Tue 28 Oct 2014

Losing One’s Bordeaux Virginity…

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The view fromo the front door of Château Rauzan-Ségla through the vines across to Château PalmerThe view from the front door of Château Rauzan-Ségla through the vines across to Château Palmer

So where do you go in Bordeaux when leading a group of eight people who have never visited the area before? Thankfully The Society’s Bordeaux address book is second to none, and so it was with great pleasure and anticipation that I constructed a 48-hour visit for my colleagues to try and cover as much ground as possible while still keeping things manageable.

The Society takes small groups of staff out to wine-producing regions once or twice a year. This experience really helps our team understand first hand what wine is all about – on this trip, deliberately timed to coincide with harvest time, we saw picking, destemming, sorting and pressing of grapes, together with pumping over of fermenting and macerating wine in vats, racking of previous vintages in barrel and bottling, labelling, packing and loading for shipment. In fact, we saw every part of the process. Quite a bit of tasting went on too!

Château Beaumont, our base.Château Beaumont, our base.

On arrival at Château Beaumont which was our base for our two-night stay and has been a supplier to The Society for over three decades), we were greeted by Mary Dardenne of the CIVB’s Ecole de Vin who took us through a fun and interactive two-hour session comprising things historical, geographical, olfactory and gustatory to give the ‘newbies’ a good grounding in what Bordeaux is all about. Most have WSET qualifications, but many were gained in the dim and distant past, so it was great to get this instant refresher under our belts.

 

Julie, Debbie, Sue, Debbie Tracy and Cheryl on the terrace at BeychevelleJulie, Debbie, Sue, Debbie, Tracy and Cheryl on the terrace at Beychevelle

After that we were able to go and scrub up before a sumptuous dinner at Château Beychevelle, a 3rd classed growth, just up the road in Saint-Julien. The view from the château to the Gironde is spectacular, and was followed by dinner where the wines poured by our generous hosts included Beaumont 2009, L’Amiral de Beychevelle 2006, Beaumont 2005, Beychevelle 2002 and Beychevelle 1983 – the latter is a grand and elegant old lady who still has a few more years left in her.

 

The famous bell tower of Saint-Emilion seen through the morning mist at Château CanonThe famous bell tower of Saint-Emilion seen through the morning mist at Château Canon

 

Up early the next morning to head to Château Canon in Saint-Emilion. A tour of the vat house was followed by an underground tour of the limestone quarries that are dug underneath the town of Saint-Emilion. A quick sip of the 2009 and the 2011 and we were off to see a long-standing partner of The Society, Vignobles Despagne in the village of Naujan-et-Postiac in the Entre-Deux-Mers region.

 

 

Bel Air Perponcher's very effective intruder alarm systemBel Air Perponcher’s very effective intruder alarm system

The warmest of welcomes from brother & sister team Thibaut and Basaline Despagne was followed by a brisk walk across the vineyards past the watchdogs … er, I mean watchgeese (and very effective they are too!) to the Château Bel Air Perponcher winery where we watched the very last of the whites come in from the harvest. We also sampled the unfermented juice from three cuves – two of sauvignon blanc and one of semillon. The tell-tale characteristics – grassiness for the sauvignon, honey and oatmeal for the semillon – were already apparent, giving substance to the adage that winemaking starts in the vineyard.  After a hearty lunch with the Despagne office team, accompanied by samples of just about every wine they make, we visited the older Girolate vineyard (read Jancis Robinson’s article here) where they make their premium red (bought regularly by The Society en primeur), and where we also sampled grapes straight off 80-year-old semillon vines, which were deliciously ripe and rich, and rotting nobly to provide an experimental bottling of sweet wine.

The view across the Dordogne valley from Bélair-MonangeThe view across the Dordogne valley from Bélair-Monange

Back to Saint-Emilion to another Bel Air, this time Edouard Moueix’s home property of Château Bélair Monange (named after Edouard’s great-grandmother). A tour of the historic cellars, with some very old bottles on show, was completed in the late afternoon sunshine with a beautifully ripe and elegant glass of the 2010, before heading on into Bordeaux itself for dinner at one of the busiest, happening  and best addresses in the city – la Brasserie Bordelaise. It was good to spend some time as a team without suppliers around, so we could all get to know each other a little better. The beauty of such a trip is that people from different departments intermingle, learn about each other and can work better together to members’ benefit on our return to the hallowed corridors of St Evenage.

Breakfast (alcohol-free) merlot tipple - Julie, Tracy, Debbie, Dave, Sue, Tom, Debbie, Cheryl and Etienne PriouBreakfast (alcohol-free) merlot tipple – Julie, Tracy, Debbie, Dave, Sue, Tom, Debbie, Cheryl and Etienne Priou

Up at sunrise on the final day for breakfast, supplemented in the chai at Château Beaumont with a glass of newly crushed merlot served up by estate manager Etienne Priou – then a quick play on the real live Tonka toys before heading to Margaux for our last two appointments.

2014-09-26 08.49.06Debbie in the cab of Beaumont’s brand new harvesting machine
Ben Sichel explains the finer points of winemaking at AngludetBen Sichel explains the finer points of winemaking at Angludet

The first was at the Sichel family’s Château Angludet. Winemaker Ben, the youngest of the five brothers (Allan, David, James, Charles and Ben) gave us a fascinating, informative and passionately presented tour of the winery. For me, the highlight was the tasting of three special bottles – each a single varietal wine from the 2008 vintage. At Angludet they blend cabernet sauvignon, merlot and an unusually high proportion of petit verdot (planted to 15% in the vineyard), and by tasting each of the elements in their developed state it was clear to see the various elements that make up the blend. Very educational, and not something I’ve personally seen (or tasted) before from any grower.

One of six sorting tables at Rauzan-Ségla - three for bunches and three for berriesOne of six sorting tables at Rauzan-Ségla – three for bunches and three for berries

Our final visit was to Château Rauzan-Ségla, second classed growth, owned (like Canon) by Chanel. Dumbarton-born John Kolasa is the general manager of this chocolate-box château, and the wines we tasted and then drank at lunch alongside John, the pickers and sorters (Ségla 1998 in magnum and Château Rauzan-Ségla 1996) are exquisitely fine. It was a fitting end to such a whistle-stop educational tour of the world’s most famous wine region. The visit is one that the group (from member services, accounts, the buying team and the warehouse) will never forget. Seeing the operation in real time, meeting and talking with our loyal suppliers, has enhanced their view of both Bordeaux and The Society’s activities in Bordeaux, and will enable them to serve you, the members, just that little bit better than we already do.

Hats off to our Bordeaux buyer, Joanna Locke MW, and her predecessor in Bordeaux, Sebastian Payne MW, for maintaining and growing these key relationships so well for our mutual benefit.

2014-09-26 14.23.38
Ewan Murray
PR Manager

Categories : Bordeaux, France
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When the autumn arrives, matters inevitably turn to the Rhône. At least they do in my world. And so recently I took the opportunity to join others in the wine trade to meet up with Marc Perrin and eat, drink and talk Château de Beaucastel.

Beaucastel

Nowadays considered iconic, this estate has a quite extraordinary history which in some ways is separate to that of Châteauneuf-du-Pape itself: viticulture here is truly ancient, predating the time of the Avignon popes who gave the region its name by a thousand years.

There was a Pierre de Beaucastel who bought a barn with adjoining land nearby and another Pierre de Beaucastel who created the estate in 1687. King Louis XIV had given him the right to collect local taxes as a reward for renouncing Protestantism. The Perrin stewardship began in 1909 and today there is a large, and busy, 5th generation of which Marc is a part, actively in charge of all the different aspects of this extraordinary estate.

Châteauneuf-du-Pape's famous pudding stones (photograph: Claes Lofgren)Châteauneuf-du-Pape’s famous pudding stones (photograph: Claes Lofgren)
Beaucastel is 130 hectares of which 100 are planted with vineyard. It is located at the extreme north-eastern end of the appellation where the Mistral is as constant a feature as the ‘pudding stones’ (pictured) that seem to cover so much of the vineyards.

The Perrin family made some quite remarkable decisions in the early part of their tenure. For a start there was a decision to plant two grape varieties in particular. First, there was roussanne, a white variety better known in Hermitage, and then there was the red mourvèdre, much better known as the variety behind the extraordinary wines of Bandol. Beaucastel was among the first to plant these varieties, preferring them in some ways to the more ubiquitous grenache.

The other quite extraordinary development at Beaucastel came in 1950 with decision to adopt organic farming, and again in this they were pioneers in the region. Vineyard holdings have since expanded to other appellations such as Cairanne, Gigondas and Vinsobres, all of which are run and farmed in the same way.

Like The Wine Society, who back in 1981 first bought a wine from Vinsobres, the Perrins saw the potential here, even before the onset of climate change. They have invested heavily here, buying nearly 100 hectares of vineyard and planting a good deal of syrah, which, among other things, is used in their Côtes-du-Rhône blends, including a blend made exclusively for The Society which is released as part of our en primeur offer in January.

The Perrin familyThe Perrin family

We talked about climate change, which is certainly having an impact in Châteauneuf. What has changed? Marc seemed to think that the real change has come with a perception of what constitutes a great vintage. Years ago, he said, great vintages were those when grapes ripened perfectly and, even down in Châteauneuf, that happened not too frequently. So one tends to remember years like 1961 or 1978 when the wines really did stand out. Achieving ripeness today, however, is not so difficult; the minimum alcohol level of 12.5% being easily exceeded. Full tannin ripeness is harder to come by but is usually achievable with patience.

Today, he claimed, a great vintage is based on balance between all the elements in the wine. The decision made a long time ago by the family to plant all 13 grape varieties permitted at the time is seen as crucial in achieving this. I have been lucky in not only visiting Beaucastel, which I do at least one a year, but also of tasting each of the grape varieties separately. Every one of them has its place, though of course each vintage is different and each of the varieties will act a little differently. For the reds, mourvèdre is the key, amounting to about a third of the total. Syrah is important, as is cinsault, though one of my favourites is the counoise, a variety with increasing prominence and undoubted potential at Beaucastel.

The first wine we tasted was not in fact Rhône at all but the fruit of a new venture with Hollywood stars Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie. They bought a fine estate high up in Provence behind the town of Brignoles. The Perrins were called upon to assist – Beaucastel is a Brad Pitt favourite. Marc Perrin went to visit and recalls first seeing it and marvelling at the site, the terroir and the potential. We tasted their Château de Miraval Rosé 2013 which was delicious. None left but we will have a look at 2014 next year.

Châteauneuf-du-PapeThen came the Châteauneuf Blanc 2011 from old vines of roussanne. Perfect balance here with flavours of honey, lemon, sweet almond and crushed pear. Still so fresh and pure. Would have been a dream with lobster or ginger crab.

We began a quartet of reds with a fascinating 2008 Châteauneuf Rouge. At the time, so much had been written about this vintage, most of it misinformed and wholly negative: this 2008 from Beaucastel told of a different story. Brightly coloured, youthful with a lovely fruity bouquet, the wine was in perfect balance with no hint of dryness and an abundance of fruit on the palate. It screamed for roast lamb and lots of friends around a generous table.

The next pair showed two very contrasting vintages, both ready to be enjoyed now. 1999 is classic Beaucastel, in as much this is a wine built upon foundations of ripe mourvèdre. Marc said it smelled of lavender and it did! I had never noticed that before. Rounded, full-bodied and concentrated, it smelled of lavender with a touch of spice.

The 1998 served alongside was on the other hand very un-classic. This was a growing season for grenache to shine, and it forms most of the blend in this vintage. Wonderful it is too, and no longer shrouded under sun baked tannins. The colour had a more orange-like tint and the nose and palate were distinctly leathery and spicy with hints of dry figs. What a wonderful contrast from the same estate!

To finish, we had the 2000 Hommage à Jacques Perrin, a very limited cuvée made from mourvèdre and only released in certain vintages. This lovely too but more closed and in need of more time.

And what of 2013, about to be released en primeur?

That’s another story to be told when I get back from my next Rhône travels!

Marcel Orford-Williams
Society Buyer for the Rhône

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Victoria Moore picked our white Côtes de Saint Mont, Les Vignes Retrouvées 2012 (£7.95 per bottle) as one of her best wine deals in The Telegraph earlier this month.

Here Society buyer Marcel Orford-Williams tells us the story of this remarkable rediscovered wine region.

André Dubosc, right, with his successor, Olivier Bourdet-Pees. Photo by Michel Carrossio.André Dubosc, right, with his successor, Olivier Bourdet-Pees. Photo by Michel Carrossio.
André Dubosc, winemaker and ex-president of the Plaimont group of co-operatives in Gascony, really needed a Tardis to go back in time. Yet he had more of an inkling than most of what this part of Gascony had been like; before phylloxera, which killed off so many vines, and just as importantly the Great War which in turned consumed so much of Gascony’s manpower.

The landscape in Gascony, memories in older generations and the presence of old, forgotten bottles revealed an atavistic glimpse into the past. And from around 1970, André and others began dreaming of recreating a lost vineyard which we now know as Saint Mont.

It took ten years for Saint Mont to gain any kind of status and a further generation before Saint Mont was granted full appellation status. Along this incredible journey, the vignerons of the region continuously had to prove themselves.

Plaimont, Saint MontPlaimont, Saint Mont
In pre-phylloxera times, the vineyard had been vast, but to recreate it in the 20th century the surface area had to be chosen much more selectively, slope by slope, encompassing 42 villages over 1,000 hectares of vineyard on several types of soil, ranging from sand to clay.

Forty years before it became fashionable to talk about such thing as green harvesting, ploughing the soil, managing the vine’s leaf canopy, Saint Mont producers were already doing all of these things.

There had to be a choice of grape variety and this was largely influenced by what was being planted in neighbouring Madiran and Pacherenc. André Dubosc came from Madiran and the Plaimont group would eventually include Madiran’s leading co-operative. The reds would be fashioned from a majority of tannat with pinenc (also known as fer servadou), cabernet franc and cabernet sauvignon. And for the whites, gros manseng, courbu and aruffiac were planted.

But the story doesn’t end there: André created a nursery at Plaimont to identify and propagate yet more varieties that had been found growing wild, last survivors of the catastrophe that befell this region and others beside between phylloxera and the Great War. Intriguingly they have found varieties that may be immune to phylloxera and resistant to disease, and have even found varieties that are capable of ripening at lower sugar levels and therefore lower alcohol. Some of these vines are 150 years old, maybe older and so among the oldest vines in France.

The name Saint Mont derives from the village that is perched on rocky promontory above the river Adour. There is a monastery there, founded by the Benedictines in 1050. It is they who planted the vines, supplying vinous sustenance to passing pilgrims on their way to Santiago de Compostela.

Today, one doesn’t need to undertake such an arduous venture to enjoy these wines. Member scan enjoy both a red and white Saint Mont from The Wine Society.

Marcel Orford-Williams

Society Buyer

Fri 17 Oct 2014

Carignan Regardless

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Living with a wine adviser can be a tortuous and trying existence… or so my partner Lisa tells me.

I am forever sticking a glass under her nose and saying ‘absorb the bouquet on this’ or ‘what are getting from this?’ She always obliges me, occasionally throwing a flippant ‘I can smell wine!!!’

Old carignan vines in the south of FranceOld carignan vines in the south of France

However, I have found one way to guarantee a favourable response: to offer her a wine that has a sizeable proportion of the carignan grape.

Originating from Aragon and believed to be named after the ancient town of Cariñena, carignan is a very old grape variety. It was originally planted for its high-yielding, rather than palate-pleasing, attributes. However, it has since seen its coverage half in the last 40 years as a grubbing up programme took full effect. Dismissed by many, the grape has never really had many critical admirers.

For me, however, this much-maligned grape offers dark fruit in abundance backed up with smooth spiciness that cannot only plump up a blend but also carries itself as herb-infused sweet-scented wine, featuring in offerings spanning Chile to Spain, such as Priorat, via some of my favourites from the south of France (such as Monpeyroux and Collioure).

In Spain, carignan contributes to the blend in our popular Latria red (£7.95 per bottle), offering a fragrant meaty style, as well as ‘baby Priorat’ Blau (£8.95).

For a full-on and densely flavoured wine, a good Priorat always fits the bill. Try Cal Pla (£11.50), possibly with a venison casserole. To experience the more aromatic nature of carignan try Tomàs Cusiné’s Mineral del Montsant (£9.95).

Chile offers the bold Undurraga TH Maule Carignan (£12.50) where the grape brings its trademark fruit but also a firmness that makes this particular example great with slow-roasted belly pork.

Carignan wines can make for perfect autumnal drinkingCarignan wines can make for perfect autumnal drinking

In France, the grape helps to produce an uncomplicated quaffable warming red in the form of Domaine de Gournier, Cévennes Rouge 2013 (£6.25). This is soon to be a members’ favourite, I am sure, alongside Duo des Vignes, Vin de France 2013 (£5.95), which sees carignan blended with merlot.

Some current members’ favourites also owe a lot of their appeal to having carignan in their blends, in various proportions too. Domaine Laborie IGP 2013 (£5.75), Minervois, Château Sainte-Eulalie 2013 (£7.50) and Côtes du Roussillon-Villages, Château de Pena 2012 (£6.75) spring to mind, as well as our ever-popular Society’s French Full Red (£5.95).

Each of the above is different in style but share a dark fruit-driven feel with a backbone of spice that makes them at once easy drinking and yet with the ability to compliment any hearty autumnal meal.

For an example of to what heights carignan can achieve when yields are kept low try the elegant Domaine Aupilhac, Le Carignan, Vin de Pays du Mont Baudile 2010 (£16.50) or Côtes du Roussillon Villages, Les Calcinaires Rouge, Domaine Gauby 2012 (£14.50).

So as the leaves fall, the nights close in and the temperature outside drops, raise a glass and carignan regardless.

Conrad Braganza
Cellar Showroom

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Landing in Adelaide late on a Saturday night, Tim (Sykes, head of buying) and I were pretty relived to have our first day off in two weeks the following morning. I spent most of my Sunday sleeping, and washing the full contents of my suitcase with the prospect of a further two weeks’ travel, beginning with five regions in five days:

Rainbow in the BarossaRainbow in the Barossa

Day One

Peter Gago and Steve LienertPeter Gago and Steve Lienert
Tim and I started the day at Magill Estate with esteemed winemakers Peter Gago and Steve Lienert. After an unexpected but particularly wonderful breakfast we were privileged to try a number of back-vintage Penfolds wines. It was wonderful to talk these vintages through with Peter and Steve in preparation for The Wine Society’s upcoming Penfolds offer (autumn 2015).

We then took the hire car south to Langhorne Creek to see long-term Society supplier Bleasdale. One of the oldest wineries in Australia, Bleasdale was founded by Frank Potts in 1850. We had a great tasting and confirmed the blend for the next vintage of The Society’s Australian Shiraz.

Day Two
Having driven to the Barossa the previous evening, we began the day at Yalumba, went from there to Heartland and to visit Ben Glaetzer, lunch in Tanunda, and off to Torbreck and Lehmann.

Ben GlaetzerBen Glaetzer

A busy but fulfilling day: many great intense wines with lots of character, and increasing elegance. Some of the best wines we tried were older examples, confirming our belief that Australia’s wines can age and improve wonderfully.

A basket press at RockfordBasket press at Rockford

Day Three

A camouflaged kangaroo at Clare ValleyA camouflaged kangaroo at Clare Valley.
An early morning drive to Clare Valley to see Grosset, Wakefield, Killakanoon and Wendouree.

We were delighted with Grosset’s new vintages of Gaia, Springvale and Polish Hill – all of which we were happy to confirm our allocation on.

Wendouree was both a high and low light in the trip: Tony was a wonderful host, and meticulous winemaker. We had a very rare tour of the Burgundy-esque winery and a tasting from barrels. However, the popularity of the wines domestically confirmed our worries that really there isn’t enough stock to ship.

‘It’s a long game,’ Tim reminded me on the way out, and I am happy to play!

Day Four
Our fourth day saw us in the McLaren Vale, with a very busy day fitting in Steve Pannell, Richard Hamilton, d’Arenberg, Dowie Doole and Wirra Wirra! Steve has a wonderful new winery which looked great and the large range set us up for the day. I hope everyone has filled their boots with our recent first release on the d’Arenberg icons as they were really looking smart (although need a bit of cellaring).

d'Arenberg: winemaker Chester Osborn with one of the 'Dead Arm' vinesd’Arenberg: winemaker Chester Osborn with one of the ‘Dead Arm’ vines
Arachnophobes beware!Arachnophobes beware!

Finishing the day at Wirra Wirra with Paul was educational – a great tour and tasting, including a tasting of the new blend for our Society’s Australian Chardonnay.

Andrew, Sam and Paul - the team at Wirra WirraAndrew, Sam and Paul – the team at Wirra Wirra

Day Five
Tim had caught a very early morning flight home, but fear not – today was an Adelaide Hills day. Enlightening tastings with Geoff Weaver, Petaluma and Shaw and Smith were most reinvigorating at this point in the schedule, and I hope to highlight some of these wines in next year’s Australian offer.

Petaluma: Andrew HardyPetaluma: Andrew Hardy

So a jam-packed week, with some exceptional wines, wonderful people and many miles in the hire car.

Not that I rested on Day Six – that’s when I managed to squeeze in Eden Valley and the Henschkes before flying on to Western Australia!

Henschke's 'great-grandfather' vineyardHenschke’s ‘great-grandfather’ vineyard

Sarah Knowles
Society Buyer for Australia

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Thu 09 Oct 2014

Looking For Value In Bordeaux

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For many, Bordeaux is the home of wine, commanding huge prices and receiving unrelenting press coverage with each year’s vintage reports and en primeur sales.

Honestly, I’d never quite understood the magnitude of the hype for Bordeaux. The cheaper wines that I’d had were in my opinion generally overpriced, unapproachable, lacking concentration and just a little harsh, whilst the better wines are sold for crazy sums. I must concede this isn’t the most original opinion to hold. Recently however, I was given the opportunity to represent The Society (along with Matthew Horsley) on a trip run by Le Conseil Interprofessionnel du Vin de Bordeaux (the Bordeaux wine board) in conjunction with L’Ecole du Vin. This was as part of an educational trip for people from the trade to expand their knowledge of Bordeaux.

Chateau MargenceWe set off from Gatwick to spend three days touring vineyards in a mixture of different appellations around the region. Every step of the way we were to be accompanied by a resident expert of Bordeaux and would be met at each stop by the producer who would give us a tour and then host a tasting with their wines to sample alongside a selection of others from the local area. Over the three days we were able to visit the Entre-Deux-Mers, Côtes des Bordeaux, Saint-Emilion, Graves and on our last day we spent our time in the Médoc.

The days were incredibly busy; we set off at 8 each morning to take in around three châteaux with about 10 wines to taste at each stop! It was fascinating how differently each vineyard presented itself. Prieure-Lichine in Margaux was very professional, polished and commercial – everything you’d expect of such a château. Completely juxtaposing was Château La-Clide in St.Emilion where the owner Edouard would colourfully critique some of his merlot vines, and that he was going to rip them out to plant his preferred cabernet franc.

bbq at la clideEdouard was a breath of fresh air; he spoke candidly and honestly (sometimes a little self-deprecatingly) about his truly beautiful wines before rolling out the five-course lunch and turning the conversation to rugby! This level of hospitality was staggering and seeing how down to earth he and his family were was wonderful.

The opportunity to try the wines straight from the cask was a fantastic experience not soon to be forgotten; the wines were so supple and soft with terrific balance, soft tannins and great concentration.

I started to understand the attraction of Bordeaux a bit more.

st emilionThe trip was a fantastic learning experience, allowing you to step outside the theoretical in simply learning about a region as part of WSET qualifications and tasting them in isolation, but to be able to experience the wines in the area of production.

This has pushed me to try a lot more affordable Bordeaux and I have found countless ones that break my first preconceptions. The Château Pey La Tour Reserve (£10.50) for example is now one of my favourite regular wines, along with the Château Moulin du Bourg (£11.95).

I’ve discovered that there is value in Bordeaux – you just need to look past the obvious to find it.

Hugo Fountain
Member Services Adviser

For more information about Bordeaux, the below video about the region, featuring Basaline Despagne and Fabrice Dubourdieu, may be of interest:

Categories : Bordeaux, France
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Fri 03 Oct 2014

Midi Floods

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While some of us were basking in unseasonal warm and dry weather, spare a thought for parts of the Languedoc where records were broken over the past few days.

The centre of the storm seemed to be over Montpellier itself and its immediate surrounds. Pictures show people kayaking down the street.

Midi flood

(From https://www.facebook.com/saintchinian)

These storms tend to be a feature of France’s Mediterranean coastline during September and then principally about masses of warm humid air coming in from the sea and condensing over the Cevennes hills in the Languedoc. The effect of these storms can be quite dramatic and sometimes catastrophic. In the city itself, 200mm fell in just three hours.

Mercifully there were no fatalities, though an earlier cloudburst more inland in the Gard had claimed the lives of at least five people and had swept away camping sites and cars and had generally caused much damage.

Of the 2014 grape harvest, it would seem that many people had finished picking. Isabelle Champart in Saint Chinian finished last Sunday, the day before the storm, and is delighted with the quality as is Pierre Borie at Ollieux-Romanis in the Corbières. Pierre Clavel in the Pic Saint Loup and only a few miles from Montpellier had also just finished picking in time. His drive was washed away which might make visiting him a little problematic but the vines were not damaged and his well-drained soils coped well with the water. He described to me opening his front door to see a veritable sheet of water coming down.

I shall be there in November and hopefully will need neither wellies nor a kayak!

Marcel Orford-Williams
Society Buyer

Categories : France, South of France
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Having just returned from Australia I seem to find myself daydreaming on the train from London to Stevenage, and the same image keeps appearing – triggered I am sure by the foggy Hertfordshire countryside I speed through!

Foggy vines in Yarra

I love this photo as, although only taken at the very beginning of spring, it really dispels the ‘sun-in-a-glass’ image of Australia.

It was taken in the cooler-climate region of the Yarra Valley, where I spent a lot of time with Mac Forbes.

Mac Forbes in his barrel room at YarraMac Forbes in his barrel room at Yarra

Not only does Mac mastermind our Blind Spot range (you can see him talking about this range in the below video), but he also makes his own fine wines in Healsville, Yarra, and this is one of his vineyards.

Upon visiting, Mac, Tim (Sykes, head of buying) and I had to perfrom a little ritual – dipping our shoes into a bleach solution to ensure that we didn’t walk any nasties into the currently phylloxera-free vineyard.

Mac climbing his barrels.Mac climbing his barrels.
This attention to detail and care for the vines was replicated as we visited a number of Mac’s immaculately tended vineyards (where we also spotted our first wild kangaroos – welcome to Oz!).

Back in Mac’s winery, evidence of his detailed approach continued. We tried many chardonnay and pinot noir barrel samples, with meticulous explanations of the exact vine-row locations that were in each barrel. It was wonderful to have these differences laid out so clearly, and precisely showed why Macs range is so vineyard specific.

Trying the 2013-bottled new-vintage wines at the end of the visit was a treat; and one which you can also enjoy soon, as I have just ordered my favourites! They will be available from The Society in the New Year – including this time 2 examples of Mac’s stellar chardonnays to go with his already popular pinots.

Sarah Knowles
Society Buyer for Australia

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This recipe, while hopefully of use and interest to all, was written with the Autumn 2014 selections of The Society’s Wine Without Fuss subscription scheme particularly in mind. Voted Best Wine Club by both The Independent and Which? magazine, Wine Without Fuss offers regular selections of delicious wines with the minimum of fuss. Why not join the growing band of members who let their Society take the strain, and are regularly glad they do?

Find out more about Wine Without Fuss in a short video on our website.

Janet Wynne EvansJanet Wynne Evans
This piece was inspired by the seductive Sicilian ‘Dalila’, one of the Premium Whites in the Wine Without Fuss Autumn selection that we have lined up for the delectation of subscribing members.

‘What would Delilah eat?’ pondered my always-helpful colleague Sebastian Payne MW. I had no answer, apart from Samson and chips, or gigot de Tom Jones (and even I have no recipe for those), but a quick burst of her famous aria – which, in my rasping alto, would have had her victim making a voluntary beeline for the barber’s – made me think about, well.. tarts.

There are goodies galore in season now that might sit happily in a crisp pastry shell, filo purse, rich puff envelope or even, as below, a brioche base. Sweet-fleshed squashes and pumpkins are popping up, ready to be sliced and spiced. Farm-produced, rather than industrial goat’s milk cheeses should be relished now, before the breeding season kicks in and the best of the fresh milk has more important demands on it. The sea is full of good and sustainable pie options. Those handy game casserole mixes that have begun to make an appearance also make good, chunky terrines and a pastry croûte around them should firmly erase grim childhood memories of Gala Pie.

The beauty of Wine Without Fuss, of course, is that there is an option at every level for just about every variation on the quiche, tart and pie theme. For example, to discipline the rich custard at the heart of a quiche Lorraine and the smokiness of the bacon within, I’d look out a classy riesling such as Beyer (Classic French Whites) or racy grüner veltliner (Pepp, Premium Whites). For sweet roots, spinach and spices, a haunting Rhône-alike – d’Arenberg White Ochre, say (Buyers’ Everyday Whites) or mellow syrah blend Wakefield Promised Land (Buyers’ Everyday Reds) or Guigal’s Côtes-du-Rhône (Classic French Reds).

My favourite aspect of the season of mists is without doubt the new crop of wild mushrooms. From the mighty cep to the delicate girolle, they bring a glorious and seductive earthiness to plate and palate alike. At this time of year, they deserve centre-stage, supported by a chorus line of good things like good olive oil, butter or cream, lemon juice, lashings of parsley. For me, this is definitely a chardonnay thing. Wither Hills (Premium Whites) would certainly sing with the recipe below. It has been one of my staples for many years, since I first cut it out of (I think) a copy of Hello! Magazine, in which it was, without doubt, the most glittering celeb that week. I have shared a version of it with members in the past, but I’m often asked for it, so I’m delighted to give it another airing.

While not, strictly speaking, a tart, it’s simplicity itself to make and will draw gasps of pleasure from your guests. If not, my advice is to trip them up as they leave and tell them you won’t see them in the Fall!

WILD MUSHROOM BRIOCHES
Serves 4, generously. 6 at a push
• 30g dried wild mushrooms
• 250g fresh wild mushrooms (ceps, shiitake, girolles) brushed clean and trimmed if large
• 150g chestnut mushrooms, destalked, wiped with a damp cloth and thickly sliced
• Juice of half a lemon
• A small bunch of fresh tarragon or parsley, finely chopped
• Salt and pepper
• 4 individual brioche buns (not the fingers) or a medium-sized brioche loaf
• 1oz butter, melted
• 200ml crème fraîche or double cream

Soak the dried porcini in 200ml hot water for 20m. Drain, reserving the liquor (strain it into a jug through a fine sieve lined with kitchen paper to remove all grit) and squeeze dry. Fry in a little oil with the fresh mushrooms. Season well with pepper and the lemon juice. Add the strained porcini liquor and half of the tarragon and bubble gently until almost evaporated.

Add salt to taste and reserve. Preheat the oven to 200°C/Gas 6.

Decapitate and hollow out the brioche(s). Brush insides and ‘lids’ with the melted butter, put on a baking tray and bake for five minutes (nearer ten for a loaf) or until firm and crisp. Add the cream to the mushroom mixture in a shallow pan and gently reheat until bubbling and thickened. Spoon into the warm brioches . Garnish with the remaining tarragon or parsley. Top with the lids at a jaunty angle and bring to the table. If you have used a whole brioche loaf, it’s easier to lift off the lid before carving into thick slices. Cut the lid into matching slices and assemble each slice on the plate.

Janet Wynne Evans

Categories : Wine Without Fuss
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Tue 30 Sep 2014

Cycling Around The Rhône Crus

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Top of VentouxI have just returned from a cycling trip with a friend and fellow Wine Society employee, David Marsh (head of Information Systems). The main objective was to see if we could cycle up the classic hills of Alpe d’Huez in the Alps and the so-called ‘Giant of Provence’, Mont Ventoux, both of which are well-known routes for the Tour de France. However, we put aside a day in the Rhône for cycling through the vineyards and sought out a few of our growers to pop in and see how the vintage was going, and a little ‘degustation’ at the same time.

Most growers are always pleased to welcome Wine Society members, though harvest time is obviously a little busier for them. We managed to visit three growers in Seguret, Gigondas and Rasteau. We were planning on cycling up to Vinsobres to visit the Jaumes too but the mistral wind (and a little wrong turning I made) put this out of our reach in the time we had.

Domaine PourraFirstly in Seguret, we visited Domaine Pourra who make Séguret Côtes-du-Rhône Villages Mont Bayon (£14.50) for us. There they said that they will be starting the harvests this week – it would normally be earlier but after the rain of the last couple of weeks, needed the mistral wind to dry the grapes. The harvest is, however, looking good.

Some estates have started harvesting already, particularly those lower down on the plain below Seguret and Gigondas. Indeed we saw a lot of the small narrow tractors on the roads taking trailers full of grapes from the vineyards to the wineries, and we could smell the winemaking as we cycled through the villages. In Rasteau (more later), we also saw the local co-operative working flat out emptying and weighing trailer-loads of grapes from their farmer-members. Domaine Pourra’s vineyards are higher up on the slopes above the village, and above Gigondas so mature and are picked a couple of weeks later. They will start the harvest with their syrah (‘bien mur’). The 2010 of the wine we buy (2009 is on sale now) will be bottled shortly to make space for this year’s harvest – the pallet of bottles arrived the day before we visited, and the corks were due the next day (fingers crossed).

Tractor

Gigondas

Next a few kilometres on to Gigondas and Château de Saint Cosme, who make our Exhibition Gigondas (we are currently selling the 2011 at £14.95) and whose wines we sell in our Rhône opening offer. They are just north of the village (well signposted) and have vineyards right up to the ‘Dentelles de Montmirail’ ridge.

Saint CosmeThey make one white wine and the grapes for this are all harvested. They are now starting on the reds, and all the guys were out at harvest. Again, they were glad of the mistral wind and were optimistic about the harvest. They offered us a tasting suite of their white blend, then their 100% syrah Côtes-du-Rhône called Les Deux Albions (after Louis Barruol’s English wife and the vineyard on the Plan d’Albion near Sault on the slopes of Mont Ventoux) and their Gigondas 2012 which is the closest to the Exhibition blend they do for us. They also do a Châteauneuf though this is with bought-in grapes and so does not carry the ‘Château’ prefix on the label.

SoumadeLast but not least was Domaine La Soumade on the Route d’Orange just outside Rasteau. This involved a cycle against the wind made worse by the aforementioned wrong turning doubling the distance. But it was worth it, we were welcomed by the nephew of the owner, and he showed us the old winery and the vineyards. We sell their Rasteau Côtes-du-Rhône Villages 2011 (£12.50). There we had a flight of wines to taste as shown in the adjacent photo.

One general point about the tastings: we found that we were generally tasting the latest vintage, occasionally the preceding one, and with the exception of the cheaper wines, the wines needed more time to age (hence The Society will often have bought and kept earlier vintages which will be sold when ready). But this does give a good experience of trying to discern what the wines will be like in a few years, and it is still a great way to compare and contrast different wines side by side.

Matthew Kirk
Head of Marketing

And as a PS, I’m glad to say that we did make it successfully up Mont Ventoux, not in a record time and a lot of younger (and thinner?) cyclists passed us.

Or maybe they just had better bikes?

Categories : France, Rhône
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