Last month, as well as being named overall Wine Merchant of the Year by the International Wine Challenge, we had the pleasure of receiving the IWC’s Online Retailer of the Year award.

The judges said:
‘The Wine Society is building for future growth and has the building blocks to start. It covers everything from en primeur to some of the best wines available for under £10. Its great personalisation means that it targets its customers with very effective tailored offers. Its website works brilliantly, whether being accessed using a PC, a tablet or a smartphone.’

It therefore felt like a good time to let people know a little about the recent developments to The Society’s digital offering, as well as what’s in the pipeline for the coming year.

Online Retailer of the Year

As a result of improvements made in the past year or so, members can now

Follow the buyers in Travels in Wine, a new area of our site devoted to sharing the latest insights from our intrepid team’s trips around the wine world unearthing gems for Society members.

Use our site across a range of different devices after the launch of responsive design.

Travels In Wine

View more product information than ever before, including much more about individual wines’ regions and vintages, and the ability to let fellow members, and us, know what you think of wines you’ve tried with star ratings and recommendations.

Use personal wine notes to jot your thoughts about wines purchased from us for your own reference.

Browse the first of our interactive digital maps, namely Italy

…and have a bit of fun in the form of The Society’s Poll on our homepage and improved social media sharing options.

We hope you enjoy using these features! Whilst we’re delighted to have been recognised by the IWC, the success of these projects depends entirely on the quality of members’ experience, and we welcome your feedback.

However, creating a successful, sustainable and fun digital offering is about looking forwards, not backwards!

Over the next year, we have a lot more planned, including:

A homepage redesign to make the site easier to navigate.
Search and filtering improvements to help users find what they’re looking for quickly and simply.
More interactive maps
A new community area of the site for members to share the love of wine and much more.

Watch this space…

Categories : Miscellaneous
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On Saturday 2nd July we welcomed 37 members to The Wine Society to take part in a United States of America tutored tasting hosted by buyer Sarah Knowles MW.

With the sun shining over glorious Stevenage and a list of wines as flashy as Dorothy’s daps we knew we were in for a treat.

The tasting began with a flight of three fascinating chardonnays; firstly the Fess Parker Santa Barbara County Chardonnay 2014 (£13.95), a well-balanced, fruit-forward crowd-pleaser that shows that quality American chardonnay can be found for under £15.

This was followed by the Bergstrom Old Stones Oregon Chardonnay 2013 (£22), a completely different kettle of fish. From cooler-climate Oregon, this is a concentrated style of chardonnay that leaps out of the glass and lingers long on the palate – stylish. The last of the whites was the Ridge Chardonnay 2012 (not currently available), a real haymaker of a wine and the only one of our three to use American oak. Full, rich and intense with a nose reminiscent of caramel and brown sugar this screams out for food but its bodybuilder-esque physique can be easily enjoyed on its own.

I’ve long been preaching the Book of Zin, boasting its vibrant juicy fruit and velvety texture to all who can hear, but it seemed there were some yet to be converted to the dark side on Saturday when confronted with three zinfandels. The first two, The Society’s California Old-Vine Zinfandel (£7.50) and the Ravenswood Lodi Old-Vine Zinfandel (£8.95) are very much in the ‘American mould’ of Zin making – big, bold fruit with alcohol just a shade below 15%.

Zinfandel lineup

The third, the Broc Vine Starr Sonoma County Zinfandel 2014 (not currently available), is produced by Chris Brockway in his garage (seriously) but tasted more like it comes from a fancy estate in the northern Rhône with its peppery, syrah-like nose and elegant if slightly funky (due to being fermented with wild yeast) palate which, along with the other two, helped convert many to zinfandel and its varying styles.

Pinot noir was up next – Pedroncelli (£10.50) from the Russian River valley, Lemelson’s Thea’s Selection (£19.50) from the Willamette Valley and the Au Bon Climat from the Sanford and Benedict vineyard, Santa Barbara (not currently available).

Pinot noir lineup

This was another extremely interesting flight showing three distinct styles – the first being ripe, round, generous and affordable – another marvellous example of top-quality Californian wine that doesn’t break the bank! The Lemelson on the other hand is elegant and sappy with plenty of cherry and redcurrant flavour, great with food or on its own, and the third an example of Californian pinot at its absolute best. As with all Au Bon Climat pinot it was beautifully balanced with Burgundian leather and truffle savouriness supported by fine tannin and underlying red fruit.

To finish, we were treated to a trio of cabernets – an affordable, Bordeaux-styled blend from Sagemoor Farms Vineyard (£14.50) in the Columbia Valley, alongside a big, sophisticated and juicy Silver Oak Alexander Valley Cabernet (£65) packed with intense cassis, blackcurrant and vanilla oak, a great example of American cabernet that opened up beautifully after a few hours’ breathing.

Cabernet lineup

The final wine, taken from our Tastings Vintage stock, was a Ridge Monte Bello from 1995 – a real treat and one that drew a few gasps from those attending upon it being revealed. Despite being 21 years old it was still youthful and just starting to show the cedar and pencil-shaving charm that top-quality cabernet can give, alongside softened tannins and added ripeness expected from California – a truly stunning wine that was a fitting end to what was a fascinating and well-received workshop.

Matthew Horsley
Tastings & Events Host

Our programme of tastings and events for the rest of 2016 has just been published! View the calendar and book your tickets here

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Buyer Marcel Orford-Williams celebrates our all-too-easily-overlooked Specialist Merchant Award for Regional France won at the IWC this month…

Charles Metcalfe of the IWC presenting the Regional France award to The Society's head of buying, Tim SykesCharles Metcalfe of the IWC presenting the Regional France award to The Society’s head of buying, Tim Sykes

The late Edmund Penning-Rowsell, chairman of The Wine Society from 1964 to 1987, was always keen that the buyers should look beyond the ‘classic’ regions and source wines from off the beaten path for members to enjoy. And so, as long as I have been at The Society, the Committee of Management has afforded buyers the freedom to roam the backwoods of France and elsewhere to source exciting wines for our range.

In all the excitement and rightful pride in winning Overall Merchant and Online Merchant of the Year at the IWC (International Wine Challenge), it was easy to overlook that we had also won prizes for our South American and Regional France ranges.

We were naturally thrilled to have received this last award. It is the result of a good deal of work over many years. While France’s classic regions of Bordeaux, Burgundy and the Rhône are historical passions for The Society, our range also makes plenty of room for other French wines which much of the trade has barely discovered.

MA2016_RegionalFrance_Winner

We have long championed the wines of Alsace and our range was recognised as the country’s finest by the International Wine Challenge for eight consecutive years to 2015.

During the last 12 months, we have visited Auvergne, Beaujolais, Alsace, Lorraine, the south-west, Provence and Corsica. A trip to the Jura will feature later in the year. There have been dedicated offers covering the wines of Alsace and Beaujolais and one for the south-west is also on the drawing board for release in the autumn.

It is not so long ago that many of these wines were for local consumption only. But globalism has changed all that. Growers from Savoie, Beaujolais or Corsica are as well travelled and skilled as any and keen to share the secrets of their terroirs with the rest of us.

We never forget though that it is thanks to members’ support that we can explore the wine world in this way. Members play a vital role in all of this by always being receptive to new ideas and new tastes. We hope that you enjoy the wines as much as we enjoy discovering and sharing them.

We salute you!

Marcel Orford-Williams
Society Buyer

Explore our range of French wines at thewinesociety.com

Conrad Braganza invites us to do lunch with his favourite warm-weather white wines from our Cellar Showroom.

There is something decadent and delightful about drinking wine with lunch on a summer’s day. But to negate the necessity for an afternoon nap when chores still demand my attention, I tend to choose a lighter style of white wine with a modest alcohol level.

Lunch white wine

Here are some of my favourite lunchtime liveners from around the world. Do feel free to suggest your own in the comments!

• Austrian grüner veltliner can offer fruit and spice in a food-friendly package.
The Society’s Grüner Veltliner (£7.50) has been welcomed with open arms by our members and sailed through the 2016 Wine Champions tastings. Pepp Wienviertel Grüner Veltliner 2015 (£7.25) hits the spot well too.

• Australian semillon can work wonders on its own or with food.
The exclusive 88 Growers (£7.25) clocks in at just 11% alcohol and brings a zesty note to the grape’s classic greengage flavours.

• England offers a wealth of lower-alcohol choices thanks to our cooler climate.
For a floral, lychee-infused tipple that’d be perfect with chilli chicken skewers, try Three Choirs Stone Brook 2014 (£7.95). For something a little drier, Chapel Down Bacchus 2014 (11.50) is well worth the extra outlay, offering a flinty, mineral and crisp style with some sauvignon-esque flavours that would stand up very well to a goat’s cheese tart.

• Germany’s lower alcohol levels are well known, and the wines are as versatile as they are delicious.
The off-dry Ruppertsberger Hoheburg Riesling Kabinett 2015 (£6.50) is a great sipper but is also suitable for spicier food. Alternatively there is von Kesselstatt’s charming and appealing Piesporter Goldtröpfchen Spätlese 2013 (£16), which comes from a great producer and a world-class vineyard.

• Greece is a source of delicate, clean and crisp wines that go brilliantly with (dare I say it) Greek salad.
A great-value current favourite is the dry and gentle Ionos (£6.50).

• Vinho Verde is a wine made for lunch!
Fashionable again, and for good reason, these wines are fresh and dry but also aromatic and spot-hitting (and perfect with a bowl of prawns, as I found out on a recent trip to Portugal!). In the 2015 vintage, The Society’s Vinho Verde (£5.95) has never looked better, whilst Muros Antigos (£7.95) from Anselmo Mendes proves why he’s one of the region’s top growers at a friendly price.

Conrad Braganza
The Cellar Showroom

Head of Buying Tim Sykes with our Specialist Merchant Awards for South America and Regional France.Head of Buying Tim Sykes with our Specialist Merchant Awards for South America and Regional France. ©Rob Lawson

For winemakers, winning an IWC (International Wine Challenge) award is the pinnacle of success, and we enjoy the fact that many of our wines have been recognised in this way (including this year).

For wine merchants to receive just one of the coveted IWC Merchant Awards is a high point, and having been shortlisted for five awards, a team of seven staff arrived at London’s Hilton on Park Lane Hotel for the 2016 Awards with much anticipation.

We were shortlisted for four Specialist Merchant awards – Italy and Spain, where the competition is always tough, and Regional France (Alsace, Beaujolais, SW France, Provence, Corsica, etc.) and South America where we are generally the tough competition for others. Things panned out as we had thought, with the latter pair bearing fruit for The Society.

Next up was the Online Retailer of the Year award – one that we have often won in the past under its previous guises of Mail-Order Merchant and Direct Merchant. We were delighted to regain this award, the judges recognising that The Society “covers everything from en primeur to some of the best wines available for under £10” and that the “website works brilliantly whether being accessed using a PC, a tablet or a smartphone”.

IWC Co-CHair Tim Atkin MW (left) presenting CEO Robin McMillan with the IWC Merchant of the Year Award 2016.IWC Co-Chair Tim Atkin MW (left) presenting CEO Robin McMillan with the IWC Merchant of the Year Award 2016. ©Rob Lawson

And so to the last award – the highly sought-after IWC Merchant of the Year Award. Everyone who has won one of the 41 different Merchant awards is eligible for ‘the big one’, and so we were both surprised and delighted when IWC Co-Chair Charles Metcalfe uttered the immortal words: “And the winner is … The Wine Society!”

So 2016 goes down in Society history along with 2005, 2011 and 2013 as the years we have received the IWC’s ultimate accolade. This wine trade laureate is something in which all can share, whether staff, members or suppliers, all of whom have contributed to, and continue to contribute to The Society’s success. So whoever you are and wherever you may be, thank you for your support and for the part you have played in making The Society what it is today.

Thomas Oda (Member Research), Simon Mason (Tastings & Events), Ewan Murray (PR), Eain Green (IS), Robin McMillan (CEO), Tim Sykes (Head of Buying), Freddy Bulmer (Trainee Buyer) proudly displaying the spoils.Thomas Oda (Member Research), Simon Mason (Tastings & Events Manager), Ewan Murray (PR Manager), Eain Green (Systems Development Manager), Robin McMillan (Chief Executive), Tim Sykes (Head of Buying), Freddy Bulmer (Trainee Buyer) proudly displaying our spoils.

All awards

 

Ewan Murray
PR Manager

Comments (7)

Several members may already know this wine.

They may well have been recommended it by our Member Services team, received an e-mail campaign recently about how popular it is with staff, or seen it on our website.

The wines of McManis Family Vineyards just seem to keep cropping up! And, whilst reading Sarah Mercer’s writeup of their petite sirah for July’s Staff Choice, I was reminded why.

You can find a full archive of Staff Choices on our website here.

McManis Family Petite Sirah 2014
Sarah MercerThis is one of my favourite red wines and my firm choice for a BBQ when friends come over – which means it’s now their favourite too!

I first introduced it to them at a blind wine-tasting evening at mine. It was wine number 9, and it won hands down; ever since, I’m always asked ahead of an evening together whether I’m bringing ‘wine number 9’ with me!

The McManis family, who make it, have been growing grapes in California for five generations. Their large-capacity winery is dedicated to producing high-quality wines with ‘small winery’ methods, by fermenting and ageing in small lots. The result is a powerful, densely coloured, concentrated and full-bodied wine with smooth mocha and chocolate flavours. I recommend you give it a try!

Sarah Mercer
Assistant Merchandiser

£10.50 – Bottle
£126 – Case of 12
View Wine Details

Categories : Rest of the World
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Wed 06 Jul 2016

Hot off the press…

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shutterstock_163797104Our team of buyers is forever scouring the world of wine in order to come up with the fantastic selections that members have come to discover, know and love. That the wines have passed the buyers’ palate test is recommendation enough, but third-party endorsement is always good to receive, adding objectivity to how The Society goes about things.

From members’ feedback, as well as tracking sales patterns of wines mentioned in the press, we know that there are several influential wine writers whose palates seem to be in harmony with those of members. Part of my role as The Society’s PR Manager is to ensure that those writers get to taste our wines and then ‘spread the love’, meaning more members get to see the wines, and more people become members on the back of this.

A regular click on our ‘Latest Press Reviews’ section of the website, renewed weekly, will keep you up-to-date with latest opinions on our wines, but here are a few recent highlights from the summer selections of just four of our favourite writers:

Victoria MooreVictoria

The Society’s Grüner Veltliner 2015

Superb, serious version of Austria’s signature grape – all white pepper and seltzer with hidden lime and grapefruit zest and a distinct stony undertow. Clean and bracing. One for picpoul drinkers to try. The Daily Telegraph, 4th June 2016

 Cerasuolo d’Abruzzo, Contesa 2015

While the idea of drinking a deep-coloured rosé might feel tacky and wrong, like wearing a zigzag mohair jumper (I had one in the Eighties), I did find one I loved: Contesa Cerasuolo d’Abruzzo 2015, from southern Italy … A deep fuchsia-pink wine that is plump and ripe, has a squishy softness, and tastes of fat sweet-sour raspberries: an ample wine that’s good with other creamy-textured foods such as fresh mozzarella. The Daily Telegraph, 2nd July 2016 

Jean-Paul Brun, Terres Dorées Beaujolais L’Ancien 2014

This gamay from Beaujolais master Jean-Paul Brun smells amazing – it tingles like iron on stones, then the thick smell of redcurrants and other red berries comes through. An extraordinarily good, light-bodied wine, savoury as well as summery. Three ticks on my two-tick scale. Drink slightly chilled. The Daily Telegraph, 4th June 2016

 

Jane MacQuittyjane_macquitty-180x180

The Society’s Vinho Verde 2015

What could be more summery than a refreshing, floral, tongue-tingling, only 11.5 per cent alcohol glass of vinho verde? It is bristling with the alvarinho and trajadura grape’s sparky, spritzy, aromatic, verdant fruit. Fish such as mackerel love this lean but lively zingy white — and it’s perfect for a summer party. The Times, 25th June 2016

Muga Rosado, Rioja, 2015

This delicious, zingy, deep salmon pink rosé has been one of the top Spanish pinks for years. So tuck into this bone-dry, yet juicy rosé with plenty of zesty, smoky, savoury, peppery punch as a fine barbecue bottle. The Times, 2nd July 2016

 Baccolo Appassimento Parziale, Rosso Veneto 2014

Dive into this gorgeous, gamey, dried cranberry, morello cherry and raspberry-charged red, which has that pleasing, classic, bitter Italian twang on the finish. It’s a great barbecue red. The Times, 2nd July 2016

 

Matthew JukesMatthew-Jukes-About-Wine

Hidalgo Pastrana Manzanilla Pasada

I’ve given this a rare 20/20, a score gained by only two or three wines each year. It’s the best affordable dry Sherry in the world. Daily Mail, matthewjukes.com, 28th May 2016

Tavel Cuvée Prima Donna Rosé, Domaine Maby 2015

Made from the same grapes responsible for the mighty Châteauneuf-du-Pape, this is a powerful rosé which acts as a light red when it comes to food. It is sheer heaven with barbecued chicken. Daily Mail, matthewjukes.com, 28th May 2016

The Society’s Exhibition Hawke’s Bay Red 2013

Best hidden gem: A blend of merlot, cabernet sauvignon, malbec and cabernet franc, this is sublime – and a steal given it’s from one of the world’s foremost wineries, Craggy Range. Daily Mail, matthewjukes.com, 28th May 2016

 

David Williamsdavid williams

Pierre Gimonnet Premier Cru Brut NV

An invigorating fizz from Pierre Gimonnet, a specialist in chardonnay (which here makes up 100% of the blend) and one of the best of the region’s grower-producers now making their own wines rather than selling grapes to the region’s big houses. The Observer, 19th June

 Piesporter Goldtröpfchen Riesling Spätlese, von Kesselstatt 2013

The Germans have always been associated with [a] less fashionable version of riesling, one which involves leavening the sharpness with a dose of sweetness. This can make for the most beautifully delicate off-dry white wines, which with their markedly low alcohol, are just right for summer daytime drinking: The Wine Society has a good one in the shape of Von Kesselstatt Piesporter Goldtröpfchen Spätlese 2013, a racy, lengthy mouthful in taste as well as nomenclature. The Observer, 25th June 2016

 Percheron Old-Vine Cinsault, Western Cape 2015

Cinsault has become a surprise favourite of the new wave of South African producers. This is a brilliant place to start an exploration of its many charms: an exuberantly juicy cherry-berry red and one of the UK’s best-value wines. The Observer, 19th June

Ewan Murray
PR Manager

Categories : Miscellaneous
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Michael Brajkovich MW is one of the most talented, and modest, winemakers in the world today.

Recently I had the chance to sit down with him and talk about his Kumeu River chardonnays, and couldn’t resist asking how he felt about them trouncing a clutch of eye-wateringly expensive white Burgundies in a blind tasting last year. This is not the first time Michael’s Auckland chardonnays have performed such a feat, and the sort of result that, were I a winemaker, would probably see me running delirious laps around my barrel hall.

‘Whenever we’ve put our wines against some top white Burgundies, we’ve been very happy just to be on the same page,’ Michael replies. ‘We’re happy to be considered at the same kind of level because we’re considerably cheaper; and when the results come through and we’ve done very well… it’s really nice!’

Michael Brajkovich MW in The Wine Society's tasting room Michael Brajkovich MW in The Wine Society’s tasting room

‘But it’s not the main reason we do it,’ he hastens to add. ‘We’re here to say ‘hey – here’s something that’s not exactly the same, because it’s from a different terroir, a different country – but the quality level is comparable, the style is comparable, and we are better value.’’

Kumeu River’s new 2014 wines,  have recently been released in our current New Zealand offer, provide a further testament to the outstanding quality and deserved following the Brajkovich family’s wines have achieved.

‘Everything went perfectly in 2014. There was no rot, harvesting was easy, the fruit was in perfect condition and as the juices went through fermentation, we thought to ourselves, ‘this is something pretty special.’ It was pretty much a perfect-weather vintage leading right up to the end of it. It’s a generous, richer, more giving vintage than 2013. And they’re actually really good early on.’

He’s not wrong. The 2014s are truly world-class chardonnays, imbued with approachable richness and delicate refreshing balance throughout the Kumeu River portfolio.

But not quite everything went perfectly, Michael chuckled. Their top plot, Mate’s Vineyard, which is the last to be picked, became the subject of a scramble to get the grapes in before a tropical cyclone threatened to destroy the crop before it could be harvested.

'It really is our grand cru.' Mate's Vineyard.‘It really is our grand cru.’ Mate’s Vineyard.

All whilst entertaining the visit of New Zealand’s Prime Minister – and their local MP – John Key, and the Croatian Prime Minister, who was visiting at the time!

Thankfully the grapes were harvested – and the Prime Ministers entertained – and the fruit reached the winery in perfect condition. ‘It was during the fermentation we realised how good it was. Ok, so it was picked a few days earlier than we’d have liked but it didn’t make any difference: the vineyard matters more than the few days. It’s one of our oldest vineyards. It’s quite low-yielding, even in terms of this bumper crop, and the wine is fabulous. It really is our grand cru.’

Enter stage left: The Society’s Head of Buying, Tim Sykes, and buyer for New Zealand, Sarah Knowles MW, who visited Kumeu a couple of months later.

You can read Tim’s account of the visit here; but having tasted the 2014s in barrel, Sarah instantly began negotiating an increase in The Society’s allocation.

Kumeu River are, of course, also the source of our Society’s Exhibition Chardonnay (£13.50). This exclusive single-vineyard wine has long been popular with members, but the 2014 vintage offers something particularly special. Having picked up the Best New Zealand Chardonnay Under £15 Trophy at both the Decanter and International Wine Challenge awards, the wine offers further delicious proof of 2014’s quality here. The below video from our archive shows Michael talking about this wine, and sums up both the wine and his outlook on winemaking very well.

Kumeu River’s 2014s are available now in our current New Zealand offer. Despite securing a good allocation of these wines, supply is still limited so please don’t delay in ordering these special wines to avoid disappointment!

Martin Brown
Digital Copywriter

Categories : New Zealand
Comments (1)

These recipes, while hopefully of use and interest to all, were written with the summer selections of The Society’s Wine Without Fuss subscription scheme particularly in mind. Wine Without Fuss offers regular selections of delicious wines with the minimum of fuss. Why not join the growing band of members who let their Society take the strain, and are regularly glad they do?

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

Janet Wynne EvansJanet Wynne Evans

Whether it’s holidays, food or wine, finding something that works and resolutely sticking is a natural and understandable policy. Why go trawling the unknown, looking for potentially unpleasant surprises?

A Wine Without Fuss subscription holds no such dangers, of course. This is a corner of the unknown that comes not only with our buying team’s well-documented reputation for unearthing buried treasure, but also with The Society’s guarantee of satisfaction lest any of our selections fail to strike gold.

In fact, it’s about as risk free as any adventure can be, and a new gem could be waiting. Even after over three decades in the wine trade, more than two of them at The Wine Society and at least one on the Wine Without Fuss team, I always find something thought-provoking to inspire me with ideas for the Wine and Dine notes that accompany each case.

Food needn’t fall into a fearful rut either, especially a so-called ‘classic’ dish that, frankly, isn’t. A case in point is lasagne, literally pasta sheets that could be interleaved with anything. However, the word has become synonymous with just one version, properly called lasagne al ragù and stratified with meat and tomato sauce.

The best of these, made luxurious by prime ingredients and long, slow cooking, are delicious and comforting. I won’t dwell on how easy or tempting it is for cynical ready-meal purveyors to gravitate to the lowest common denominators, with worst mince, ketchup and mousetrap. Or, more recently, lest we forget – and we really shouldn’t – secret horse.

The very best lasagne I’ve ever tasted, however, had not a scrap of meat in sight. It came from a smiling Italian stallholder at my farmers’ market and had been lovingly stuffed, in someone’s kitchen, not a factory, with walnuts, spinach and Gorgonzola cheese, spiked with nutmeg. Inexplicably, I’ve never seen it since and enquiries yield no more than a rueful shake of the head. Perhaps it was a leap too far.

So I make it at home, though I still haven’t quite captured it. Perhaps you have to be Italian, just as Yorkshire-born cooks seem to have unique sensors in their fingertips that register when the batter for God’s Own Pudding has reached the perfect consistency and can be poured into sizzling fat.

Lasagne

Nevertheless, this is a good and flexible feast with untold variations, not to mention fridge clearance potential. One of the tastiest came from the last knockings of a somewhat eclectic spending spree in Caseus, Montreuil’s leading fromagerie, and a past-its-best bag of spinach, rocket and watercress salad. I do, however, draw the line at stale nuts, one form of poor stock rotation for which there is only one destination – the food waste bin.

The recipe below is infinitely adaptable with the summer selections.

Janet Wynne Evans
Fine Wine Editor

LASAGNE WITH SPINACH, WALNUTS AND GORGONZOLA
Serves four heartily, or six daintily.

• 550ml full-fat milk
• 2 heaped tablespoon plain flour
• 60g butter, plus a small extra knob to cook the spinach
• A couple of dried bay leaves, or use three fresh ones, torn
• A small onion or banana shallot, peeled and halved
• Two whole cloves
• Half a nutmeg
• 250g ready-washed baby spinach leaves
• 8 – 10 sheets (about 120g) dried lasagne, softened (see cook’s nips below)
• 250g mild, creamy blue cheese, eg dolcelatte or gorgonzola dolce (not
piccante), cut into small cubes
• 60g aged parmesan or pecorino cheese, freshly grated
• 75g shelled walnuts, roughly chopped

Cook’s Nips
• I don’t trust so-called ‘no-cook’ dried pasta sheets so I simmer them for about 5 minutes on the hob in a deep roasting tin, with a good pinch of salt and a dash of oil. I then top up with cold water and leave the sheets submerged until ready to layer. They will stick and tear a bit but are easier to trim and at least I know they’ll be properly cooked.
• Though a mucky bunch of what I call ‘free-range’ spinach is worth fumigating and destemming for its vastly superior taste, this recipe is definitely one for a bag of ready-washed baby leaves. They are more tender, need no trimming, wilt very quickly and need no squeezing dry or chopping.
Allow yourself plenty of time to infuse the milk. It really does make all the difference to the resulting taste and full-fat makes for a much better texture than semi-skimmed. Skimmed is a very bad idea.
• Self-styled lasagne dishes come in different shapes and sizes, so consider volume rather than dimensions. This recipe works for a capacity of about 1.5l. For 4 layers of lasagne and four neat portions, I use a pie dish measuring roughly 20cm x 20cm x 7cm.

Lasagne preparation

First infuse the milk. Set a pan on the stove and pour in the milk. Add the bay leaves. Impale each onion half with a clove and add those too. Grate in a generous amount of nutmeg. Bring the milk to boiling point, then remove it from the heat. Cover and leave for at least one hour. Strain into a jug before adding it to your béchamel.

Next, prepare your spinach, which you can also do well in advance. Put the leaves straight from their bag into a large saucepan with a very small knob of butter. Do not add water. Season well with pepper and more grated nutmeg if you like. Let it collapse on a gentle heat, standing over it and turning it about to stop it sticking. Remove it from the heat, transfer to a bowl and set aside.

Place your chosen dish in a roasting tin or oven tray to contain spillages.

Melt the butter in a large saucepan (a broader base speeds things up). Once it’s melted dip in a pastry brush and grease your dish. Next, add the flour, stir briskly with a wooden spoon to integrate it and cook for a couple of minutes, to get rid of its raw tang, stirring all the while. When the mixture resembles honeycomb, reduce the heat a little and start adding the infused milk. Keep stirring. As it begins to thicken, add more, redoubling your efforts with the spoon to disperse any lumps. Once all the milk is incorporated, reduce the heat again to very low and let the sauce finish thickening, stirring from time to time. It should be really thick and creamy.

Next, add a tablespoonful each of the blue cheese and the Parmesan and stir in the spinach. Taste now, and add a little salt, along with more pepper and nutmeg if you like.

Cover the base of the dish with a lick of the sauce and cover that snugly with a single layer of lasagne, trimming them to fit your dish. Set aside enough of the sauce to cover the final layer of pasta, along with a tablespoon of the Parmesan which will add crunch to the topping. Cover the pasta in the dish with some of the remaining cheeses, a scattering of the walnuts and some more of the sauce, then another layer of lasagne. Continue in this vein, finishing with a layer of pasta. Top that with the reserved sauce and sprinkle with the last of the Parmesan. You can now set the dish aside if you wish, for several hours or even overnight in the fridge.

Bake on the middle shelf of a preheated oven at 180C/Gas 4 for 35 minutes until burnished and just firm.

Serve warm with a sharp green salad.

Wine wisdom
What makes this wine-friendly is the mildness of the cheese. A strong one will murder the dish but if you avoid Stilton, Roquefort and the pillaging Danes, any number of reds and whites will do the job as long as they have the acidity to match that of the cheese, and to balance its richness. A brisk, northern Italian red would be good: Dogliani Clavesana 2015 (£7.50, Buyers’ Everyday Reds), with its sweet dolcetto fruit is well-nigh perfect.

A tangy goat’s milk cheese instead of the blue, with hazelnuts instead of walnuts are a nice combination too. Try that with a sauvignon blanc or similarly aromatic white: Three Terraces Sauvignon Blanc 2014 (Buyers’ Premium Selection – or find the 2015 vintage here for £8.95) is a good option as is the vermentino from Chartreuse de Mougères (£6.25, Buyers’ Everyday Whites).

Add a layer or two of roasted red peppers and sundried tomatoes to your lasagne, with toasted pine nuts and basil instead of walnuts and spinach, and you’ll have the elements of a mondo bizarro sauce – a kind of zingy red pesto. For this, use a young pecorino or grated mozzarella rather than blue cheese. Treat it to a tomato-friendly grape like Puglia’s nero di Troia (Tufarello in the Buyer’s Premium Selection) or Australia’s expression of the Mediterranean triumvirate, Blind Spot Grenache-Shiraz-Mataro 2014 (£7.75, Buyers’ Everyday Reds).

Categories : Wine Without Fuss
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Fri 01 Jul 2016

Brexit

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Following the result of last week’s EU referendum members may be asking what impact the decision may have on The Society.

Sarah EvansAs we buy the majority of our wine in foreign currencies, particularly euros, any fluctuations in exchange rates have a potential impact although as we operate a hedging policy we are protected from significant volatility in the short term. In the meantime we will monitor the situation and take any necessary action to mitigate further fluctuations.

It is too early to say what impact there might be on The Society, the market in which we operate or our members and we believe there is sufficient agility in the business to cope with changes that might result from this vote.

Any changes will take some time to come into effect; time which we will use to adapt our business and operating plans to cope with the new world order. Experience during the economic crash of 2007/2008 shows that we can act quite quickly when we need to.

Sarah Evans
Chairman

Categories : Miscellaneous
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