Grapevine Archive for December, 2011

Tue 20 Dec 2011

The Great Exhibition

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Our final walk-around tastings of the year were in Lewes, Southampton and Chelmsford where we showed a range of our Exhibition wines.

Created for our 125th anniversary in 1999, the Exhibition Range is a group of wines blended and selected as flagship examples of the different regions and styles they represent: a ‘look-no-further-than’ wine list made by a roll-call of top growers with whom The Society works.

The venues

 Pouring the wines in Lewes
The first stop was the Town Hall at Lewes, a beautiful old building, with some very interesting artwork on the walls. The very cold weather encouraged everyone to turn up early and within no time at all the hall was full of members regaining the feeling in their extremities (warmed by the 21 wines on taste!). The latter two venues had a cricket theme, though they couldn’t have been more different. The Rose Bowl in Southampton is the state-of-the-art new home to the Hampshire Cricket Team. We held the tasting in the Robin Smith Suite, which has lovely views over the pitch, and as one member pointed out, it would have been nice if there was a match being played whilst we tasted. No promises being made there, I’m afraid. The last stop was Chelmsford and the venue the Essex County Cricket Club. We held the tasting in the pavilion, once again overlooking the pitch, although the weather had turned again and it was a very stormy evening, so sadly there was not much to be seen.

The wines
Perhaps most importantly, the wines showed well on all three nights. As always, there were huge differences between the winners at each tasting. We still don’t fully understand how it is a wine which is voted the favourite on one evening can be awarded the wooden spoon the next. Answers on a postcard, please!

In Lewes the favourite white was the Exhibition Hermitage Blanc, 2007: a real treat of a white from Jean-Louis Chave – rich, full-flavoured, creamy – the perfect accompaniment to the Christmas turkey. For reds, the vote went to the Mendoza Malbec, 2009: a big, rich and bramble-fruited wine from Catena, with hints of mocha on the finish – the perfect wine to warm you up.

In Southampton it was the Exhibition French Cabernet Sauvignon which came top, a lovely, un-prepossessing French red which provides great value for money and heaps of character. The Exhibition Martinborough Pinot Noir from Craggy Range came second, no surprise really as it was showing so well on the night: packed with the crushed summer fruits you might expect from good-quality New Zealand pinot, but with real structure and an almost French-style earthiness. It is worth noting that the noisiest vote, however, was for the Crusted Port!

Chelmsford’s overall winner was yet again the Exhibition French Cabernet, and the winning white was the Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc. This is made for us by Jane Hunter OBE and encapsulates the zesty citrus and gooseberry fruit and feisty character one would expect from classic Marlborough sauvignon.

We hope all those who attended enjoyed themselves and the wines.

Emma Howat
Tastings & Events Co-ordinator

Categories : Wine Tastings
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Tue 13 Dec 2011

Question Time

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David Dimbleby not presenting The Society's question time

Yesterday Pierre Mansour (@pierremansour) and I (@Ewbz) hosted a virtual question time on Twitter (@TheWineSociety) as an experiment as we dip our toe a little further into the water of social media. A small-but-perfectly-formed band of members took part under the hashtag #twsqt. Here are the Qs and the As:

@robjfreeman If in doubt, always decant?
@TheWineSociety ‘Yes!’ Most wines improve with aeration, especially younger reds. As @JancisRobinson says: ‘decant splashily!’ …
@TheWineSociety …although be wary of older, more fragile wines. If needed, decant immediately before drinking or pour carefully.

@jonone100 can you recommend a nice pinot noir for about £20? Thanks.
@TheWineSociety This Marsannay, a new (to us) producer & great vfm. Or for a top Kiwi try @SeresinEstate’s Rachel

@thirstforwine What wine for a Xmas 4-bird roast? (Turkey, Goose, Duck, Pheasant)
@TheWineSociety C’neuf-du-Pape is our recco but with so many flavours esp. trimmings choose something you know your guests will enjoy.
@thirstforwine Interesting – was thinking NZ PN. Thoughts?
@TheWineSociety NZ pinot was what @pierremansour drank with last year’s Christmas dinner! Anything with a bit of sweet ripe fruit.

@skifamille Am I right in thinking 15/12 is last order date for Christmas?
@TheWineSociety To guarantee pre-Christmas delivery, order pre-midnight Thu 15/12.

@TopTungston Wondering when the Tollot-Beaut Chorey-lès-Beaune 2005 is best to drink. Opening offer says best by 2012. Please advise.
@TheWineSociety Drinking well now. 05 vintage long-lasting but Chorey a modest appellation. For even softer and gamier hold for 2-3 years.
@TopTungston Also please could you tell me is the 06 Katnook estate Cab Sauv drinking ok right now? Thank you.
@TheWineSociety Absolutely delicious right now. Very elegant. Do decant 1 hour before.

@Theshrubb Is my 2001 Langoa Barton ready for this Christmas or should I leave it for a few more?
@TheWineSociety Drank this at a recent Montreuil dinner (Sep). Just hitting stride now. Pop the cork & enjoy, or wait up to another 8 years.

@PollyEJHolidays You focus a lot on great Portuguese wines, but are there any you’d recommend from the Algarve for Christmas?
@TheWineSociety While we have loads of Portuguese in our current offer none are from Algarve. Sorry.

So that’s it from Stevenage for this week. Next time we’ll be in Stevenage, and the time after that in … er … Stevenage! Good night.

Categories : Miscellaneous
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Thu 08 Dec 2011

The Great [Green] Grape Debate

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Waldin - an enigmatic spokesperson for organic/biodynamic farming
Last week the WSET (Wine & Spirit Education Trust) hosted a debate between Monty Waldin – writer, broadcaster and winemaker and renowned proponent of organic and biodynamic viticulture – and Australian, Dr Richard Smart – one of the world’s best-known viticultural consultants who has worked in more than 30 countries, written several books on viticulture and has four degrees in science.

The motion debated was: ‘The UK wine trade should promote organic and biodynamic wines’ and it seems as though the fight has been a long time coming. Richard Smart now spends half the year here in the UK and has become increasingly frustrated with what he sees as the bias of the British wine trade, and the press in particular, towards organics and biodynamics. He thought the motion should actually read: ‘Should the UK wine trade CONTINUE to promote organic and biodynamic wines’. It seems that he has been asking for some time to have this kind of debate.

His principal complaint was that a lot of the health-giving benefits of wines produced in these ways are over-stated and unsubstantiated: ‘that they are better and better for you is arguable’, he says. He also feels that there is a general ignorance about conventional techniques of farming. He has experienced growers who farm conventionally reluctant to speak out against organic or biodynamic practices for fear of damaging their position in the market place. He says that many conventional farmers are no less environmentally conscious than their green counterparts and that they are being disadvantaged unfairly. He bemoaned the fact that conventional viticulture didn’t have an attractive, articulate advocate like Monty to promote its viewpoint. Smart had gone to some trouble to dress in a smart green shirt and tie and fetching hat to declare his own green credentials!

Waldin (who wrote an article for Societynews last September on the subject of organic, biodynamic and sustainable viticulture) was as persuasive and compelling as ever. A lot of what organic and biodynamic producers stand for does just seem to sound like common sense. The argument that many of the world’s top producers have converted to biodynamism because it works not because they have to is incontrovertible. Though he pointed out to Smart that actually, the British wine press have up until very recently been rather scathing about organics and biodynamics, often referring to him and his kind as a bunch of ‘loonies’. Waldin didn’t refer too much to some of the more esoteric elements of Steiner’s teaching on biodynamics.

biodynamic preparationsStir it up: making compost tea at Seresin Estate, New Zealand, held up by Waldin as the perfect model of biodynamism in practice

As it is often the stories behind the wines that add to their appeal, those generated by an organic/biodynamic approach in the vineyard are bound to sound more attractive and chime in with our (arguably) misplaced conception of wine as a natural product. Smart doesn’t deny that stories are important in the marketing of wine and is fully in support of the social benefits of organic/biodynamic farming and even some of the practices, such as mulching instead of using weed killers. His problem is that messages about the harmful nature of pesticides and agro-chemicals traditionally used in conventional farming are vastly over-stated and untrue. He argues that the agro-chemical industry is highly regulated and that products are rigorously tested and proven to be harmless both to those applying them and to those ingesting the final product. He also pointed out that carcinogenic pesticides are naturally occurring in lots of plants and fruits and that we should probably be more concerned about these!

He had to draw attention too to ‘the Achilles heel’ (as Waldin called it) of organics/biodynamics, that both copper and sulphur are permitted. Copper in particular is highly toxic. It builds up in the topsoil and can’t be got rid of, to the point of even killing off the vines in one instance that Smart talked of. Waldin countered that because organic and biodynamic growers use natural plant and herb sprays on their vines to counter pests and diseases, they were less reliant on the use of toxic sprays.

Finally, Smart argued that in a few years’ time no-one will be talking about whether a wine is made from grapes grown organically or biodynamically and what is of increasing importance is the notion of sustainability. New Zealand, Australia, Oregon and South Africa have already made great progress in this area. ‘The greatest pollutant for our planet,’ Smart says, ‘is carbon dioxide, and whether you are organic or biodynamic, it has little impact on this.’

If you would like to listen to the debate for yourself, the WSET has posted videos of the event on their Facebook page.

The Wine Society is of the view that in order to produce high-quality wines that speak of the place where they were made, growers, by definition, need to take great care of their vineyards to ensure their long-term health. If they are able to do this by farming organically or biodynamically then this is a bonus, but ultimately the wine has to taste good first and foremost.

Notwithstanding this position, we recognise that some members will want to know more about how the wines we offer are made and for this reason, we group together our selection of wines produced from grapes grown organically and biodynamically on our website. Whether you agree with the motion of the debate or not, we hope that you’ll appreciate the wines. Why not let us know what you think?

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Wed 07 Dec 2011

Doing It Since 1874

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Richard Mayson of Sonho Lusitano pours his Pedra Basta 2008 for membersRichard Mayson of Sonho Lusitano pours his Pedra Basta 2008 for members
The Society was founded on excess stocks of Portuguese wine following the International Exhibition at the Royal Albert Hall in 1874.

137 years later we have gone back to our roots – 49 Portuguese wines, accompanied by many winemakers, were poured for 350 members and guests at Merchant Taylors’ Hall last week. The place was buzzing, and we had to extend the finish time of the tasting, such was the enthusiasm among the tasters!

From Minhão in the north to Alentejo in the south, by way of Dão, Douro and Lisboa, among other regions, every shade of red, white and rosé, plus Port and Madeira, were on show. We are most grateful to the growers and their representatives for making the journey to the UK purely for this event.

Many of the wines feature in our current Portuguese offer (which runs until 15th December).

Raymond Reynolds, the country’s top importer of Portuguese wines summed up the enthusiasm of the growers concerning working with The Society (and we have to concur!):

“Q – Where else in the UK does Portugal get 350 good and keen people pitching up to taste?
“A – Nowhere.”

For information about our Tastings & Events for early 2012, check out our Tastings & Events pages. And if you were at the Portuguese tasting, tell us about your particular favourites.

Ewan Murray
Head of Tastings & Events

Categories : Port, Portugal, Wine Tastings
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Thu 01 Dec 2011

Yalumba: Excellence In Sustainability

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Many Wine Society members will be familiar with the delicious South Australian wines of Yalumba. As such, I thought you may be interested to hear that the company was recognised at last week’s ‘London’s Green Awards’, where they won the award for ‘Best International Business for Creativity in Sustainability.’

A grenache bush vine at Yalumba
What’s more, they won out against a number of impressive (non-wine) organisations including Lal Pir Thermal Power Station in Pakistan and the Barbican Centre in London.

Having dealt with Yalumba for a number of years, this is no great surprise: their attention to detail is quite incredible (they even have their own nursery for vine propagation). As a family-owned business (and the oldest of its kind in Australia), ensuring the long term health of both its vineyards and business has been a key strategy for fifth-generation Robert Hill Smith.

In typical perfectionist fashion, Yalumba have therefore taken their sustainable policy to dizzying heights. They have spent 2 million dollars in the past decade converting vineyard over to drip irrigation, resulting in water usage dropping by 40% and saving one billion litres of water/annum (the equivalent of 1000 Olympic size swimming pools). They use no insecticides in their vineyards and offset each hectare of vineyard with a hectare of native vegetation (80% of this has been through their own plantings). In the winery, they have installed heat recovery systems for their refrigeration units, and their packaging is now 98% recycled or recyclable.

First and foremost, they make superb wine; yet their environmental credentials are of course highly commendable and a good fit with The Society’s own stance.

As well as the wines we currently stock, we will also be releasing an exclusive-label 2011 sauvignon blanc called ‘Circles’ (which will be priced under £7 per bottle). This will be available next year.

Pierre Mansour
Australia Buyer

Categories : Australia
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