Grapevine Archive for July, 2011

Fri 29 Jul 2011

Designing An App For The Society

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As you may be aware, The Society recently launched its first iPhone® application. The app is free to download and available to both members and non-members. You can download it from iTunes, or read more about specific features here.

We wanted to produce an app that made the main benefits of The Society available in a more portable and convenient format. We recognised that members may want to place orders whilst on the move or simply that doing so via their mobile phone may be easier than firing up their computer. To ensure ordering is as smooth as possible, we have also integrated the checkout stages into the app, meaning that transactions can be completed without being redirected to a website.

However we also wanted to enable greater access to useful information to benefit and inform wine choices in whatever situation people find themselves in – whether a need to find out about a region seen on a wine label or the convenience of checking a vintage guide in a restaurant. This information is available to non-members who download the app too.

Thanks to everyone who has let us know their thoughts on the app and what we can do to improve the service. Please keep your feedback coming: just leave us a comment, e-mail us or leave us a note via Twitter or Facebook. One of the main things we have been hearing is that members would appreciate an Android version of the app. We would like to reassure these members that we are working on this and a version is planned soon, along with various other developments.

Nicky Brown
Head of Digital Marketing

Categories : Miscellaneous
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Thu 28 Jul 2011

Return of the City Break?

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A quick trip to Portugal recently brought back fond memories of long weekends spent enjoying a delicious mix of good food and wine, local culture and sunshine in some of Europe’s great cities.

In my case these were before parenthood, many even in those romantic days before marriage (though I must admit to a wonderful birthday treat earlier this summer, with husband and daughter, of a weekend in Dorset built around a lovely meal at 2009 Masterchef winner, Matt Follas’ restaurant The Wild Garlic at Beaminster – well worth a visit, even if you don’t eat garlic!).

Perhaps City Breaks are still in fashion for some, and, with our twelve-year-old about to start learning Spanish, and already an enthusiastic menu explorer, they may be about to start again for us too.

On my recent visit to Portugal, with a charming group of wine merchants from across the country, we started in Porto, which would make a wonderful short break destination. We stayed in the lovely, traditional surroundings of the Hotel Infante Sagres and feasted late nearby, at the Cafe Vitoria, which was still buzzing as we left, on local specialities including salt cod and divine olives.

The main station, with its stunning ceramic tiles that are everywhere in Portugal (pictured right) was just a stone’s throw away, and from there we took surely one of the most picturesque train journeys in the world, up the Douro valley (there’s a charming old rattling option without air-conditioning for the more adventurous or budget conscious too). Once there, you could opt for a river trip, or stay in one of an increasing number of luxury hotels or charming old quintas.

We had work to do, of course, but I stayed for the first time at Chanceleiros, a delightful place, with beautiful views, and excellent (optional) informal supper on the terrace. My room would adapt to make a family room for those travelling with younger children. The pool was an added bonus on a hot weekend even by Douro standards. And of course you can visit, as we did, staggeringly beautiful wine country. Niepoort’s striking new winery looks out over the Tedo River where it flows into the Douro (pictured left).

Up here, remember that many visits will be by appointment only. Back in Vila Nova da Gaia, you can stroll along the river and visit old Port lodges which are well geared up for visitors. Or just take in the local colour and seductive cooking smells – with local wine, of course.

Joanna Locke MW
Portugal Buyer

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Fino Perdido, or 'Lost Fino'
Bottled in April, when flor (the floating veil of yeast that imbues Fino sherry with its characteristic apply and bready scent) is at its optimum, this really is excellent in my view and a snip at £7.95 for a wine of an estimated age of 8 years.

For those of you who haven’t tried it it is a mature Jerez Fino bordering on an Amontillado. In the past it would have been called a Fino-Amontillado but the consejo, who regulate labelling, have banned its use. We therefore named it ‘Fino Perdido‘, meaning ‘lost Fino.’

Many producers add charcoal to remove the deep rich colour, and over fine it with bentonite, which stabilises the wine but removes much of its richness. We have just chilled it in a tank for a week to let it clarify naturally and then filtered it. It may form a slight haze but we think this cosmetic imperfection is outweighed by the extra flavour in the bottle.

It has an intense, bready flor nose, with a rich, round palate with elements of almonds and hazelnuts. It’s a lovely aperitif, but suits summer food admirably too. Try it with smoked salmon, grilled fish, scallops, crab or red tuna stewed with onions. Salud!

Toby Morrhall
Jerez Buyer

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Tue 26 Jul 2011

We sought the Loire and the … Loire won

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The gardens at the Château de Valmer

It was a pleasure to visit Loire producers recently with my Tastings and Events colleague, Ewan Murray, in the company of 48 members, partners and guests. Whilst the weather was not very kind to us, especially on the Saturday evening, our chosen Loire representatives certainly were. We were based in Tours, allowing us to go both east and west to find some great wines with fascinating and most hospitable growers.

Highlights for me included the personal introduction to the beautiful gardens at the Château de Valmer (Vouvray), courtesy of Alpha Loire

Huet's Benjamin Joliveau

Domaines – one to go back to when the sun is shining; getting to know young winemaker Benjamin Joliveau a littlebetter at Domaine Huet, also in Vouvray; my first visit to Gratien & Meyer in Saumur, whose bubbles make them buyer Marcel Orford Williams’ patch rather than mine, though I drive past their imposing site near Saumur on a regular basis.

Did you know that 15 to 25 base wines are used to build each Gratien & Meyer cuvée? They produce c. 3 million bottles a year, matured in three miles of man-made chambers dug into the tuffeau. What struck me most, though, was that some in our party were not aware that Gratien & Meyer (Saumur) and Champagne Alfred Gratien (suppliers to The Society for over 100 years) are part of the same company. Which is just one reason why Gratien & Meyer produce such good fizz!

Carving in Gratien & Meyer's cellars

If you are passing later this month or next (Fridays 29th July, and 5,12,19 & 26 August) you could try out one of their “Jazz-Bulles” (Jazz & Fizz) evenings, from 7.00 – 9.00pm, €5 per head, including a couple of glasses for tasting.

We packed three wine tastings, two cellar tours, two lunches and a dinner into our 34 hours – what would your top tips be while touring in the Loire valley?

Joanna Locke MW
Loire Buyer

Categories : Loire, Wine Tastings
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Fri 22 Jul 2011

d’Arenberg: A Century in the Making

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Perhaps, for some, tasting nine wines at 10.15am on a Wednesday morning may seem out of the ordinary and slightly too much to take on. But when you are in company of Claire Scott, a lively, passionate representative of d’Arenberg Wines from Adelaide, South Australia, you can’t help but be excited about what’s on offer.

Being an Adelaidean myself, perhaps my excitement was more for the area these wines come from and the memories of home. However, on tasting these wines and hearing of the stories and passion behind them, I left feeling that d’Arenberg is about more than just the wet stuff – it’s the character, the personality and the commitment to their product which make them as successful as they are.

d'Arenberg's 'Wild Pixie' Shiraz-Roussanne and 'Dead Arm' Shiraz

Established in 1912, by Joseph Osborn, d’Arenberg is headed by fourth generation winemaker, Chester Osborn – who describes himself as slightly crazy. In daring to be different he planted grape varieties traditionally associated with France, Spain and Italy – including marsanne, roussanne, viognier, tempranillo, sangiovese and sagrantino – not knowing what they would create.

Fortunately their McLaren Vale location, with its proximity to the ocean providing cooling ocean breezes and its Mediterranean climate, proved these varieties to be a success and d’Arenberg have planted their feet solidly in the wine market both in Australia and internationally.

The real personality of Chester Osborn comes through not only the wine, but through an eclectic collection of titles including: The Money Spider, The Coppermine Road, The Footbolt, The Wild Pixie (referring to Chester himself), The Dead Arm and d’Arry’s Original, each with a personal story behind it.

For me, particular highlights of the tasting included the modestly priced d’Arenberg White Ochre (£6.95), a blended white which is deliciously fruity, fresh and floral on the nose, and does not disappoint on the palate. Perfect with light salads, fish, or as an aperitif, this wine is summer in a glass.

For the reds, the d’Arenberg Dead Arm Shiraz – their most reputable wine – provides a complexity that gives a deep, ruby red colour, red fruit and spicy character on the nose, and definitely delivers on the palate. Spicy, mocha, liquorice and aniseed flavours combine with good body and tannin to create a well balanced red which will develop to an even greater level with age. Perfect with an Aussie barbie!

In celebration of their centurion achievement next year in 2012, the Osborn family are taking their creations to the next level and are currently in production of a sparkling wine with the working title of DADD – perhaps to be comically paired with the well known Mumm? – to add to their cracking range.

I tilt my glass to the Osborn family and the pride that shouts “don’t just drink me, enjoy and savour me” from their wines.

Jo Mansell
Member Services

Categories : Australia, Wine Tastings
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Good wine can always be measured the day after and we all awoke fresh and keen for Pol Roger, where we were met by James Simpson MW and then just after the cellar visit by Christian de Billy (long since retired and representing the family).

Bottles maturing gracefully in the cellars at Pol Roger.
If Gratien, visited the day before, is about tradition and small scale, Pol is about modernity and an annual production in excess of 1.5m bottles. No barrels here, instead gleaming stainless steel and with half the grapes coming from Pol’s own vineyards. The quality factor in Champagne depends on a quite complex succession of stages and one little something can make a huge difference. At Pol Roger one crucial element in the process is the depth of the cellars which is just a few feet deeper than at Gratien and just a fraction cooler. It means that the wines need more time, at least four years for the non-vintage Brut Reserve.

I have to admit to a penchant for chardonnay-only Champagne, an aberration for some, but for me an expression in finesse that is rarely captured in any other wine and Pol Roger make one of the loveliest. It is not made every year but we were treated to a glass of the newly released 2000 vintage. ‘Absolutely sublime’ was my note.

Pol Roger is of course also about Churchill, their best known customer who as of this month has a street name after him in Epernay. Indeed Pol Roger is situated at 1 rue Sir Winston Churchill. A coincidence? His memory also survives in an outstanding cuvée named Sir Winston Churchill and made in a style the great man would have approved and we were served a glass of the very full-bodied, pinot dominated 1999 vintage.

Bollinger

Oak Barrels ready for use at Bollinger.
What better contrast could follow Pol and Churchill than Bollinger and Bond (and Ab Fab!)?

Here we were back with tradition: barrels, even more than the 1,000-odd we saw at Gratien. Bollinger goes one better and has its own cooper who maintains and restores the collection of barrels (bought second hand from Burgundy). Bollinger’s fortune is to be almost self sufficient: the only grapes they have to buy are the pinot meunier from the Marne Valley which is an ingredient in the non-vintage. The vineyards even include a patch of pre-phylloxera vines just by the Château.

What is unique about Bollinger? Unquestionably its holdings of pinot noir in Aÿ, which delivers big powerful wines that are at the core of the Bollinger style. So too is its treatment of reserve wine, essential for maintaining the consistency of the non-vintage Brut. At both Gratien and Pol this is kept in tank, a blend of one or two vintages. At Bollinger, the reserve wine is kept amazingly enough in magnum, under slight pressure and stoppered with a natural cork. This represents an amazing collection of wine going back many vintages and used judiciously in the make up of the Non-Vintage Brut.

Inevitably, the Bollinger visit finished with a dinner and a chance to savour over food the very fine 2002 Grande Année.

Louis Roederer

The following morning we had to leave the Marne Valley and drive over the “mountain” to Reims, there to sample a wine of the Tsars at Louis Roederer. There is a very fine bust of Alexander II which I can’t help but admire. It was he after all who emancipated the serfs in 1861.

Just as Pol Roger found success in the United Kingdom, so Louis Roederer found favour in Russia, supplying the Imperial court with what was then a sweet Champagne poured from a unique bottle made of clear glass and no punt which could not hide any device that might injure His Imperial Majesty. Such was the birth of the first luxury cuvée: Cristal.

The group outside Roederer.
This final visit was intended to encompass everything we had seen before. Of the four Houses visited, this is the largest – almost the size of Pol and Bollinger combined. Like Bollinger, it is largely self sufficient and owns well over 200ha of vineyard, more often than not in the best locations. Like Pol, wines are mostly vinified in stainless steel but reserve wines are kept in large oak vats, as are the wines used for the liqueur de tirage.

During the days of the Tsars, the style was undoubtedly sweet. Tastes have changed and today Champagne tends to be a dry wine. Yet the opulence and richness remains at Roederer and the wine, exemplified perfectly by the Brut Premier has a wonderful creamy quality.

But of course this members’ visit was a red carpet affair and we were treated to a delicious buffet. Cristal 2002 was served en magnum and our jaws collectively dropped but for me, the sublime moment was the rosé. Chez Roederer, it is always a vintage and always made using a blend of white and rosé wine rather than the usual red. It means that the colour is much paler, but what fragrance, what finesse.

All good things come to an end. This has been a wonderful experience for all of us and we are left with wonderful memories and a wonderful taste in the month. But after Roederer and the Tsars it was time to get back across the Channel.

Marcel Orford-Williams
Champagne Buyer

Categories : Champagne, France
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At Nicolas Jaeger's house
Recently I escorted a party of eight (four lucky members and their guests) on a memorable ‘behind the scenes’ excursion to Champagne. The members had been entered into a prize draw to win a place on the tour when they proposed family and friends for membership of The Society earlier in the year.

The classiest way to go to Champagne is by train. It is a journey that begins within the Victorian Gothic splendour of Saint Pancras station and appropriately enough in the Champagne bar, where our group met and broke the ice over two very fine bottles of Bollinger Special Cuvée.

And then we were off, hurtling through Kent, before entering the tunnel with choice nibbles and a glass of Pol Roger. Out of Paris, the line soon reaches the Marne Valley and the first vineyards not long after. It is true that Paris had its own vineyards which before phylloxera had been extensive but today it is Champagne that is the nearest vineyard to the capital, barely an hour’s drive from the city centre.

The tour was in four parts, each representing a different House, style and method of making wine – in particular the all important non-vintage. We began with a full day at Alfred Gratien.

I shall always remember my first solo visit to The Society’s House Champagne when I got overly complicated directions and then got hopelessly lost in the one way system. Today Alfred Gratien is a small House producing some 300,000 bottles and is becoming quite well-known. Back then it was making less than half that amount and The Wine Society was buying as much as a third of the production.

Alfred Gratien came from Saumur and launched himself into making sparkling wine setting up Houses in Saumur and Epernay simultaneously in 1864. His vision for Champagne was from the start nothing short of excellence where no expense would be spared. His Champagne would be what Haute Couture was to the clothing industry. While most Champagne Houses were changing methods of production over the ensuing decades, Gratien remained wedded to the old ways. Even the cellar masters remained in the same family, something unique in Champagne.

Getting to grips with The Society's Champagne...
For this visit, we were in the company of Olivier Dupré (managing director) who had come down from HQ in Saumur for the day, Nicolas Jaeger, (cellar master) and his wife Delphine. We drove round the Côte des Blancs, looking at chardonnay vines in Cramant and Le Mesnil. This was a moment of light and fresh air before returning to Epernay and a descent into the darkness of Gratien’s cellars, nearly 60ft below ground.

Gratien is a real bijoux House. It behaves like a Grand House with a large number of suppliers dotted around the Grand and Premier Cru villages of Champagne. The difference is that here the contact between the Jaegers and the growers is intimate and delivery often the equivalent of just a few barrels. But growers like delivering to Gratien because they know that their hard work is respected. Nicolas Jaeger vinifies everything in small barrel and villages and growers are all vinified separately and kept in barrel over the winter. In some wines, structure is founded on tannin. In Champagne as with many white wines, that foundation is based on acidity and it is for this reason that Gratien chooses to block the malolactic fermentation, which is a bacterial process that changes malic acid into softer lactic acid.

Gratien MD Olivier Dupré & their Cuvée Paradis Rosé.
The final step before lunch was of course a tasting and after so much vine and bottle gazing this seemed to be much deserved. Now the problem of being in my position is that I do taste quite regularly and so at least half expected to guess the vintages so I felt a certain sense of triumph when I got both spot on: 1983 and to finish the session a remarkable bottle of 1979 to show just how well Champagne can age.

Lunch was a modest picnic affair in the Marne Valley chez Nicolas and Delphine. Magnums of the still youthful Society’s Millennium Champagne provided the aperitif. There was a little interlude of foie gras and a glass of Exhibition Sauternes while Olivier Dupré, the Boss from Saumur dealt with the lobster. With this we drank Gratien’s outstanding 2007 blanc de blancs. Then Côte de Boeuf and baked potato were paired with a rather fine 1996 Chambertin. Lunch fizzled out amiably at around seven when we invited the Gratien team for dinner at one of Epernay’s better bistro restaurants (and more Champagne).

Coming up in part 2: Pol Roger, Bollinger & Louis Roederer…

Marcel Orford-Williams

Categories : Champagne, France
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Tue 19 Jul 2011

Romain Bouchard, 1923-2011

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Sadly we have to announce that Romain Bouchard passed away on July 17th.

Romain BouchardRomain Bouchard
He was a son of the Bouchard family in Beaune and started his professional life there among the bottles of the best and the greatest that Burgundy had to offer. He was not there long but moved to North Africa where he would meet Nancy, his wife of 60 years. In Morocco, which he loved, he cultivated oranges and had some input in the creation of the tangerine.

Eventually he returned to France and settled in a delightful Provençal Mas, Le Val des Rois, surrounded by vines and fields of lavender. His first vintage was 1964, which was 100% grenache and is still good today. Thereafter he began to change the makeup of his vineyard, planting syrah (one of the first to do so) and more controversially gamay, which he felt would do well in this northern corner of Provence.

And so he continued to make vintage after vintage of exceptional wine that, possibly thanks to its input of gamay, always ended up tasting like rather fine old Burgundy. The pragmatism of the citrus farmer remained however, and in an age when it was considered correct to only pick by hand, Romain harvested by machine. As a result, Romain saved potentially dreadful vintages like 1987 and 2002 when incessant rain all but destroyed the crop. In 2003 on the other hand, a vintage marked by both drought and extreme heat, Romain was able to intervene early and pick quickly and made one of the loveliest wines of the vintage.

Romain and his wife Nancy were hosts to a memorable visit of The Wine Society’s Dining Club in 1992 which included the following vintages:

1991: Underrated vintage but here soft, fruity and delicious.
1990: Grander and splendidly full.
1988: Elegant and refined.
1987: A little mushroomy, like old pinot.
1983: Vigorous, full, figgy and full of life.
1978: One of the greatest Rhône vintages, complex, weighty, full-bodied, wonderful.
1971: Made from 100% grenache and tasting like old Sauternes: pale garnet, butterscotch and sweet.

Romain Bouchard was an important figure in the development of Rhône wine. But while some of his colleagues were sometimes tempted by the benefits of overripe grapes, extraction and barrel ageing, Romain kept to his path, which was of beauty, poise and finesse. To itinerant wine buyers like Sebastian and myself, he provided tiny bottles of lavender essence to help us remember his delightful part of Provence. We shall miss him.

Marcel Orford-Williams

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Sat 16 Jul 2011

Picture Blog: Wildlife at Vergelegen

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Further to my note on premium Stellenbosch estate Vergelegen’s work on biodiversity in their vineyards, I thought readers might like a look at a few photos (the majority of which were snapped at night by CCTV), kindly supplied by Andre van Rensburg.

The rare Cape Genet
An endangered Cape Rain Frog (also known as the 'Headless Frog').
Honey Badgers

Arguably the pièce de résistance is the spotting of a number of Cape Leopards. These animals are notoriously shy, despite their uniquely beautiful markings. It’s the latter which allows confident identification by a trained eye. The biggest is known as Sebastian, and I’m assured by Andre that the name doesn’t change with each customer visited. I’ll leave members to decide how apt the name is for such a handsome beast!

Joanna Locke MW
South Africa Buyer

Quick visit to Domaine Huet at Vouvray in the Loire valley with Sebastian Payne MW.

Noel Pinguet & Sebastian Payne MW
We’d just come from Saumur-Champigny and were pleased to be offered a little lunch of local produce – rillettes, rillons, sweet boudin and a bowl of tomatoes for the one of our 5 a day that we were likely to get. Before, during and afterwards, Noel Pinguet, who many members will know from his Society tastings in the UK and at the Domaine (48 members are due to visit in a fortnight’s time), showed us his wines.

As members know, the vineyards of Vouvray are pretty special in that they can make a vin sec, a demi-sec and a vin moelleux from same vineyards, not to mention the sparkling. Given this diversity, perhaps we should offer a tasting case: maybe 2 bottles of sec and demi-sec, one each moelleux and sparkling? What do members think?

Sebastian asked Noel to talk a little about his vineyards being biodynamic. He described how the natural way of cultivating vines back in the 1920s reminded him that it is possible to make great wine without too much intervention. With a scientific background, one can understand his initial scepticism, but he’s been following the biodynamic now for some years, and while he doesn’t know why it works, he knows that it does! He describes himself as “a practising non believer in biodynamics”.

After the biodynamics have had their influence in the vineyard, we come to the most important part of winemaking according to Noel – the pressing. Dependant on the vintage, quite different amounts of time are required – 20 minutes only in 2004 and 4 hours in 2003, all very gentle. After the pressing, as Noel says, “the less we touch the better” but we are sure he does actually work all the year through.

Confirming the quality over the decades, Noel treated us to a couple of unlabelled bottles from his museum bin. These sensationally well-preserved bottles are re-corked every 30 years or so, and it was a privilege to taste both a very light and balanced 1959 and a richer, darker 1921 with definite burnt caramel tones. These vintages are, according to him, among the greatest of the century for Vouvray: others include 1947 and 1989 (which will be like the 1921 with similar age – if only any of us were around to appreciate it).

As we left and thanked him for his visit he mentioned that he had many members of The Society visiting him and he always welcomes them with a special tour effort so do make the detour to Vouvray when you can.

Categories : France, Loire
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