes or so and check again.

Once ready serve from the casserole and scatter over the chopped parsley.

Wine matches: The broth from this dish, made without stock, is very savoury and flavoursome but not heavy and a similar red will work well. The Society’s Barbera d’Asti Superiore 2014 (part of our Wine Rack Essentials case, or available to order for £7.50) would be an excellent match, as would young, fruity claret, the cherry-fruited ‘Dirt Track’ Cinsault by Duncan Savage, Swartland 2016 (also in Wine Rack Essentials, and available for £7.50). The Chinon ‘Le Paradis’ 2015 (part of our Lighter Wines case and available for £8.95) will also match their cabernet franc fragrance and fruit with the balanced flavours of this lamb.

Pork Fillet with Black Pudding, Apple and Rosemary Stuffing

Serves 4 generously!

Ingredients
• 3 pork tenderloins (each about 350g), trimmed of sinew and excess fat
• 100g black pudding, skinned and chopped
• 1 small eating apple peeled, cored and finely chopped
• 1 apple and 1 onion very roughly chopped (for a bed in a roasting tin)
• 2 tablespoons finely chopped rosemary
• 12 rashers streaky bacon (can be smoked or unsmoked)
• 1 small onion, finely chopped
• A grind of black pepper
• 200ml Madeira
• 50ml double cream
• 100ml pork, chicken or veal stock

Sauté the onions gently in a good knob of butter until soft. Add the chopped apple and the chopped rosemary, mix and continue to cook gently for a few minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the black pepper, mix and take off the heat and allow to cool. I usually transfer it to a bowl to cool it a little quicker. Add the chopped black pudding and mix thoroughly.

Set the oven at 180C fan or Gas Mark 5. Cut the pork tenderloins along their length without cutting all the way through, so that they can be opened out like a book, but not quite flat. Gently stretch the streaky bacon and lay it out on a board so that they touch but don’t overlap.

Lay one of the tenderloins on to the bacon, cut side up. Spoon half the stuffing mix on top of the tenderloin’s cut side (don’t cover it to the edge of the meat and don’t pile it up too high). Shape it with your hand and press it gently so that it holds its shape. Lay the second tenderloin on top, cut side down. Spoon stuffing along the top of this tenderloin and press gently into another low ridge. You may not need all the stuffing and can make small stuffing balls with any remainder if you like. Place the last tenderloin on top, cut side down.
Wrap the bacon around the stacked tenderloins so that they are covered and trim the length of each rasher if necessary so that there is overlap but not lots of overlap. Half an inch or so is enough; otherwise you have a flap of bacon on the ‘joint’ when you carve it.

Put the roughly chopped apple and onion into a roasting pan to make a bed for the ‘joint’. Place the bacon-wrapped tenderloin on top of the chopped apple and onion with the overlapping side of the bacon down so that the overlap is held in place. Cover with a tent of foil and put into the preheated oven for 25 minutes.

After the 25 minutes take the pan out of the oven and remove the foil and then put the pan back into the oven for a further 25 minutes or so, until the bacon colours and crisps a little so that the fat is golden. You don’t want it brittle as it will make it more difficult to carve neatly later.

When the 25 minutes is up and if you are happy with the colour of the bacon take it out of the oven, place the pork ‘joint’ on a carving tray, cover with foil and allow to rest for a further 20-30 minutes or so. If you try to carve it while still piping hot it will fall apart.

While the ‘joint’ is resting, drain the fat and any juices from the roasting pan into a jug. Separate and discard any fat. Pour any remaining juices, the stock and the Madeira into a saucepan, bring to a boil and reduce until the mixture thickens and reduces by about two-thirds. Pour in the cream, bring back to the boil and reduce further to a coating consistency. Strain into a warm jug, cover and keep toasty until ready to carve.

Once rested carve the pork into slices, at least half an inch thick. The slices should be marbled with two layers of stuffing in discs. Any leftover, unsliced ‘joint’ is lovely cold when it can be carved into thinner slices.

Serve with the sauce. I like it with creamy, buttery mash with a dash of white pepper in it, and some buttered tenderstem broccoli. Or try the broccoli with a little pesto stirred through it while hot.

If you like you could serve this very successfully with a cider sauce, made without the cream. Simply make a gravy of the meat juices and the little fat that results from the roasting, whisked with a tablespoon of plain flour until there are no lumps and replacing the Madeira with a similar volume of a very good dry or off-dry cider, like this one!

To be honest, you can use any stuffing of your choice that will hold its shape. I love black pudding however, which makes a wonderful colour contrast between the pale pork and the dark pud. Above all, have fun with it!

Wine matches: This dish offers an indulgent combination of richness and sweetness, and so a wine with similar credentials would work brilliantly. A prime example is the Blind Spot Grenache-Shiraz-Mourvèdre 2015 (Discovery case, or available for £7.95), whose cunning combination of ripe-fruited shiraz and sweet red-berried grenache (plus mourvèdre for structure) sets it apart. For a white option, look to Alsace for inspiration: the Alsace, Cuvée Trimbach 2014 (French Classics case, and available for £9.95) combines the aromatic muscat grape with the freshening influence of sylvaner, and would make an excellent partner.

Categories : Wine Without Fuss
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‘Little town, it’s a quiet village…’

If you’re a Disney fan, your brain sang that line. (If you’re not a Disney fan, this blog post probably isn’t for you, although you’re very welcome to stick around for some gorgeous French scenery.)

The iconic opening to Disney’s 1991 film Beauty and the Beast is impossible to forget. Belle wanders into a sleepy village of colourful houses, cobbled streets and towering church spires that suddenly springs to life with gossiping villagers buying and selling their daily groceries.

This classic film moment came to life in Disney’s recent live-action remake of the film, but wouldn’t you like to walk the cobbled streets for yourself?

RiquewihrRiquewihr

Well, you can – and you can drink some delicious wines while you’re at it – because the setting is reportedly based on two villages in the Alsace region: Riquewihr and Ribeauvillé.

Riquewihr
Not too far from Colmar, visiting this storybook village is like stepping back in time. The half-timbered houses date back to medieval times, and are identical to those in Belle’s village, and you can definitely imagine the villagers thrusting open the pretty windows to shout ‘Bonjour!’

The village square, the Dolder Tower (once a defensive gateway, now a beautiful clock tower) and the cobbled streets transport you straight into the world of the film. It’s particularly nice to visit in spring and summer when the colourful houses are given a run for their money thanks to the village’s vibrant floral decorations.

Riquewihr's Dolder fountainRiquewihr’s Dolder fountain

There’s an antique shop if you fancy searching for your own candlesticks and carriage clocks (talking or otherwise), a fabulous pastry shop if you want to spy the ‘baker with his tray like always’, and plenty of picturesque old fountains at which to pause, take a seat and read a book just like Belle does (page-chewing sheep not guaranteed).

Famille Hugel's winery in RiquewihrFamille Hugel’s winery in Riquewihr

The wine
There are two grands crus in Riquewihr, Sporen and Schoenenbourg, and one of Alsace’s most famous wine producers, Hugel, meaning you won’t be short of fine rieslings and delicious gewürztraminer. A member of the family, André Hugel, also established a wine-themed museum here, giving you an extra reason to visit.

Ribeavillé
Ten minutes north of Riquewihr, and roughly double the size, the town of Ribeavillé is packed full of history and fairytale charm.

RibeavilléRibeauvillé

The beast would have his pick of real estate here as the town and the surrounding hills are dominated by the ruins of not one but three fortified castles (as well as a number of defensive towers, including the Tours des Bouchers, or Butcher’s Tower, which dates back to the 13th century.)

Castle over Ribeavillé

Wandering through the cobbled streets, you‘ll find postcard-perfect squares with more bubbling fountains that Belle would have pegged as reading spots, and you’ll find it a challenge not to burst into the Gaston song if you visit the Wistub Zum Pfifferhus, which really is the spitting image of the tavern Gaston and Lefou raucously frequent in the film.

The wine
Ribeauvillé has three grands crus: Osterberg, Kirschberg and Geisberg, and also hosts another of Alsace’s best-known wine producers: Trimbach. They are based just outside the town, and are known best for dry, steely riesling, producing one of the finest examples in Riesling Cuvée Frédéric Emile. Excellent gewurztraminer and pinot gris is also made here.

The Trimbach winery in RibeavilléThe Trimbach winery in Ribeavillé

There’s plenty of magic to be found in Alsace so it’s good to find another excuse to sing this region’s praises. It really is one of the most underappreciated holiday spots in France, in my view, so even if you’re not a Beauty and the Beast fan, if you are planning a visit you’re certain to find beauty, at least.

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Today’s Australian wine scene boasts an eclectic and even esoteric array of styles; but, when done well, the spot-hitting bargain Aussie red remains an unparalleled joy!

Step forward Joe Barrington from our Member Services Team, whose recommendation here echoes that of many fellow members and staff – not least buyer Sarah Knowles MW, who gives this wine pride of place in her selection of current Australian favourites

HMS Buffalo Shiraz-Cabernet Sauvignon 2015

HMS Buffalo Shiraz-Cabernet Sauvignon 2015

I love wines that that offer great drinking pleasure on their own as well as with a meal; a fridge door white, a fireside red, a quintessential quaffer! The key thing with this style of wine is to be smooth and easy drinking (and not too heavy on the pocket!) but have enough complexity and interest to keep you drinking it with a smile on your face.

Joe Barrington

This classic cab-shiraz blend ticks all these boxes for me. Upfront, ripe dark fruits entice you in; with a lovely hint of spice and black olives on the nose to keep you swirling and sipping. On the palate the ripe (but not jammy) fruit continues, with a good finish for an under-£7 wine.

The easy-drinking nature of this wine means you can have a glass with any dish that calls for a juicy full-bodied red (bangers and mash is one of my favourites) and then enjoy a glass afterwards whilst winding down.

Joe Barrington
Member Services Adviser

£6.95 – Bottle
£83 – Case of 12
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Our Cellar Showroom opening hours (10am-6pm Monday – Friday, 9am to 5pm Saturday, plus late opening to 7pm on Thursday) are not convenient to all, and we don’t open on a Sunday, except in the run-up to Christmas.

Thankfully though, we now have the solution for those members who wish to purchase a bottle of wine after 6pm or indeed before 10am, should the need arise.

New out-of-hours facility at our Stevenage Cellar ShowroomNew out-of-hours facility at our Stevenage Cellar Showroom

The Society’s Exhibition Vending Machine™, accessible via tongue-recognition software **,  will provide a vital ‘out of hours’ service to those members who live near Stevenage, but can’t be doing with grabbing an inferior bottle off an inferior shelf. It will certainly assist the author in no longer having to plan the occasional humiliating raid on his local supermarket whilst wearing a heavy disguise.

Members who do not live within travelling distance to Stevenage will be pleased to know that we will shortly be rolling out similar machines in major cities across the UK. Keep your eyes peeled and your tongues ready…

** The Society will shortly be adding a new layer of biometric security for members logging onto its website, which has been extended to this machine. Members will soon be asked for the tongue-prints using new software that will scan tongues from a user’s own smartphone. A simple lick will suffice for identifying that a user is indeed who they claim to be and that they are in need of more wine.

Ewan Murray

PR Manager

Categories : Miscellaneous
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Thu 30 Mar 2017

What is Craft Beer?

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I’ve been thrilled by members’ enthusiastic response to our new (and expanding) craft beer range, as well as to my previous blog post on the subject.

Craft beer is among the most adaptive, interesting and fast-moving sectors of the drinks industry today, with a new brewery popping up in the UK every two days at the start of 2016 and with sales continuing to grow year on year. The choice is so vast for beer drinkers now that there’s almost no need to go to the major international breweries for your beer.

The question still remains, though: what exactly is craft beer?

Francesca Slattery & Klára Nagy, Five Points Brewing Co.Francesca Slattery & Klára Nagy, The Five Points Brewing Co.

There is no real, hard and fast definition of craft beer, but much like the movement itself, this means things are able to constantly evolve and adapt. This is a large part of what makes it all so exciting.

So in order to make it clear, we have to be vague!

Since there are no rules, here is my personal view on how to explain it.

• True craft beer is independent. Craft breweries are in complete control over the way they run their company and what they brew. They don’t answer to a bigger company and are therefore freer to experiment.

• If it says ‘craft’ on the label, it’s probably not craft. Now this is by no means definite, BUT be wary of any beer which is a little too eager to push the fact it’s craft, because if it relies too heavily on this, it probably isn’t! This is a common trick used by some of the world’s biggest beer companies in order to elbow their way into this quickly growing yet small industry, in order to cash in on its success.

• Production is small. In comparison to the Carlsbergs and Heinekens of this world, craft beers are nothing more than a drop in the ocean. This is why, in a market saturated by big lager brands, it can be harder to find good craft beers in the shops. Craft beer is the little man, who walks alone.

• Commerciality isn’t a priority. Short best-before dates, ridiculous packaging, silly prices – these aren’t the things that concern a true craft producer. All they care about is making the most delicious beer that they can. If they have a vision for a new beer but it may cost the punter £8 for a can due to the organic, locally sourced, hand-picked ingredients and the best-before date is only 3 months long and it’s packaged in a brown paper bag, they will still go for it, because it may be the most delicious thing anyone has ever brewed!

William John Harris & Andrew Birkby, Wild Card BreweryWilliam John Harris & Andrew Birkby, Wild Card Brewery

• Personality! Craft has now become an expression of the personality of the brewer, not simply a generic and consistent product. It is an art form and a journey of discovery. It is about passion, quality and experimentation, and how the brewer approaches that will come across in a good craft beer.

• While you absolutely can knock it back if you want, there’s more to it than that! The main thing is that nobody tells you how you should drink craft: throw away your ‘chalice’ and put the ice back in the freezer. Should you wish, you can enjoy it in the same way as a good glass of wine; it has the complexity to be thought about and picked apart however you can just enjoy a nice cold beer if you wish. Your tastebuds will thank you either way.

• An accessible tastebud expander: it will alter the way you see beer by opening eyes to the fact that there is so much out there. The first time you sit down to enjoy an 11% smoked stout, you may be somewhat taken aback; but after that, you won’t see beer in the same way.

These are beers to sup and savour, to match with food, to talk about, or simply to sit and enjoy.

There are no rules, no fuss and no limits…

…except for the times there are some rules, loads of fuss and some sorts of limits. Understood?!

The most important thing is that you enjoy it.

Freddy Bulmer
Society Buyer

Browse the latest craft beer arrivals here.

Categories : Miscellaneous
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Gin’s shiny new image may have been cultivated by luxuriously bearded Hoxton dwellers with slightly-too-short trousers, but British gin has a history that goes much deeper than stylish blends and chrome-embellished bars!

gin still

From much-debated beginnings (was it a Dutch medicine, invented to treat stomach pains, or does its invention go way back to the medieval times? No one can be exactly sure), gin is a spirit that has become as synonymous with Britain as tea, fish and chips and the Chuckle Brothers.

As we celebrate the launch of The Society’s Gin Club with two delicious London gins, we’ll be exploring the seedy, decadent and more practical side of Britain’s relationship with Mother Gin.

Mother’s Ruin and the Victorian Gin Crisis

While it’s almost unthinkable in today’s age of public health warnings, 10-a-day fruit and veg recommendations and chia seed puddings, gin consumption was readily encouraged by the UK government in the mid-18th century. The burgeoning industry was good for trade relationships within Britain’s colonies (imports of French wine and spirits had been banned due to various European conflicts) and supported British grain prices by allowing the distillation of grain that was too poor to use in beer production.

However, the availability of homemade gins known as ‘Old Tom’ (often mixed with cheap filler ingredients such as sulphuric acid and turpentine) and the lack of licensing led to a crisis in the capital. The popularity of the spirit as a ‘pauper’s drink’, and the use of it to make up wages in some areas, led to widespread cases of civil disobedience.

Hogarth’s depiction of the gin crisis, ‘Gin Lane’, is etched in the nation’s collective memory as a picture of the spirit’s insalubrious heyday. Glassy-eyed drunks fight with dogs for bones to gnaw on, a mother covered in sores carelessly drops her squalling infant down a stairwell and rambunctious mobs brawl drunkenly in the street (if you’re having trouble picturing it, imagine the scene outside any UK high street kebab shop on a Friday night, but with less fabulous teeth).

Eventually, new laws which restricted the bootleg production and sale of the liquor put an end to the worst of the crisis, but not before the spirit had left an indelible mark on British history. You can still see evidence of this today in London’s many gin palaces, often now converted into gastropubs and bars; with their huge mirrored walls and ornate fittings, they are a beautiful evocation of London’s historic love affair with gin.

How do you solve a problem like malaria?

G&T Giveaway

‘The gin and tonic has saved more Englishmen’s lives and minds than all the doctors in the Empire’ Winston Churchill.

While we certainly don’t look back on the Empire with a rosy perspective, it is an (un)sobering truth that gin and tonic played a vital role in establishing British rule in India. In the early days of the Empire parasitic diseases such as malaria had threatened to wipe out British troops, killing soldiers as well as government officials with deadly efficiency.

If Britain was to retain its grip on rule in India – and therefore the Empire itself, so important was India to the crown’s colonial ambition – malaria had to be stopped.

The answer? Quinine, an apparently miraculous cure originally procured from the bark of the cinchona tree, native to South America. Not only could this magic ingredient stop and prevent the spread of parasitic diseases, it also tasted pretty great when mixed with soda, sugar and – you guessed it – gin. An icon was born.

However, the G&T couldn’t save the Empire, and British Imperialism began to crash and burn in the latter part of the 19th century. For the G&T itself it was another story; the popularity of the drink began to spread beyond the confines of the army into the bars and pubs of Britain, and onto the high road of middle-class respectability.

Cocktail culture boomed. James Bond demanded gin as well as vodka in his famous ‘Vesper’ martini. Suddenly, gin was even endorsed by the British aristocracy (including the Queen Mother herself) adding a much-needed lacquer of glamour and gloss to the notion of fixing yourself a G&T.

But gin’s mid-century heyday came to an abrupt end. The late 70s and 80s saw it ousted by vodka on cocktail lists and in mixers, and as wine became more readily available, gin was left languishing at the back of the nation’s drinks cabinets.

Happily, the noughties has seen an incredible renaissance in this most resilient of tipples. Thanks to the influence of Don Draper and his penchant for a gin martini, as well as the resurgence of ‘craft culture’, focusing on traditional British recipes and local artisan products, the number of UK distilleries doubling over the last six years, and nearly 50 opening last year alone.

Here at The Society, we’re celebrating gin’s comeback with the launch of our Gin Club, so keep an eye out for our programme of gin and spirit-related content over the next few weeks.

We’ll be chatting to craft distilleries, musing on what makes the ultimate gin cocktail and more.

Feeling thirsty?
Try two of our new craft gins, fresh from London’s most exciting new distilleries.

East London Liquor Company London Dry Gin

Made at the site of a renovated former-glue factory in London’s East End (as charmingly illustrated by the ‘dead horse’ label!), Alex Wolpert – who founded the company in 2013 – makes this gin to a classic London Dry recipe. With a vibrant juniper bouquet and pink-grapefruit flavours developing on the palate, this is a very appealing and fresh-tasting gin. Great for a simple, but decadent, G&T. (70cl, 40%)

Buy now for £22

Jensen’s Bermondsey Gin
London’s dockland has an illustrous gin distilling history, coupled with a less-than-illustrous reputation as a former slum district fuelled by the 18th century gin craze. However, Chris Jensen is putting the area back where it belongs by recreating a traditional London gin at his distillery in the heart of Bermondsey. Juniper, citrus and intense coriander notes make this craft gin wonderful for a classic Martini. (70cl, 43%)

Buy now for £26

Categories : Miscellaneous
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