Fri 21 Nov 2014

Picturing Rioja: Infographics

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They say that a picture is worth a thousand words. I’m not sure if that’s true or not, but I’d wish I had these kinds of infographics when I was studying for my wine exams many harvests ago.

I’d always had a mental block when trying to remember the ageing laws for Rioja that cover crianza, reserva and gran reserva wines. The age in bottle and age in barrel would regularly get mixed up (was gran reserva two years in barrel and three in bottle or vice versa?).

To be honest, this remained the case until quite recently, or at least until I started work on the Rioja infographic below:

Spain Infographic - The Wine Society

Click to enlarge

The idea of an infographic is convey information in a visual format. There are millions of examples on the internet (a quick Google just brought back 8 million results and seem to cover every conceivable subject, including Superheroes and World Octopus Day…).

There seems to be no reason why this approach shouldn’t work for wine so we had a crack at it, firstly with a Loire example earlier in the year and now in more detail with this one. Some of us respond to visual prompts more readily than others. I’m guessing I fall into that category as I can now remember my Rioja ageing laws without thinking about it, shame it’s taken me so many years to realise!

As with everything we do at The Society the end result has to be useful to members, so what do you think? Is this approach helpful? Are there other regions or even other wine related information that you would like to see presented in this way?

Do let us know.

Gareth Park
Campaign Manager

Categories : Spain
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Tue 18 Nov 2014

Visiting Taylor’s Port

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Our whirlwind prize-winners’ Portugal trip started with a private tour and extensive tasting at Taylor’s Port wine cellars in the heart of the historic area of Vila Nova de Gaia.

Established over three centuries ago, in 1692, Taylor’s is one of the oldest of the founding port houses – The Society being a mere baby in comparison!

Set in beautiful gardens with views across the Douro River, Taylor’s Port lodge is in a stunning location. Although we arrived in the rain, we were soon given a very warm welcome from our host Chris Forbes, Taylor’s marketing projects manager. We started with a refreshing glass of ‘Chip Dry’, usually served as an aperitif in the Douro, ‘Chip Dry’ is a mixture of one part of white port with two parts of chilled tonic water served in a tall glass, with lemon and ice. Delicious.

The remarkable cool cellars at TaylorsThe remarkable cool cellars at Taylors

Chris showed us Taylor’s long cool, dark cellars which house the casks and vats where the ports age, giving us a history of Taylor’s along the way (to read more about Taylor’s history visit their excellent website). The cellars’ thick granite walls and high ceilings keep the port casks at an even temperature, particularly important during the hot summer months but not such an issue on a rainy October afternoon!

Taylor’s wines come from their three quintas in the Douro valley, each with their own unique character: Quinta de Vargellas, Quinta de Terra Feita and Quinta do Junco.

It was clear that Taylor’s still embrace the traditional methods of making port from the hand-picking and selection of grapes in the vineyard through to foot treading the grapes in lagars (wide thigh-deep granite tanks) in the quinta.

Prior to visiting the Douro, foot treading conjured up visions of fun and frivolity. However, in reality it is a very physical, laborious process lasting between 2-3 hours. Taylor’s still see this as the best way to achieve the gentle yet complete extraction of juice and pulp from the grapes without crushing the pips that would release bitter tastes into the wine.

Foot treading at Taylor’s
Following our tour, Chris treated us to an extensive tasting of some outstanding ports. Chris explained the differences between what makes a Vintage, Crusted and Tawny port (Mark Buckenham, The Society’s port buyer gives a guide to different ports in our How To Buy Port guide).

Tasting the ports at Taylor's

Alongside tasting our very own Exhibition Crusted Port and Exhibition Tawny Port, 10 years old made for us by Taylor’s, highlights included the Fonseca Guimareans 1998 Vintage Port, Taylor’s 1985 Vintage port, Taylor’s 20-Year-Old Tawny and the fine, silky Taylor’s 1964 Single Harvest Port.

Tasting our Exhibition ports 'in situ', among othersTasting our Exhibition ports ‘in situ’, among others

It was a wonderful start to our Douro trip. Thank you, Taylor’s!

Elizabeth Brown
Recruitment & Retention Manager

Categories : Port, Portugal
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This is the second part of my report on helping out with the 2014 harvest at Domaine Jones. Read part one here.

Checking to see how ripe the grapes are at Domaine JonesMe, checking to see how ripe the grapes are

The 2014 vintage
Back to the 2014 vintage and the grapes that had already been harvested – all the whites (except carignan gris and a little muscat) plus a few select vineyards of syrah. The whites were bubbling away nicely in stainless steel and barriques and we were to take their temperature and measure their densities twice a day to check on how the fermentation was progressing. Katie’s eighteen-year-old nephew, Owen, who had arrived at the same time as us and was at the start of a gap year, transcribed our daily readings onto a graph – if only science had been this much fun when we were at school!

Putting a foot in it at Domaine JonesPutting a foot in it
The syrah grapes had come from selected vineyards and cold macerated for 15 days before being put into barrels to extract extra colour and flavour from the skins. The grapes from individual vineyards were put into separate barrels. When Katie suggested we removed our shoes and socks and got into the barrels we thought she was teasing us! But no, this is one of the best ways to punch down the cap of grape skins that rise to the top (pigeage) and also gives them a gentle pressing.

It also proved to be quite an enjoyable sensation – people have probably paid spas a great deal of money for something similar! This exercise was also to be repeated twice daily… putting the feet into Fitou! As the yeasts did their thing over the time we were there and the density went down, getting into the barrels started to become a bit more precarious for those of us shorter of limb!

Going out the next day with Jean-Marc to test more vineyards for picking (prélèvement), we discovered just how valuable local knowledge is to interpreting scientific readings. The differences between our grape samples were explained away as Jean-Marc knew from experience which parts of the vineyards ripened better.

Checking the pH of the grapes at Domaine JonesChecking the pH of the grapes

On the way back to Tuchan we carried out the same exercise on a plot of syrah (still not ready) and on a plot of grenache vines on flatter ground right under the Château d’Aguilar on river stone soils not unlike the famous pudding stones of Châteauneuf-du-Pape. This and the next plot of syrah vines, virtually in the town itself, were deemed to be ‘nearly there’…. perhaps we would get to pick after all!

Ready, set, go…
After tourist trips at the weekend down to impossibly pretty Collioure on the Côte Vermeille, where we were treated to a flash-mob-style sardana (traditional Catalan folk dance) and an energetic postprandial climb up the craggy Quéribus castle – last stronghold of the Cathars, we found out that we would be picking on Monday morning. We were to meet at 7am ready to get going at first light, the aim to get the grapes in before the heat of the day – in the interest of the quality of the wine (and us)! The venue for our first pick was the last vineyard we’d visited on our sampling trip. A plot of 15 rows of syrah vines on the outskirts of Tuchan which we had fondly named ‘Molly’s vineyard’ (having mis-heard Jean-Marc telling us it was named after a demolished church – La Chapelle Démolie).

We got an early night after re-acquainting ourselves with Katie’s instructions for pickers:

Your back will ache. It will ache so much you will want to find your own unique way of cutting grapes – sitting, kneeling, lying down – but years of experience tell us that there is only one way to cut grapes and it kills your back… rest assured the first couple of days are the worst!

I could almost see my osteopath rubbing his hands in anticipation.

Sunrise over Domaine JonesSunrise over Domaine Jones
The morning of our first pick
We were treated to a spectacular sunrise the next day and the sleepy streets of Tuchan were the busiest we’d seen them; the narrow streets alive with little tractors trundling through the town with orange warning lights flashing on their roofs, looking a little like over-sized Tonka Toys than real-life vineyard machinery. Perhaps it was like this every morning and we’d just missed ‘rush hour’ up till now.

After a quick demonstration by Katie of how to pick (see below), we chose our row and got started. Katie had said to avoid the grapes at the end of the stalks and to stick to the centre of the plant. She showed us how the syrah grapes sometimes had a shrivelled appearance but that this was a good sign, showing ripeness not rot.

Picking syrah at Domaine JonesWe had a couple of brief stops for water and biscuits but managed to pick the whole vineyard – a total of 900 kilos in one go, and yes it was back-breaking. The suggestion that we would hurt in muscles that we didn’t know we had was pretty accurate. Probably one of the most back-breaking aspects was carrying the little crates to load them onto the van at the end of the morning. They look quite small but each carries enough grapes to produce about a case of wine, so perhaps it is not surprising they weigh as much as they do.

We drove back to base so that the grapes could be de-stemmed and put in the chiller straight away, stopping briefly to pick up (a for once deserved) pickers’ lunch of homemade meatballs with olives from Jean-Marc’s mother, which was so appreciated after our hard morning’s work.


We all slept well that night.

What next for our grapes?

Sorting syrah at Domaine Jones - harder than it looks!Sorting syrah – harder than it looks!
The next morning we went to the winery for the next stage in the process. ‘Our’ grapes now needed to be sorted on a sorting table (table de triage) – another piece of kit that Katie and Jean-Marc had acquired for this harvest and another important process in the production of hand-crafted wines. I hadn’t expected this to be that taxing but watching 900 kilos of grapes jump about on a vibrating table at considerable speed is actually quite intense! Four-a-side, we had to keep our eyes trained on the moving table, picking out any stray leaves, stems, stalks and less-than-perfect grapes as they moved quite quickly into waiting tubs at the end of the line. That night I dreamed of tiny specks dancing before my eyes and jumping around at a tormenting distance just out of reach!

The sorted grapes would go then go straight into vat to start fermentation. Katie said that they would more than likely go into her Domaine Jones Syrah, but each vineyard would be vinified separately and it might be bottled as a single-vineyard ‘Perles de Jones’ syrah. We would have to wait and see.

Homeward bound
The next day we would have to leave our ‘babies’ behind and return to our corporeal off-spring, but before catching the plane we had just enough time to go and watch a vineyard being picked by a team of experienced pickers. The team was made up of Polish, Portuguese and local pickers and it was exciting forming part of the procession of vendangeurs in the early morning light, creeping our way through the dust thrown up by the various vehicles up a mountain road to the vineyard.

The grapes being picked were muscat; the boar had been spotted trying to snaffle them up, so they needed to be harvested quickly, and the speed with which the experienced team did this was phenomenal. The vineyard was in a beautiful spot on a rocky slope surrounded by pine trees and as the sun came up it shone through the amber grapes making it look as though it was little nuggets of gold that were being harvested, not grapes. The multilingual chatter up and down the rows and the common aim of filling up the caskets was exactly how I had pictured the vendange.

But though this had been a holiday and a fantastic one too, we had also learned so much more than you can from a text book. There’s no substitute for getting your hands (and feet!) dirty and we are eternally grateful to Katie and Jean-Marc for letting us be a very small part in their 2014 vintage.

As we left for the airport the Tramontagne had started to blow; a good sign and we left Katie and Jean-Marc fully geared up to getting the rest of the grapes in. We were sorry to miss the full thrust of the harvest but delighted to have played a part in looking after the whites and reds in barrel and vat and to have brought in and sorted OUR syrah grapes. We will now have to wait to see which wines buyer Marcel-Orford Williams chooses when the wines become ready for tasting and hope that maybe some of our efforts will be coming home to Stevenage.

But what else had we learned?
1. It takes guts to start up a winery.
2. Fitou – it’s actually an appellation within Corbières.
3. Grapes for Fitou – must have a minimum of 20% carignan and a minimum of 20% grenache but together must account for at least 60% of the blend (syrah or mourvèdre making up the rest.)
4. Being a small winemaker you need to be able to turn your hand to everything – electrician, DIY expert, mathematician, farmer, host/hostess, scientist, salesman, designer, inventor.
5. The vineyards of Maury where Katie bought her first vines (the next valley along – where the local dialect switches from Occitan to Catalan) once produced 800k hectolitres but now only make 100k hl – mainly due to the decrease in demand for sweet wines.

Joanna Goodman
News Editor

You can find wines currently listed by Domaine Jones here

Categories : France, South of France
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Don’t worry, nobody dies but does contain holiday snaps!

Domaine JonesWho in their right mind would choose to take time out from work and pay for the privilege of picking grapes? I’m sure this question was being muttered by the real pickers when we spent a week at Domaine Jones in the Languedoc recently, theoretically to help with the harvest.

Despite having worked in the wine trade for nearly 25 years and having visited wineries around the world, both in a professional capacity and under my own steam, I have never experienced harvest time. A few of us at The Wine Society decided that it was about time we did, while we still could!

Normally pitching up at a winery during the harvest is not a good idea. It’s an incredibly busy time, but because some of our (younger) colleagues have helped Katie Jones with the harvest before, we knew that she was used to dealing with inexperienced, if albeit much fitter, pickers.

Katie Jones in her original Domaine Jones vineyard beneath QueribusKatie Jones in her original vineyard beneath Queribus
As well as being a supplier to The Society, Katie also happens to be a university friend of Liz Cerroti, head of Member Services at The Society. Taking advantage of this connection, Liz, myself and digital marketing manager, Nicky Glennon decided to take the plunge and head south for the vendage.

One of the first issues we had to face back in February when the decision had been made to descend upon Katie was when to book our flights. Though it is possible to give rough estimates of likely picking dates (100-120 days after flowering), narrowing this down to the exact day when the grapes will be fully ripe that also coincides with Ryanair’s availability and family and work commitments is another matter. Added to this, 2014 has been something of an unpredictable year with Mother Nature throwing just about everything she has at grape growers across Europe.

Pre-picking & packing concerns
As the holiday approached, other concerns started to enter into play. How on earth would we be able to pack for a week including walking boots and gear for all weathers as well as ‘clothes that you would never want to wear again’ and comply with the stringent hand-luggage restrictions? Then there were anxieties over how some of us with dodgy backs and knees would cope physically with the punishing work that picking is…. not to mention scare stories about wasps, hornets, accidents with razor-sharp shears, heat stroke…. and then in the winery…. the dangers of asphyxiation from the CO2, limbs being severed by machinery… trip hazards… it was all starting to sound a bit serious and not at all in-keeping with the joyful bucolic scene we’d somehow conjured up for ourselves!

After psyching ourselves up for the big pick we were then a little disappointed to see the forecast looking less than rosy and to find out that the whites were already in. It was starting to look distinctly unlikely that we’d be doing any picking at all.

Domaine Jones winery‘Never mind’, Katie said, ‘there’s still plenty to do in the winery.’

One of the real benefits of spending time at somewhere like Domaine Jones, apart from the fact that Katie and partner Jean-Marc Astruc are terrific hosts and incredibly patient, is that their operation is small enough for you to see a bit of everything that takes place in the winemaking process. Also, because they too are quite new to this game (Jean-Marc comes from a family of grape growers and used to be president at the local co-op where Katie was responsible for marketing and sales for 16 years), they are still experimenting and learning as they go along too.

In the heart of Cathar country
Domaine Jones is located in the village of Tuchan (toosh-ohn), a small village of around 800 souls (and twice as many dogs, themselves outnumbered by the local wild boar). It is located about 40 minutes’ drive inland from Perpignan in Cathar country, its vineyards nestled around the foothills of the mighty Mont Tauch with its crown of bright white windmills. This is Fitou territory and grape-growing is the main activity of the village, as it has been for generations.

The countryside is spectacularly beautiful with the Cathar castles indistinguishable from the craggy ranges they cling to and deep river gorges cutting through the garrigue – the scrubland perfumed with wild fennel, rosemary and fig trees. There’s plenty to attract the visitor without the draw of the excellent wines.

Looking down on the Maury vineyard from the top of QueribusLooking down on the Maury vineyard from the top of Queribus

…a bit of background on Domaine Jones
When Katie decided to leave the co-op she initially intended to set up her own marketing and design consultancy but her Francophile parents had always harboured a romantic notion of owning some vines. So when Katie was offered a 2.5-hectare plot of old vines in nearby Maury (over the ‘col’ in neighbouring Roussillon), she decided to raise the funds to buy it – realising, if vicariously, her parents’ dream.

Katie and Jean-Marc took us to view these vines, high up on the hills beneath spectacular Quéribus castle on black schistous soils; even to the untrained eye they looked pretty special. When Katie bought the vineyard (they came onto the market as the ancient vines – some up to 100 years old – were low-yielding and difficult to farm) she had been told that the vines were grenache noir, but the plot turned out to have grenache gris, carignan and muscat too – quite unusual in such a small vineyard (you can read more about this in our interview with Katie a few years ago).

The beauty of starting out in this way was that Katie was forced to pick and ferment everything separately and learned from the outset how different varieties would behave. It also meant that she had a rich palette of raw materials with which to put together blends. The Domaine Jones Rouge and Blanc were born with the 2009 vintage and met with critical acclaim from the start.

Jumping ahead to 2014 and Katie has continued to buy up small plots of low-yielding vines in and around the village of Tuchan, mainly to produce Fitou, so that there are now a total of around 11 hectares spread out over 25 vinyeards. Like the original Maury vineyard, many of these are small plots of old vines that the locals no longer wish to farm. One such plot is of the extremely rare carignan gris – a mutation of carignan noir. Katie and Jean-Marc only have 500 vines, but apparently theirs are only about two heactares registered in the whole of France. The grape is notoriously difficult to ripen, is low-yielding and is generally lower in potential alcohol but, Katie was very pleased with the first release of this wine which she has labelled under her ‘Perles de Jones’ label and Wine Society buyer Marcel Orford-Williams snapped up the whole production. Fiona Beckett wrote a rave review of the wine which came out while we were at the Domaine; Katie and Jean-Marc were thrilled.

Jean-Marc explaining how parts of the vineyard ripen more than others. Domaine Jones.Jean-Marc explaining how parts of the vineyard ripen more than others.
Jean-Marc told us how he tried to get hold of more plants from the vine nursery in Montpellier but the pépiniériste only had five roots and was not willing to part with any of them so Katie and Jean-Marc will be taking cuttings from their own vines to increase their plantings of this capricious variety. It was the last grape to be picked in 2014 on 5th October – after we had left and after all the reds were in and it still only came in at 12% potential alcohol.

In the lap of the (weather) gods…
Measuring the potential alcohol of the grapes was to become something we were to be very familiar with over the coming days. Katie told us that Jean-Marc, despite his calm exterior, was becoming quite agitated; pretty much all the neighbours had already picked and the longer you wait, the greater the possibility of the crop being lost to bad weather – as was to be the fate of some unfortunate producers whose crops were washed away in autumnal downpours, particularly in the Gard.

Fortunately the storms passed us by, but the wind coming in from the Mediterranean was bringing damp mild weather; what was wanted was the north wind – the Tramontagne. As Katie says, it’s likes a great big hair dryer, getting rid of any moisture and allowing the grapes to be picked in optimum conditions. As we were to discover, the potential alcohol in the grapes was not the issue – most were already showing good levels, but Katie and Jean-Marc explained that they were waiting for the grapes to show phenolic ripeness. This means that the grape skins, pips and stem are properly ripe and have lost any bitterness and there is a balance between potential alcohol and acidity/PH levels.

Prélevement – the testing of the grapes for ripeness
We were dispatched into the vines, plastic bags in hand, and given a couple of rows of vines each to get a random sample of grapes to ascertain each vineyard’s readiness for picking. We were told to pass through the vines taking a berry from the top of the bunch, the middle and underneath, then to crush the berries in the bag to get some juice. It was also pointed out to us that tasting the berries and crunching the pips was just as important as any analytical tests. Juice from each bag was poured onto a refractometer to measure the potential alcohol. Next we placed the probe of a PH meter into the juice to measure acidity levels – the higher the reading, the lower the acidity and for Jean-Marc and Katie’s liking, the grapes were still not quite ripe enough. We must wait…

View over the Maury valleyView over the Maury valley
A multi-coloured patchwork of vineyards
Travelling through the vineyards it was remarkable just how different the soils were from one plot to the next, even those in close proximity. Jean-Marc told us later that various studies had confirmed that the geology of the region is particularly interesting in that there is a greater variety of different rocks and soils in a relatively small area than anywhere else in France. The plot of grenache vines we tested first was on lovely red sandy clay soil, yet just a short ride in the truck to look at a plot of carignan, took us to grey-white stony soils.

Most of the vineyards were tiny but there were vines almost as far as the eye could see. We wondered whether it was hard to tell where your grapes ended and another’s started. Katie said that it wasn’t that unusual for vineyard workers to have spent a morning labouring away on a neighbour’s vines by mistake! Telling one variety from another was also a necessary skill and we were given a lesson in identifying grenache and carignan grapes and the curious local clone lladoner pelud, or hairy grenache (because of its spiky leaves) was pointed out to us –a variety much favoured for its small berries and potential for high-quality wine.

The interplay of ‘la chasse’ & ‘la vigne’
Katie also pointed out the unmistakable signs of foraging wild boar – the ground between the vines was completely churned up and there was the odd bunch knocked onto the ground. Katie said that the boar were a real nuisance, destroying a vineyard in no time at all. Perhaps the fact that they hadn’t hoovered up these grapes was another sign that they hadn’t reached optimum ripeness!

A lot of the vineyards we were to visit had electric fences around them to protect them from the boar; they are particularly fond of the sweeter muscat grapes apparently. The countryside is dotted with tall wooden towers from which the hunters take their aim and back in Tuchan the hunting lodge is one of the more imposing buildings at the centre of town. We were there in hunting season when ‘la chasse’ is permitted on Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays.

Jean-Marc told us that growing up in Tuchan there were only two pastimes – ‘la chasse’ or rugby. He chose the latter and apparently was rather good in his youth. Luckily for us his father was still actively involved in the former, the spoils of which we were to enjoy on several occasions and in several guises, including the local speciality civet de sanglier, cooked by Jean-Marc’s mother. A sort of boeuf bourguignon of the south which involves marinating the meat overnight in Fitou and cooking it slowly with onions, garlic, carrots and local herbs. Lovely with boiled potatoes or pasta – even in 30°C!

Domaine Jones‘Project 2015′ – the old train shed
Project 2015
Before heading back to the winery Katie took us to see Domaine Jones’ latest acquisition. Having grown out of The Vatican (the 200 year-old stone building Katie bought in the Rue de Vatican), Katie and Jean-Marc have been making wine in the hangar adjoining their house and now just use The Vatican for storage. But Katie has had her eye on the old train shed in the village for some time, so when an opportunity came to buy it they put in a bid. The stone building dates back to 1905 and was part of the Tuchan terminus building and now represents a huge renovation job for Katie and Jean-Marc if they’re to have it up and running for next year’s vintage. It comes complete with its own well (presumably for the steam trains which used to carry the grapes down to Perpignan before decent roads were built) and has a bit of land for potential accommodation. Katie says you really need to live above the shop when you’re making wine and we were soon to appreciate why.

More tomorrow!

Joanna Goodman
News Editor

You can find wines currently listed by Domaine Jones here

Categories : France, South of France
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Richard MaysonRichard Mayson
When wine writer Richard Mayson took the brave decision to set up his own vineyard, naturally it made sense to document his experiences.

This Richard did for us in SocietyNews a couple of years ago and now he has written an extended version of his travails for The World of Fine Wine magazine. It was this series of articles which recently earned him the accolade of Wine Feature Writer of the Year in the Louis Roederer Wine Writers’ Awards, as reported earlier.

You can read it here.

Newer members will perhaps know Richard better for his wines made at the Quinta do Centro in Portugal’s Alentejo region, but Richard has also supplied us with fine writing for much of his career and has hosted many tastings for members too.

His knowledge of Portugal and its wines is second to none and he has had several books published on this subject. But early on in his career, Richard came to work at The Wine Society and this period in his life is covered in the first in the series of articles entitled ‘Living the dream’. Richard talks about how he first fell in love with Portugal, where the idea for having his own estate started and how he went about realising his dream.

World of Fine WineJoanna Goodman
News Editor

We reproduce the article on our website for members to enjoy and have also negotiated a special subscription price to The World of Fine Wine magazine for those members who enjoy fine writing as much as they do fine wine.

The World of Fine Wine publishes quarterly — in March, June, September and December. Each lavishly illustrated 216-page edition is produced to the highest standards on heavy coated paper and bound like a fine paperback book.

We are able to offer members an annual subscription to the magazine at a special price of £75 instead of £89. Find out more and subscribe online at The World of Fine Wine‘s website or call 01795 414 681 quoting code FWTRADE1

Categories : Portugal
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This week not only sees the arrival of bonfire night and the associated firework parties but also British Sausage Week, so bangers seem sure to feature in some form.

SausageMatching food with wine has long been a passion of mine, and when the food in question is one of my favourites I tend to go into overdrive. As such, here are my choices for sausage-and-wine matching:

These perfect parcels of pleasure offer a plethora of styles from around the world that reflect not only the culture but also the history of a region. This coupled with choice of meat, herbs and spices (and even fruit in some cases) all contributes to posing a problem I am only too happy to try and solve.

Any wine choice for sausages, I feel, must have a generosity of fruit but balanced with enough freshness and acidity to cut through the fat.

Lovers of good British bangers and mash or toad in the hole should look to the southern Rhône or just below, in the south of France. Jaboulet’s Ventoux Les Traverses (£7.95) from the former seems a natural choice, as well as Fitou Origines, Domaine Bertrand-Berge 2012 (£8.50) from the latter.

Theses wine can also handle spicier sausages, such as chorizo; for a more local match, however, a Spanish garnacha will work well. Malabarista (£6.25), which tempers the cherry-like fruit of the grape with Rioja’s tempranillo variety, is bold and toasty, and its sweet fruit works wonders at tempering spicy flavours. Argentine red and meat are of course natural bedfellows, and the robust but fresh Faldeos Nevados Malbec 2013 (£8.95) would also work well.

Lovers of lighter reds will also find some fine matches in the form of Beaujolais, whose fruity acidity is surprisingly adept at dealing with spice. For a case in point, try Beaujolais-Villages, Château de Lacarelle 2013 (£7.95).

It may be little surprise that a fennel-infused Italian sausage works well with many an Italian red. My personal choice, however, is a wine featuring an Italian grape but from Australia. Route du Van Victoria Dolcetto-Shiraz 2012 (£10.95) blends Italy’s dolcetto with spicy shiraz, and the combination works perfectly.

Venison sausages, my favourite, not only work with a good Northern Rhône (Nicolas Perrin’s Syrah-Viognier [£8.95] is a good bet), but also a richer pinot noir. Wither Hills’ durable and delicious example (£10.50) was a Society Wine Champion and offers a fine match.

Red wine need not be the only option, however. The affinity pork has with riesling makes for a superb match for frankfurters or bratwurst. Josef Schmidt’s Trittenheimer Apotheke Kabinett (£9.50) springs to mind, as does Ruppertsberger Hoheburg Riesling Kabinett 2013 (£6.95). Both offer a touch of sweetness to complement the pork, but not enough so as to overwhelm it.

To continue the touch of sweetness theme, I have also found Normandy Cidre (£4.95) to work very well with sausage casserole – especially when using sausages with a touch of fruit, such as apricots or apples.

I know I have only touched the tip of the sausage iceberg; but I hope these are enough to think about, and that your week goes with a bang.

Conrad Braganza
The Cellar Showroom

Categories : Miscellaneous
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Fri 31 Oct 2014

Food Without Fuss: TV Dinners

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For most people, Christmas is a time for putting their best feet forward. Frankly, for me these days, it’s a time for putting them up.

Janet Wynne EvansJanet Wynne Evans

It’s nothing to do with the extra pressures of our busiest time at The Society. My professional Christmas rush reaches a frenzied peak in July and August, just as creative thinking about idyllic summer days is required come February. Nor is it entirely brought on by my serial failure over the years to Do Christmas properly: loyal readers of Food for Thought in SocietyNews may recall the albatross sold to me as a capon, the ‘simple but luxurious’ spaghetti that congealed during a fruitless search for a truffle-shaver, the mallards with freezer-burn and the over-the-hill grand cru Chablis that time forgot.

I believe the New Indolence to be the inevitable consequence of the many years of quality festive time off that I have spent on motorways. With family at opposite ends of the country and a house too small to play at home, we used to dream of spending Christmas in our jim-jams, eating curry if we liked, and watching abysmal television. Once hot comfort food and a good chill became an option, I perversely went all conventional for a time and rushed about with the best of them (see above paragraph), but I’m better now, thanks.

One of the benefits of having the time to watch television, of the instructive, rather than abysmal sort, is a raft of culinary inspiration which may be enjoyed passively rather than reactively. However, now and again, something looks so delicious that it turns my recliner into an ejector seat. Below, I present – with the blessing, I trust, of their creators, who certainly have mine – three of my all-time favourites, to enjoy with any number of our Winter Wine Without Fuss bottles. They are among the best ways I know to warm up a braw, bricht, moonlicht nicht, whether or not Santa is expected, and I can’t improve on them.

Lazy, or what? But Christmas is coming, and I think I may, finally, have cracked it.

Janet Wynne Evans

Despite my advancing years, I don’t yet drool in front of the box but this dish (click here to view the recipe in full), presented during a delightful retrospective of Delia Through The Decades brought me very close. First aired on BBC2, this series now seems to live almost en permanence on the Food Network, the broadcasting embodiment of the theory that you can’t have too much of a good thing. That’s how I feel about this recipe too.

I did happen to have two magnificent rare-breed doorstops and a handful of serious fungi, including a couple of ceps, but this recipe makes stars of the most prosaic chops and so-so cultivated mushrooms. Wine-wise, it’s a very forgiving recipe for any number of the reds, and richer whites currently being offered to Wine Without Fuss subscribers. Especially good matches are Undurraga Candelabro Reserva Carmenère-Malbec-Carignan 2012 or Temporada Chardonnay 2013 in Buyers’ Everyday Wines, Domaine d’Arjolle Cabernet-Merlot 2012 and Château Marie du Fou in the Premium line-up, and from the classic French selection, the ample Castelmaure Grande Cuvée and JM Brocard’s Chablis Sainte-Claire, which has the body and fruit for the pork, the acidity for the cream and an affinity with wild mushrooms too.

Marlow-on-Thames has always been close to my heart for it was here that the scales fell from my eyes when I saw that the exasperating bloke who had dragged me into a gloomy tavern for chicken-in-a-basket was actually a bit of all right. It took us five years to tie the knot but I would surely have proposed to him on the spot if Marlow had been blessed at that time with Tom Kerridge’s Michelin-garlanded pub the Hand and Flowers. We are still trying to book a table there so Tom’s BBC series and book Proper Pub Food is the next best thing. This inspired way with a whole celeriac root (click here to view the recipe) is a veggie delight, either on its own or as a striking side dish for plain meat or fish.

The trick with root vegetables is to accommodate their inherent sweetness. Here, the thyme gives the celeriac a savoury edge and the constant basting with butter demands a certain discipline in the glass. On test, Grant Burge Benchmark Shiraz 2013 was a star perfomer in all our recipes, but especially this one. Temporada Chardonnay 2013 coped well too. In the Premium cases, Momo Vendimia Seleccionada has both the required sweetness and backbone, while Domaine du Tariquet, Gros-Manseng Chardonnay 2013 resonates perfectly.

Now, about that curry I mentioned earlier. Who could resist The Incredible Spice Men, my culinary TV highlight of 2013? Certainly not the ladies of a Suffolk branch of the Women’s Institute, whom these two charmers somewhat recklessly wooed with Victoria sponge laced with cardamom and fennel. Leith-born Tony Singh, turban on top, tartan (and doubtless commando) below, came up with this glorious subcontinental confit (click here to see the recipe), which he prepared under the benevolent, matinee-idol beam of his oppo, Cyrus Todiwala (London via Bombay). Not too hot to handle, crisp on the outside and unctuous within, it requires a good few ingredients, as do all genuine Indian recipes, but you’ll have most to hand and the initial cooking is hands-free. Go out and do work of national importance, in the expectation of wonderful aromas when you return.

Chilli is used here just for the marinade, which is removed before cooking the chicken, so what you are left with is a pleasant buzz, underpinned by the sweeter hum of cinnamon. Good Wine Without Fuss options from the Buyers’ Everyday bottles would include Villiera Chenin Blanc and, at the risk of repeating myself, the truly versatile Grant Burge Benchmark Shiraz. In the Premium selection, the obvious choice is the spice-friendly blend behind Villiera Jasmine Fragrant White and the touch of sweetness in Pitchfork Cabernet-Merlot works very well too. As the name implies, the French Classics collection is not an obvious expenditionary force to the subcontinent, but that patrician Menetou Salon in the white and mixed cases may surprise you if you go easy on the optional dusting powder. Otherwise, I’d opt for a gutsy Alsace gewurztraminer or a bold Kiwi sauvignon blanc.

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?

Categories : Wine Without Fuss
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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.


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