Grapevine Archive for May, 2010
This year, for the first time, I’m seeing The Society’s en primeur – or opening offer – process from start to finish from the inside. After several years travelling to Bordeaux with Sebastian Payne MW to taste the wines, this time I’m learning the ropes back home too, party to all the relevant correspondence, and experiencing the highs and lows of this anticipated long campaign (likely to run well into July). Reactions run from the frustration induced by a few exceptionally high prices (some so greedy that we are not buying) to the satisfaction of the many more sensible prices available, usually for the more modest wines that offer such great value for money even in a vintage as talked about as this one.
Our system is a bit more complicated than some, not least because we choose to gather as many prices as we can before releasing any ourselves, so that we can offer our members as wide a choice as possible. It’s complicated too because if demand is high and we are unable to secure further stock (we’re buying big this year, believe me, but in some cases there just isn’t enough wine to go round) we ration and allocate what wine we do have amongst members rather than offering them on a first-come, first-served basis. Where it’s simple is that we only offer wines we’ve tasted (often several times) and wines we are happy to recommend. So some big names will not feature, either on pricing or quality grounds, and you’ll find numerous lesser-known wines which many of us can afford to buy and will find great pleasure in. As I am regularly reminded, The Wine Society is for wine drinkers not wine investors, hence we offer wines in half and mixed cases as well as full dozens.
So much for the process. What if you are new to buying from opening offers, or have not yet taken the plunge? I am happy to admit that I only started buying en primeur when I became a member of The Wine Society, and I wish I’d started sooner. The earliest barriers were cost, and feeling rather intimidated by the process – as well as the small matter of not having my own cellar! Narrowing down the choice of wines on offer to the little I could afford to buy has been another, but it would be a crime for such indecision to make you miss out on a Bordeaux vintage like 2009. So, set your own parameters – price will be the most important, but quantity and variety are important considerations too: one case of something more expensive or two half cases of something a bit lower down the scale? One wine, or one of our mixed cases? Think about sharing your purchase with a like-minded friend or family member if funds are limited, but if they are not, don’t hesitate. You won’t regret it.
On 23rd May 2010 I took part in the Edinburgh Marathon on the hottest day of the year so far with 13,500 other game (and slightly mad) runners.
My time was slower than expected for my first marathon, but WaterAid is now £2,500 better off, and that’s what counts!
I have to say that The Society’s Champagne Brut, a top drop at any time, has never ever tasted as good as it did that evening as I and two friends celebrated the completion of this gruelling event.
Most of the current talk about Bordeaux is around the latest vintage, the 2009 Primeurs (amateurs will want to take a look at The Society’s first opening offer from Friday 28th May). Bordeaux amateurs – enthusiasts for its wines, the city and the region – might like to drop in to the imminent fifth annual celebration that is Le Weekend des Grands Amateurs, over the 5th and 6th June.
Visiting as often as we do to taste the wines, and knowing those involved in putting together this very special vinous extravaganza, means this looks like a weekend not to be missed, short notice or not.
Travel à deux, or even as a crowd, and don’t feel you all have to be wine savvy to enjoy the experience. Bordeaux is a simply beautiful city these days, easy to get around (on foot, on roller skates, or via the greater comfort of its smart new tramway), full of restaurants of all persuasions, and shopping that is tempting despite the exchange rate. And there’s always the wine…
If you go, please let us know how it went.
May sees London’s wine trade fair, which in truth means different things to different people. At its best, it brings together the wine trade from across the world, and for some growers the fair kicks off in style on the Monday with The Wine Society.
The fair itself does not add up to much and this year, it seemed noticably smaller. The Beaujolais region is one of the sponsors and the Beaujolais stand, well positioned in the middle, was very busy with people falling over to taste 2009. There were smiles everywhere and with good reason. This is such a good vintage.
Less frequented but just as pleasurable was the Provence stand and a rare chance to taste the wines of 30-odd producers. For many years I’ve had a gut feeling that Provence would come good, and my word did these 2009s show it!
We are delighted to be making an e-mail offer in early June of this special bottling of just 175 dozen, of which we are very pleased to have secured 100 dozen, of Tio Pepe en Rama to celebrate the 175th anniversary of Gonzalez Byass.
Fino sherry is at its best drawn straight from the cask. “En Rama”, bottling with minimal treatment, is the next best thing. The nearest meaning is perhaps ” draught”. It was racked from cask to tank, allowed to clarify naturally for 7-10 days and then bottled last week without fining and just a light filtration to capture as much of the flavour as possible in the bottle. This removes the yeast but the wine remains slightly cloudy. The original label graces the bottle. It is now in transit.
We tasted a sample yesterday and report it is delicious. It is slightly cloudy, as planned. Drawn in the spring when flor yeast is at its thickest this has a very intense appley flor yeast character, a lovely rounded palate, a fresh finish and just so much more flavour than the normal bottling. It is something we think all sherry lovers would enjoy trying. We advise consuming within three months. It will be launched in June and we anticipate the price to be £11.95 per bottle.
Last week I had a bottle of Meursault Meix sous le Château, Jean-Philippe Fichet, 2005 which was everything I think a good Meursault should be; opulent and buttery yet with plenty of supporting structure and grip. I was in heaven!
I shall have another bottle soon and make a crab tart or an unfashionably retro crab gratin to do it justice.
I was in Jerez in May and comparing Finos directly from the butt and the same wine in bottle and was surprised by the difference. First of all the colour in the bottle was water white and that of a five-year-old Fino in the butt was a light gold, as one would expect of a wine of such age. On the palate the barrel sample had much more weight and roundness. In Spain a light-gold colour is seen as unattractive and so many wines are “planchada” ie have had their individuality ironed out and colour removed by filtering with carbon.
It seems crazy to keep a wine five years and then remove so much of its flavour that it reverts back to a three year old!
I have been thinking about how to treat Finos a little less so more flavour is retained in the bottle. One must filter to remove the yeast and obviously there is lots floating on even old Finos. But fining, which can remove a lot of flavour, could be reduced. The downside is that the wine is more likely to be slightly turbid, and form a slight haze.
I would be very interested to know whether members would accept such a wine. It is perhaps no different from some draught beers and ciders, and some bottle-conditioned ales where a harmless sediment or haze is often present without being detrimental to the flavour.
We are so concerned about customers sending wines back we have perhaps gone too far in stabilizing wines, trading off loss of flavour for absolute stability, even sterility. My feeling is that if the process is explained, and members are forewarned before they buy a wine, that this more natural product would be preferred.
I welcome your feedback.
They may come from opposite ends of Spain, but I can report love at first bite between The Society’s Exhibition Viejo Oloroso Dulce and a chunk of exceptionally good Picos Blue cheese.
The Sherry was originally uncorked to lubricate the chocolate mousse, which it eventually did to perfection, but we couldn’t wait that long! The nutty, raisiny character of the Oloroso really resonated with the creaminess and subtle mould of the Picos and though blue cheese and sweet wine almost invariably work, this is a combination I had not thought of trying. I will certainly try it again, and on purpose this time.
There is an element of frustration for us this week as we wait for Bordeaux châteaux to decide the price of the wines they made available to taste more than a month ago. How hard is it to decide? Does it really matter what their neighbours charge?
One valid reason for delay is the fear of late frost which could affect the volume they make in 2010 and, therefore, their income in 2011. This is the period of the ice saints. Saints Mamertus, Pancras, Servatius and Boniface who so often cast a frosty spell between the 11th and 14th May. They have given us some chilly mornings here.
In fact the problem in 2009 was not frost but violent hailstorms in May which had locally devastating effect in parts of Bordeaux.
Twelve of the longest-standing Australian wine families have come together under the banner of Australia’s First Families of Wine – between them they have 14 centuries of winemaking experience! We were delighted that representatives from all the families chose a tasting for members of The Society as their inaugural UK event, showing two wines each from their premium portfolio covering many growing regions and styles.
Members came face to face with a veritable Who’s Who of the Australian wine world: Ross & Katherine Brown (Brown Brothers); Col Campbell (Campbell’s Wine); d’Arry and Chester Osborn (d’Arenberg); Leanne De Bortoli & Steve Webber (De Bortoli); Stephen, Prue & Justine Henschke (Henschke); Jeff & Amy Burch (Howard Park); Peter, Sue & Tom Barry (Jim Barry); Doug & Julie McWilliam (McWilliam’s); ALister & Hayley Purbrick (Tahbilk); Bruce & Pauline Tyrrell (Tyrrell’s); Mitchell Taylor (Wakefield); Robert Hill-Smith (Yalumba).
Such is the quality of these wines (and such was the popularity of this tasting) that we are eager to share them with all members. This selection showcases Australia’s best, classic styles including Hunter Valley Semillon, Clare Valley Riesling, Margaret River Cabernet, Barossa Shiraz and Rutherglen Muscat. Click here for a full list of the wines available.
Were you there? What were your impressions? Do let us know.