Fri 08 Sep 2017

How Green is Your (Loire) Valley?

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One of the big surprises for me, when I visited the Salon des Vins de Loire in Angers with buyer Jo Locke MW earlier in the year, was just how many organic and biodynamic producers were there. There was even a separate exhibition alongside the main wine fair purely for producers who farm in this way.

I wrote about our trip in our Travels in Wine feature on the website, if you’ like to read more about that.

Joanna Locke MW with producer Denis Jamain

 

Some of the producers we follow were in the Levée de la Loire – the organic/biodynamic hall, even though they don’t particularly make a big song and dance about their farming methods. Others chose to be in the main Salon, despite having organic or sometimes biodynamic certification. So I was interested in finding out why this might be, as well as in exploring the prominence of organics.

That 20% of the 250-odd exhibitors in the main hall were certified as organic and that the Levée had a total of 150 organic Loire producers and 70 biodynamic producers, came as a surprise to me, though I can’t think why. After all, the Loire has spawned some of France’s most vociferous advocates of biodynamics – Didier Dagueneau in Pouilly-Fumé and Nicolas Joly in the tiny Savennières appellation, for example. And then there’s star of Vouvray, Domaine Huet, who quietly went about converting to biodynamic viticulture, way before it could have been called trendy!

I had just assumed that grape-growing in this relatively northerly region and comparatively damp climate might present challenges to growers. So, I thought that it wouldn’t be possible to take the risk of farming organically or biodynamically and possibly lose one’s crop to the caprices of Mother Nature.

Chatting to winemakers, wine experts and importers during the fair, I tried to find out what the thinking is these days about organic/biodynamic production in the Loire. It’s fair to say that I heard quite a few different theories during our visit here, which I thought might be of interest to members.

One rather cynical school of thought attributes the popularity of ‘organics’ to the region’s proximity to Paris. ‘It’s partly down to the pressure from French journalists who can easily get here!.

A more generous explanation I heard was that, compared to other parts of France, land here is relatively cheap and therefore within the reach of young winemakers just starting out. They are far more likely to be predisposed to embrace organic and biodynamic principles from the start.

This was from a young French horticultural engineer who happened to be seated alongside us at one of our tastings. Interestingly, he also told me that the Loire Valley is a prime site for the cultivation of plants for seed production. The mild climate is ideal, apparently, and the germination rate of the seeds that come from here is higher than anywhere else in France. Perhaps that’s another reason the Loire Valley also goes by the name of ‘the Garden of France’.

Denis Jamain of Domaine de Reuilly, who produces a number of cuvées (including biodynamically), and who chose to exhibit in the main exhibition hall rather than the one specifically for organic/biodynamic producers, had a more prosaic explanation: ‘There’s more and more demand for organic and biodynamic wines from importers in North America and Scandinavia, particularly where there are state-controlled monopolies on buying wine – they’re much more interested in ethical concerns I have noticed.’ That’s not to diminish his own commitment – he is far from being the type to jump onto any kind of band-wagon for marketing purposes, I can assure you!

And, talking of commitment, this is something that Evelyne de Pontbriand of Savennières estate Domaine du Closel, highlighted to us in a talk about her wines and converting from sustainable farming to biodynamics. She wishes her neighbours in Savennières would do the same too: ‘Around 60-70% of growers are organic and we would love the whole appellation to convert. It is not that people are against it as such, it’s more a question of economics. Farming this way is bound to reduce your yields; some say your vineyards suffer more disease and it’s harder on a bigger scale. Organic farming doesn’t make you rich!’

Importer and Loire expert, Chris Hardy spends a great deal of time in the region. I was interested in his thoughts on the subject:

‘Yes, as we are more northerly, vineyard management methods need to be adapted to keep the grapes healthy as they ripen, though with coherent management, rot isn’t a major problem.’ He told me.

He went on to tell me about the growers he works with, most of whom work sustainably, many certified under the Terra Vitis organisation, ‘but most just using their brains – treating their vineyards as little as possible and preferably only in a preventative way. When needed they will spray, but will use the least damaging and most eco-friendly preparations – some non-organic sprays are more friendly than organic ones!’

Chris sees what work goes into bringing in a healthy crop, and I think that’s the crux of it. Whether you chose to follow organic or biodynamic principles or prefer to go the sustainable route, there just is no substitute for hard and intelligent work – these are the people we at The Society champion too.

Here, Chris gives some idea of what’s involved:

Basic steps, from the ground up:

  1. Grass through the vineyards: that means a little more competition for the grapes, potentially lowering yields, but it’s easier to ripen smaller crops. It also means that when it rains, the water first goes to the grass and not into the vines and grapes, which would then swell, burst and rot. If you go into the vineyards pre-harvest you can see that this a no-brainer: where there’s grass, it is long and vibrantly green and the grapes are healthy. Where there’s no grass, the grapes swell and start to burst, causing rot.

 

  1. Pruning: ideally starting with at la taille which begins around November and pruning long and then de-budding, rubbing out alternate buds so as to space the bunches, keeping them apart. Short pruning short packs the bunches close together, so if one starts to rot, they all do.
  2. Green harvest: if the grower didn’t prune that way, they can catch up later with either a green harvest (the earlier the better so as not to waste energy going to grapes that will be thrown away), reducing the yield and separating the bunches.
  3. De-leafing/leaf plucking around the bunches: this can be done by machine (fans sucking leaves away or with gas burners) or by hand. The idea is to clear the leaves from around the bunches, allowing better access to sun and wind. You can do this on one side or both. The risk in really hot summers it that you can lose some of your crop because the grapes shrivel without any shade.

The sun helps thicken the grapes’ skins, making them more resistant to disease and rot (and giving potentially more flavour) and the wind helps dry off any mist/rain from the grapes, again helping keep them free of rot. Leaf plucking early enough can give the grapes an extra week to ten days on the vines before picking. At a weekly gain of around 1° and a fall of around 1g acidity, that can make a BIG difference to the maturity of the harvest.

In a year when you can expect rain before harvest, to me, again, that’s a no-brainer.

  1. Raise leaf height (especially if you’ve de-leafed as you need to compensate for the grapes you have removed): leaves = photosynthesis = ripeness. Young leaves photosynthesise better than old leaves, so taking, say, 20cm of leaf away at the bottom of the vine and encouraging, say, 40cm at the top will really boost the ripeness of the grapes.

This really increases the chance of reaching phenolic maturity (ripe tannins), essential in the Loire as red wines by law are dry with a max 2 g/l residual sugar, so any under-ripeness can come across as bitterness.

You can see the ripeness arrive with the reds – the stalks start to turn red and the pips start to go from green (and bitter) to brown (and nutty).

We often get rain end September and in October, so the more work done early, the better. It’s not rocket science, but it is hard work and takes vigilance and strength of mind at times!’

It’s quite humbling to hear about just how much work goes into producing your glass of wine and spare a thought for those that didn’t produce any in 2016 because of frosts, which don’t discriminate between organic or non-organic vines.

 

So, while I’m not sure that I found out the real reason for the high numbers of organic and biodynamic Loire producers represented at the trade fair in Angers, I did learn an awful lot more about vineyard husbandry. It makes me appreciate the wine all the more.

>Enjoy buyer Joanna Locke MW’s pick of the 2016 vintage in our current offer

>Read more about our trip to the region in Travels in Wine

Comments (4)

The Wine Society’s Lists of 50 years ago reflect a wine world narrower than it is today.

Bordeaux and Burgundy totally dominated. Port and sherry and sherry look-alikes from Montilla, South Africa and Australia were important and most members would have stocked them. Moselle and Hock were given a good airing though there were no German dry wines. The Italian (five wines) and Spanish (six wines) selections were rudimentary. There were four Portuguese table wines including the hugely popular, now forgotten, Periquita. East Europe was represented by Tokay and ‘Yugoslavia’. ‘Renski Rizling and Rumeni Muscat bottles in Maribor have exceptionally good character.’

The Australian entry was minimalist: malbec and ‘hock style’ Barossa riesling. North America did not feature and South America had only Chilean cabernet, which was bought from the Nitrate Corporation, shipped in bulk and usually delayed in Liverpool docks where it softened in to a very palatable red.

A slip of paper advertising hogsheads at £2.50 each is a clue to one big difference from today. Nearly all the Burgundies and many of the clarets were shipped in cask and bottled in Stevenage. On my first visit to the Society’s cellars a few years later I was amazed to see the whole of one wall filled with racks with dozens of barrels filled with The Society’s White Burgundy, then and now one of the most popular wines on the List.

The bottling hall at Stevenage

The Society was skilled at bottling. Vintage Port pipes were rolled round the cellar to rouse the sediment before bottling. Our bottlings of wines like Fonseca 63 and 66 were legendary and better, in my experience, than those bottled at source. Good use was made of sherry casks, which were sent up to Scotland when empty to house our whisky fillings for The Society’s Highland Blue Whisky. Dry amontillado produces the finest results.

The 1967 range of claret looks mouthwatering with twenty-four 1961 clarets (Lynch Bages 22/6 a bottle, Montrose 25/9) and forty-three 1959s (Lafite 54/-, Palmer 23/-). Christopher Tatham, the gifted wine buyer, chose wonderful red and white Burgundies which stood the test of time for decades. His wine-buying travels were mostly in France. He had begun to develop the Loire list by 1967 but he had not yet explored the potential of the south of France, as Marcel Orford-Williams does successfully today.

The economic climate was not easy. The year ended 31st January 1968 saw a very small surplus after two years of losses following The Society’s move out of London. The previous year there had been a 10% increase in duties, a credit squeeze and a price freeze and Resale Price Maintenance had been abolished. Previously The Society was not bound by this and had been able to sell its whisky and gin at prices below the rest of the market. The Society, however, where reputation for sourcing genuine and authentic wines was well known probably benefitted from the wine trade scandal that had revealed that many wines offered for sale elsewhere were mislabelled and not what they proclaimed to be. In fact as The Society became settled in its new cellars, 1967 was probably a turning point in its history when it took on its new lease of life.

Early days in Stevenage

An apology in the List reminds us never to be complacent:

‘A large consignment of Australian Barossa Flor Fino Sherry was caught in the Suez Canal during the Middle East War and is still on the Bitter Lake. However, fresh consignments were dispatched around the Cape and no doubt will be improved by the extra and at one time traditional sea voyage’.

Sebastian Payne MW
Society Buyer

Take a look through an archive of Society List covers from 1880 to the present day.

Comments (1)

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

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

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

I rail at the Met Office’s statistical announcement that autumn’s arrival is at the beginning of September. I just cannot to let summer go so easily and I will only give up my dreams of a last burst or glorious sunshine when the trees are throwing off their leaves, the scent of many bonfires fills the chilly air and my fragrant other half is pointing me towards the shed and the rake therein.

As such, I have still been looking at recipes that will satisfy with a lightness of touch without sacrificing generosity of flavour when the leaves turn and fall, those bonfires stink up the washing and the central heating gets switched on.

Cobnuts is not a watered down exclamation of disappointment at the disappearance of summer but rather a suggestion that you try the humble nut of the same name, aka the filbert, a cultivated form of the hazelnut that come into season around August and go on giving until October, though a well stored nut can last beyond Christmas.

They can be eaten young and deliciously creamy straight from the tree while still in their green papery husk, or later when the shell hardens and the depth of flavour is nuttier they are just as delicious. A light roasting out of the shells will deepen that nuttiness even further. However you serve them they are a homegrown treat.

Two and a half million squirrels can’t be wrong!

Steve Farrow

Recipe 1:
Endive, Bacon, Apple and Cobnut Salad with a Blue Cheese Vinaigrette.

I use cobnuts in a recipe that amalgamates their qualities with the deep bass notes of a good blue cheese and the harvest of an orchard in the form of apples or pears. It is a staple of ours at home because it always satisfies and I’ve been asked for the recipe by friends many times.

If you are not a fan of cobnuts/hazelnuts, pecans or walnuts are lovely in this recipe too!

(Serves four as with crusty bread, as a starter. Double the quantities for a main course serving).

• 4 endives (though 4 gem luttuces will do at a pinch)
• 8 rashers of streaky bacon, smoked or not is up to you.
• 1 large eating apple or a pear, peeled and diced
• 100g shelled, roasted cobnuts (or hazelnuts), chopped but not finely
• 100g good quality blue cheese (Roquefort or Stilton are both terrific) cut into chunks
• 4 tablespoons rapeseed or vegetable oil
• 3 tablespoons cider (or white wine) vinegar
• 1 tablespoon chopped chives
• salt and pepper

Cut the rashers of bacon into lardons and fry until coloured them remove from the pan, retaining the fat. Drain the lardons on kitchen paper. Strip the leaves of the endives from the root, leaving the leaves whole, and put into a bowl. Add the chopped apple or pear, chopped nuts, bacon and seasoning, and toss.

In a small saucepan warm the oil and vinegar together. Add the bacon fat left over from frying the lardons. Add the blue cheese chunks and cook very gently until the cheese has melted. Give the mixture a whisk and pour over the endive in the bowl. Add the chopped chives. Toss everything thoroughly to coat with the vinaigrette and serve with crusty bread.

Wine matches: Try this partnered with generosity and freshness of the Côtes-du-Rhône Blanc, Saint-Cosme 2014 (French Classics), fragrant, lightly spicy but fresh wines like Villiera Estate Jasmine Fragrant White, Stellenbosch 2017 (Discovery) and Seméli Mantinia Nassiakos 2016 (Lighter Wines, or available online for £9.95).

Other delicious options include fruity little numbers like the Vermentino Sicilia, Mandrarossa 2016 (Wine Rack Essentials or £6.50), Viña Istria Malvazija 2016 (Discovery or £7.50), Edelzwicker Special Cuvée, Jacques Cattin 2016 (Lighter Wines or £8.50), or classic Marlborough sauvignon tropicality with cut of the Three Terraces Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2016 (Worldwide Wonders or £9.25).

Recipe 2: Gravadlax
Another lovely dish that is equally good at any time of the year is home-made cured salmon, rather like the Scandinavian gravadlax that is so easily bought in the supermarkets now. Historically made to preserve fish through the winter it is easily and deliciously accomplished at home, without any need to bury it as the Norse did as a preservation method. I certainly don’t inter ours in a section of the lawn.

• 2 sides of carefully pin-boned salmon (your fishmonger will do this for you), about 1 kilo each, skin on. You can use smaller cuts of salmon and adjust the cure mixture that follows accordingly.
• 150g sea salt
• 150g caster sugar
• 75ml vodka (or for a hint of juniper use gin)
• 200g fresh dill, finely chopped (150g for the cure, 50g for a garnish)

First, make the cure by mixing the salt, sugar and peppercorns. Stir in the vodka or gin and the chopped dill and mix well to evenly distribute. Lay out a double layer of cling film, enough to double wrap the sides of salmon, and lay one of the fillets on the film skin-side down.

Spread the salt, sugar, dill and vodka/gin mixture evenly over the salmon you have laid on the cling film. Top with the other fillet, flesh-side down, so that they form a sandwich with the mixture as the filling. Wrap everything tightly in the cling film and put it into ceramic or glass dish only just large that the fish makes a snug fit. Put a flat board, a chopping board is ideal, on top of the cling-film parcel and add some weights like cans of food or kitchen weights.

Put the dish into the fridge for at least 24 hours, though longer (up to 48 hours) will give a deeper, firmer cure. Remember to turn the fish parcel every 12 hours or so and make sure to drain off any liquid that pools the dish.

When you are ready, unwrap the fish, brush off the cure and give the sides a rinse under cold running water to remove the last of it. Pat them dry with kitchen paper. Finely chop the extra dill and sprinkle evenly over the salmon.

If you can resist it, the fish will keep in a fridge for up to a week if wrapped in more cling film. Eat it very thinly sliced with brown bread (rye bread is best) and butter and plenty of lemon juice and some ground black pepper. Mustard and dill sauce is also traditional and can be bought or made for it. I like a horseradish and crème fraiche mix myself but it isn’t everyones cup of tea. Some raosted beetroot too is a favourite of mine but is a Marmite ingredient, I know, so ignore that as you wish.

Wine matches: the salmon is wonderful partnered with Château Martinon, Entre-Deux-Mers 2016 (Lighter Wines) or the zest of Val de Loire Sauvignon Blanc, Famille Bougrier 2016 (Wine Rack Essentials or available online for £6.50), or Rompeolas Godello, Galicia 2016 (Wine Rack Essentials or £8.50).

The vibrancy of the Madfish Great Southern Riesling 2016 (Discovery or £8.95) and the classic The Society’s Exhibition Alsace Riesling 2015 (French Classics or £13.50) will stand shoulder to shoulder with the dish too; as will the classic seafood accompanying facets of Muscadet Sèvre-et-Maine sur Lie, Comte Leloup du Château de Chasseloir, Cuvée des Ceps Centenaires 2013 (Worldwide Wonders or £9.50) to cut the fattiness of the fish.

Categories : Wine Without Fuss
Comments (2)

There’d be some real, actual blood as well, but what I’m trying to say is that I really like riesling.

Characterful, versatile and downright delicious, it’s the grape that everyone says they don’t like before they actually try it, and this gorgeous example – recommended to me by fellow copywriter compadre Martin Brown – has converted plenty of naysayers recently.

Louis Guntrum Dry Riesling 2016

Bursting with mouthwatering lime, pear and gooseberry flavours, it manages to achieve bracing freshness, while not subjecting the roof of your mouth to that mouthpuckering post-peardrop tenderness that other particularly acidic wines can. A lean, mean mineral seam conjures the breeziness of the Rhein which, incidentally runs through the heart of the Guntrum’s beautiful vineyards.

Back in February, we were lucky enough to be joined for a guest tasting by owner Konstantin Guntrum, whose infectious enthusiasm and obvious passion was as vibrant and life-affirming as the wines themselves.

More interesting than sauvignon blanc, less divisive than chardonnay, this is the perfect bottle to enjoy with friends as summer draws to a close.

Rosie Allen
Content Creator & Editor

£8.95 bottle
£53.50 case of six
View wine details

Find a full archive of Staff Choices on our website here

Categories : Germany, Other Europe
Comments (2)

It is with great sadness that we learned of the death of Greek winemaker Haridimos Hatzidakis this weekend. Sebastian Payne MW, buyer for Greek wines, had met Haridimos a number of times and pays tribute below.

Haridimos Hatzidakis, who sadly took his own life on 11th August, was one of the most original, engaging and inspirational winemakers I have had the good fortune to know. Each time we met it seemed he had embarked on a new challenge.

Carving his new cellar from tufa out of a Santorini hillside covered in vines, was one of his more ambitious schemes. Exploring all the possibilities of the island’s marvellous native grapes was his passion.

Originally from Crete, he became, because of his talent, winemaker for the major wine producer Boutari, but from 1996 he set up on his own on the island of Santorini, working originally from a tiny cramped cave winery just outside Pyrgos, the highest village in the island.

He had only a few hectares of his own but was able to lease four hectares of land with some amazing century-old vines from the monks of Patmos and also from vineyards owned by a local nunnery of the prophet Elijah.

All his vines were cultivated sustainably, without pesticides, herbicides or irrigation, the humidity from sea breezes providing just enough moisture for the vines trained close to the ground in unique bird’s nest shape.

He never made his life easy, but the popularity of his main estate white assyrtiko, and the reputation he earned for his old-vine Mylos were truly deserved.

Over the last decade he had been achieving increasingly exciting results from mavrotragano, the native red grape, which had almost become extinct till he championed it. His new cellar was home to an exotic range of wines he worked on such as bullseye (voudomato), aidani, and the late-harvested Nykteri and Vin Santo.

All his wines were memorable and exciting to taste and will ensure he will not be forgotten. I shall particularly remember the twinkle in his eye when he stood in his beloved vineyards talking about wine, grapes and the soil. He was at his happiest connecting with the earth.

Our condolences to Haridimos’ family.

Sebastian Payne MW
Society Buyer

Comments (0)
Tue 01 Aug 2017

Staff Choice: A Pink For All Seasons

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As any members who have attended her events will know, Emma Briffett from our Tasting Team is a bastion of good taste, with a superb palate and a wonderful passion for wine.

Her Staff Choice reflects this in style: not only has she managed to find a great-value rosé gutsy enough to stand up to whatever the British summer decides to throw at us, but she has also provided a bonus recipe to get the most out of it!

Find a full archive of Staff Choices on our website here

Brindisi Rosato Vigna Flaminio, Vallone 2016

I know it’s a cliché, but I do seem to drink a lot more rosé over the summer months than at any other time of the year. Maybe it’s because rosé wine is so inherently cheerful, or perhaps because it goes so well with BBQs and makes you feel like you have a little slice of the south of France in your back garden whilst you’re sipping.

Whatever the reason, we’re lucky here as The Wine Society has plentiful supplies of pink, and this one is my current favourite.

This is not your barely blushing pink so favoured in Provence, rather a big gutsy style of rosé from southern Italy made from negroamaro and montepulciano with heaps of red-fruit flavours and hints of spice.

This is a perfect food wine – we had it last week with butterflied lamb cooked on the BBQ and a green salad with an anchovy dressing. See below for the recipe – it’s extremely easy to make, lasts for ages in the fridge and is very tasty.

Recipe for the anchovy dressing…
• Juice of 2 lemons
• 1 small tin of anchovies
• 1 large clove of garlic
• 1 cup of olive oil
• Salt and pepper to taste.
Blitz it all together in a blender and pour sparingly over salad leaves – the more bitter the better!

Emma BriffettEmma Briffett
Tastings & Events Co-Ordinator

£7.75 – Bottle
£46.50 – Case of six
View Wine Details

Categories : Italy
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Fri 07 Jul 2017

The Society’s Big Night Out!

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The annual International Wine Challenge Awards Dinner at London’s Hilton on Park Lane is always a glitzy affair, with the great and the good of the world’s wine trade coming together to celebrate the best in wine and sake.

Society CEO Robin McMillan receiving the IWC Wine Club of the Year award from IWC Co-Chair Peter McCombie MW

We always know how The Society is doing in the eyes of you, the members, because you’re always so generous with your feedback, whether positive or constructive. That’s what drives us and is the very essence of what we are about – The Society is, after all, its members – but it’s always rewarding when we receive third party endorsement, especially from our peers in the trade.

Last night was the night when the IWC gives out its coveted UK Merchant of the Year awards. The Society was shortlisted for six 2017 awards, so it was with anticipation and excitement that six from The Society (CEO Robin McMillan, buyer Marcel Orford Williams, campaign manager Vicki Markham, Member Services co-ordinator Tracy Richardson, buying administrator Sarah MacCormack and PR manager Ewan Murray) joined over 600 wine trade colleagues.

And we weren’t disappointed! Being shortlisted is already an achievement, but winning is the icing on the cake!

We have a proud history of winning Wine Club of the Year and so were very pleased to continue this tradition. Another award we retained was that of Specialist Merchant for Regional France (Alsace, Beaujolais, Corsica, Jura, Provence, Savoie, South West France and other lesser known nooks & crannies). It was also very special to regain the Specialist Merchant for Portugal crown. Congratulations to our buyers Jo Locke (Alsace & Portugal), Toby Morrhall (Beaujolais until May this year) and Marcel Orford Williams (the rest!).

While there is a lot of work behind the scenes all year round from all 220 Society staff to get things right, it’s really all down to you, the members, who keep on drinking , and appreciating the quality and value for money of, the wines we discover for you. There are so many merchants and channels to choose from when buying wine – we thank you for your loyalty, and look forward to continuing the good work together!

Ewan Murray
PR Manager

Edit (21/7/2017): This wine has now sold out after a very enthusiastic response from members. We are sorry for any inconvenience and encourage you to visit the blog at the start of August, when a new Staff Choice will be unveiled.

This month’s Staff Choice was an absolute pleasure to receive: an excellent-value, out-of-the-ordinary Spanish white with a charming story behind it. I confess I’ve already tried a bottle at home on the strength of Georgie’s recommendation and can only echo her sentiments below.

The back-label story, referenced in Georgie’s review, reads:

Memories of childhood, games amongst the vines, I still smell the start of Autumn, aromas of vine that drifted through the narrow streets of the village. The legacy of a grandfather, somebody so important in my life, other ancestors too, that have passed on the pride of the land where I was born. Herència Altés is a homage to my roots. – Nùria Altés

Find a full archive of Staff Choices on our website here

Herència Altés Garnatxa Blanca, Terra Alta 2015

I’m lucky enough to be married to someone passionate about wine who also happens to be our Warehouse and Supply Chain Manager. So quite often I get handed an unknown glass at home on a Friday night. I’m never disappointed but this was a wine that justified an ‘Oooh, what’s this?’

They say you should never judge a book by its cover and never judge a wine by its label, but the romance and story telling that comes from the delicate front label made me love this wine even more. Nothing beats a great-tasting wine with a wonderfully personal story, which the producer Nùria Altés shares on the back of the bottle. I never get tired of hearing about the passion winemakers put into their vineyards and their wines.

Herència Altés Garnatxa Blanca, Terra Alta 2015 is full in the mouth but with plenty of fresh grapefruit acidity to clean the finish. As a sauvignon blanc fan, I feel it offers a richer and more complex alternative. It’s a surprisingly modern Spanish white wine.

Georgie Cleary
Member Services Adviser

£7.95 – Bottle
£47.50 – Case of six
View Wine Details

Categories : Spain
Comments (1)
Mon 03 Jul 2017

Food Without Fuss: Currant Affairs

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This year the crop of cherries from my small tree went for a Burton thanks to spring frosts and a variety of feathered fiends.

In particular, our local wood pigeons have had a right old go at the foliage which is now so shredded that it looks like an innocent bystander at the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre. So I needed to look elsewhere for our homegrown treasure.

What I found is certainly homegrown – just not at our home.

A friend feels that they will have a glut of blackcurrants this year and by handing over of a bottle of The Society’s delicious Falanghina to sweeten the deal I have managed to secure some of that harvest.

My plan for these gorgeously purple beads is to use their piquant sharpness and fruitiness to make a sauce for strong, dark game, such as a seared slab of venison, or some plump pigeon breasts. The idea of the pigeon breasts came to me as I looked out at our lacerated cherry tree and saw one of the fat flying f-f-fellers proudly posing at the scene of the crime. Gratifyingly it seemed to gulp as it blinked back in the face of my steely glare. I think my gaze is pretty steely, though my missus tells me it’s more Paddington-like. Good enough!

Steve Farrow

THE RECIPES

Venison Steaks (or Pigeon Breasts) with Blackcurrant Sauce

Venison Steak with Blackcurrant Sauce

Ingredients:
For four people you will need:
• Four venison steaks (100 -150g each and fairly thick cut is best whatever size you use) or similarly sized portions of loin fillet, or eight pigeon breasts if making a main course.
• 100ml of good brown chicken stock or a light beef stock
• 150ml of a ripe red wine
• A small handful of fresh or frozen blackcurrants
• 2 tablespoons of a high-fruit-content blackcurrant jam or conserve (like St. Dalfour)
• A couple of good knobs of very cold butter
• Salt and freshly ground black pepper

On the hob, heat a skillet or heavy based frying pan until smoking hot, rub the fillet or breasts with a little olive oil and season well.

Sear the fillets for about four minutes a side until caramelised on the outside but still rare inside, or the pigeon breasts for just a couple of minutes or so per side. You really don’t want to have either meat well-done.

Remove them from the pan and set aside to rest. Pour the red wine into the hot pan and reduce by two thirds, scraping to incorporate any of the caramelised bits.

Pour in the stock and reduce it all by half again.

Spoon in the blackcurrant jam/conserve and stir to incorporate.

Add the fresh or frozen blackcurrants and bubble for a few minutes until hot again.

Pour any juices that have come from the resting meat back into the sauce.

Finally, drop in the cold butter, whisking or stirring quickly over the heat so that it thickens the sauce and adds a gloss.

Put the meat on to warm plates, spoon over the sauce and serve.

Wine Matches:
The Concha y Toro Corte Ignacio Casablanca Merlot 2014 (Worldwide Wonders plan) is an ideal match with its blackcurranty fruit, structure and ripeness. Look too to the spicy Saint-Maurice Côtes-du-Rhône Villages, Domaine de l’Echevin 2013 (French Classics), the darkly fruity Biga de Luberri Crianza, Rioja 2014, the brambly Pisano Progreso Tannat 2015 (Lighter Wines or available for £7.95) or the ample, dark-fruited De Morgenzon DMZ Syrah, Stellenbosch 2013 (Discovery or available for £8.50).

Mushroom Pithiviers
My second recipe, pastry parcels golden and puffed from the oven and filled with a creamy mushroom mixture, might not seem that summery but I made these pithiviers recently and they were light but deeply savoury so I thought I’d share them. I use ready rolled all-butter puff pastry for this but by all means make it yourself if you have the time and the inclination.

Mushroom Pithiviers

Ingredients:
For two main-course sized pastries you will need:
• 120 g of shitake mushrooms cut into bitesize pieces
• 150g Portobello mushrooms also in bitesize pieces
• 10g dried porcini mushrooms soaked until soft and finely chopped (retain the soaking liquor)
• 1 finely chopped shallot
• 1 clove of garlic crushed or finely chopped
• 4 tablespoons of Mascarpone cheese
• A handful of chopped parsley
• A pinch of dried thyme or a teaspoon of fresh
• A large knob of butter
• 1 tablespoon of olive oil
• 1 beaten egg
• 1 beaten egg yolk
• Salt and freshly ground black pepper
• 300g of puff pastry

Melt butter in a sauté pan on a medium-high heat. Once it’s sizzling throw in the fresh mushrooms and diced porcini and sauté until the mushrooms are soft and any liquid has evaporated.

Lower the heat and add the chopped shallot and garlic and cook gently for another few minutes until softened. Remove from the heat.

Pour the mushroom mixture into a bowl and add a tablespoonful of the reserved porcini soaking liquor and the Mascarpone cheese while the mushrooms are still warm. Stir until it is well incorporated, making a creamy sauce. Leave it to cool a little.

Add the chopped parsley and stir it through, then taste and season appropriately.

Put the bowl in the fridge for an hour to chill.

Pre-heat the oven to 180°C fan/200°C/gas 6.

On a floured surface roll out the pastry to the thickness of a pound coin, and cut two 14 centimetre discs and two 18cm discs.

Remove the mushroom mixture from the fridge. It should have set quite stiff. Divide the mixture between two teacups or two small pudding moulds and then turn them out on to the centre of each of the 12cm discs. You should have a border around each pile to brush with beaten egg.

Place the larger (15cm) discs over each mound of mushrooms, cupping your hands and using the edge of them to push down on the egg-washed edges to seal, squeezing any air out as you go.

Trim neatly round the parcels and use the tines of a fork to press down the edges to make a pattern.

Put the parcels back in the fridge for half an hour to chill, then remove and using the point of a blunt knife make a spiral pattern from the centre of the domes to the patterned edge without cutting through. Poke a small hole in the top so that steam can escape while they bake.

Brush each pithivier with the beaten egg yolk and chill again for half an hour.

Bake the pithiviers on a baking sheet for 25-30 minutes or until puffed and deeply golden-brown.

Use leftover puff pastry to make cheese straws, and if all this messing about with pastry discs is just a pain in the pithivier by all means make turnovers or pasties instead!

Wine Matches:
Delicious with the Terra Rossa, Vina Laguna 2015 (Discovery or available for £7.50), Salice Salentino Riserva, Vallone 2013 (Discovery or available for £7.95), Finca Antigua Crianza Tempranillo 2013 (Wine Rack Essentials or available for £8.50), Domaine Montangeron, Fleurie 2015 (French Classics or available for £10.50), or Three Terraces Marlborough Pinot Noir 2015 (Worldwide Wonders or available for £12.50). Indeed, there is hardly a red in any of the Wine Without Fuss selections that won’t work with this dish!

If you fancy a white, try it with the soft, fruity Côtes-du-Rhône Secret de Famille Blanc, Paul Jaboulet Aîné 2015 (Worldwide Wonders or available for £8.50) or the full-bodied Móri Ezerjó, Kamocsay 2015 (Discovery) from Hungary.

Categories : Wine Without Fuss
Comments (1)

I have been visiting Bordeaux vineyards every year since the early 1980s. Though Tim Sykes, our current Bordeaux buyer, now does all the work, going out there several times a year, I was delighted to join him for the crowded but fascinating week in early April, when all the châteaux first show the new vintage together in organised tastings for the world to judge.

Bordeaux vineyards

We visit all the top châteaux to taste on the spot, and many others too, and double check or triple check samples with merchants at well-organised general tastings.

Because they receive so many visitors, châteaux prepare fresh samples of their final blend so people can taste from sample bottles. I rather miss the opportunity of tasting direct from barrel with maîtres de chai, which was possible when I made several more leisurely visits in the past. So I was delighted to be able to do just that on a couple of occasions during a packed week this year.

Bordeaux

At Château Canon in Saint-Emilion, Nicolas Audebert has recently taken over from John Kolasa, who did such a marvellous job rebuilding the quality of both Canon and Rauzan-Ségla for owners the Wertheimer family, of Chanel fame. Nicolas let us taste Canon 2016 from several barrels (subtle differences because of different barrel makers), before we tasted the final assemblage. The wine looks most promising.

Nicolas Audebert

Tasting with Nicolas Audebert

Next day Tim and I missed a turn (my fault) on the way to Tertre Roteboeuf and stopped to ask a couple of men chatting in a nearby vineyard for directions. One of them turned out to be Nicolas. Another promising sign for the future of Canon. This man does not just sit in an office and tell others what to do. He walks the walk.

Sebastian Payne MW
Society Buyer

Bordeaux has produced an abundance of superb wines in 2016. Our main en primeur offer is available now, including reds, dry whites and sweet whites.