Millésimes Alsace 2016, an international trade event in Colmar, was only the third of its kind – and a first for me. Superbly organised, if discreetly promoted (whilst there was a strong turnout of UK press, members of the UK trade were few and far between), this is certainly one I will aim to attend again in 2018, and with more time to take full advantage of the additional events on the days before and after.
The event showcased Alsace’s premium wines. Most were grand cru or lieu-dit (single-vineyard) wines, many were rieslings, and from the 2014 vintage which was so good for this wonderfully terroir-expressive grape (see for yourself in our new offer of Alsace wines, the fruits of a trip with my colleague & Alsace aficionado Marcel Orford-Williams back in February).
This was certainly the most democratic wine show I have ever attended. One large room, the same modestly sized tables for all, no posters, banners or other eye candy, with wines poured by the winemakers and vignerons themselves. Where else would you find co-op wines, in this case from the Cave de Turckheim (and very good they were too), sandwiched happily between two of the iconic names of the region: Trimbach and Domaine Weinbach?
The weather was unseasonably wet, but there’s no getting away from the picturesque beauty of this region. Day two of the event was made up of visits to, and tastings of, some of Alsace’s finest grands crus. Other diary commitments meant I could not take full advantage of this opportunity and I had to leave a fascinating presentation on the geology of the region in the Goldert vineyard.
The vineyard lies just outside the village of Gueberschwihr and from above the village we just spotted the local tourist train (known affectionately as the TGV!) which runs along the wine route twice a week from Eguisheim, and generally requires reservation in advance (though few had been brave enough on this wet & misty day). That bit at least is open to non-trade, and with air access to the region so easy via Strasbourg or Basel-Mulhouse, or by car or real TGV of course, it’s no wonder they receive so many visitors from the UK.
And for a break from wine? Colmar’s extended and refurbished Unter Linden Museum comes highly recommended, and Easy Jet’s current in-flight magazine sings the praises of the Vitra Design Museum in Basel.
Jo Locke MW
Our offer of the 2014 Alsace vintage is available now.
Finally the time has come that we are able to reveal the 2016 Wine Champions!
This has been my first Wine Champions campaign, and The Society’s biggest one yet. To be that satisfied with the final result and excited to share them with you all, but to have to keep it zipped for many weeks before we were able to do so hasn’t been easy!
With the offer online now, and landing on doormats this week, I wanted to share a few highlights with you – whether they be outstanding wines which really took their tasting by storm or whether it be a collection of wines which show just how good a particular region is looking.
Viva the Vintage
We knew that the 2015 vintage in the Mediterranean was a success, but we were still surprised to see just how many made the cut, especially with the high calibre competition; showing that the quality of the vintage really does speak for itself.
In the red corner, it was Italy that really took the tasters by storm, with no fewer than three under-£10 reds bowling us over. Our very own Society’s Montepulciano d’Abruzzo 2015 (£6.25) is the first wine in the offer brochure and kicks it all off as we mean to go on with its vibrant, ripe fruit. Close behind is the Valpolicella Valpantena, Torre del Falasco 2015 (£7.25) with its charming cherry fruit, and Valpolicella, Allegrini 2015 (£9.50) tops off the trio, with sweet berry flavours and classic Valpolicella style.
2015 has kept on giving in the white corner too, with six Mediterranean whites featured at under £10. Anselmo Mendes ‘Contacto’ Alvarinho, Vinho Verde 2015 (£10.95) makes the cut for the third year running, thanks to its beautiful and pure lime and apricot flavours; it’s not hard to see why it was a double trophy winner in this year’s International Wine Challenge too.
While Burgundy doesn’t feature in the offer, it is there in spirit, with some excellent pinot noir and chardonnay, each of which provided two of the best blind tastings of the entire campaign.
Four superb pinots made the final offer, making it our most popular red grape varietal of the year. This included our first ever red German Wine Champion, in the form of Martin Wassmer Spätburgunder 2013 (£11.95), which held its own against a number of red Burgundies, and indeed ascended above them on account of it being so delicious now, with red-cherry perfume and lovely food-friendly ‘grip’ on the palate.
Chardonnay was just as much of a delight this year, also with four wines featured, showing just how fantastic the variety can be. Our Society’s Exhibition Limari Chardonnay 2014 (£9.95) did exactly what it was meant to do; be the best example of its kind.
As a result of this success, a six-bottle mixed case of three chardonnay and three pinot noir victors has been made to give you a taste of Burgundy abroad.
Some wines are just born to be Champions and it would seem that a small few wine stables are regularly producing real thoroughbreds. As mentioned above, Anselmo Mendes has now featured for three years running, and three wines from Château Sainte Eulalie from the Languedoc were crowned as 2016 Wine Champions: their rosé (£7.25) took one of the two pink podium spaces, and two reds, Minervois, Château Sainte Eulalie 2014 (£6.95) and Minervois La Livinière Cuvée Cantilène, Château Sainte Eulalie 2013 (£11.95) also feature.
Another producer worthy of a mention due to their success is Wither Hills, who feature in the offering twice with their 2012 Pinot Noir (£10.50) and their 2013 Chardonnay (£8.50) – given the extraordinary competition for places with both of these grapes this year, this is an extraordinary showing.
Finally, I must give a special mention for those wines in the offer bearing our very own Society labels. Four wines from our Society & Exhibition ranges take pride of place in the 2016 offering, making up 10% of the overall selection! It is always nice to see a Society label when you pull off the blind bag of a winning wine and to have four of our own in there is very nice indeed. The Society’s Exhibition Pauillac 2009 (£25) impressed, with its traditional claret style and bags of finesse, all enhanced by some time in bottle in our cellars.
I hope you enjoy exploring this year’s Wine Champions. I’m off to celebrate with a nice glass of The Society’s Champagne, which features too…!
Wine Society members cordially invited to attend a night of jazz and bubbles at Sparkling Saumur producer Gratien & Meyer’s headquarters in Saumur on Saturday 2nd July, 2016.
In the March edition of Societynews, Olivier Dupré, CEO of Gratien & Meyer in Saumur and Champagne Alfred Gratien in Epernay, mentioned in our interview with him that the company puts on a programme of summer events every year which are proving very popular.
Olivier generously offered to waive the entrance fee of 8€ for Wine Society members (take along a copy of Societynews or your List as proof of membership), in recognition of the long-standing relationship that exists between our two companies.
What more of a pleasant way to start your summer than with a glass of sparkling Saumur sipped slowly on Gratien & Meyer’s balcony overlooking the Saumur river, listening to some jazzy melodies from the exciting live acts set to perform?
The evening starts at 4pm and goes on until 9pm and this year’s programme looks as though it will be just as popular as previous years, with artists like the Rachel Ratsizafy Quartet, Three for Swing and the Patricia Ouvrard Quartet playing during the course of the evening.
• Rachel Ratsizafy is French of Madagascan heritage and her music is heavily influenced by the traditional Madagascan songs or ‘Kalo fahiny’ of her youth. She is supported by a talented backing band and guest vocalist Marc Thomas.
• Three for Swing are well-known among jazz lovers and were formed to revive the swing music made famous by the Nat King Cole trio. In order to do justice to such a jazz legend requires musicians with immense talent and personality, not to mention a singer with a voice like liquid gold!
• Patricia Ouvrard is a singer with an extraordinary talent for improvisation; she’s also that rare thing amongst female vocalists, a scat-singer. Supported by her trio of equally talented musicians, she will treat the audience to some jazz standards given a sensitive rendition by the purity of her voice.
If you like the sound of an evening of jazz and sparkling Saumur wines enjoyed on the terrace of our longest-standing suppliers, Gratien & Meyer, and you will be in the region next month, take a look at the event website for more details.
Saturday 2nd July 2016 from 4.00pm to 9pm
Caves Gratien & Meyer à Saumur.
Tarif 8€ per person, or free for Wine Society members
Gratien & Meyer
Route de Montsoreau
Tel. 02 41 83 13 32
Which came first: the wine and the food, or the food and the wine?
A question not quite as old as the chicken or the egg, but one that, in some households, may be even more hotly contested!
Do you cook up your signature dish then look under the stairs to see what’s in the wine rack? Or do you trawl through the latest List to see which bottle gets the palate tingling and salivating, and then find the perfect food to make it shine?
There certainly are strong arguments for both approaches.
When we asked members through a poll on our homepage whether the food or the bottle was the first ingredient for a meal, 59% said they chose the food first, 16% the wine and 25% opted for a noncommittal approach.
What I’d be really interested to know is what the pre-meal-prep thought processes are; and how far in advance does the planning start?
One thing most parties will agree on is that the better the dish, the better the wine to match.
Personally on a week night, whatever dish can be cobbled together from what’s in the fridge (a throwback to Ready Steady Cook?), gets thrown with whatever cork has already been pulled or looks like it will wash down pretty well. For a weekend meal, though, or eating with friends, my wine choice tends to come first.
The great thing about being passionate about either food or wine, it’s going to lead to a more adventurous outlook on the other. Imagine a set of scales with a glass of wine on one side and a plate on the other, and when the flavours balance and work off each other to enhance the sensory experience, it can be a magical moment!
There are of course a few principles to take into consideration, which can be really handy and found in the Tastebud Terrors section of our website.
To add to that, we have our popular Society’s Food & Wine Matcher tool, which can be used to get ideas to match to a dish; and each wine we sell is match on its product page to a number of dishes which will enhance it.
However, these are only guidelines, and half the fun is in the personal experience and the little surprises.
If you enjoy the paring, that’s the right one. I’ve witnessed people drinking youthful claret with delicate fish, and getting more enjoyment out of putting their two favourite things together than any sommelier or expert in the world could (probably) recommend to them!
If there are any weird and wonderful pairing experiences you’ve accidentally come across, please share them in the comments below so we can give them a go!
Freddy Bulmer gives us an insight into the process behind our biggest Wine Champions blind-tasting sessions yet…
Sadly, the Wine Champions offer doesn’t organise itself and it takes an awful lot of hard work to arrange the programme and the subsequent tastings in a way that ensures a fair competition and a process which runs smoothly.
If the offer is a stage show, featuring a cast of vinous actors, then you must also have a scriptwriter, producer and director behind the scenes in order to provide our members, or audience, with the show. For every charming leading man or woman, there are a handful of stage-hands!
The bulk of preparation for the Wine Champions offer, released later this month, starts the December beforehand but the tastings are put in the diary months in advance to ensure they tie in with the buyers’ busy schedules. Once the dates are set, the pre-selections begin.
Each buyer scrupulously tastes through their own range, in order to eliminate wines that they don’t think are quite at their prime yet. Once this is done, they have a deadline by which they need to enter the list of wines that they would like to be included in the relevant tasting. Depending on the theme of the tasting, the majority of the wines may come from our own cellars or as samples direct from the producers. The lists of wines from each of the buyers must be collated before each of the tastings, allowing enough time for wines to be ordered up from our cellars or to arrive from all corners of the world.
Next, tasting sheets must be created, along with crib sheets which list the wines, to be given to the judges after each tasting. The sheets have the wines arranged by price, with no other information other than the theme of the tasting and the price bracket.
The day before the tasting, the wines are collected from the Showroom collections area and moved to the tasting room at the other end of our HQ. There they must be checked off against the list, arranged in tasting order and bagged up, numbered and have their foil tops removed. An exercise which can take rather a long time when you have 90+ wines to go through!
Following each tasting the clean-up begins immediately. This is because we often have tastings on consecutive days, so everything must be repeated in time for the next morning.
This year was a record campaign. While this shows that our range is always growing and taking on more and more interesting wines, it also means that a record amount of work had to take place from the team.
18 tastings took place this year, with three in December and then the rest through the second half of January through to March.
This means that the above process had to be carried out 18 times, in order to successfully taste the 784 wines submitted by the buyers.
Was it all worth it? Absolutely! Not only do the wines provide plenty of reward for the hard work (the success of the European 2015 vintage provided us with a huge amount of pleasure) but watching the selection come together after each tasting has also been thoroughly rewarding.
We are all extremely excited to reveal this year’s Wine Champions to you in just a couple of weeks’ time.
Come December, it will be time to start all over again. For now, I am very pleased that this campaign is over and I can have a nice cup of tea…
Every two years, the winemakers of Austria descend on Vienna’s spectacular Hofburg Imperial Palace to host the country’s largest wine fair, VieVinum.
Superbly managed by the Austrian Wine Marketing Board, this biannual event sees a convergence of the world’s wine trade, packing out the hotels, the wine fair and the local watering holes!
This year’s highlights included a tasting that showcased the ageing potential of Austrian wines. This line-up proved in some style that fine grüner veltliner, while precise and fresh when young, can age and develop complex layers (such as honeyed almond, peach and flint). Less surprisingly, but nonetheless also often overlooked, were wonderful older examples of Austrian riesling and blaufränkisch on show. A seminar devoted to Austria’s ‘elements of uniqueness’ reminded us of the wide range of native grape varieties, the diversity of appropriate landscapes and the food-friendly nature of the wines.
Proving too that the Austrians know how to party, a get-together for all the international visitors was held on the Saturday in another distinctive Viennese venue, this time in the Museum Quarter, showcasing local food and wine pairings and introducing us all to the new sustainability programme that the Austrian wine sector are now committed to.
VieVinum is without doubt one of the best-run and most focused international tastings, educating, entertaining and enabling buyers from across the world in equal measure.
I was spoilt for choice with the universally high quality and wide diversity of the wines on show.
I hope you enjoy a few of my favourites in the upcoming Austrian Shortlist and in future Fine Wine selections.
Sarah Knowles MW
Visit Travels In Wine for more news from Austria
We are always looking for interesting and useful ways to share information with our members.
We wanted to offer members an interactive and consistent way of navigating the world of wine, and set about commissioning a range of maps for all the wine regions we cover (no small undertaking with us carrying wines from at least 28 countries!) in a digital format.
The first of these maps, Italy, is now live, and can be found in our How To Buy Italy guide. Here you can hop around the different regions and sub regions and view key facts about each.
We wanted to try Italy first as it is one of the more complex countries that we buy from; being suckers for punishment, we’ll be taking on the behemoth that is France next!
So keep an eye out for more maps over the next few months, and do please let us know any comments you may have.
Marketing Campaign Manager
June’s Staff Choice is one of southern Italy’s finest reds, Graticciaia, selected by The Society’s head of marketing, Matthew Kirk.
I talk to lots of Wine Society members, at tastings and in our research, and they often tell me that their favourite wine is one that they have an emotional association with – something that goes beyond what’s in the bottle. It’s the same for me: my favourite wine at the moment (though for special occasions only!) is Graticciaia by Vallone, whom I visited when on holiday with my family in nearby Castellana Grotte in 2010; and I found myself taken back there again when I tasted this wine at our Italian growers’ tasting in London last month.
The grapes are dried on straw mats (grattici) on the roof of the winery in Puglia before fermentation.
The process is similar to Amarone, I believe (though up in the Veneto they usually dry them indoors with the windows open) and it gives the finished wine an extra richness and intensity. Lovely.
Head of Marketing
£32 – Bottle
£192 – Case of six
View Wine Details
Kanonkop is an essential stop on any visit to Stellenbosch, even more important now they are supplying our Exhibition Pinotage, which returns this autumn.
Kanonkop’s Paul Sauer – named after the Kriges’ grandfather – is one of the Cape’s best-known Bordeaux-style blends. Look out for the mature 2008 coming in July and impressive 2009 in our August Fine Wine List.
This handsome selection appears in the refurbished tasting room on the estate. There is now a small gallery of local art, as well as cheese platters to order & BYO picnic opportunity for summer visitors.
The now super-fashionable Land Rover Defender (always iconic, now sadly no longer being produced) has long been the wine farm’s vehicle of choice. Warwick has adapted two for its Wine Safaris which offer a great (if bumpy!) way of visiting the vineyards.
Hopefully the experience will not cause you to call on your travel insurance, and I suspect small children would not be allowed, but there’s a play area to cater for them too. Also note these do require booking in advance. Warwick really has thought of everything.
The weather was more autumnal on our visit but we did not miss the opportunity for spectacular views and a brief tutorial on the Simonsberg-Stellenbosch ward (appellation), which is home to some of the Cape’s top producers of Bordeaux grapes.
Look out for more on this buying trip soon on Travels In Wine.
Jo Locke MW
Think of Burgundy and, for most, whites and reds share equal interest.
Think of the Rhône, however, and invariably it’s the region’s generous spicy reds that tend to spring to mind.
I’ve been singing the praises of white Rhône for many years, particularly when asked by Society members for a white wine to serve with food. It seems my interest is shared as in recent years there has been a growth in plantings of white varieties in the region.
Condrieu is well-known, and the white wines of Saint-Péray continue to garner deserved recognition. White Hermitage and Châteauneuf-du-Pape can take on a sherry-like nuttiness with age. The white wines of these four crus provide a rich palette of options for food.
However, perhaps the most exciting of my own recent finds have been younger white Rhônes, which offer more accessible appeal, freshness and fragrance, alongside that same generosity you get from their red cousins.
There really is no such thing as a typical white Rhône, due in no small part to the fact that so many grape varieties can be used. For me, this just adds to their charm: with such diversity available, there is a wine to suit nearly every occasion.
Furthermore, recent vintages have been very impressive, including the remarkable 2014s.
Some white Rhônes (and food matches) to try:
• Grignan-les-Adhémar Blanc Cuvée Gourmandise, Domaine de Montine 2015 (£7.50) offers a very respectable introduction. The perfumed viognier grape stands proud in the blend, providing a fruit-driven framework that would suit a multitude of salad options; my favourite would be a chargrilled chicken breast salad with a touch of Caesar salad sauce.
• Vacqueyras Blanc Les Clefs d’Or, Clos des Cazaux 2013 (£11.95) is a bone-dry white but with a touch of roundness and fruit from grenache blanc and roussanne. A tried and tested pan-fried prawn favourite!
• Lirac Blanc La Fermade, Domaine Maby 2014 (£8.95) shows off the charms of this underrated southern village. The base is grenache blanc, but the ingenious addition of some early-picked picpoul introduces a vivacious, almost Burgundian feel, which works beautifully with smoked salmon.
• Laudun Blanc, Domaine Pélaquié 2014 (£9.50) is a full-flavoured herb-infused gem with a delicate sweet nuttiness to the flavour. Great with roasted squash.
• Côtes-du-Rhône Blanc, Guigal 2014 (£9.95) is a fragrant generous gastronomic delight, the viognier grape lending its aromatic qualities to the blend and making it a good partner with mild curry.
• Viognier, Grignan-les-Adhémar, Domaine de Montine 2015 (£9.50) employs oak subtly, creating a creamy-textured background for the characteristic apricot notes of viognier. Try with fish pie.
So whether it’s salad, seafood, squash, curry or pie on the menu, the Rhône’s white wines offer a multitude of matches. I do hope you’ll give one a go.
The Cellar Showroom