Grapevine Archive for August, 2010

Tue 24 Aug 2010

Brunel and the Bug

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The Society’s summer visit to ss Great Britain, in Bristol, was not only a wonderful culinary and vinous experience but also one that shed more light on the spread of the dreaded Phylloxera bug.

Cartoon from Punch, September 6, 1890

Cartoon from Punch, September 6, 1890

The sap-sucking insect was the blight of the French wine industry in the mid nineteenth century before sinking its talons into great swaths of European vineyards. It is estimated that the microscopic insect had destroyed 4 million French vineyards at the peak of its powers in the 1860’s.

That this little insect spread to Europe from North America in the 1850’s is a generally known fact. Yet, how had European scientists and botanist managed to experiment with North American vines, in Europe, for years prior to the infestation without any pestilential problems?

The answer would appear to lie with the nautical engineering skills of Brunel, among others. Prior to the advent of the steamship, the average sailing time across the Atlantic Ocean was a very sedate two months. Such a lengthy crossing time would have certainly been long enough to ensure that any living insects, attached to vines in-transit, were kaput.

A painting by Keith A. Griffin of the s.s. Great Britain in 1843

A painting by Keith A. Griffin of the s.s. Great Britain in 1843

Brunel and his fellow engineers transformed trans-Atlantic travel. The steamship cut the crossing time to a staggering fifteen days and revolutionised communications between both sides of the pond. It also, inadvertently, assisted in destroying French vineyards.

For those little insects, clinging to the vines in-transit, managed to endure the significantly shorter time at sea and so were very much alive and kicking by the time the boats docked in Europe.

And as soon as those famished, journey-fatigued insects set their eyes upon fresh, tasty, European vines, they had a field day.

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Mon 23 Aug 2010

Vendanges 2010

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August is supposed to be a quiet month in France as businesses close for the month.

Not so down in the Midi when growers begin to prepare for the vintage. Many will start this week and at Domaine de l’Arrjolle the starting gun was fired on Saturday 21st August when the first sauvignons were picked.

So far so good. The grapes are in perfect condition and, though the summer has been very dry with no rain for the last two months, there had been enough rainfall during the winter and spring so the vines have not had to suffer for lack of water. The size of the crop is small which should be good news for quality.

Harvesting here is a long and protracted affair as the last cabernets will probably have to wait till well into October. Fingers crossed then.

Categories : South of France
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Mon 23 Aug 2010

Bordeaux 2009: A Trip of a Lifetime

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Four lucky members and their guests joined The Society’s chief wine buyer Sebastian Payne MW and me, on a trip to Bordeaux last month.

‘We are still wondering if the events of last week were real or some sort of dream,’ was the wonderful reaction of John and Elizabeth Maycock when they got back from our mini-tour of Bordeaux in July, and I must say I share their sentiments.

Première Cru: Château Margaux

Première Cru: Château Margaux

Earlier in the year we offered members who had proposed a wine-loving friend or relative as a Society member the chance to win a place on a trip to some of Bordeaux’s finest vineyards with chief wine buyer Sebastian Payne. We stayed at the beautiful Margaux estate of Château Rauzan-Ségla, who really couldn’t have done more to make our stay enjoyable.

During a whirlwind four-day trip we learned a potted history of Bordeaux wine (how the French Revolution, inheritance tax laws and scoundrel uncles are behind property divisions and châteaux name changes). We had a crash-course in viticulture and vinification (including why soggy roots make bad wines, how candles are used in racking, and how fining using egg whites explains egg-yolk-based Bordelaise gastronomy).

We explored the notion of terroir and tasted the difference between the ‘merlot queens’ of the right bank (represented by flagship examples from Châteaux Magdelaine and Bélair-Monange in Saint-Emilion, and  Château Hosanna in Pomerol) and ‘cabernet kings’ of the left bank (represented by special bottles from Châteaux Lafite, Margaux, Palmer, Rauzan-Ségla, Lynch-Bages, Léoville-Barton, Langoa-Barton and Angludet).

Winning Wine Society members with Chief Buyer Sebastian Payne MW at Rauzan-Ségla

Winning Wine Society members with Chief Buyer Sebastian Payne MW at Rauzan-Ségla

All were brought to life by the experts behind the wines: Frédéric Lospied and Edouard Moueix of JP Mouiex; Sabrina Permet at Château Palmer; Jean-Charles Cazes of Lynch-Bages; Charles and Ben Sichel of Angludet; Lilian Barton of Léoville-Barton and Langoa-Barton and John and Delphine Kolasa of Rauzan-Ségla, who, together with Magali Puppo and team where instrumental in organising the trip. As members Barry and Mandy West so eloquently put it:

‘It was such a wonderful few days, seeing and meeting such interesting people and visiting all the châteaux – a trip that we don’t think can be repeated.’

Outstanding wines (tasting the 2009s made us all want to rush home to place an en primeur order), sumptuous food and the companionship of liked-minded members made it a never-to-be-forgotten trip of a life-time. New member Danielle Fletcher summed up her experience:

‘I didn’t even know there was a prize draw! I just proposed a friend because we have enjoyed The Society’s wines since we were introduced by another friend. But this was a very special trip. It has really cemented my relationship with The Society.’

Member the Reverend Philip North e-mailed us to say that he had to attend a parish party as soon as he returned from Bordeaux. ‘Being fed the cheapest supermarket plonk after days of vintage Bordeaux was extremely painful!’ he said. One hopes we haven’t all been spoiled for life.

Over the coming weeks I look forward to sharing our experience with you through blog posts, videos and photos. So whether you are an avid Claret fan and want to learn more about these special châteaux, or you want to discover more about the region of Bordeaux, make sure to visit SocietyGrapevine regularly. For regular updates follow us on Twitter or Facebook.

Thanks to the experts at each Château and Sebastian Payne, we all learned a lot in the four days. So, if you have any burning questions about Bordeaux, its wines or the different Châteaux we visited, please feel free to post your questions below. I can’t promise to answer all of them, but if we were taught it on the trip, I’ll try to answer.

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Nicolas PotelA member asked for an update on Nicolas Potel. Nicolas has achieved a lot in a very short time, so I thought I would summarise his career chronologically.

1969-1997 Early years and Domaine de la Pousse D’Or

Nicolas Potel is a remarkable man, being both hugely talented and possessing exceptional levels of energy and drive. He is the son of the late, equally exceptional, Gérard Potel, who was the director of the excellent Pousse D’Or estate. Born in 1969 Nicolas quickly found he had a practical bent. He left school before he was 18, and was employed by a Meursault producer Thierry Matrot which he loved. He travelled to Australia and worked for the estates of Moss Wood, Leeuwin Estate, Wirra Wirra, Mount Mary and then Tom Dehlinger in California. In Burgundy he worked for Domaine Roumier and Domaine Juillot before returning to Pousse D’Or for 5 years up to 1997, when his father died.

1998-2007 The rise of his négociant company “Nicolas Potel”

He started his négociant house Nicolas Potel in 1998. The respect in which he is held enabled him to source excellent grapes and wines from some of the best domaines in Burgundy. The high quality of the grapes bought and the attention to many small details such as using smaller crates to collect the grapes during harvest, using a very gentle destemmer which allows whole berries to arrive in the vats intact, replacing his pneumatic press with a high quality vertical press giving clear press wines all contributed to the success of the wines. He grew the business quickly but the economic crisis in 2002 forced him to require more capital, which he acquired through Cottin Frères, who bought 100% of the business and now control the business that bears his name. Our excellent Exhibition Savigny-lès-Beaune 2005 was made by Nicolas during this period.

2007 onwards,  Domaine de Bellene  (Bellene is the Celtic name for Beaune)

Nicolas parted company with Cottin Frères in 2006/7  to concentrate on his own domaine  which now comprises 18ha. He is converting the vineyards to organic cultivation. He bought a characterful, old winery in Beaune where he makes the wines. He is carefully and sympathetically restoring it. The vineyards are principally Bourgogne rouge, St Romain blanc, Beaune Premiers Crus, Savigny-lès-Beaune village and premiers crus, Nuits-St- Georges village and premiers crus and a little Vosne-Romanée. 2007, his first vintage, was sold as Domaine Nicolas Potel, but after a legal wrangle he lost the ownership of  his name so from 2008 vintage this has been called Domaine de Bellene. He is also making some négociant wines since 2008 under the name Maison Roche de Bellene. His very attractive Bourgogne Rouge Cuvée Réserve 2008 will appear on the October List.

He has made some lovely 2009s from this splendid vintage. We will be offering his Bougogne Rouge, Côtes de Nuts Villages, Beaune Premier Cru Teurons, Nuits-St-Georges village and premier cru Chaignots in our second 2009 En Primeur offer in February/March 2011.

Nicolas’  style remains very pure. He vinifies with whole bunches when the stems are ripe. He is careful never to over extract nor over oak his wines, allowing the character of the vineyard and vintage to shine through. His elegant yet intensely flavoured wines are a delight to drink.  Now he has total control over the vineyards, as he did when working with his father at La Pousse D’Or, one can expect the excellent quality he has already achieved to get even better.

Categories : Burgundy, France
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Wed 11 Aug 2010

The Society’s face for radio …

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Many members listened in to a recent BBC Prom on Radio 3 which described the early days of the Royal Albert Hall, the Victorian Exhibitions and The Wine Society. Now while the recording disappeared into the ether once iPlayer’s seven day limit elapsed, we did grab a couple of video opportunities on the night, and so the parts of the programme pertaining to The Society are now available below for posterity.

Long-term work is afoot on The Society’s history and archive material. If you and your family have ‘history’ with The Society (not necessarily first-hand from 1874!) we’d love to hear from you.

Categories : Miscellaneous
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Olly, Tim, Tom, Ant, JoNo, this is not a way to taste wine as you board a ship, but simply a selection of tasting notes from The Gang comprises five of the UK’s best-known and most respected wine critics, namely (from left to right) Olly Smith, Tom Cannavan, Anthony Rose, Joanna Simon and Tim Atkin. Their website offers (for a small annual subscription) a wealth of tasting notes and commentary on wines available from all sources ranging from the largest supermarket to the tiniest corner shop specialist, on-line and on the street. Click on the link for details of how to join. recently tasted a selection from The Society’s range. Here are opinions on just 10 of the 40 wines which appeared in their July and August reports. 

The Society’s Exhibition Fleurie 2009, (Beaujolais), France, Dry Red (Cork), 13.0% abv. Yum, yum, yum. Juicy, gluggable, quaffable. Whatever adjective you choose, this is lip-smacking gamay from a great vintage, with bags of perfume and plum, cherry stone and raspberry fruit. Fleurie at its best. Picnic heaven. £9.50

Château Les Ormes de Pez 2001, Saint-Estèphe (Bordeaux), France, Dry Red (Cork), 13.0% abv. The 2001 red Bordeaux are starting to look like increasingly good value, given the silly prices of some of the 2009s. This light, elegant wine (for Saint Estèphe) has a touch of the farmyard about it, but it’s fine in context, with fine-grained tannins and supple, grassy fruit as a backdrop. £30.00.

Château de Lacarelle Beaujolais Villages 2009, (Beaujolais), France, Dry Red (Cork), 13.0% abv. If you want to drink something red and well chilled this summer, might we suggest a bottle of 2009 Beaujolais? This one is fresh, crunchy and bright, with lively cherry and raspberry fruit. Make sure you serve this straight from the fridge. £6.95.

Quoin Rock Oculus 2007, Simonsberg (Stellenbosch), South Africa, Dry White (Cork), 13.5% abv. This doesn’t quite hit the heights that the 2005 did, but it’s still one of South Africa’s most interesting whites, made from barrel-fermented Sauvignon Blanc and Viognier. Peach, spice, vanilla and refreshing acidity combine nicely here, even if the oak is a little intrusive.  £11.50.

Icarus Gravity Shiraz 2008 McLaren Vale (South Australia), Australia, Dry Red (Screwcap), 14.5% abv. It may be an indication of the crisis affecting the Aussie wine sector if you can source wines as good as this for less than £6. Sweet, smoky and ripe, with plenty of texture, prominent oak and a peppery, faintly raisiny finish. £5.75.

Malumbres Navarra Tinto 2007, Spain, Dry Red (Cork), 13.5% abv. This has to be one of the bargains on the Wine Society’s list: a Garnacha-dominated Navarra blend with no oak to interfere with the fruit. Peppery,refreshing and comparatively restrained. £6.50.

Jaboulet-Perrin Syrah, Vin de Pays des Collines Rhodaniennes 2008 (Rhône), France, Dry Red (Cork), 12.0% abv. Nicholas Jaboulet has used fruit grown close to the slopes of Saint Joseph for this specially-commissioned northern Rhône Syrah. It’s on the firm side, but there’s good underlying blackberry fruit, topped with a dusting of pepper spice. £9.50.

Domaine Vistalba Temporada Malbec 2009, Mendoza, Argentina, Dry Red (Cork), 14.5% abv. Amazing value for money from Mendoza’s Vistalba winery, this violet-scented red is a fantastic base camp for Malbec lovers. Elegant, polished tannins and balancing acidity make this a delicious blend. The kind of thing that no party should be without. £4.95.

The Society’s Rioja Crianza, Rioja, Spain, Dry Red (Cork), 13.0% abv. Unashamedly traditional in style, The Society’s Rioja is light, elegant and nicely developed, with well-judged vanilla oak and sweet red fruits’ flavours. Very mellow and easy to drink. £7.50.

Three Choirs Midsummer Hill 2009, Gloucestershire, England, Dry White (Screwcap), 10.5% abv. A value for money (and you can’t say that about English wine very often) blend of Seyval Blanc, Reichensteiner and Madeleine Angevine, this is a catty, nettley, hedgerow-scented white with a crisp, dry finish. £6.25.

Stella Bella Sauvignon Blanc 2009, Margaret River (Western Australia), Australia, Dry White (Screwcap), 13.0% abv. We found a touch of funky reduction in this when we tasted it, although it did dissipate in the glass. Underneath the wine is crisp and almost minerally with tangy, nettle and gooseberry fruit.  £11.50.

Tue 03 Aug 2010

Chilean Old Vine Excellence

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De Martino have searched the length and breadth of Chile looking for old vineyards. Wine produced from grapes of old vines has a wonderful “old vine” texture, an unforced, natural, concentration while retaining a silky palate. Those who try to compensate for young vines in the vineyard by over-extracting in the cellar never achieve the same results.

The Maule region was the first to planted because it has sufficient rainfall to support vines without irrigation. Recently, wineries have discovered superb vineyards planted in the 1950’s with dry-farmed carignan. The El León 2006 wine is a lovely example of the fresh, fine-flavoured, wine that can be produced from these old vines.

Chilean carignan is a little fleshier and fuller than the firmer and leaner style usually found in France. It has lovely grip and structure, and is ideal for a hunk of protein – especially the fattier cuts such as belly pork or shoulder of lamb.

Words can only tell you so much, so De Martino have produced a one minute video “vignette” showing the El León vineyard in Maule:

Categories : Chile
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