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!
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?
‘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.
Try two of our new craft gins, fresh from London’s most exciting new distilleries.
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 2012 – 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%)
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%)
Around 11,000 members buy and enjoy our Society-label Rioja every year. One of them is Pete James from our Member Services team. Indeed, Pete wins the title of ‘quickest email reply in Staff Choice history’, so enthusiastic was he to recommend this wine.
Consistency is a virtue when it comes to Society-label wines, but feedback from both members and the press suggests that the current 2012 vintage is singing especially sweetly. We were very pleased to see that it was recently selected by Decanter Magazine as one of their 50 top ‘Best-buy Riojas’ – it was the best value of all 50 too!
Here’s why Pete was so quick on the button to sing its praises.
This is a wine that I have enjoyed for a very long time and is currently the preferred red in our household, which is no mean feat!
With this being such a staple wine I’ve really come to appreciate the consistent level of quality. No matter what quantity I purchase it in, it never lasts long (surely the perfect endorsement). This has led me to recommend it to many a friend and family member and I would urge anyone reading this to give it a try.
Nice and smooth with a little bit of oak, this is keenly priced everyday-drinking Rioja, which for my mind is very hard to beat. Over the years we’ve tried it with many different dishes (as well as on its own plenty of times), the most recent being a delicious rendang curry which worked an absolute treat.
Member Services Team Leader
£7.50 – Bottle
£90 – Case of 12
View Wine Details
Today is World Book Day, and it was great seeing so many young Harrys, Hermiones, Matildas, Mad Hatters, Megs and Mogs on their way to celebrate at school this morning.
That said, why should they have all the fun? As ‘wine is bottled poetry’ (Robert Louis Stevenson), we turned to our most bookish colleagues to ask for a few of their favourite literary libations.
The results are below for you to curl up with at your leisure. But, like wine, literature is an endless source of new discoveries…
…so if you’ve got a favourite passage or poem, please leave us a comment and let us know!
Accept what life offers you and try to drink from every cup. All wines should be tasted; some should only be sipped, but with others, drink the whole bottle.
Paulo Coelho, Brida
As I ate the oysters with their strong taste of the sea and their faint metallic taste that the cold white wine washed away, leaving only the sea taste and the succulent texture, and as I drank their cold liquid from each shell and washed it down with the crisp taste of the wine, I lost the empty feeling and began to be happy and to make plans.
Ernest Hemingway, A Moveable Feast
Wine initiates us into the volcanic mysteries of the soil, and its hidden mineral riches; a cup of Samos drunk at noon in the heat of the sun or, on the contrary, absorbed of a winter evening when fatigue makes the warm current be felt at once in the hollow of the diaphragm and the sure and burning dispersion spreads along our arteries, such a drink provides a sensation which is almost sacred, and is sometimes too strong for the human head. No feeling so pure comes from the vintage-numbered cellars of Rome; the pedantry of great connoisseurs of wine wearies me.
Marguerite Yourcenar, Memoirs of Hadrian
The fragrant odour of the wine, O how much more dainty, pleasant, laughing (Riant, priant, friant.), celestial and delicious it is, than that smell of oil! And I will glory as much when it is said of me, that I have spent more on wine than oil, as did Demosthenes, when it was told him, that his expense on oil was greater than on wine.
François Rabelais, Gargantua & Pantagruel
I rejoiced in the Burgundy. It seemed a reminder that the world was an older and better place than Rex knew, that mankind in its long passion had learned another wisdom than his.
Evelyn Waugh, Brideshead Revisited
‘A Drinking Song’
Wine comes in at the mouth
And love comes in at the eye;
That’s all we shall know for truth
Before we grow old and die.
I lift the glass to my mouth,
I look at you, and I sigh.
…There’s wisdom in wine, goddam it!’ I yelled. ‘Have a shot!’
Jack Kerouac, The Dharma Bums
These recipes, while hopefully of use and interest to all, was written with the spring selections of our Wine Without Fuss subscription scheme particularly in mind. 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?
Molecular gastronomy, you’ve had your moment! Dry ice, foams and fizzes, move aside for those useful ingredients that happily absorb any others you may throw at them, depending on which bottle in your recently arrived Wine Without Fuss case you are most impatient to uncork.
I like to call this vehicular gastronomy, and you won’t find a better chassis than a chicken breast or an aubergine.
In the case of the chicken, I’m afraid needs must. Unless you happen to live on an island that time forgot, where chickens do what comes naturally, or you can justify the cost of a bird defined strictly by labyrinthine rules on breed, feed and, probably, what it’s allowed to read, bring on the garlic, pesto and garam masala.
By contrast, the aubergine needs neither towing nor jump-starting. It has a flavour engine of its own, not turbocharged, but definitely ticking over. Its glossy sheen draws me inexorably to those artfully piled ‘obo’s’ (sic) at the greengrocer’s. It matters not whether or not they were ripened by the sultry sun of the Levant: the ones grown in a Benelux hothouse can still do the designer haulage thing very nicely, and I’ll take half a dozen, please.
‘Versatile’ barely conveys its myriad applications. Consider (I can’t) an Indian take-away without a soft and shamelessly oily brinjal bhaji, or a Chinese one minus sea-spiced aubergine. The nearer east has countless variations on the theme, from baba ghanoush to imam bayildi: there are hundreds of recipes in Turkey alone as there are in any book by Yotam Ottolenghi. Moussaka, caponata, pasta alla norma and melanzane alla parmigiano bring us west and north, to the sunny tians of Provence, and an unforgettable dish I once had in Bordeaux – slices of aubergine, simply dusted with seasoned flour and fried, served alongside lamb so tender you could eat it with a spoon, and washed down with good claret.
If this sounds familiar, this is not my first paean to the aubergine. In fact, I said as much to Fuss subscribers many years ago when blogs were back pages that came with case notes. Online, I have space to go to town so in this, my last official Food Without Fuss blog post, after more, after more than a decade at the Wine and Dine coalface, I’m bowing out with a proper tribute.
Aubergines are ubiquitous, inexpensive and – you want more? – ready to do business with whatever you may have in the fridge or store-cupboard.
And I do mean ready. Salting is optional these days, and, as Jamie Oliver says, a microwave will reduce an aubergine to melting tenderness in 8 minutes flat (prick the skin first). I give thanks for this top tip every time I crave a squidgy little boat with a cargo of flavourful toppings that can be quickly flashed under the grill.
The recipe challenge for Easter has been whittling the possibilities down to a manageable six of the best, for casual snacking, for serving with the paschal lamb as those Bordelais did, or for inspiration at a time of year when seasonal produce may be a bit betwixt and between. The asparagus may be tardy and the Jersey royals, if the flag of residence is, indeed, up, at their wallet-wrenching dearest. An aubergine will always be there for you. Isn’t it time you loved it back?
It’s time to thank all readers of Food Without Fuss, firstly for reading,and also for the truly invaluable feedback I’ve received over the years, whether a resounding thumbs-up, a frank appraisal in the other direction or an impressive display of vigilance, most notably when I sent my fellow-members out for 800kg of fish for my Languedoc seafood pie. It’s been a blast, and you don’t get many of those with a fan oven!
I’m delivering the honour of writing this blog, and our Wine and Dine notes for ‘Fuss’ subscribers into very safe hands. They are those of my colleague Steve Farrow, The Society’s Database Editor by day, accomplished and adventurous cook at all other times. You’re in for a treat.
Janet Wynne Evans
Fine Wine Editor
Inspired by Claudia Roden’s carefully curated Mediterranean Cookery (BBC Books, 1987) this fuss-free dip, a variant of Baba Ganoush requires merely that you bake an aubergine until tender and mix the flesh with tahini paste, crushed garlic, lemon juice, a dash of thick yoghurt and seasoning, all to taste. Finish with a little olive oil and some chopped parsley and serve with flatbreads and black olives.
Wine: Like hummous (it must be the palate—coating tahini), this has a rapport with the piquancy of sauvignon. Try Saleta Moscatel-Sauvignon Blanc (Buyers’ Everyday Whites & £6.50) or Kaapzicht Chenin Blanc (Buyers’ Premium Whites & £7.95), accurately described by its producer as ‘chenin blanc for sauvignon lovers’.
There are countless throwaway recipes for this but the one I never discard belongs to Provence grand master Roger Vergé of Mougins, whose precision is palpable in Les Légumes de Mon Moulin (Flammarion, 1991). Slice your aubergine in half lengthwise and slice through the flesh to about a depth of about 2.5cm, stopping well clear of the skin,, in a diamond pattern. Rub in a lick of olive oil and a pinch of salt and bake, cut side down at 220C/Gas 7 for about 35 minutes, until tender.
Process the scooped flesh until tender, with a couple of peeled and deseeded tomatoes, half a clove of garlic, minced, and either a pinch of cayenne pepper or a few chopped basil leaves. Add a thin, steady stream of olive oil as for mayonnaise. About 150ml should suffice, unless your specimen is a veritable Titan from the Ray Harryhausen school of special effects. The texture should be luxuriously silky. I like to chill this slightly before bringing back to room temperature and serving with flatbreads and plump olives.
Wine: M Vergé is persuaded that the aubergine is a red wine kind of chap, recommending fruity southern Rhônes No shortage of this style in Easter Fuss, and I’d especially recommend Cairanne, Domaine Romain Roche 2014 (French Classic Reds), especially if you’ve gone the cayenne route. However, I love this with a, fragrant but upstanding white like Auzelles, Costers del Segre 2015 (Buyers’ Premium Whites & £9.95).
Simon Hopkinson’s Grilled Pesto Aubergines
The acknowledged Chefs’ Chef and my own personal pin up naturally preroasts his aubergines and makes his own superior pesto. Dare I suggest that this is such a glorious combination that you might get away with the quick Jamie method and a handy jar? I freely admit that I have.
To do it by the book – the seminal Roast Chicken and Other Stories (Ebury Press, 1994, and never, I think out of print since) – prepare and cook your aubergines exactly as above, but for a little less time, say 20-30 minutes. Remove for the oven, spread lavishly with your home-made pesto and grill until golden brown and bubbling. Mop up joyfully with a good baguette.
Wine: White is best here, and by all means play the Italian card with the concentrated, herb-friendly Orvieto Castagnolo (Buyers’ Premium Whites), but another good match is Limoux, Dédicace, Chateau Rives-Blanques 2014 (French Classic Whites & £11.50).
Steamy Oriental Aubergines
This light but natty roadster is fuelled by a five-star dressing comprising a couple of tablespoons each of rice wine (or dry sherry) and soy sauce, a teaspoon each of toasted sesame oil and clear honey, and a thumb of fresh root ginger, finely grated. Whisk all these together and put in a wide frying pan.
Steam two big aubergines, wedged into eighths, over a pan of simmering water for about 15 minutes. Let the steam subside before adding them to the dressing, on a low heat. Braise gently for five minutes or so until the dressing is absorbed. Scatter with toasted sesame seeds. The wedges will cool to a slight stickiness, lovely with chicken, lamb or fish, and equally toothsome in a salad with crunchy leaves or blanched mangetout.
Wine: on the guiding principle of a bit of grapy richness with salt, especially if there’s some honey about, I’d plump for Australia, where they know a thing or two about fusion cuisine, and go for Felix Swan Hill Victoria Chardonnay-Viognier 2016 (Buyers’ Premium Whites & £8.75). If serving with lamb, I’d plump for the sweet fruit of Wakefield Promised Land Shiraz 2015 (Buyers’ Everyday Reds & £7.75).
This bold dressing for grilled aubergines kicks off with a good pinch each of cumin and coriander seeds, dry-toasted with a couple of black peppercorns until they are dancing in the pan. If you bought a bag of dried poeja (pennyroyal) while on holiday in Portugal and are wondering what to do with it, now’s your chance! Lovers of smoked paprika or pimientón could add a pinch of that too, sweet or hot as you like.
Transfer this rhythm section to a small saucepan with a tablespoon of top-notch sherry vinegar, a dash of lemon juice and 5 tablespoons of fruity olive oil. You’ll need some coriander or parsley later on, so separate the leaves and pop the stalks into the dressing. Apply heat and as things begin to sizzle, take the pan off the hob and leave the contents to infuse for as long as it takes for the oil to cool.
Strain the dressing over your grilled aubergines while they are still warm and serve at room temperature with country bread and perhaps a platter of Ibérico ham.
Wine: an embarrassment of Iberian and hispanic richesse awaits in the Easter Wine Without Fuss selections. Our appealing Alentejo find Monte da Ravasqueira Tinto 2015 (Buyer’s Premium Reds & £8.95) will do admirably and my favourite white with these bold flavours is the intriguing Boplaas Cape Portugese White Blend (Buyers’ Everyday Whites & £6.95).
An Effortless Easter Curry
Aubergine is heavenly curry fodder, whether with lamb, or leftover turkey or, best of all in a vegetarian subzi dish. You can feed four people on one big aubergine, a large onion, thickly sliced, and a fat clove of garlic supplemented with pumpkin, sweet potato, green pepper and okra – about 600g in total, and all cut into generous bite-sized pieces as the aubergine should be.
Starting with the onion, simply brown everything in a bit of groundnut oil, stirring in a good pinch of your favourite spice mix and a crumbled red chilli to taste, remembering that you want to taste the wine too. Add can of light coconut cream and a generous squeeze of tomato puree. Bring to the boil, cover and simmer gently until the vegetables are tender and the juices thickened. At this stage you might wish to add a few cooked chickpeas for extra crunch, a generous scoop of thick yoghurt and some chopped coriander leaves. Serve with your favourite flatbread or rice.
To make use of that surplus Easter turkey, replace the extra vegetables with 500g cooked meat along with the coconut cream, bring to the boil and bake for 40 minutes or so at 190C/Gas 5, until the turkey is piping hot.
To give it a Greek or middle-eastern vibe, brown 500g generously cubed lamb neck fillet first, before adding your onion, garlic and aubergine. Instead of coconut milk, use stock or wine, and instead of curry spices, try dried oregano, za’atar and sweet, mild spices like ginger, cumin and cinnamon. Bake at 180C/Gas 4 for a couple of hours until tender.
Wine: Step forward multi-tasking Zarcillo Bío-Bío Gewürztraminer 2015 (Buyers’ Everyday Whites & £6.50) but I was also impressed with the spice-busting savvy of Boplaas ‘Tinta Chocolat’ Tinta Barocca (Buyers’ Premium Reds) which put in me in mind of the sweetness and layered spicing of Cape Malay cuisine. If you’re making the Greek or middle-eastern version, try the The Little Prince Cretan Red, Karavitakis 2014 (Buyers’ Premium Reds).
Until recently, German wine had an image problem.
Not for those in the know of course; savvy drinkers have been stashing their cellars full of fragrant riesling and pinot noir for decades, while many of us had been too busy having new world love affairs to notice.
And that’s the problem; to the average supermarket-buying booze-hound, the region continues to conjure images of weissbeer, pilsner and, less deliciously, Blue Nun. Fruity, full-on New Zealand sauvignons and Italian pinot grigios have been filling our baskets while Germany’s gems have been left languishing on the shelves.
One man who knows this all-too-well is Konstantin Guntrum, owner of legendary winemaking dynasty, Louis Guntrum. His family have been growing grapes on the left bank of the Rhein since 1648, before marauding French catholic occupying forces compelled them to flee to the Left side of the Rhein in 1792. It took nearly a century for the Guntrum family to get back to their homeland, buying up vineyards and wineries in Nierstein and Oppenheim where they remain to this day. Today, and 11 winemaking generations on, the dynasty continues to thrive, making award-winning riesling, pinot noirs and sweet wines. The next challenge? Switching today’s discerning young wine-lovers onto the aromatic delights of Germany’s sweeter wines.
Konstantin dropped by The Society to give us a quick lesson in history, food matching and to share his phenomenal German wines.
1. German sweet wine is great for tough-to-match food Cheese and German sweet wines go together like Bogart and Bacall, the nectar-like qualities of Auslese or Kabinett perfectly offsetting sharp, savoury cheeses. Fiery foods also make a great match. As Konstantin says ‘eat something hot and try to wash it down with a fruity red and…well, have fun with that! It’s like putting fuel on the flames’. Sweet wines however counteract spiciness, in turn knocking any over-sweet edges from the wine. Puddings also apply here, so try a ‘riesling Kabinett’ which is made without additional sugar to perfectly balance the sweetness.
2. Grauburgunder is known as pinot grigio in Italy and pinot gris in France. The 2015 vintage of grauburgunder is especially delicious, a combination of baking summer days which add a tropical fragrance and cool nights which lend refreshing acidity to the fruit. This acidity also acts as a natural preserving agent, so the wine will get even better with age.
3. Weissburgunder is better known as pinot blanc and German examples display lively floral flavours. This slightly sweet style fell out of favour in the latter-half of the 1980s following its 1970s heyday but is gaining in popularity again. Modern examples show perfectly balanced sweetness and freshness, so give it a try if you’re looking for a delicious conversation-starter.
4. Chilled German reds such as dornfelder make great summer barbecue wines. With cherry, cranberry and herbal notes, dornfelder is light and fresh but has enough body to take on boldly savoury flavours of bangers, burgers and other British summertime staples.
Having joined The Wine Society’s Tastings and Events Team as a relatively fresh faced 24-year-old just over two years ago, it’s become apparent that, at the majority of tastings that I host across the UK , I am more often than not the youngest person there.
Although certainly not the end of the world, it does raise an important question – and one that’s been bouncing around The Society for the last year or so: where is the next generation of Wine Society members going to come from?
There are a number of projects currently in motion at TWS HQ, from the Digital Team through to the Marketing and Buying Teams. All are trying to make sure we offer something for younger wine-drinkers (and female as well as male!).
Generation Wine is my way of trying to shake up The Society through our 150-event-strong calendar which I help put together with the rest of the Tastings Team.
The idea is simple – we’ll be conducting a series of exciting tastings throughout the year that will appeal to younger members.
First up, we’ll be launching our new Generation Wine Walkaround Tastings. My intention for these events is to provide a complete night out as opposed to our more formal ‘standard’ walkaround tastings, which often focus purely on the wine and giving you the perfect environment to taste, smell, observe and discuss.
They’ll take place at a variety of lively venues (such as our May 4th event at Kachette Shoreditch – already sold out, unfortunately – where wood panelling and regal paintings are replaced by bare-brick railway arches and strip lights), and held a bit later in the evening to allow for a more relaxed, party-like atmosphere.
It’s also important to me to showcase the whole range The Society has to offer; not just our fabulous wines but also craft beers and gins sourced by our two newest (and youngest) buyers, Freddy Bulmer and Sarah Knowles MW. Music will play, beer will flow, ties can be removed and we can see how much fun TWS can be. Just don’t be the ones to miss out!
We’ll also be running exciting dining experiences at our Generation Wine Dinners. These will be heldat less formal, quirkier restaurants, with wilder, more esoteric guest speakers, and even a bit of theatre to accompany the meal (we’ll be serving whole suckling pig at Camino and rocking on with Au Bon Climat’s ‘wild man of wine’ himself, Jim Clendenen at the Tramshed, for example).
As always, a selection of wines will be chosen to accompany the meals, but the focus will be on interest and experimentation. Discussion will be encouraged, curiosity demanded and a brilliant night out promised!
Let us know what you think, and indeed any other ideas you have!
Tastings & Events Team
Whenever I speak to Spain buyer Pierre Mansour about his latest finds, his excitement is obvious. The country really is a hotbed of value right now.
What’s more, the 2015 vintage has been a generous and successful one, resulting in a procession of affordable luxuries reaching our cellars in recent months.
Where to start exploring? David Connor from our Cellar Showroom had little hesitation in recommending this under-£9 garnacha, which has already received plaudits from Decanter Magazine, Tim Atkin MW and, most importantly, many fellow Society members.
I have to say I have real passion for Spanish wines and this grenache – hailing from a small region north of Madrid high in the Gredos mountains – is a great example.
The grapes come from old low-yielding old bush vines grown in the Gredos mountain range near Madrid, and it’s this combination of high altitude and low yields that gives the wine a freshness and vitality that will raise a smile and have you reaching for a second glass. For me it was the perfect antidote to the more esoteric wines we tend to drink over the Christmas period and certainly punches above its weight.
As for what I would drink it with… well, when one of the winemakers was asked the same question at our Spanish tasting last year he simply replied, ‘whatever you like’!
The Cellar Showroom
£8.50 – Bottle
£102 – Case of 12
View Wine Details
Being given the opportunity to take over beer-buying duties for The Society was something that I grabbed with both hands.
In my opinion, the world of beer is every bit as varied as the world of wine, with just as many stories to tell and discoveries to be made. I hope to build a range here that reflects this. Craft beer has skyrocketed over the last few years, providing an exciting platform for so many brilliant small breweries to make their statement to the world.
And as The Wine Society is made up of people who take an interest in what they drink and who care about quality and provenance, it makes perfect sense to shine a light on these delicious artisanal brews.
I’ve started expanding our range to make your Society a place to discover exceptional beers as well as wines, and would like to invite our members to join me on a trip of discovery.
Starting this year, we’ll be stocking some of the most interesting, daring and delicious beers from some of the best breweries in the UK and beyond.
Also new for 2017 is the option of being able to purchase bottles of beer individually, rather than just via a mixed case, so you can stock up on more of what you like best.
A truly good beer is something which you can enjoy in a similar way to a glass of wine. It should have layers of flavour, depth and complexity. And the great news is that exploring the world of beer won’t cost the earth. Since beer may cost £2 or £3 a pop (although some are much more and some less), you have the opportunity to taste a number of different styles for a much smaller outlay than it would cost you to sample an equivalent number of wines. You can really leave your comfort zone and try things you never would have thought you would like. What’s the worst that can happen? A £2.75 miss, against the possibility of discovering a thrilling new favourite with every last drop cherished!
There are no rules with craft beer, no constraints to what people might try to make. It truly is fascinating and exciting to follow. Like buying the wines of Burgundy, sometimes the best way to explore is to find a producer whose beers you like and keep an eye on them for new releases (but unlike Burgundy, if you decide to branch out, then the financial risk is minimal!).
I’m also fascinated to hear about some of your favourite beers too!
Is there is a brewery you’re a particular fan of? A drop which has stuck with you forever? Do leave a comment and let us know.
2017 is sure to be a crafty vintage at The Wine Society…
All the current excitement about the excellence of the 2015 vintage reminds me of my first year working at The Society back in 2006.
The talk then was of the brilliance of the 2005 vintage, which was similarly hugely successful across much of Europe. My first few tasks were to write about this ‘Vintage of a Generation’ and my capacity for superlatives was being tested to the limit.
This was my first exposure to the concept of buying wines en primeur, ie purchasing wines that not only were nowhere near being ready to drink but not even bottled or shipped.
Persuaded no doubt by the overwhelming pulling power of my purple prose, I decided to put my money where my mouth was and take the plunge.
And all I can think now is why on earth didn’t I buy more?!
Just before Christmas I withdrew one of the mixed cases I had bought from the 2005 Rhône & Languedoc-Roussillon en primeur campaign and had been keeping in The Society’s Members’ Reserves storage facility since.
The case in question was the 2005 Languedoc First Growth Case and includes a roll-call of the great and the good of the South of France. And it provided all the wow factor I needed over the Christmas period.
• The one I was keenest to try was the Coteaux du Languedoc, Prieuré Saint Jean de Bébian and it didn’t disappoint. Deliciously à point, this thrilling blend of syrah, grenache and mourvèdre confidently treads that fine line between power and elegance.
• I may have broached the cabernet sauvignon-dominant Mas de Daumas Gassac, Vin de Pays de l’Hérault a tad early; it was still mature and delicious but I think that I’ll leave the second bottle until next Christmas.
• Conversely, the Domaine de Perdiguier, Cuvée d’en Auger, Vin de Pays des Côteaux d’Ensérune may have been better last Christmas (the initial recommended drink date was indeed for 2015) but it was still a great taste experience.
• Domaine Alquier’s Faugères Les Bastides couldn’t have been better: all velvety richness and concentration.
• Domaine Madeloc Collioure Magenca was very mature and a tad raisiny, but I mean that as a compliment. The primary fruit flavours had all but disappeared to leave a rich, mineral, spicy, earthy complexity.
• The Roc d’Anglade, Vin de Pays du Gard was extraordinarily fine and elegant, and could easily have been mistaken for a very posh northern Rhône costing many times its price.
And let’s talk about the price, as that for me was the real bonus part of the whole experience and one I hadn’t really anticipated. I paid for the wines in 2007 and the duty and VAT in 2008. So long ago that, such is my head-in-the-sand attitude to personal finances, I felt that these fine wines were now, to all intents and purposes, free.
Sure I did have to pay for their storage in the interim but even so a little research online suggests that were I able to find these wines now (no small task in itself) it would have cost me a darn sight more than I had shelled out. Furthermore, if you factor in the pleasure of the anticipation of enjoying your purchases then I’ve had more than a decade of mouthwatering expectation!
That isn’t the point, of course, and it shouldn’t matter, but it does add to the rather smug satisfaction one experiences when you pull the cork.
I did my best to hide my self-satisfaction when sharing these special bottles, but even if I failed to suppress it then I’m not sure that anyone would have noticed. They were too busy enjoying the wines! I’m delighted to see that we’re expanding the range of wines we offer en primeur. In 2016 we offered wines from Ridge in California and the Cape’s Meerlust as well as the usual suspects from the classic French regions, and we have plans to continue to look further afield in 2017.
I for one will be buying as much as I can afford, including a good chunk of our 2015 Rhône and Languedoc-Roussillon allocation and I advise you to do the same. A decade or so down the line I’m certain that you’ll be very glad you did!
Head of Content & Communications
Our en primeur offer of the 2015 Rhône and Languedoc-Roussillon vintage is available until 8pm, Tuesday 28th February.
Recently I was at my village wine club tasting (nothing to do with my job at The Wine Society) in the local parish rooms for a tasting. Our host Simon brought along some wines he’d bought en primeur, some from us and some from another merchant.
He wanted to see how the wines had developed and to see if buying them en primeur had ‘paid its way’ in terms of initial cost (including storage) vs how much the wines would cost now.
The wines were great (with just one that was ever so slightly past its best), and Simon had done his calculations and seen that, for those wines which he could still get, the prices now were much higher on almost all the wines.
It was a fascinating evening for me as I look after our en primeur offers at The Society and it was very reassuring to meet another wine drinker so interested in it and getting such satisfaction from the service; both in terms of value and, more importantly, pleasure from the experience.
I buy en primeur myself mainly for the enjoyment and delayed gratification of having it stored away – sometimes for decades – only to get them out, having long forgotten what I paid for them and slightly smug about being able to drink something so mature that not many others can!
So it was nice that, for the wines we had last night anyway, the numbers also made great sense…
I did come in to work the next morning feeling that what I do gives enormous amounts of pleasure to a lot of our members and it offers good value too. Oh, and none of the wines were the stellar-expensive wines you often hear about – most were in the £15-£40 bracket.
With our 2015 Rhône offer available now, it also felt like a good time to share the experience!
Fine Wine Manager
Here are some quick notes from what we tasted:
1. Three vintages of Clos Floridène Blanc, one of members’ favourite dry whites from Bordeaux.
Clos Floridène Blanc, Graves 2010
Real class here – exactly what you’d hope for from this excellent wine and vintage. The sauvignon blanc and semillon that make up the blend were in perfect balance, and this wine will still keep for some time yet.
Clos Floridène Blanc, Graves 2009
Still very good too with real class and finesse, and a long satisfying finish.
Clos Floridène Blanc, Graves 2007
Sadly this wine was just outside its drink date and should have been drunk already. It was slightly oxidised but still interesting, but its mature flavours may not be for everyone.
2. Four vintages of Vacqueyras Saint Roch from Clos de Cazaux. This family-owned southern Rhône producer is another popular name at The Society, featuring regularly in our regular and en primeur offers – not to mention being the source of our Exhibition Vacqueyras – so I was especially intrigued to taste these.
Vacqueyras Saint Roch, Clos de Cazaux 2010
From a great year, this is still muscular and would benefit from further ageing. You could certainly see its potential though. Keep for two more years: will make a fab bottle.
Vacqueyras Saint Roch, Clos de Cazaux 2009
Similarly young as per the 2010 and would be better kept for longer, although the 2009 was lighter in weight. Still highly enjoyable.
Vacqueyras Saint Roch, Clos de Cazaux 2008
Smoother and more mature, this was just about ready, and backed up by some appealing sweetness of fruit.
Vacqueyras Saint Roch, Clos de Cazaux 2007
Wonderful wine – for me, this is what what en primeur is all about. Totally à point, this is all chocolate and cream, with the freshness that demanded we try a second glass! Best wine of the night for me.
3. Three vintages of Château Dutruch Grand Poujeaux, a bit of a Bordeaux ‘insider’s tip’ gaining an increasingly large following for its excellent claret, which is offered at reasonable prices.
Château Dutruch Grand Poujeaux, Moulis-en-Médoc 2009
Lovely sweetness here, and quite tannic. Not typical of 2009, so without the heaviness I sometimes associate with the vintage. Good wine.
Château Dutruch Grand Poujeaux, Moulis-en-Médoc 2008
Leave a little longer: quite typical of 2008 (not my favourite vintage) in its austerity, but the quality was evident and there is more to come from this wine.
Château Dutruch Grand Poujeaux, Moulis-en-Médoc 2005
From a classic vintage, this is now ready but was drier than I thought. Slightly muscular, and would come into its own with food.
4. Two vintages of Château Suduiraut, Sauternes, one of the grandest sweet wines one can find in Bordeaux, and which still offers excellent value for its quality.
Château Suduiraut, Sauternes 2010
This is rich but also very fine with lovely balancing freshness, and will keep well. Marmalade nose and lemony freshness on the palate but rich too.
Château Suduiraut, Sauternes 1997
A lovely contrast to the 2010 with the aromas and flavours that come with maturity. A barley-sugar nose but rich on the palate, and again with good acidity. Needs drinking now but won’t go over the top for a few years. Very good indeed!