Living with a wine adviser can be a tortuous and trying existence… or so my partner Lisa tells me.
I am forever sticking a glass under her nose and saying ‘absorb the bouquet on this’ or ‘what are getting from this?’ She always obliges me, occasionally throwing a flippant ‘I can smell wine!!!’
However, I have found one way to guarantee a favourable response: to offer her a wine that has a sizeable proportion of the carignan grape.
Originating from Aragon and believed to be named after the ancient town of Cariñena, carignan is a very old grape variety. It was originally planted for its high-yielding, rather than palate-pleasing, attributes. However, it has since seen its coverage half in the last 40 years as a grubbing up programme took full effect. Dismissed by many, the grape has never really had many critical admirers.
For me, however, this much-maligned grape offers dark fruit in abundance backed up with smooth spiciness that cannot only plump up a blend but also carries itself as herb-infused sweet-scented wine, featuring in offerings spanning Chile to Spain, such as Priorat, via some of my favourites from the south of France (such as Monpeyroux and Collioure).
For a full-on and densely flavoured wine, a good Priorat always fits the bill. Try Cal Pla (£11.50), possibly with a venison casserole. To experience the more aromatic nature of carignan try Tomàs Cusiné’s Mineral del Montsant (£9.95).
Chile offers the bold Undurraga TH Maule Carignan (£12.50) where the grape brings its trademark fruit but also a firmness that makes this particular example great with slow-roasted belly pork.
In France, the grape helps to produce an uncomplicated quaffable warming red in the form of Domaine de Gournier, Cévennes Rouge 2013 (£6.25). This is soon to be a members’ favourite, I am sure, alongside Duo des Vignes, Vin de France 2013 (£5.95), which sees carignan blended with merlot.
Some current members’ favourites also owe a lot of their appeal to having carignan in their blends, in various proportions too. Domaine Laborie IGP 2013 (£5.75), Minervois, Château Sainte-Eulalie 2013 (£7.50) and Côtes du Roussillon-Villages, Château de Pena 2012 (£6.75) spring to mind, as well as our ever-popular Society’s French Full Red (£5.95).
Each of the above is different in style but share a dark fruit-driven feel with a backbone of spice that makes them at once easy drinking and yet with the ability to compliment any hearty autumnal meal.
For an example of to what heights carignan can achieve when yields are kept low try the elegant Domaine Aupilhac, Le Carignan, Vin de Pays du Mont Baudile 2010 (£16.50) or Côtes du Roussillon Villages, Les Calcinaires Rouge, Domaine Gauby 2012 (£14.50).
So as the leaves fall, the nights close in and the temperature outside drops, raise a glass and carignan regardless.
Landing in Adelaide late on a Saturday night, Tim (Sykes, head of buying) and I were pretty relived to have our first day off in two weeks the following morning. I spent most of my Sunday sleeping, and washing the full contents of my suitcase with the prospect of a further two weeks’ travel, beginning with five regions in five days:
We then took the hire car south to Langhorne Creek to see long-term Society supplier Bleasdale. One of the oldest wineries in Australia, Bleasdale was founded by Frank Potts in 1850. We had a great tasting and confirmed the blend for the next vintage of The Society’s Australian Shiraz.
A busy but fulfilling day: many great intense wines with lots of character, and increasing elegance. Some of the best wines we tried were older examples, confirming our belief that Australia’s wines can age and improve wonderfully.
We were delighted with Grosset’s new vintages of Gaia, Springvale and Polish Hill – all of which we were happy to confirm our allocation on.
Wendouree was both a high and low light in the trip: Tony was a wonderful host, and meticulous winemaker. We had a very rare tour of the Burgundy-esque winery and a tasting from barrels. However, the popularity of the wines domestically confirmed our worries that really there isn’t enough stock to ship.
‘It’s a long game,’ Tim reminded me on the way out, and I am happy to play!
Our fourth day saw us in the McLaren Vale, with a very busy day fitting in Steve Pannell, Richard Hamilton, d’Arenberg, Dowie Doole and Wirra Wirra! Steve has a wonderful new winery which looked great and the large range set us up for the day. I hope everyone has filled their boots with our recent first release on the d’Arenberg icons as they were really looking smart (although need a bit of cellaring).
Finishing the day at Wirra Wirra with Paul was educational – a great tour and tasting, including a tasting of the new blend for our Society’s Australian Chardonnay.
Tim had caught a very early morning flight home, but fear not – today was an Adelaide Hills day. Enlightening tastings with Geoff Weaver, Petaluma and Shaw and Smith were most reinvigorating at this point in the schedule, and I hope to highlight some of these wines in next year’s Australian offer.
So a jam-packed week, with some exceptional wines, wonderful people and many miles in the hire car.
Not that I rested on Day Six – that’s when I managed to squeeze in Eden Valley and the Henschkes before flying on to Western Australia!
Society Buyer for Australia
For many, Bordeaux is the home of wine, commanding huge prices and receiving unrelenting press coverage with each year’s vintage reports and en primeur sales.
Honestly, I’d never quite understood the magnitude of the hype for Bordeaux. The cheaper wines that I’d had were in my opinion generally overpriced, unapproachable, lacking concentration and just a little harsh, whilst the better wines are sold for crazy sums. I must concede this isn’t the most original opinion to hold. Recently however, I was given the opportunity to represent The Society (along with Matthew Horsley) on a trip run by Le Conseil Interprofessionnel du Vin de Bordeaux (the Bordeaux wine board) in conjunction with L’Ecole du Vin. This was as part of an educational trip for people from the trade to expand their knowledge of Bordeaux.
We set off from Gatwick to spend three days touring vineyards in a mixture of different appellations around the region. Every step of the way we were to be accompanied by a resident expert of Bordeaux and would be met at each stop by the producer who would give us a tour and then host a tasting with their wines to sample alongside a selection of others from the local area. Over the three days we were able to visit the Entre-Deux-Mers, Côtes des Bordeaux, Saint-Emilion, Graves and on our last day we spent our time in the Médoc.
The days were incredibly busy; we set off at 8 each morning to take in around three châteaux with about 10 wines to taste at each stop! It was fascinating how differently each vineyard presented itself. Prieure-Lichine in Margaux was very professional, polished and commercial – everything you’d expect of such a château. Completely juxtaposing was Château La-Clide in St.Emilion where the owner Edouard would colourfully critique some of his merlot vines, and that he was going to rip them out to plant his preferred cabernet franc.
Edouard was a breath of fresh air; he spoke candidly and honestly (sometimes a little self-deprecatingly) about his truly beautiful wines before rolling out the five-course lunch and turning the conversation to rugby! This level of hospitality was staggering and seeing how down to earth he and his family were was wonderful.
The opportunity to try the wines straight from the cask was a fantastic experience not soon to be forgotten; the wines were so supple and soft with terrific balance, soft tannins and great concentration.
I started to understand the attraction of Bordeaux a bit more.
The trip was a fantastic learning experience, allowing you to step outside the theoretical in simply learning about a region as part of WSET qualifications and tasting them in isolation, but to be able to experience the wines in the area of production.
This has pushed me to try a lot more affordable Bordeaux and I have found countless ones that break my first preconceptions. The Château Pey La Tour Reserve (£10.50) for example is now one of my favourite regular wines, along with the Château Moulin du Bourg (£11.95).
I’ve discovered that there is value in Bordeaux – you just need to look past the obvious to find it.
Member Services Adviser
For more information about Bordeaux, the below video about the region, featuring Basaline Despagne and Fabrice Dubourdieu, may be of interest:
While some of us were basking in unseasonal warm and dry weather, spare a thought for parts of the Languedoc where records were broken over the past few days.
The centre of the storm seemed to be over Montpellier itself and its immediate surrounds. Pictures show people kayaking down the street.
These storms tend to be a feature of France’s Mediterranean coastline during September and then principally about masses of warm humid air coming in from the sea and condensing over the Cevennes hills in the Languedoc. The effect of these storms can be quite dramatic and sometimes catastrophic. In the city itself, 200mm fell in just three hours.
Mercifully there were no fatalities, though an earlier cloudburst more inland in the Gard had claimed the lives of at least five people and had swept away camping sites and cars and had generally caused much damage.
Of the 2014 grape harvest, it would seem that many people had finished picking. Isabelle Champart in Saint Chinian finished last Sunday, the day before the storm, and is delighted with the quality as is Pierre Borie at Ollieux-Romanis in the Corbières. Pierre Clavel in the Pic Saint Loup and only a few miles from Montpellier had also just finished picking in time. His drive was washed away which might make visiting him a little problematic but the vines were not damaged and his well-drained soils coped well with the water. He described to me opening his front door to see a veritable sheet of water coming down.
I shall be there in November and hopefully will need neither wellies nor a kayak!
Having just returned from Australia I seem to find myself daydreaming on the train from London to Stevenage, and the same image keeps appearing – triggered I am sure by the foggy Hertfordshire countryside I speed through!
I love this photo as, although only taken at the very beginning of spring, it really dispels the ‘sun-in-a-glass’ image of Australia.
It was taken in the cooler-climate region of the Yarra Valley, where I spent a lot of time with Mac Forbes.
Not only does Mac mastermind our Blind Spot range (you can see him talking about this range in the below video), but he also makes his own fine wines in Healsville, Yarra, and this is one of his vineyards.
Upon visiting, Mac, Tim (Sykes, head of buying) and I had to perfrom a little ritual – dipping our shoes into a bleach solution to ensure that we didn’t walk any nasties into the currently phylloxera-free vineyard.This attention to detail and care for the vines was replicated as we visited a number of Mac’s immaculately tended vineyards (where we also spotted our first wild kangaroos – welcome to Oz!).
Back in Mac’s winery, evidence of his detailed approach continued. We tried many chardonnay and pinot noir barrel samples, with meticulous explanations of the exact vine-row locations that were in each barrel. It was wonderful to have these differences laid out so clearly, and precisely showed why Macs range is so vineyard specific.
Trying the 2013-bottled new-vintage wines at the end of the visit was a treat; and one which you can also enjoy soon, as I have just ordered my favourites! They will be available from The Society in the New Year – including this time 2 examples of Mac’s stellar chardonnays to go with his already popular pinots.
Society Buyer for Australia
This recipe, while hopefully of use and interest to all, was written with the Autumn 2014 selections of The Society’s Wine Without Fuss subscription scheme particularly in mind. Voted Best Wine Club by both The Independent and Which? magazine, Wine Without Fuss offers regular selections of delicious wines with the minimum of fuss. Why not join the growing band of members who let their Society take the strain, and are regularly glad they do?
Find out more about Wine Without Fuss in a short video on our website.This piece was inspired by the seductive Sicilian ‘Dalila’, one of the Premium Whites in the Wine Without Fuss Autumn selection that we have lined up for the delectation of subscribing members.
‘What would Delilah eat?’ pondered my always-helpful colleague Sebastian Payne MW. I had no answer, apart from Samson and chips, or gigot de Tom Jones (and even I have no recipe for those), but a quick burst of her famous aria – which, in my rasping alto, would have had her victim making a voluntary beeline for the barber’s – made me think about, well.. tarts.
There are goodies galore in season now that might sit happily in a crisp pastry shell, filo purse, rich puff envelope or even, as below, a brioche base. Sweet-fleshed squashes and pumpkins are popping up, ready to be sliced and spiced. Farm-produced, rather than industrial goat’s milk cheeses should be relished now, before the breeding season kicks in and the best of the fresh milk has more important demands on it. The sea is full of good and sustainable pie options. Those handy game casserole mixes that have begun to make an appearance also make good, chunky terrines and a pastry croûte around them should firmly erase grim childhood memories of Gala Pie.
The beauty of Wine Without Fuss, of course, is that there is an option at every level for just about every variation on the quiche, tart and pie theme. For example, to discipline the rich custard at the heart of a quiche Lorraine and the smokiness of the bacon within, I’d look out a classy riesling such as Beyer (Classic French Whites) or racy grüner veltliner (Pepp, Premium Whites). For sweet roots, spinach and spices, a haunting Rhône-alike – d’Arenberg White Ochre, say (Buyers’ Everyday Whites) or mellow syrah blend Wakefield Promised Land (Buyers’ Everyday Reds) or Guigal’s Côtes-du-Rhône (Classic French Reds).
My favourite aspect of the season of mists is without doubt the new crop of wild mushrooms. From the mighty cep to the delicate girolle, they bring a glorious and seductive earthiness to plate and palate alike. At this time of year, they deserve centre-stage, supported by a chorus line of good things like good olive oil, butter or cream, lemon juice, lashings of parsley. For me, this is definitely a chardonnay thing. Wither Hills (Premium Whites) would certainly sing with the recipe below. It has been one of my staples for many years, since I first cut it out of (I think) a copy of Hello! Magazine, in which it was, without doubt, the most glittering celeb that week. I have shared a version of it with members in the past, but I’m often asked for it, so I’m delighted to give it another airing.
While not, strictly speaking, a tart, it’s simplicity itself to make and will draw gasps of pleasure from your guests. If not, my advice is to trip them up as they leave and tell them you won’t see them in the Fall!
WILD MUSHROOM BRIOCHES
Serves 4, generously. 6 at a push
• 30g dried wild mushrooms
• 250g fresh wild mushrooms (ceps, shiitake, girolles) brushed clean and trimmed if large
• 150g chestnut mushrooms, destalked, wiped with a damp cloth and thickly sliced
• Juice of half a lemon
• A small bunch of fresh tarragon or parsley, finely chopped
• Salt and pepper
• 4 individual brioche buns (not the fingers) or a medium-sized brioche loaf
• 1oz butter, melted
• 200ml crème fraîche or double cream
Soak the dried porcini in 200ml hot water for 20m. Drain, reserving the liquor (strain it into a jug through a fine sieve lined with kitchen paper to remove all grit) and squeeze dry. Fry in a little oil with the fresh mushrooms. Season well with pepper and the lemon juice. Add the strained porcini liquor and half of the tarragon and bubble gently until almost evaporated.
Add salt to taste and reserve. Preheat the oven to 200°C/Gas 6.
Decapitate and hollow out the brioche(s). Brush insides and ‘lids’ with the melted butter, put on a baking tray and bake for five minutes (nearer ten for a loaf) or until firm and crisp. Add the cream to the mushroom mixture in a shallow pan and gently reheat until bubbling and thickened. Spoon into the warm brioches . Garnish with the remaining tarragon or parsley. Top with the lids at a jaunty angle and bring to the table. If you have used a whole brioche loaf, it’s easier to lift off the lid before carving into thick slices. Cut the lid into matching slices and assemble each slice on the plate.
Janet Wynne Evans
I have just returned from a cycling trip with a friend and fellow Wine Society employee, David Marsh (head of Information Systems). The main objective was to see if we could cycle up the classic hills of Alpe d’Huez in the Alps and the so-called ‘Giant of Provence’, Mont Ventoux, both of which are well-known routes for the Tour de France. However, we put aside a day in the Rhône for cycling through the vineyards and sought out a few of our growers to pop in and see how the vintage was going, and a little ‘degustation’ at the same time.
Most growers are always pleased to welcome Wine Society members, though harvest time is obviously a little busier for them. We managed to visit three growers in Seguret, Gigondas and Rasteau. We were planning on cycling up to Vinsobres to visit the Jaumes too but the mistral wind (and a little wrong turning I made) put this out of our reach in the time we had.
Firstly in Seguret, we visited Domaine Pourra who make Séguret Côtes-du-Rhône Villages Mont Bayon (£14.50) for us. There they said that they will be starting the harvests this week – it would normally be earlier but after the rain of the last couple of weeks, needed the mistral wind to dry the grapes. The harvest is, however, looking good.
Some estates have started harvesting already, particularly those lower down on the plain below Seguret and Gigondas. Indeed we saw a lot of the small narrow tractors on the roads taking trailers full of grapes from the vineyards to the wineries, and we could smell the winemaking as we cycled through the villages. In Rasteau (more later), we also saw the local co-operative working flat out emptying and weighing trailer-loads of grapes from their farmer-members. Domaine Pourra’s vineyards are higher up on the slopes above the village, and above Gigondas so mature and are picked a couple of weeks later. They will start the harvest with their syrah (‘bien mur’). The 2010 of the wine we buy (2009 is on sale now) will be bottled shortly to make space for this year’s harvest – the pallet of bottles arrived the day before we visited, and the corks were due the next day (fingers crossed).
Next a few kilometres on to Gigondas and Château de Saint Cosme, who make our Exhibition Gigondas (we are currently selling the 2011 at £14.95) and whose wines we sell in our Rhône opening offer. They are just north of the village (well signposted) and have vineyards right up to the ‘Dentelles de Montmirail’ ridge.
They make one white wine and the grapes for this are all harvested. They are now starting on the reds, and all the guys were out at harvest. Again, they were glad of the mistral wind and were optimistic about the harvest. They offered us a tasting suite of their white blend, then their 100% syrah Côtes-du-Rhône called Les Deux Albions (after Louis Barruol’s English wife and the vineyard on the Plan d’Albion near Sault on the slopes of Mont Ventoux) and their Gigondas 2012 which is the closest to the Exhibition blend they do for us. They also do a Châteauneuf though this is with bought-in grapes and so does not carry the ‘Château’ prefix on the label.
Last but not least was Domaine La Soumade on the Route d’Orange just outside Rasteau. This involved a cycle against the wind made worse by the aforementioned wrong turning doubling the distance. But it was worth it, we were welcomed by the nephew of the owner, and he showed us the old winery and the vineyards. We sell their Rasteau Côtes-du-Rhône Villages 2011 (£12.50). There we had a flight of wines to taste as shown in the adjacent photo.
One general point about the tastings: we found that we were generally tasting the latest vintage, occasionally the preceding one, and with the exception of the cheaper wines, the wines needed more time to age (hence The Society will often have bought and kept earlier vintages which will be sold when ready). But this does give a good experience of trying to discern what the wines will be like in a few years, and it is still a great way to compare and contrast different wines side by side.
Head of Marketing
And as a PS, I’m glad to say that we did make it successfully up Mont Ventoux, not in a record time and a lot of younger (and thinner?) cyclists passed us.
Or maybe they just had better bikes?
A good knowledge of wine is an important part of working at The Society, particularly for those who are in constant contact with our members.
For, just as it is inadvisable to buy an umbrella from a wet man, one should hesitate before buying wine from someone who knows nothing about it.
Fortunately, this is not something members are likely to encounter from The Society, and the reason for this is training.
All members of Society staff are encouraged to learn about wine. It is the lifeblood of our co-operative, and infinitely interesting to boot! To support in this endeavour, we hold regular training sessions to keep staff up to date on our wines and, vitally, how they taste.
Last week, fine wine adviser Freddy Bulmer hosted a series of training sessions dedicated to our Exhibition range.
The Society’s Exhibition wines represent fine expressions of the vineyards, terroir or regions from which they originate, and we work with some of the world’s best winemakers to source and blend them.
Below are a handful of comments on three of the wines featured.
The Society’s Exhibition Pouilly-Fuissé 2012 (£17.50)
• ‘So enjoyable on its own but a real candidate for a gift bottle and a Christmas treat, with ageing potential to boot.’
• ‘Like a mini-Meursault, at a third of the price!’
The Society’s Exhibition Crozes-Hermitage 2012 (£12.95)
• ‘Has everything great Crozes should have.’
The Society’s Exhibition Rioja Reserva 2007 (£13.95)
• ‘This wine is a stunner.’
• ‘So elegant, refined and balanced.’
You can view all wines featured in the current Exhibition offer.
I can’t recall a Society event I’ve attended with such a palpable buzz in the air as the South Africa tasting held earlier this month at Lord’s.
There seemed a noticeable excitement about the wines, with members of all manner of ages coming together to enjoy some of the highlights from Jo Locke MW’s range, in the company of the growers behind the labels.
Cape Point: exciting new sauvignons
The elephant in the room changing its spots?
Pinotage, South Africa’s indigenous Marmite grape, has long been a favourite topic of tasters and trade, provoking as it can a mixed response (one winemaker is alleged to have uttered the words ‘Don’t steal, rape, or murder – or make pinotage’). Increasingly, however, it appears that the different potential styles of pinotage are at least as diverse…
Chenins for all seasons
Like pinotage, the chameleonic chenin blanc grape is never far from the limelight in South Africa and rightly so. I spent much of the night pouring A Fistful of Schist Reserve Chenin Blanc, the cheapest wine of the tasting, and yet a winner of numerous converts as the night went on. I know this is the ‘house white’ of several colleagues and it’s easy to see why – it’s a delightful, fresh and citrusy chenin that has admirable varietal typicity for under £6. Some advance ‘under-the-table’ tastes of the new Fistful of Schist Colombard and Grenache Rosé were also there to whet appetites and wet whistles, both of which they did admirably.
Delheim: serious chenin (and cabernet) for a silly price
The Delheim Family Chenin Blanc (£11.95) from Stellenbosch was a showstopper for me (not to mention their silky, juicy and thoroughly good-value Cabernet). While similarly exuberant and dry, this is a cut above A Fistful of Schist in terms of complexity and focus, as one would expect for the price, and yet I would not have been surprised to find out this wine cost more.
Jayne Beaumont was also there, pouring her family’s top chenin, Hope Marguerite (£16.50). A wine that would not look out of place in a line-up of fine Vouvrays, this pure, elegant and yet rich example of the grape showed once again why it is a benchmark within The Society’s range.
A last straw
To further demonstrate chenin’s versatility, the Tierhoek team brought along their famed Straw Wine (£17.50 per half bottle), made from high-altitude chenin fruit that is dried on straw mats before a sherry-like solera process, resulting in a lusciously sweet, honeyed and gloopy glass of remarkable intensity and complexity. A treat, and a fine way to end the tasting.
There were many other highlights, too numerous to list here.
Those new to South Africa’s wines however should find much to enjoy in Jo Locke MW’s handpicked Introduction to South Africa selection, narrowing the field and reducing the noise to arrive at a shortlist of six bottles priced between £5.95 and £9.50.
A wider selection of wines can be found in our main South Africa offering.
In my 11 years at The Society I have been lucky enough to have visited Montreuil-sur-Mer well over 100 times having had oversight of day-to-day activities in the showroom as well as in my capacity as Tastings & Events Manager and latterly as PR Manager. Just this week I have finished reading Thomas Keneally’s brilliant The Daughters of Mars, which brought home to me another side of the history of this area of Northern France. Though known variously as The Society’s French outpost, home to a pair of Michelin-starred restaurants and the inspiration behind the first half of Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables, this year it is the town’s crucial role in World War I that has come to the fore.
General Headquarters had been based in Saint Omer since October 1914. With the slow but sure advance of the German front line it was decided in March 1916 to move GHQ to Montreuil – further from the front line but closer to the ports of Boulogne and Etaples, the latter also being the location for a large training base and a 20,000 bed military hospital site, as well as having direct rail links to the front on the Somme.
The logistical side of the war effort has often been overlooked in this year of centenary commemorations. The British Expeditionary Trust has put that to rights with an excellent exhibition, Le Monde à nos Portes (The World at our Gates) set up in tandem with the Musée de Montreuil in the Citadel. The story of Montreuil and the Côte d’Opale is told through an excellent photographic record. Pictures of King George V, Field Marshal Douglas Haig and Président Raymond Poincaré in the streets of Montreuil are displayed alongside a whole host of British, French, Canadian, Italian, American and Indian soldiers and backroom staff.
The communications centre was originally in the theatre on what is now known as Place Général de Gaulle, but this was moved to the casemates of the Citadel in early 1918. There were telephony improvements as the war progressed, but towers in the Citadel and along the rampart walls were still used as lofts for carrier pigeons for messages between the front at GHQ.
From the early 20th century’s Belle Epoque where well-to-do French and British tourists flocked to the French coast from Deauville to Le Touquet through to the dismantling of GHQ in 1919, this excellent exhibition marking the years when Montreuil was at the epicentre of the war effort is well worth a visit.
Next time you head to Montreuil to stock up on any of the 200 wines for sale on the spot, or to pick up your pre-ordered cases, be sure you make time to visit the Citadel, which also has its own fascinating history. I learn something new every time I go.