Grapevine Archive for August, 2011

‘The Francophile’ #1 and #2 (red and white), two exclusive new South African wines from The Liberator have just arrived and are now available.

As mentioned in my previous blog entry, these wines (or ‘episodes’ as they prefer to call them) are the result of a partnership between The Society, wine merchant Richard Kelley MW and one of South Africa’s most celebrated young winemakers. We are proud to offer these small-volume exclusives, made from special one-off parcels, each ‘liberated’ by Richard and his impeccable contacts from being blended away.

Each wine is accompanied by comic strips designed to match the wines, which you can take a look at here.

As with all wines bottled under The Liberator label, these are true one-offs, and therefore available in limited quantity and on a first come, first served basis. Do try them, or simply enter our caption competition to join in the fun.

The Liberator Caption Competition

Embrace the whole experience of The Liberator and the ride could be rewarding! To celebrate the launch of these two wines, we’re delighted to be able to give away Liberator prizes to three lucky members.

Given the superhero artwork and sense of fun embodied by The Liberator project, we felt we should encourage our members to get creative too. Suggest a suitable caption or dialogue for the comic strip on the right and the three entries deemed the wittiest, most apposite or most entertaining will win prizes.

The winning entry will receive a unique framed print of Liberator artwork and a mixed 12-bottle case of ‘The Francophile’ #1 & #2. Two runners up will receive a mixed six-bottle case of ‘The Francophile’ #1 & #2.

To enter, just e-mail (please remember to quote your share number) by Monday 12th September.

We will then notify the winning members by e-mail and the results will be announced via Society Grapevine on Wednesday 14th September for us all to enjoy. Have fun!

For full terms and conditions, see here.

Joanna Locke MW
South Africa Buyer

Categories : South Africa
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Tue 30 Aug 2011

A Sticky Situation

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d'Arenberg's Chester Osborn

Taste is what matters most when we select new wines for members and earlier this year on a visit to Australia I came across a delicious sweet white made by d’Arenberg‘s Chester Osborn.

I know many members will adore the wine, so I shipped a small quantity (it’s very rare).

Straightforward so far. More complicated has been the debate it has caused at our office in Stevenage. The wine’s name, as you might expect from Chester, is especially quirky, quite lewd sounding in fact, and some may even say offensive (despite being technically correct)…

see for yourself on d’Arenberg’s website.

Should The Wine Society list it in all its glory or not? We would be interested in your comments.

Pierre Mansour
Australia Buyer

Categories : Australia
Comments (29)

This week there has been negative press coverage on the South African wine and fruit industries, following publication of a report by Human Rights Watch (HRW), a New York-based independent NGO. The report findings and the subsequent press comment paint a gloomy and sometimes shocking picture of conditions which cannot be condoned. Such criticism of poor performers within the industry should be welcomed, and we hope it will prompt the South African Government (some of the issues raised are rooted in local politics and history) to quicken the pace of change and to take firm action against unfair treatment.

It is, however, highly regrettable that so little space is given to acknowledge the very different, positive and proactive approach taken by so many responsible producers in The Cape. The report from HRW was based on interviews with a small sample of commentators and none of the offending producers are named. Inevitably, the reports are not necessarily representative and do not give a true reflection of the majority of the wine industry and the different sectors within it.

One positive paragraph among many negatives in the HRW report, brought to our attention by Cathy Brewer Grier at Villiera, does state:

“Conditions on farms vary, and not all farmworkers with whom Human Rights Watch spoke had encountered rights abuses. In a small number of cases, farmworkers and farm owners described full compliance with the law as well as a variety of positive practices by employers that went beyond the legally requirements. Some farmers give workers land to grow their own crops, pay the full cost of medical visits, provide free food to workers in the winter, or have set up trusts that benefit farmworkers. Farmers who provided these benefits to farmworkers noted that these efforts can be profitable.”

David Smith’s article in The Guardian on Tuesday highlights three “Exemplary brands”. One of these, M’hudi Wines, owes at least some of its success to the generosity of their neighbours, the Grier family at Society Chenin supplier Villiera, itself a shining example of an estate that goes far beyond the already high target industry standards on social and environmental issues.

School children at Thandi's Lebanon Farm

Another is Thandi Wines, the world’s first Fairtrade accredited wine brand and supplier to The Society for the last few years. On my last visit there I was shown around the still new crêche, which provides a clean, safe, and educationally and physically stimulating environment for Lebanon Village farm workers’ children (funded partly by Thandi, part by parents, and part from charitable donations, including funds raised by a UK school for new outdoor play equipment). Conditions in the village itself are modest by our standards, but they have improved dramatically and continued support from international consumers such as ourselves ensure that they will continue to do so. I heard that one of their students was studying nursing in Stellenbosch with a view to returning to establish healthcare on site; also that their brass band is in need of a baritone trumpet!

The outdoor play area at Bon Cap's crêche

Bon Cap, supplier of The Society’s Pinotage, is a small, family owned producer in Eilandia, Robertson, farming organically, and also providing a small crêche and a warm welcome for the farm workers’ children, without which many of their mothers would simply not be able to work. This costs the farm over 10,000R a month to run, funding two salaries. They have a small school on site too, and are installing solar panels in all farm workers’ cottages.

We seek to work with some of the numerous examples of responsible, warm, generous human beings in the wine industry in South Africa, who go the extra mile, believing that improving the lives, and in particular the education of their employees and their families now will lead to a better, more stable future for South Africa. To spoiled westerners, workers’ living conditions seem basic, but much has changed for the good. Outside of wine quality assurance, we do not conduct our own audit of producer practices in South Africa, nor in any other wine producing country or region, but we do visit most of our suppliers on a regular basis and welcome and encourage all positive social and environmental initiatives, in particular adherence to industry schemes such as WIETA and IPW and the new, as yet voluntary, Integrity & Sustainability seal (introduced from the 2010 vintage), and especially the many initiatives that go beyond these recognised industry standards.

It would be a tragedy if the recent negative coverage led to a boycott of South Africa’s wines. The Rand is strong, making much needed exports harder to come by, and it is only by selling their wines that responsible producers will be able to sustain a long-term future for their land, their families and the people they employ.

Jo Locke MW
South Africa Buyer

We invited some of our suppliers to comment on the issues raised by the report and their responses are below:

“Apart from the local IPW audit on Sustainability etc, my farm also has an International GLOBALGAP Certificate. It is audited annually by an International Body, CMI, based in the UK . Apart from good agricultural practices, it also audits workers’ working conditions on the farm, minimum wage audits and general well-being of workers on farms.

  • All our workers and their families live on the farm in their own houses, all with solar heating panels, proper bathrooms and amenities. They live free of rent, nothing deducted from their earnings etc. Further water is free (i.e. I pay for it) and they only pay 10% of their actual electricity bill, which equates to about £1.50 per month to them.
  • They all get payed above the minimum wage and work a 45 hour workweek, seldom overtime and if they do, get renumerated for it according to the law.
  • The women only work part-time on the farm, and if they do, toddlers are looked after for free at a local  creche. We pay the salary of the caregiver.
  • They get all their annual leave according to the law.
  • I provide free medical visits for workers and their immediate families to my local GP that I also visit , plus free medication from my local pharmacy. No burden on the National Health system. If need be, we also transport them free of charge, all hours of the day and night to the Hospital, seeing that ambulances are unreliable here and we live 25 kilometer from the nearest hospital.
  • We never give wine for free. But at our annual after harvest bash at the seaside we take a few bottles with, as well as a bottle with Christmas….. I don’t think that is out of line.
  • We actually have a waiting list of people that want to come and work here. Most of the people living on the farm, grew up with me here and call me on my first name.
  • Protective clothing for spraying is normal practice, and all our vines and fruit are sprayed with a closed canopy tractor.
  • All tractor and forklift operators are trained in a two year cycle, plus first aid is also lectured at least once a year.
  • All the workers are offered an free annual checkup free for High Blood, Cholesterol, Blood, TB and HIV if they want to. We have regular drug and alcohol information afternoons. Luckily we do not have any problems with that at the moment.

I suppose I can go on, but I have a clean conscience how my workers are treated.”
Fanus Bruwer, Quando Vineyards and Winery

“At Quoin Rock:

  • We pay our workers more that the average wage.
  • No workers live on the property, but we provide transport to and from work.
  • The only time our workers are allowed a taste of wine, is after some (not all) bottling, we let them have a taste (normal amount as at wine shows) of the new bottled wine.
  • We produce organic vegetables, chickens and eggs, that are sold to the staff at a lower than shop price.
  • Last year we had a workshop that interviewed all staff on a 1 on 1 basis, to find out whether anyone had a drug, domestic or alcohol problem, and helped where necessary with treatment and follow up visits.
  • We avoid using insecticides, and tractors have cabs to protect the drivers from any spay residual while spraying in the vineyards.
  • Staff receive training to operate machinery.
  • Any injury is treated as serious and medical treatment is provided by a Doctor in Stellenbosch.
  • It is company policy that all staff treat one another with respect.

“There’s probably a lot more to mention, but this should be sufficient to indicate that we do not violate human rights at Quoin Rock.  I find it unfair that HRW use a few bad farms and put the rest of South African wine farms in the same box.”
Doug Murdoch, Quoin Rock

Harvesting chenin blanc at Villiera

“I think the biggest problem is that they blew up the negative without reporting on many of the positive things that go on and the heading (“Ripe with Abuse”) is the worst part as that is all that most people read and it is bad and implies that it is common practice. To interview 260 people is not many (they could be form 2 or 3 farms but they are not saying so we will probably never know).  All we can do is to make 100% sure all our ducks are in a row….

“Those that are IPW audited get the new sustainability seal which is all about traceability, health and safety etc.   It is illegal to spray a vineyard without protection!

“As far as Villiera’s feelings:  we believe fault can be found with the treatment of labour all over the world, which is why ethical trade and fair-trade exist.  At Villiera we aim to ensure that our house is in order and in so doing, set an example.  We satisfy multiple ethical audits and we are WIETA accredited.   We know South Africa is heading in the right direction and feel that the good work should be acknowledged to balance any criticism of the country’s labour relations.”
Cathy Brewer Grier, Villiera

“It might be seen as a token gesture against all the controversy, but below is evidence of the £16,073 Richards Walford has donated in the past three years to the establishment and running costs of a crêche at Bon Cap, by reinvesting EUR1 monies that have been received as part of a duty kick-back arrangement between the EU and South Africa; monies that could have easily been allowed to fall to our bottom-line.

“We’ve been proud to be associated with this project and have been able to monitor its success on numerous visits to the farm.”
Richard Kelley MW, Richards Walford (UK agent for Bon Cap)

[The report] fails to identify the massive improvements in living conditions for workers in the wine industry over the past decade and also excludes mention of the enormous efforts and investments made by so many producers to improve the lives of their workers. Needless to say, Warwick upholds the most rigorous standards. We do not follow any prescribed codes but work on our own code of decency, on which we significantly over-deliver.

I have been very active politically on this front for almost a decade and was involved in originally establishing the Wine Industry Ethical Trade Association (WIETA) initiative.
Mike Ratcliffe, Warwick Estate

“Tierhoek was established in 2001 in the post-aprtheid era, and has always taken the stand that well looked after workers are integral to the success of the business.

“We are members of the IPW scheme, which is in place to uphold the sustainability and integrity of winefarms.  All workers are paid above the minimum wage salary, all workers are educated on the safety of the farm environment, and all workers are encouraged to forward problems and issues to the manager, and duly resolve them.

“All workers receive free housing, with electricity and water provided, and all maintenance is upheld by Tierhoek. We also sponsor a garden competition that promotes sustainable edible planting, so that the families remain healthy, and can save money by eating their own produce.

“All tractor drivers and sprayers have the correct gear and protection, as stipulated by IPW, and receive free check-ups for blood testing and general health.  All workers receive protective clothing gear according to their work.

“Workers are frequently driven to the nearest town for supplies, and there is a  general supply shop on the farm.  We also sponsor the local rugby team, which consists entirely of farm workers, with jerseys and transport to and from games.”
Roger Burton, Tierhoek Wines

Categories : South Africa
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Finding a wine able to complement a range of different cheeses can be a challenge. Some outspoken gastronomic experts even deem it an impossibility given the sheer scope of flavours and textures on offer.

Most cheese falls into one of five or six family groups: goat and sheep’s milk cheese, hard or cheddared cheese, bloomy cheeses (camembert and brie), washed rind cheeses (epoisses, munster etc) and blue-veined cheese.

Generally speaking, certain styles of wine will work better with each of these groups, but a good cheese board will probably include examples from all of them. So how do you find a wine that can cope with a strong, salty cheddar, a pungent goat’s cheese and a ripe camembert? This was the challenge we set ourselves when choosing wines for our special Christmas cheese and wine cases.

The line-up of cheeses included representatives from both sides of the Channel. In the French corner, we had:

Brillat Savarin – a triple-cream, soft cheese, made with unpasteurised cow’s milk with a deep, earthy and salty flavour.
La Graine de Vosges – a washed-rind cow’s milk cheese; pungent but with an unctuous, creamy and earthy flavour.
Vacherin Mont d’Or – a seasonal cow’s milk cheese made on the Swiss border shaped in cloth-lined moulds then encircled with a strip of spruce bark and washed with brine for at least three weeks. The spruce imparts a resinous flavour to the pale interior of the cheese which becomes almost liquid as it matures.
Bleu de Chevre Cendre – an unusual ashed and soft blue goat’s milk cheese made from the milk of Alpine dairy goats.

… and in the British corner were:

Cornish Smuggler – a hard cow’s cheese with lovely acidity and creamy texture and a soft red veining through the cheese.
Sharpham Brie – soft, unpasteurised, full-flavoured almost fruity creamy brie.
Ragstone – creamy, pronounced flavoured goat’s cheese from Herefordshire.
Golden Cenarth – award-winning washed-rind organic cow’s milk cheese from west Wales Its smooth interior texture in contrast with its interesting, sweet rind.

We tried a raft of different bottles with the cheeses (the idea was to choose French wines to go with the French cheeses) but as the tasting went on, one wine seemed to bring out the best in all of the cheeses, French or British again and again…

Midsummer Hill took on all comers...

The wine was Midsummer Hill 2010. This English white blend from the Three Choirs vineyard in Gloucestershire is comprised mostly of madelaine angevine, seyval blanc and phoenix – in such a way as to be refreshing, light (10.5% alcohol), flavoursome and zingy – in sufficient quantities to take on all comers.

Yet another feather in the cap of a wine that’s been a patriotic Society favourite for some time now, so I thought I’d share the news. Should you wish to try it and indeed other English wines besides, The Society is currently running an offer enabling members to do just that!

Joanna Goodman
SocietyNews Editor

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Wed 17 Aug 2011

Coming Soon: The Liberator

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I am delighted to announce the impending arrival of two new and exclusive wines which embody the spirit of the new South Africa.

The Liberator, with its bright, modern packaging and comic strips designed to match each release (or ‘episode’), is not necessarily the sort of thing you might expect from The Wine Society. Yet these are just the sort of exclusive, small-production wines we are proud to be able to offer to members.

The project is the brainchild of wine merchant and Master of Wine Richard Kelley, who quite literally liberates rare parcels of premium quality wines that might otherwise be blended away into obscurity. Backed by some of South Africa’s most celebrated young winemakers and a bold team of creatives, this refreshing enterprise offers something at once delicious and different.

These wines wouldn’t be possible without a combination of impeccable contacts and an element of secrecy. I only became aware of the project when travelling with Richard in South Africa, and it was a mixture of curiosity and luck that allowed us to snap up the very first of The Liberator’s ‘Special Editions’. We are duty bound not to reveal the name of the highly acclaimed young winemaker behind them; save to say he is well-known as one of the Cape’s finest, and that you’ll certainly taste this quality in the finished wines.

The wines are about to arrive, so keep an eye out in the next week or so for updates (including a chance for members to get their own creative juices flowing, with prizes up for grabs).

Joanna Locke MW
South Africa Buyer

Categories : South Africa
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Tue 16 Aug 2011

Grown-Up Australia

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Unlike the classic European wine regions (Bordeaux, Rioja etc), Australia has a fairly limited track record when it comes to long-term ageing of its wines. It’s not often that you get the opportunity to see mature Australian wines, even if you visit producers directly.

So I was immensely grateful when I was invited to join Michelin Star chef and self-confessed Australian wine specialist Roger Jones for a tasting of some top-notch bottles from his own cellar. The tasting was held in his delightful restaurant, The Harrow at Little Bedwyn.

Here are my shorthand notes. All wines were tasted blind.

Katnook Estate Chardonnay Brut, 1995: creamy, caramel, still fruity – lovely delicate mousse and texture. Mature yet still lively. 8/10

Plantagenet Riesling, 1998: zingy, floral, discreetly toasty, very fine nose. Gentle, juicy palate, à point. 9/10

Jasper Hill Riesling, 1998: serious riesling nose, creamy, focussed; amazing lift and intensity. Perfection. 10/10

Lenswood Semillon, 1998: nutty, evolved nose, developed palate, good structure, drink up. 6.5/10

Moss Wood Semillon, 1995: unusual aromatics, brioche-like, smooth palate; esoteric. 5.5/10

Moss Wood Chardonnay, 2000: pungent, smoky flavours. Full, opulent and slightly alcoholic. Not entirely clean. Disappointing. 5/10

Mount Mary Chardonnay, 1996: classic, mature chardonnay: nutty, harmonious and classy. 6.5/10

Moss Wood Cabernet Sauvignon, 1996: deep, youthful colour. Still vigorous, punchy, high-quality structure, great length. Will improve for at least another 5+ years and last many more. 7.5+/10

Lakes Folly, 1999: vibrant, high-toned, restrained, beautiful texture and length. 8.5/10

Barossa Valley Estate “E & E” Black Pepper Shiraz, 1998: layered, sensuous, chocolaty Barossa shiraz, smooth and delicious. Lovely now. 9/10

Penfolds Grange, 1990: exotic, complex, fragrant nose; savoury yet full of vitality; incredible ripeness and depth. A showstopper. Drink now or hold for another 20 years. 10/10

Penfolds St Henri Shiraz 1990: attractively evolved, spice/vegetal notes, refined, classy, only 13.5% alcohol, enormously appetising. Now or hold for 10+ years. 9/10

Pierre Mansour
Australia buyer

Wed 10 Aug 2011

Extreme Weather

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The weather in the mountains is always changeable, sometimes dangerously so. In two weeks in the Haute Savoie this summer we saw the extremes of 32.5C – the hottest we’ve known it – and well under 20C, as well as storms and torrential rain. On June 1st, more snow fell in 24 hours than on any single day last winter (it wasn’t a great season for snow here, and our local resort closed early, with April temperatures up to 28C).

The Loire, carrying only a third of its normal volume of water (photographed on a Society visit in July by Ben Chishick)

Nevertheless, this was a local first, with children rejoicing in being able to make snowmen with the help of parents much freer than they are in the ski season. Then when the ‘bonhommes de neige’ melted, the Alpine flowers were revealed once again. But the tragic consequence of such a heavy, late snowfall was that thousands of trees, already in leaf, were lost, unable to bear the weight. Under their unseasonal blanket of snow, trees broke and the forest resonated with the cracking of trunks and branches. Many survived but remain bowed, in deference to the extremes of nature.

In the foothills, local vineyards fared far better, as this was not frost but far more benign snow, in a period of cooler weather which helped to slow down development which had been racing ahead following the unusually warm spring.

On a visit to the Loire in June, the normally majestic River was carrying only a third of its normal volume of water. Vignerons here were predicting harvest up to three weeks earlier than a normal year – though none could immediately remember when they last saw one of those!

Richard Mayson has not seen the prolonged heatwaves that persisted in his ‘cooler’ part of Portugal’s Alentejo last summer, and is expecting to pick around ten days earlier. On our Primeurs tasting trips to Bordeaux in April and May we had never seen such verdant vines, and the early fine weather had meant naturally healthier vineyards, with far fewer vineyard treatments necessary. Personnel were being asked to take their summer holidays earlier than usual, in expectation of an early harvest.

Since then in the Loire and Bordeaux, some welcome rain and cooler weather had slowed things up a bit. Then, on 2nd August, Bordeaux was apparently hit by ‘biblical rainstorms’, according to one of our suppliers, presumably alleviating the reported water stress in the vineyards. We are yet to hear of any negative impact, other than to those early holidaymakers.

It’s been a strange year so far, and, as always, the next few weeks will be critical. I’m off to the Loire again at the end of the month to get first impressions of the 2011 harvest, and to Bordeaux mid September. Fingers crossed for the all-important Indian summer.

And if the Mondeuse in the Savoie turns out as well as the 2010 we enjoyed this year, we may need to squeeze in fewer Wine Society cases on our next trip to the mountains.

Joanna Locke MW
Buyer for Bordeaux, Loire & Portugal

Edit: 25th August
I wanted to share a phrase from recent correspondence with one of our producers in the Loire updating us on the situation: All fun and games here as vineyards duck and weave to avoid the storms.
I shall be visiting Muscadet and Touraine next week so I will soon see for myself!

Tue 09 Aug 2011

Wines For Summer Drinking

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Three Choirs' popular rosé performed well...

The British summer, it has been said, consists of two fine days and a thunderstorm.

This certainly did seem to be the case as we headed down to Lincoln and Norwich for the last of The Society’s tastings before hanging up the van keys for the month of August.

The irony of the theme for the tastings was not lost on many. “Wines for Summer Drinking” seemed incongruous considering the grey skies above us, but never-the-less the turn out for both events was excellent and the wines did their best to shine, even if the sun didn’t.

Please click here for the list of the wines shown and the wines which won the coveted “Members’ favourites” on the nights.

Emma Howat
Tastings & Events Co-ordinator

Categories : Wine Tastings
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For those who are interested in trying some English wines this summer, take a look at my “How to Buy England” guide that has just been published on The Society’s website.

Seldom a week seems to go past without exaltations of the quality of English wine in the media and trade; not to mention St George-like stories of giant-beating English fizz trouncing a Francophile equivalent in a blind tasting. The patriotism is understandable: the quality of wines coming out of England right now is definitely on the up, and with this in mind, I have identified in the guide many of the grape varieties used – sometimes exclusively – in the production of English wines. I hope you enjoy getting to know them.

Click here to read the new guide.

We will be also publishing an Explore English Wine offer next week, including a mixed case at a very keen price!

Mark Buckenham
England Buyer

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Our recent annual foray into the wines of the Loire and Beaujolais was a huge success, with a great turn-out from both the members and the growers.

On the face of it, this tasting seemed beset by adversity: Bernard and Anne Chéreau managed to make it to the London leg of the tastings with moments to spare, in spite of a cancelled flight out of Nantes; Pascaline Mabillot had to step in at the last moment when her husband Mathieu realised his passport was out of date, whilst Jean-Marc Darbon (of Beaujolais négociant Jacques Depagneux) left his suitcase on the tube – you’ll be pleased to hear they were reunited against all odds the following day!

The focus of the tasting being the Loire and Beaujolais, many members expected the wines to be limited to sauvignon blanc and light red wines, but the reality couldn’t have been more different.

Anne Pellé's Menetou-Salon Morogues

Whilst indeed there were some fantastic sauvignon blanc such as Mathieu Mabillot’s pungent Reuilly, La Ferté, 2010 or the soft and delicate Menetou Salon Morogues Pelle 2010 from Anne Pellé, there was also much else besides on offer from the Loire. Evelyne de Pontbriand’s lovely Savennières, Domaine du Closel, 2009 really stood out as did Domaine Huet’s Vouvray, Le Mont, Sec, 2002. Olivier Mouraud of Domaine Bougrier had produced a Rosé d’Anjou 2010, which would be perfect in combination with a patio and some sunshine – both of which were on offer on Monday night at our London venue, RIBA. Christine Laloue’s Sancerre Rouge Domaine Serge Laloue, 2009 was complex and elegant, and would give many a Burgundy a run for its money.

We were delighted to be joined by Jean-Marc Darbon (he of the missing suitcase, mentioned above) and Gilles Meimoun of Maison Trenel, whose wines showcased beautifully what Beaujolais can offer. Here we had the light, fruity styles displayed so well by The Society’s Beaujolais-Villages 2009, through to much denser, more complex reds such as the Beaujolais-Perreon Château du Ringuet, 2010 or Moulin-à-Vent, Domaine de la Tour du Bief, Tirage Limite, 2005. Proof, if it were needed that whilst the wines of the Beaujolais region are never going to be in the Australian “blockbuster” category, they have a concentration and depth that belie their image as light red wines.

To see the wines available for tasting in London and Newcastle please click here.

Emma Howat
Tastings & Events Co-ordinator

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