Grapevine Archive for September, 2011

Fri 30 Sep 2011

Barbecue Wines: Some Advice

Posted by: | Comments (1)

It seems an Indian summer is upon us, and I imagine several of you will be looking forward to a barbecue in the garden with a few friends; and hopefully not too many wasps (though, as I often try to explain, wasps have their rights too).

Barbecues are often an excuse for wonderful flights of culinary fancy, pieces of meat or fish left to soak four hours in chilli-infested marinades and served wrapped up in banana leaves, etc. The choice of wine might need a little thought. Wines that come from places where people naturally eat outside are often good bets.

Here are a few suggestions:

Obviously something to start with. Sparkling wine is an obvious choice. Perhaps a non-vintage Champagne or our Cava from Sumarocca (which The Sunday Times recently thought was the best Champagne look-alike around). Another alternative would be fine German riesling, maybe a Kabinett from the Mosel and from a light vintage such as 2008.

For me, barbecues are where rosé comes into its own. Nothing else really goes as well with salads, and rosé is one of the few wines that goes well with eggs. The choice in rosé is wider than ever. Salade Niçoise is best with Provence rosé. Greek salad is best with Greek white such as the Hatzidakis from Santorini. If serving anything with goat’s cheese, I’d recommend almost any good sauvignon blanc.

Freshwater fish go well with clean, fruity whites are best: Chapel Down Bacchus from England is a good fit, as would be a Chablis, Sancerre or Jurançon sec. For cold oceanic fish, I recommend a Muscadet, vinho verde, or an albarino from north-eastern Spain; warm oceanic or Mediterranean suit Italian whites, Picpoul de Pinet, or a dry rosé. Prawns, crayfish, crab and other things with claws and shells are heavenly with a fiercely chilled Fino Sherry or opulent table whites like viognier.

With regard to meat, vigorous young reds are the best for pork and/or sausages (Beaujolais would be a good bet). Lamb is well-suited to various reds (New Zealand pinot noir or if you like your wine with more body, a Languedoc red) and indeed full-flavoured rosé such as Muga’s Rioja Rosado.

Pinot noir, especially young red Burgundy, is the best for poultry in my experience, but if prepared using lots of spices then try something stronger from the Mediterranean. Argentine Malbec, young Claret, or New World Cabernet offer suitably hearty choices for beef.

More generally, it’s worth remembering that wines taste different outside and, in hot weather, warm up quickly. Older wines may also oxidise quickly in the sun, which is one reason why I would steer away from them. I would keep unopened bottles inside, away from the sun and if the fridge is already full with salads, then best invest in some ice cubes to keep wines cool. Don’t hesitate to chill the reds, especially younger wines; a cooler serving temperature will often accentuate fruit flavours and the wine will be more refreshing.

Last but by no means least: remember that cheese, like wine, doesn’t often do well in the sun. There is nothing worse than a wilting, sweating piece of fine cheddar!

Marcel Orford-Williams

Comments (1)
Thu 29 Sep 2011

Enjoying 2002 Bordeaux

Posted by: | Comments (0)

A far from carefree harvest; but has 2002 been given the respect it deserves?

For me 2002 was the year when university began, heralding a carefree and bleary-eyed cycle of academic rigour and late nights, all facilitated by the nutritional merits of the ‘3 Bs diet’ (yes, baked beans and beer).

As such, I confess I paid little attention to what was going on beyond the confines of the institution. The vineyards of Bordeaux were, by all accounts, not quite so happy places to be. Vignerons winced as their grapes endured some fairly atrocious weather before, as would occur later in 2007, an Indian summer ensured that good wine could be made.

I feel this vintage, particularly on the Left Bank, has had a comparatively bad rap and has been lost among the noise somewhat. Considering the quality of other vintages in the 2000s, not to mention the increasing cacophony of hype surrounding them, this is understandable up to a point. However, if you like your Claret to taste traditional – and I know that many members do – there are some rich pickings.

Now free of the 3 Bs diet and immersed in wine personally as well as professionally, I seem to have hit a purple (or claret) patch of 2002s recently; a combination of tastings, bottles proffered by friends and my own modest stash. Given their comparatively muted repute, they have been, at times, a revelation.

Château Grand Puy-Lacoste

There is little doubt that the best successes are cabernet-dominant, and some of the Classed Growths are hitting their stride earlier than in more meteorologically generous years. The ’02 Prieuré-Lichine for example is a delicious and open Margaux; and while no spring chicken anymore, Château Olivier still manages to fly the flag for Pessac commendably. Château Grand Puy-Lacoste 2002 deserves a special mention: it is a quintessential Pauillac, a down-to-earth but suave wine that counts among one of the most pleasurable bottles broached for some time.

Another pleasing facet of 2002 is that, in a region where price is such a talking point, the wines still represent rather good buys; and the cynical among you who might accuse me of trying to flog wines from a ‘duff’ vintage may be assuaged by the fact the above are, alas, not currently stocked by The Society!

For members who do want to get acquainted however, a half-bottle of Léoville-Barton (a format some readers may recall my fondness for) might be a good place to start. That said, we do recommend you wait until next year at the least before tucking into this bold and backward wine. For something showing off a little more now, the 2002 Château Batailley is approachable after a decant, and very tasty with it. Though these wines may not have the academic rigour of more ‘cerebral’ Claret vintages, baked beans they certainly are not, and I can’t recommend some of them enough. Any tips from readers would also be much appreciated…

Martin Brown
Digital Copywriter

Categories : Bordeaux, France
Comments (0)
Tue 27 Sep 2011

Bordeaux Without Breaking the Bank

Posted by: | Comments (0)

Isn’t it funny that whenever any one mentions Bordeaux we all immediately think of First Growths and Grand Cru Classé wines, which only actually make up three to five percent of what Bordeaux produces?

For this set of events we decided that we would concentrate on those Bordeaux wines which we all most commonly drink (that is, on a day-to-day basis), rather than showing those beyond the normal budget of most mere mortals.

Joined by The Society’s wine buyer for Bordeaux, Joanna Locke MW, and Wine Tutor and expert on all things Bordeaux, Laura Clay, we set off on a voyage of Bordelaise discovery to Cardiff, Bristol and Birmingham.

We showed a range of wines, eighteen in total, with three whites, two of which were oaked to varying degrees, thirteen reds, and two sweet whites. Star appearances were made from the Côtes de Blaye and Bourg; Montagne-St.-Emilion; Castillon; Entre-Deux-Mers and Graves, whilst the there were many heated debates over the relative merits of Barsac vs St. Croix du Mont for the production of sweet wines.

Currently the CIVB (Le Conseil Interprofessionnel du Vin de Bordeaux or Bordeaux Wine Council) is promoting the idea of pairing wines from Bordeaux with food, so when we informed them of our plans for the latest Bordeaux tasting, they mentioned that if we provided some suitable nibbles they would cover part of the costs involved. Thus we found ourselves in The Parc Hotel in Cardiff trying to cube four kilos of cheddar and plate up a Biblical quantity of party nibbles in record time – a feat we quickly realised could not be achieved in any kind of record time. The following day, having learnt from our mistakes, a quick call (or perhaps more aptly a cry for help) was made to the Waitroses in Bristol and Birmingham who very kindly agreed to cut the cheeses up for us in advance. To the poor person working on the dairy counter on those particular days we offer our heartfelt thanks!

Valerie Bassereau from Château de la Grave

Cut fingers and timing issues aside, the food and wine combination was, to all intents and purposes, a total success. It was really interesting to be able to try the wines, which in some case were relatively young, with tannins that were still on the grippy side, and see what a difference a piece of cheese or salami or roast beef made to the overall flavours: more often than not softening out the wines.

As a general rule (although I’m sure if we’d taken a straw-poll there would have been many members who would have vehemently disagreed), the merlot-dominated reds such as the Château Bourjaud 2007 worked really well with the ham and the milder of the two salamis; whilst the cabernet-dominated reds tended to be fabulous with the cheddars and roast beef. In the case of the whites, especially the two which had seen some oak, the goat’s cheese and smoked salmon nibbles went down very well – the Château de la Grave Grains Fins was especially good.

And finally onto the sweet wines – after all, I was always taught to try and save the best till last! The Society’s Exhibition Sauternes 2008 was as good as ever; we tried pairing it with a relatively mild and creamy Stilton and the combination of salt and sweet worked a treat.

To be fair, it was also stunning with the lemon tart, but as one member in Cardiff announced “The Château la Grave 2005 with the tart is a match made in heaven.” I tried it too (on all three nights just to be sure) and I have to say, I think he was absolutely right!

Click here to view all of the wines shown at these tastings.

Emma Howat
Tastings & Events Co-ordinator

Comments (0)
Sat 24 Sep 2011

Meat & drink!

Posted by: | Comments (0)

Earlier this month 90 members and guests were treated to a wonderful meal at Smith’s of Smithfield, the great eatery just across the road from London’s meat market, owned by chef John Torode. It was a fitting Aussie-owned backdrop for a dinner that highlighted wines from two of Western Australia’s finest winemakers – Vanya Cullen from Cullen Wines in Margaret River and John Durham from Plantagenet Wines in Great Southern.

The weather was kind and as the evening wore on a aperitif-friendly south-facing blue-sky panorama from the terrace with St Paul’s Cathedral as the centre piece gently dimmed into a full-moonlit night.

Vanya Cullen

Vanya was delighted with the full moon, as it became her visual aid when talking about the biodynamic way that her vines are grown and wines made. The Mangan Vineyard Sauvignon Semillon (soon to come into stock) matched beautifully with the scallops expertly prepared by the SoS team, the Mangan Malbec Petit Verdot Merlot 2009 would knock spots off many a similarly-priced Claret and the Diana Madeleine 2002 (we have the 2008 currently available) was simply sublime.

John Durham

John’s vibrant Riesling 2009 got proceedings off to a crisp start, and his Omrah Shiraz 2008 made an interesting gutsy comparison with the aforementioned Mangan Red with our aged fillet steak. The 1999 Shiraz again contrasted robustly with the finesse of the DM, both accompanying the excellent cheeses (Yarg, aged Montgomery and Caerphilly), and his cheeky sweet Ringbark Riesling 2009 matched wonderfully with the pear and lemon dessert.

Members enjoying the evening at Smith's of Smithfield

The wines are very different in style, as are the winemakers, and we got the full picture from both on this moonlit night. The venue doesn’t give itself over to being a quiet and venerable eating place – sociability is definitely the watchword, and perhaps a full moon made members even more gregarious and loquacious than usual … or was it the wine? Either way, a good time was had, the food and service were of a very high standard and the beautiful wines spoke for themselves. We shall return there some time soon.

Ewan Murray
Head of Tastings & Events

Categories : Australia, Wine Tastings
Comments (0)
Fri 23 Sep 2011

Chile: Tastes as Broad as the Country is Long

Posted by: | Comments (0)

The Society’s annual Chilean tasting was just what was needed to lift everyone’s spirits as a wet and windy Monday brought autumn into sharp relief.

The first tasting was held at Delfina Galleries on Bermondsey Street (the first time we’d had a tasting south of the river in a few years) and the second at Freemasons’ Hall in Manchester.

Many of the usual suspects were there, both members and winemakers alike. Thanks especially to the member in Manchester who informed me that he was planning to attend two of the Society’s tastings taking place across the country within the space of a week – now that’s dedication!

The wines did not disappoint: the broad range of wine styles on offer really showed the diversity of what Chile had to offer. It’s really no wonder that Toby Morrhall, the Society’s buyer for South America, describes Chile as one of his favourite places to buy wines. As many will know, Toby’s efforts were recognised only recently by the International Wine Challenge, who awarded The Society ‘Specialist Merchant of the Year’ for Chile (Toby’s reaction can be read here).

Highlights from the tasting – and there were many – included the chardonnays and syrahs from the Límari Valley. It is now well-known that this is now perhaps the place to grow chardonnay in Chile, and we now source our own-label examples from the area. Tabalí’s Reserva Especial Syrah 2008 showed off the promise that syrah has found in the region, its lovely perfume and gentle spice straddling the great divide between Aussie blockbusters and the more restrained syrahs from the northern Rhône. You can read more about Límari here.

Viña Leyda Lot 21 Pinot Noir, 2008

Chile has also been making a name for itself with carmenère, though we still feel these wines deserve greater recognition. While its French counterparts tend toward the lean and mean, it thrives in Chile, taking on a fleshier character, yet retaining its lovely freshness. A great example of what can be done with this variety is De Martino’s Legado Carmenère, 2008.

With the growers present themselves we decided it would be bad form taking a straw poll as to the favourite wine of the night! Just for the record however, I would have to say mine was the Viña Leyda Lot 21 Pinot Noir, 2008. A bit on the pricier side I have to admit, but the closest thing I have come to a red Burgundy from this area in terms of the lightness of touch and fragrance. I think I may have found a new ‘Saturday night wine.’

We thoroughly enjoyed showing off what Chile has to offer, and look forward to doing so again next year. Given the pace of the country’s wine industry, who knows what will be on show then? As Toby himself says, each time he goes to Chile he is amazed by the dynamic and enterprising approach the winemakers take to their craft – always on the lookout for the next terroir or the next ‘hot’ (or indeed ‘cool’) variety.

Click here to view all of the wines shown at this tasting.

Emma Howat
Tastings & Events Co-ordinator

Categories : Chile, Wine Tastings
Comments (0)
Thu 15 Sep 2011

The UK’s finest range of Chilean wines

Posted by: | Comments (1)

It is great to have won the International Wine Challenge’s Specialist Merchant of the Year for Chile for the fourth time in five years but I won’t be getting complacent.

The first time we won this award, my boss Sebastian Payne said it was for: ‘Just doing your job’.

And what a privileged job it is. Chile continues to excite because it keeps discovering new regions and expanding its list of well-made grape varieties from its myriad terroirs and diverse climates. The remarkable Limarí chardonnays, pinot noirs and syrahs from this cool climate with many vineyards with limestone-based soils has been a very exciting new discovery. We have already moved our Society and Exhibition chardonnays to this region.

The discovery of many 50-year-old, unirrigated carignan bush vines in Maule has resulted in some superb new wines appearing on the market. Grown in a warm region of Chile, carignan is a little fleshier than in France, but still keeps its lovely perfume and thrillingly fresh and fine palate that really is perfectly designed to match a hunk of roasted or grilled protein, especially belly pork or shoulder of lamb. I’ve also been tasting some excellent cinsault and mourvèdre which I hope will soon make it to our List.

The ‘Rhône Ranger’ blends are perhaps the only missing varieties in Chile’s remarkable range and may soon appear.

If you have already tried some of our Chilean range, then thank you for your support. If you are yet to try them, then now is the time. Click here to view the full range, or here to try a special exploration mixed case we have put together to celebrate winning the award.

Toby Morrhall
Society Buyer

Comments (1)
Wed 14 Sep 2011

Think Alsace, think The Wine Society

Posted by: | Comments (4)

Gongs galore at the International Wine Challenge. Presented by judge Charles Metcalfe (left)


I was delighted that the International Wine Challenge voted The Society’s Alsace range the country’s finest at last week’s award ceremony, for the fourth consecutive year. 

‘Think Alsace, think The Wine Society’ is what this award means and we are thrilled to get it. 

When The Society was founded in 1874, the vineyards of Alsace were in desperate straits struggling against oidium and mildew, and then in 1876 by the phylloxera epidemic which all but destroyed Alsace viticulture. Members had to wait until 1923 for a first listing of Alsace wine but then war once again intervened to disrupt supplies and it was not until some time after the liberation that The Society imported Alsace wines again. 

Since then we have not looked back. We were there for the birth of the appellation in 1962 and then the Grand Cru classification. Incidentally, one of the first Alsace wines shipped to The Wine Society was a Kaefferkopf, one of Alsace’s 51 grands crus. 

So ours is not the first generation of members to buy and enjoy Alsace wine, though I dare say that quality has improved vastly over the years. Usage too has changed. Back in 1923 ‘stir-fry’ would have been without meaning. Alsace’s wines go perfectly with modern oriental cuisine. And in a world of increasing standardisation and use of new oak barrels, Alsace remains true to itself, producing delicious, impeccable fruit-driven wines that have sophistication and poise. 

I think these are very much wines of today which go so well with what we like to eat. Alsace, a capital of gastronomy, has ensured that there is a wine to match practically everything. There is a broad choice of grape varieties, flavours and styles, which are covered by an unusually wide selection coming from 16 different producers. 

Many members are already hooked on Alsace; others less so but for all members’ I’ve put together a sampler case for you to try or click here to view the winning range.

Tue 13 Sep 2011

The Liberator Caption Competition Results

Posted by: | Comments (0)

We have been delighted by the enthusiasm with which our members have received the two exclusive wines from The Liberator.

These ‘Special Editions’, made by one of the Cape’s best young winemakers, would have been blended into lesser wines had they not been ‘liberated’ by Richard Kelley MW and his Liberator project. We believe them to be a snip at the price and a great advert for the dynamism and innovation happening in so much of South Africa now.

Members that have not taken the plunge yet can still purchase them here.

As well as being a testament to how good the wines are, seeing them so well-received has highlighted how adventurous so much of our membership is. Not least the creativity shown by those who entered our Liberator Caption Competition, the results of which are now in.

Caption Competition Results

In my earlier blog post, we asked you to provide a caption for the image below, with Liberator prizes up for grabs. The picture comes from one of the quirky comic strips which accompany the wines (‘episodes’ in Liberator speak).

Here are the winning entries:

First place:
“I keep getting cork in my wine.”
“Yeah you need to get rid of that old hat and get a Screw Cap!”

(Mr Jim Donoghue).

Mr Donoghue will receive a mixed 12-bottle case of the wines and a unique framed print of Liberator artwork. Congratulations!

Runners up:
“Streuth! There’s a fly in my Shiraz!”
“Que Syrah Syrah…”

(Mr Nick Oury).

“I get red berries but I’m also getting cork”
“That’s your chapeau, not the chateau!”

(Mr Anthony Heath).

Both Mr Oury & Mr Heath will receive mixed 6-bottle cases of the wines. We hope you enjoy them.

The ‘Best of the Rest’
The competition entries generated a lot of amusement at The Wine Society’s office, so we thought it only fair to share with you some of the other entries received.

“Struth Rick, this Francophile’s real complex. There’s something I just can’t put my finger on…”
“Moi Aussie.”
“Alright Fella, don’t patronise me! I’m not your ‘Aussie.’ I’m my own bloke!”

Mr Nick Murray

“A distinctly colonial hat, with a certain charm; but unfortunately it’s corked.”
Mr Nick Murray

“Well, the time in barrel has certainly added a certain je ne sais quoi!”
Mr Eoin Bell

“Strewth! No flies on this one, mate.”
“Indeed, dear boy, this knocks most Aussie shirazes into a corked hat!”

Dr Chris Stray

‘For those about to slurp… we salute you!’
Mr Neil Todd

…And some from us:
While the competition was, of course, closed to Society staff, we couldn’t resist sending it round the office. Here are a few choice responses.

‘Despite his extensive research, Dave was still confused about the inspiration behind the band’s latest single “Whole Lotta Rosé.”’

“Oh my God, I think I smell an Aussie.”
“Excuse me – I showered this morning!”

“When I said I wanted to taste from the barrel I didn’t think you’d take it so literally. Glad I didn’t ask to taste from the bottle!”

‘Conversation was awkward as The Wine Society singles night proved less popular than expected.’

Thanks to all members who entered, and who continue to buy the wines. We very much hope you enjoy them.

Joanna Locke MW
Buyer, South Africa

Categories : South Africa
Comments (0)
Mon 12 Sep 2011

Keeping Greece Afloat!

Posted by: | Comments (2)

Bragging about one’s holidays might seem a little tasteless, though they were exceedingly good. So this is not going to be a tale of sun, sand and… but rather of wine and of one particular grape variety: moschofilero.

Finding good white wine in Greece was never easy. Most was often dull or oxidised; beer was usually the only viable answer to quench a thirst. That perception is now out of date. Whatever the shortcomings of the Greek economy, there is a sense of real pride in Greece which is evident in the quality of the wines. Even humble jug wines (sometimes made from saavatiano or vilano grapes) are lovely but, for me, pride and place goes to the moschofilero.

This is often a pink coloured grape and is planted mainly on Peloponnese and produces a light and fragrant wine that has some similarity to muscat but not as pungent and more delicate. Curiously for a variety that is native of Greece, it does not tolerate excessive heat which is why it is often planted at altitude such as among the high mountains of the Peloponnese.

Back to the holiday: The scene is on board a ferry outward bound from Piraeus where the service in the restaurant is perfect and where the chief steward is dressed in navy whites. The food was excellent, tzatziki, squid, grilled meats and a decent salad, and all washed down with a refreshing moschofilero 2010 from Skouras. Heaven!

Click here to view The Society’s ‘Discover Greece’ offer.

Marcel Orford-Williams

Fri 09 Sep 2011

A rewarding week for The Society

Posted by: | Comments (1)

It was a great honour to receive on behalf of our members and The Society the National Retailer of the Year award at the Decanter World Wine Awards presentation dinner at the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden on Wednesday (pictured right with judge Anthony Rose). Being rushed off straight away afterwards to do a video-interview was a bit unexpected though! You can see it here.

Following so closely on the heels of our successes at Tuesday evening’s International Wine Challenge (IWC) Awards (see Ewan’s earlier blog entry), it has proved to be a wonderfully rewarding week for The Society. The IWC had also voted The Society the Wine Merchant and Wine Club of the year, as well as the Specialist Merchant for both Alsace and Chile.

In their citations, the judges recognised nearly every part of the business from the range and quality of our wines to the excellent levels of service provided to members and the recent innovations that we have introduced. At the heart of our success, I believe, lies our mutuality which allows us to focus on member satisfaction and quality rather than on the financial returns required for external shareholders. These awards are a testament to the hard work of our buyers and staff and I offer my congratulations to all concerned.

I was particularly pleased to see that we won, for the fourth consecutive year, the Specialist Merchant Award for Alsace. Congratulations to buyer Marcel Orford-Williams for once again ensuring members have the pick of Alsace’s wines to choose from.

This is also the fourth time that the IWC judges have voted our Chilean range the country’s finest. But rather than resting on his laurels, buyer Toby Morrhall is constantly refining and improving the range and unearthing new wines for us all to enjoy, just as he has done each year since first championing these wines.

In Decanter’s report of the awards they questioned whether: “The ‘committee of gentlemen’ who met in the Albert hall in 1874 to set up a co-operative … would recognise their offspring in this victor.” I like to think that while they may find our ever-evolving website, our new iPhone app and state-of-the-art warehouse a tad confusing, they would find our ethos of the uppermost integrity and commitment to outstanding quality and fair pricing entirely recognisable.

Thank you for your continued support.

Sarah Evans

Categories : Miscellaneous
Comments (1)