Grapevine Archive for January, 2012

Tue 31 Jan 2012

A Good Week

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I particularly enjoyed two member tastings in London last week.

First we displayed Pierre Mansour’s new range from New Zealand to a full house in RIBA. Particular highlights for me were the ranges from Hunter’s, Kumeu River and Prophet’s Rock.

I love Hunter’s food-friendly dry riesling, and our own Exhibition Marlborough Sauvignon which Jane Hunter supplies for is tasting particularly delicious. Pierre has done well to persuade the Brajkovich family of Kumeu River, chardonnay experts, to produce our own-label chardonnay too. Prophet’s Rock have made a pinot gris with real depth and flavour – the secret simply low yields, maturation on lees and later bottling. Their pinot noir is outstanding.

Steve Farrow being presented with the WSET's 'Gruppo Italiano Vini' Scholarship by Hugh Dupre and Jancis Robinson

The growers went on to a tasting in Harrogate. I went on to watch Steve Farrow, well known to members who visit The Cellar Showroom, receive his scholarship prize for passing his Wine & Spirits Education Trust Diploma with flying colours – a surprise for him, but not for us.

Later in the week, 100 members and guests were lucky enough to taste 10 vintages from 10 different châteaux from the commune of Margaux. As Charles Metcalfe pointed out, Margaux is a very diverse commune spread over quite a wide area with different soil types, and several of the classed growths have altered their vineyards since 1855. The château is just the brand name. It proved to be a vivid example, the diverse qualities, different years and properties. My notes are as follows:

Château Angludet, 2007:
Excellent healthy fruit and subtle palate. Good now.
Château du Tertre, 2006:
Particularly fragrant and delicious now, the property next to Château Angludet has a higher percentage of cabernet franc than other classed growths.
Château Durfort-Vivens, 2005:
A cabernet-based wine from a keeping vintage showing the bright vivid fruit, great perfume and length of flavour of the vintage, but still very young.
Château Kirwan, 2004:
Modern-style late-picked Margaux: generous flavour and enjoyable but less fine.
Château Rauzan-Segla, 2003:
A great vineyard in an exceptionally hot year, which burnt off some of the finesse. Spicy, rich, ready.
Château Giscours, 2002
A vintage that needed time but the true Margaux fragrance grows in the glass. Lean, more old-fashioned Claret, but distinguished.
Château Prieuré-Lichine, 2001:
Full and generous and spicy. Excellent to drink now.
Château Ferrière, 2000:
A tiny vineyard but a superb, full, fine Claret. Delicious now but with a future too.
Château Palmer, 1996:
Not as rich and full as some recent Palmer vintages, but exuding class and quality.
Château Margaux, 1989:
Still a giant of real first-growth quality and many years ahead of it.

What a treat.

Sebastian Payne MW
Chief Buyer

Thu 26 Jan 2012

Tasting New Discoveries

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Emma HowatThe Tastings team started the New Year with our ‘New Discoveries’ tastings, in which we highlighted some of the many new additions to the List. In all there were 20 wines, a healthy mix of wines that are brand-new to The Society and new vintages of old favourites.

Amongst the whites the styles ranged from the lighter – a new grüner veltliner from Austria’s Weingut Stadt Krems and the Chablis Premier Cru Jean-Marc Brocard – to the more gutsy: Château de Cazeneuve’s Coteaux de Languedoc Blanc and the Silbador Gewürztraminer from Chile.

The reds were mostly on the lighter side – The Exhibition Monthélie really stood out as being just like pinot noir from Burgundy should be: light, pretty, with that earthy character which is sadly all too often missing from pinots from that region. It provided an excellent foil to the Prophet’s Rock Pinot from New Zealand, which was still elegant, but showed the other, more masculine side of the variety. The Costières de Nîmes, Domaine Galus and Los Vascos Colchagua Cabernet Sauvignon brought a little muscle to the tasting, and were direct evidence, if it were needed, of just how busy Toby and Marcel (the buyers for South America and Rhône and the Languedoc respectively) have been recently.

Manfredi Nebbiolo d'Alba

The difficult 'mystery wine': Manfredi's Nebbiolo d'Alba

The elusive mystery wine caused some confusion as always – it’s so much easier to guess the grape variety and country of origin when you know what the wine is! Many people thought the wine was from the Southern hemisphere (New Zealand was a popular choice) and pinot noir was the most popular guess on the grape variety. It was, in fact, Manfredi’s Nebbiolo d’Alba, 2008, from Piedmont (£7.50 a bottle). The winners were: Mrs Su-a Lee (Edinburgh), Stuart Williamson (Newcastle), Graham Anderson (Worcester) and Michael Meara (Derby).

As always at the end of the night we took the vote for the favourite wine of the evening. Whilst there were as always a couple of staunch favourites, the lovely thing about doing the vote is that is shows just how diverse members’ taste actually is: the favourite wine on one evening quite often scores low on the following night. How dull it would be if we all liked the same wine!

The votes went as follows: in Edinburgh the favourite wine was Koyle Reserva Carmenère, followed closely by the Costières de Nîmes. In Newcastle it was the Prophet’s Rock Pinot Noir which won hands down, with the Silbador Gewürztraminer in second place. In Worcester the winners were the opposite way round, the Silbador in first place and the pinot second. In Derby New Zealand ruled the roost, with the Greywacke Sauvignon Blanc taking pole position (closely followed by the Prophets Rock pinot).

You can view the full line-up of wines tasted on our website.

All in all a great way to start the New Year – the detox can start in February!

Emma Howat
Tastings & Events Co-ordinator

Categories : Wine Tastings
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Tue 24 Jan 2012

Jamie Oliver, Wine and Beef

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An unexpected meeting with renowned chef Jamie Oliver last week got me reflecting about the similarities between sourcing quality wine and food.

I was dining with Wine Society supplier Daniel Castaño, behind the unpretentious Spanish monastrell we list, at Barbecoa restaurant in London (which happens also to list Daniel’s wine under its on-trade label – for obvious reasons, it’s several times more expensive there).

Jamie Oliver, Daniel Castaño and me

Barbecue beef is the speciality here and by happy chance Jamie Oliver was enjoying a night out with friends a couple of tables down from us. We soon got talking about wine and beef.

Jamie’s passion for quality was as evident as when he’s performing on TV. Apparently the choice of farmer, breed and feed are the key to a good piece of juicy, flavourful beef. And the parallel with wine starts here too. The decisions of the grape grower (like the farmer) will determine the quality of the harvested grapes. For breed read grape variety, for feed read soil management which aims to maximise vine nutrition and health. Like Jamie, The Wine Society starts by selecting the growers whose philosophy matches our quality expectations.

But it doesn’t stop there. Jamie Oliver goes one step further. He employs someone to select the very best from his chosen farmers by looking at the ‘marbling’ of each animal in the slaughterhouse. They might pick just two out of ten.

It’s what the Wine Society buyers do; granted, in the more amicable surroundings of a cellar or winery tasting room, but of the thousands of wines we taste each year, only a very small percentage makes it to the List.

Pierre Mansour
Buyer for Spain

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A colleague has recently been given a 1946 edition of A Wine Primer: A text-book for beginners on how to buy, keep & serve wine, written by André L. Simon.

Flicking through it, I was particularly struck by the last paragraph of the foreword:

Wine is a friend, wine is a joy; and, like sunshine, wine is the birthright of all. It grows so freely and is so cheap that there is wine for all, rich and poor alike, in wine-producing lands and in all others. Wine is cheaper, where it is made, than oranges and lemons which, in England, are not the privilege of the rich. Wine is. Why? Simply because oranges and lemons come in free of duty whilst wine is taxed so heavily that none but the rich may enjoy its message of good health and good will. May the day come, and the sooner it comes the better for all, when wine will no longer be penalized as it is at present on reaching these shores, and when it will be once again within the reach of all.

Obviously Simon wrote in an era when vineyard and winery technology, for instance, were not what they are today, but particularly on the subject of tax and duty it is rather difficult to disagree with these 66-year-old words – more’s the pity.

The Society's January ListWine itself is certainly not merely ‘the privilege of the rich’ anymore. Good wine (very different altogether, of course!) should indeed be ‘within the reach of all’, and we believe that membership of The Society gives you something of an advantage in getting hold of it.

We have always offered wines to members at the best prices that we possibly can. With this in mind, and despite the difficult financial climate, we are delighted to announce that, due to strong member support in 2011, we have lowered the prices of over 300 wines without raising the price of a single one.

We are able to do this because of our non-profit maximising mutual status, as Acting Chief Executive Richard Shorrocks writes in SocietyNews.

These modest and wide-ranging reductions, rather than gimmicky discounts on selected wines, are, we feel, the best and most practical way to reward and thank members for their support.

We hope you continue to enjoy the wines and services available from The Society.

Categories : Miscellaneous
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Wed 18 Jan 2012

The Ventoux

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The Mont Ventoux, known locally as the ‘geant de Provence’, dominates the landscape for miles around like a Mount Fuji, and it comes with a white summit that sparkles in the sun. The summit is white all year round but rarely thanks to snow: the Ventoux is a huge pile of limestone and at the summit it is quite bare.

The mountain features much in folklore and there are doubtless plenty of poems by Mistral. There are various stories about the name but one thing is certain and that is that it is seriously windy at the top. It stands at 1912m, making it the highest peak for miles around. An observatory was built on the summit and at the same time a road was built over the top. It’s a fun drive and only a wee bit scary near the summit, above the tree line where the rock is bare and white and when the gradient suddenly becomes interesting. The view from the top is fabulous, except on the day I chose to drive up, when low cloud reduced visibility to a few yards. It is of course one of the great cycling challenges and regularly features on the Tour de France.

Vines at Château de Valcombe

The lower slopes are a sea of lavender and where there is shelter from the Mistral other crops are grown. There are fruit orchards and olives, and of course vineyards. The wines used to be called Côtes du Ventoux. Today the name has changed to Ventoux and it is very much a part of Rhône.

The Romans were possibly the first to grow grapes here; they saw the benefit of planting at slightly higher altitude amidst the ever-present cool Alpine breezes. There was a time when co-ops controlled all the production and then quality was not always good and prices always below that of simple Côtes du Rhône.

Things have changed. The climate is warmer and vintages here are more consistent. And the level of winemaking shows more skill and greater confidence.

Suddenly, too, there are a whole load of growers. The Ventoux has become smart. The fashion has brought higher prices (but not for all). A lot of Ventoux is sold to the Negoce – including Jaboulet, who make a very good wine at a very reasonable price. We are now buying from Château de Valcombe, which is excellent and which will feature in the 2010 Rhône opening offer.

Marcel Orford-Williams
Buyer, Rhône

The Society’s 2010 Rhône and Languedoc-Roussillon opening offer will be published next week.

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Burgundy CellarOne of the most challenging and interesting privileges of the buying job is to go out to Burgundy and taste a vintage from barrel in October, buy the wines and make an assessment of the vintage. October to December is the time when most buyers go to Burgundy to taste from barrel the wines of the main domaines and négociants of the Côte D’Or.

Last October I was tasting the superb 2010 vintage after a year in cask. A few wines are already bottled, mainly whites, but most are still in barrel or tank awaiting bottling usually January to March 2012. However, it is not without its pitfalls.

In theory, October is generally a good time to taste. Ideally the crucial secondary fermentation, the malolactic (hereafter malo) fermentation, will have taken place in spring.
Before the malo, wines are very difficult to judge, especially red wines, although the worst time is during the process itself where the reds can taste metallic and all sorts of buttery and cheesy aromas can occur in the whites as the malic (the sharper appley acidity) is transformed to the lactic acidity (the milder milk acidity). Then frequently for a couple of months after the malo the wine will not taste well. The aromas and the flesh of the wine seem to disappear leaving a hollow shell.

Temperature is one of the crucial factors required for the malo to take place. The process normally takes place as the temperature reaches 16-19ºC. Given Burgundy’s more continental climate, it is quite cool at vintage time (when the harvest is mid-September and global warming doesn’t mess it all up) and after the wines have finished their alcoholic fermentation they are sent to barrel to rest in the autumnal cool of the cellar and it is not until spring arrives that the temperature rises to the necessary level.

It has now been discovered that the traditional empirical Burgundy view that a six month delay between the two fermentations is beneficial for red wine, helping to soften the astringent nature of the tannins. It had long been held as controversial by the Bordelais. As sulphur blocks the fermentation none is added, and the men in white coats, the oenologues, considered that the wine is potentially at risk from spoilage yeasts and bacteria during this time. In Bordeaux’s warmer Atlantic climate, and because wines are stored above cellars in chais in the Médoc (because the water table is too high to dig cellars) the malo traditionally takes place in tank immediately after the alcoholic fermentation in October. It can be artificially inoculated to speed the process up. The wine is then sulphured and sent to barrel.

However, in the absence of sulphur, alcohol oxidises to acetaldehyde and this is a catalyst in red wines to encourage colour (anthocyanins) and tannins to form complexes that provide a round and velvety mouthfeel. Tannins not bound to colour are hard and spiky. For a number of years it has been the height of fashion in Bordeaux to delay the onset of the malolactic fermentation and for it to happen in barrel.

In very hot years like 2009 there is little malic acid in the grapes, whereas a cooler year like 2010 will have much more. In the cooler years the wine is transformed by this process and many ugly ducklings have become elegant swans. However, there is a Catch Twenty Two here. The higher acid the vintage, and thus the more beneficial to the wine for the malo to occur, the more difficult it is to start the process.

So that seems clear and fine then! The buyer must arrive in October when the wines will be tasting beautifully after a spring malo. If only it were that simple!

In practice the malo takes place when it wants to. Even in the same cellar in October there can be some wines that went through it early, some late, and some have yet to do it. The process is still only partially understood. Some say a new barrel which has less sulphur residue and allows more oxygen ingress helps the process, others say old barrels carry the malolactic bacteria, and help inoculate the process. Once the malo has finished, the maturation process begins and the wine starts to change. One should really consider a wine’s age and maturity not from the date of the harvest but from the date of the malo.

After the malo each cellar may then proceed quite differently. Some cellars rack from barrel to barrel. In this case the individual character of the barrel is preserved. Some cellars rack all the wine into tank and then back into barrel. In this case the barrels have been assembled and should taste similar. Some, like Jean-Marie Fourrier do not rack at all, which means his wines have more carbon dioxide in the wine, which can cut the richness of the wine, but against that the wine has been left to enrich itself on its lees without disturbance. Some add more or less sulphur at this time which can ‘bleach’ the flavours from the wine, which may require 6-8 weeks to recover.

Principally for this reason, I do not pay too much attention to assessments of Burgundy between one and six months after the vintage. In this media age we are all being pestered to give instant opinions but, in my view, it is very dangerous to assess a wine before malo as they can totally change character. A famous agent Russell Hone describes the 1993 red Burgundies as ‘performing a backflip’ after malo. It was very harsh and metallic before malo, softened appreciably after it and is now considered a great vintage.

Thus when one arrives in a cellar and before tasting one of the first questions to ask is when the malo, or malos took place, and were the wines racked afterwards, and in which case were they assembled in tank or racked from barrel to barrel. Now one can begin to assess the wines before you and make allowances if necessary for the blessed malo!

Toby Morrhall
Buyer, Burgundy

The Society’s opening offer of 2010 Burgundy will be available in late February.

Wed 11 Jan 2012

Burgundy and Woodcock

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The Society's Red Burgundy

It's no coincidence that the label for The Society's Red Burgundy features a snipe...

The French bécasse sounds so much richer and more evocative of something special. It reminds me of the delightful Marcel Pagnol novels I devoured as a student (to which most of the films, however charming – with the honourable exception of Jean de Florette – do not do justice). French friends recommended them when I wanted to read well written but simple French to broaden my vocabulary. I have often wondered what I would suggest as an English equivalent. Quidditch etc would certainly not do, however easily devoured the Harry Potter tomes may be.

Not that I’ve had much need of the word bécasse over the years. As Burgundy buyer Toby Morrhall has described, and as I was reminded at our local farmers’ market last weekend, woodcock is a rare and fine wild game bird. I once saw one close up because a French friend of mine has a passion for shooting feathered game, and one fell foul, illegally I seem to remember, of over enthusiasm at a birthday shooting party.

Last weekend’s woodcock had been shot ‘at too close range’ to make it saleable to a fine restaurant, which is apparently where most end up. Not a pretty thought, but, the meat in our Woodcock, Sage and Apricot stuffed Pheasant was just as it was billed: not quite as dark as pigeon, rich but not gamey, tender and velvet textured. And yes, I dug out a delightful, if modest, mature Burgundy to accompany it, which even my pinot-averse husband agreed was an ideal match. Here’s to the farmers’ market revival, for which I think we have a lot to thank our French friends and neighbours.

Joanna Locke MW

Categories : Burgundy, France
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Mon 09 Jan 2012

Vin Santo and Stilton

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I have just been finishing up the Christmas Stilton with a glass of Fontodi’s luxurious Vin Santo.

Barrels at Fontodi

It’s an exquisite combination, first suggested to me by the inimitable Minuccio Cappello. Minnucio supplied The Society’s Chianti Classico from his Montaglio estate in Panzano where he also ran what must have been one of the simplest and best trattorias in Italy. All the produce was local and prepared in the Tuscan tradition by Anna. You could walk through the kitchen looking into all the pots before you made your choice. Sadly, when Minuccio had to sell the estate and trattoria, standards slipped, and badly.

Minuccio considers Stilton to be much better than any Italian blue cheese to accompany his concentrated Vin Santo, aged 7-10 years plus in small sealed barrels. Though Vin Santo is traditionally offered at family celebrations and to special guests at festivals, ‘santo’ is unlikely to be derived from the word for ‘holy’. Wine during the Turkish occupation of Greece, and earlier, sweet white wine used in Russian orthodox and Greek churches, came from the island of Santinori, and this is thought to have given the wine its name.

Sebastian Payne MW
Chief Buyer

Categories : Italy
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Wed 04 Jan 2012

Welsh Carignan?

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Domaine Aupilhac

Not really, but David Pugh is Welsh, married to a New Zealander and they opened the iconic restaurant Le Mimosa in the Languedoc. And one fine day a young farmer, Sylvain Fadat, tried to sell David some asparagus among other things.

But Sylvain’s career as a fruit and vegetable producer was short lived, as one year’s crop was wiped out. His father had some vines which he gave to Sylvain. He should have joined the coop, but he didn’t and the rest is history. Except that much of what Sylvain’s dad had planted was carignan.

When young Sylvain went to wine school, he learned that carignan was the root of all evil. But Sylvain made his carignan wine and it was David Pugh who tasted it and who bought it for his restaurant. And once again the rest is history.

Le Mimosa

Sylvain Fadat’s estate is Domaine Aupilhac which today is one of the top estates of the Languedoc and famous for its carignan.

The Mimosa was packed recently for a special dinner with a carefully chosen menu to match Aupilhac wines. The highlight unquestionably was a 1990 Carignan, Sylvain’s second vintage. This was a wine of extraordinary beauty and complexity.

It is partly thanks to Sylvain Fadat and the fact that he sold to David Pugh that the carignan grape was saved. I have recommended this restaurant before and do so again without hesitation.

Marcel Orford-Williams
Buyer, South of France

Categories : France, South of France
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