Grapevine Archive for March, 2012

Thu 29 Mar 2012

Bordeaux 2011: An Update

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There has been little written so far on the quality and style of the 2011 vintage in Bordeaux. However good some of the wines turn out to be, its almost inevitable fate is that it will be overshadowed by the much lauded 2010 and 2009 which preceded it. We prefer to keep our counsel until we have tasted the wines, which are currently being prepared for a week of trade and journalist tastings just before Easter.

The Wine Society Bordeaux team will be three this year – Sebastian and myself as usual, plus our new Head of Buying, Tim Sykes (in what will be only his third week with us; there’s dedication for you – I’m not sure he realises what he is letting himself in for!).

This first week will include visits to all the first growths, and tastings of many of the other, often most sought-after wines, all potential candidates for our first Opening Offer this year (see our website for details on changes to our Bordeaux Opening offer process for 2012).

We go back for more on 16th April, to ensure that we have tasted, at least once, as usual, any wine which we later decide to offer en primeur. I am just finalising our two visit programmes and starting to look forward to this year’s marathon, despite the prospect of taster’s teeth for the Easter weekend! We will keep you posted on the campaign from our perspective, and on our Opening Offers as they take shape.

Joanna Locke MW
Buyer, Bordeaux

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…and Members attending the Decanting Workshop held at The Wine Society?s Stevenage HQ earlier this month were keen to find out the answer!

So what is decanting? To quote from Jancis Robinson?s Wine Companion, decanting is ‘an optional and controversial step in serving wine, involving pouring wine out of its bottle and into another container called a decanter’. Simple in its explanation, no doubt, but by no means an exact science when it comes to tasting and enjoying the results.

Ewan Murray decants...!

Like many issues in the wine world, there is never a definitive ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ when it comes to decanting wine. We all like to enjoy our wines when they are tasting at their optimum best, and for many the process of decanting is the only way to achieve this. Others are less convinced of the benefits that decanting offers.

The workshop got underway with The Society’s Head of Tastings & Events, Ewan Murray, introducing the concept, history and evolution of decanting and decanters, and why and when people choose to decant their wines (usually for the removal of sediment and/or aeration). Then without further ado, the process of tasting commenced with members comparing and contrasting five pairs (and one trio) of identical wines ? one that was served straight from bottle and the other/s which had been decanted at a given point prior to being served.

As expected, the workshop threw up some surprises for many. Most were intrigued to see The Society’s Exhibition Chablis Premier Cru Mont de Milieu, Brocard, 2009 in the line-up of candidates for decanting. Comparing a sample served straight from the bottle with another that had been decanted an hour previously, there was a very positive response to the decanted wine which had opened up to reveal a flavoursome minerality supporting the delicate aromas of lemon and citrus. In comparison, the Chablis served at optimum temperature straight from the bottle was felt to be more closed and the minerality failed to shine through to the same extent. The member verdict was a resounding 95% to 5% in favour of the decanted wine.

Next up for comparison was Koyle Reserva Carmenère, 2010 from Chile. The sample served straight from the bottle provided a real ‘oomph’ in the mouth with an intense spicy nose, hints of black pepper and cloves, yet with a full fresh palate. The decanted (for two hours) Koyle was considered even better – 90% preferred it, with some members describing it as smelling like a young Bordeaux. Aeration had subtly softened the tannins, but the boldness of the flavour remained.

Château Langoa-Barton, 1998 was an interesting wine to compare. At 14 years old, this teenager burst forth from the bottle with wonderful focussed blackberry aromas and soft (but not overbearing) tannins supported by richness and length. Its counterpart, that had been decanted two hours previously, proved a disappointment for most. It was definitely flatter as the aromas had largely dispersed and the range of flavours picked up by the nose had diminished. Members were generally surprised by this result and raised the question about the decanting of Claret. Perhaps the best course of action for this wine would have been to do one of two things – either decant immediately (no more than half an hour) before serving to allow the removal of sediment and slight aeration, or not to decant at all but pour carefully from the bottle. Member verdict was 90% to 10% in favour of the carefully poured Claret straight from the bottle.

Heading for Australia, the next pair up for comparison was d’Arenberg’s Footbolt Shiraz, 2007. A chunky, generous shiraz with stacks of sweet, berry fruit, this wine was enjoyed when served straight from the bottle but was considered far superior when decanted for two hours. The flavours shone through with both elegance and finesse and members voted 80% to 20% in favour of the decanted wine.

After leaving Australia we headed for Italy and for three examples of Gianni Brunelli, Brunello di Montalcino, 2004 (sold out, though other vintages available). A definite food wine and, according to Ewan, a perfect wine match for wild boar! Pig aside, a pleasing, perfumed aroma was present in all three examples of this wine. Tasting a sample straight from the bottle, there were signs of fruit, but the general consensus was that it was quite ‘closed’ and definitely too tannic for most. The example which had been decanted three hours previously had opened up quite nicely and presented with more intensity of fruit, especially the flavour of dark, bitter cherries. It was, however, the sample that had been decanted for eighteen hours that really stole the show. Members found it far more ‘all encompassing’ with lasting savoury notes and decidedly superior to the other two samples. It won the member vote with 65% preferring it compared to 35% liking the wine that had been decanted for three hours. Nobody chose the sample which was tried after being poured straight from the bottle.

Last, but not least, The Society’s Exhibition Crusted Port, bottled 2006, was put to the test. The Port served straight from the bottle was tasted alongside a sample which had been decanted 2 hours previously. Interestingly, the difference between these two examples in both nose and taste, was minimal. Both examples showed well, exuding plump, ripe, juicy raisin flavours that were savoured for long after the initial swallow. Unfortunately though, with crusted Port comes the sediment – often thick sediment which nobody really wants to taste. The unanimous verdict then was to definitely decant the Port. A very sensible decision.

Stephanie Searle
Tastings & Events

Categories : Wine Tastings
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Tue 27 Mar 2012

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The ?Red Rhône Varieties? section of the Wine Champions tastings encompassed some 87 wines, and therein a wide-ranging insight into how syrah, grenache and its numerous bedfellows express themselves throughout the Old and the New World; both in the vineyard and, given both camps? partiality for blending, the winery.

The ?wow? factor was never far away as we navigated our way through these wines; nonetheless, a Wine Champion must back this up with the all-important ?now? factor (see my first post for a brief outline of the rules), and several simply needed a little more time before they would be able to merit the accolade.

Pierre Mansour, Janet Wynne Evans & Marcel Orford-Williams

Partly for this reason some of the best performances in this large category came courtesy of the more reasonable end of the price bracket, the formidable tannic architecture of many top-end candidates being absent, but not the sumptuous, open flavours of the fruit.

Of course, when quality and readiness did align at the higher end of the scale, the outcome was predictably superb, and members should also look out for the Fine Wine Champions, which will be featured shortly after the initial offer in The Society?s Fine Wine List.

Given the nigh-ubiquitous lustre of Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Côte-Rôtie, Hermitage et al today, it is remarkable to think that the red wines of the Rhône only reached this level of acclaim in the latter half of the twentieth century. Hitherto, ?rustic and thick enough to stand a spoon in? seemed the précised verdict of many. But quality has changed for the better (as to a lesser extent have our tastes) and, combined with an embarrassment of brilliant vintages (2010, 2009, 2007, 2005?), the wines? favour continues deservedly to soar.

Joanna Locke MW, Society buyer for South Africa

Today?s wine world is a fast-revolving one, and while the New World?s embracing of these full-bodied styles has been wildly successful on the whole, several wines strike me as having undergone a similar transformation of late, albeit in double-quick time.

South Africa is a good example, from which some shiraz, grenache and mourvèdre wines were themselves given a lukewarm reception for an abundance of spicy and bucolic flavours. Yet in many of the examples on show I found this quality had coalesced with fresh, appetising fruit profiles ? and the results were wonderful.

Blind tastings remain the unparalleled way to dispel the preconceptions of fashion, and I do hope members don?t miss the chance to try these wines for themselves.

Martin Brown
Digital Copywriter

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Mon 26 Mar 2012

Harvest is Wrapping Up in South Africa

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While winemakers inevitably have a multitude of different opinions on the outcome of a harvest, there are some threads that come through that when woven together correctly, can start creating a clear picture. The Vilafonte Vineyards winemaking team wrapped up harvest this week while the Warwick Wine Estate team have another couple of days to go.

In general, harvest 2012 in South Africa can, in my opinion, be considered a huge success. But why? What are the defining characteristics?

The one overwhelming common theme is that an unseasonal heat wave descended on the Winelands in early January – a critical period for phenological ripeness. With the benefit of advanced weather forecasting being relatively common these days, the heat wave was identified about a week in advance and any and all reasonable responses to the impending temperatures were taken by those that were paying attention. Unfortunately there are very few tools to deal with excessive heat and the most powerful tool is irrigation. For those that have either decided not to invest in irrigation or who have a philosophical preference to dry-grown viticulture – 2012 will probably at least get them thinking that the judicious application of supplemental irrigation is more of a necessity than a nice-to-have. Dry-grown vineyards in the Cape lost significant tonnage and the remaining grapes would have suffered from heat stress symptoms like high pH and dropping acidity. Berry shrivel would also be an unforeseen symptom that can lead to elevated alcohol. All of these outcomes are not good.

Warwick Estate

On the other hand, this heat-wave was the only speed-bump in 2012 and, for those that were able to manage it, there was no measurable negative outcome. Since mid January, the Cape has been characterized by refreshing lower than average temperatures which have provided what could best be described as an idyllic environment for the steady accumulation of sugar and the pursuit of phenological ripeness. Interestingly, in many of our vineyards we observed advanced ripeness at lower sugars which again provides an indication that 2012 could be considered a benchmark year.

On observation of the grapes at harvest, we noticed a slightly larger berry size, but excellent levels of all the goodies that lead to colour extraction, flavor compounds as well as nicely ripened tannins which create mouthfeel and texture in the wines. Without trying to ‘talk it up’ too much, possibly the biggest indicator of quality comes from the significantly reduced rate of berry variability which leads to concentration in the wines and is one of our most important indicators of quality – this is not a subjective measure and at the risk of being technical, we had the lowest berry variability measurement of standard deviation in my career. This basically means that at harvest, a huge proportion of berries were perfectly ripe – simultaneously.

Despite the above, I remain a cynic and I like to see our beautiful wine through fermentation and into the barrels before a truly great vintage can be pronounced – but the signs are there at Warwick and at Vilafonte. For now though, the Warwick Trilogy 2009 will soon be released through The Society and I encourage you to enjoy it thoroughly knowing that we have things under control.

Stay tuned.

Mike Ratcliffe
Managing Director Warwick and Vilafonte

Categories : South Africa
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Wed 21 Mar 2012

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On paper, tasting hundreds of wines sounds like a lot of fun; and it is.
Nonetheless, some tastings are inevitably more difficult than others and the respective heats for the chardonnay and rosé categories were cases in point for different reasons.

The buyers assess the candidates

Fairness and impartiality are at the core of Wine Champions, and any intangibles that could stop a wine from receiving a fair hearing must therefore be mitigated against. With this in mind, each buyer is awarded two ?Jokers?, which can be played at any point during the tastings. Playing your Joker ensures that a wine will be re-tasted by all of the buyers before the final votes are cast; for example, to double-check whether a refined, food-friendly wine that found itself sandwiched between two more hedonistically-styled counterparts has not been overlooked unduly.

Were you to have listened in on the chardonnay heats, you would therefore have been forgiven for thinking you?d stumbled into an antiquated card game.

I often think of chardonnay as the vinous equivalent of a lightning rod: not a hugely interesting device in terms of its raw materials (with apologies to any enthusiasts who may be reading), but amazing in its ability to conduct the power the elements can throw at it. It is a relatively neutral grape but when planted in certain places throughout the world it expresses incomparably multifaceted flavours.

Add to this the fact that it responds well to both stainless steel and wood and in blind-tasting environs its diversity becomes profound to the point of perilous. It therefore took Joker-playing, re-tasting, olfactory scrutiny and debate before everyone was happy that the wines had all been given a chance.

Then there was the ?pink morning? scheduled for the all-important task of selecting the ready-best of our 2011 rosés. In the event, the morning erred considerably more to the grey side, being as it was the coldest of the year thus far.

Pouring some bottled sunshine on the coldest day of the year

For myself, this lent the tasting an element of Zen as I sought those wines that transported me most vividly to the lazy summer afternoons which I hope await me later in the calendar. Remarkably, I think it worked; in any case, the buyers? final votes revealed some very strong performances indeed.

These particular occasions impressed upon me just how much perseverance and concentration (not to mention talent) is required to taste objectively through large and/or complicated lineups. I can certainly now vouch first hand that Society members are in good hands/noses/palates with the buying team, and promise that the 2012 Wine Champions will be all the more delicious thanks to these meticulous ? not to mention egalitarian ? efforts in the tasting room.

Martin Brown
Digital Copywriter

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I?ve been fortunate enough to participate in the ongoing Wine Champions blind tastings, with a view to keeping Grapevine readers updated about the preparation for one of The Wine Society?s most consistently popular offers.

Me, trying to sniff out a champion

The invitation to taste 579 wines with some of the finest palates and most knowledgeable buyers in the UK wine trade was a daunting one, for two obvious reasons contained within that phrase. However, the process proved to be an incredibly enjoyable and only mildly debilitating education.

The rules of Wine Champions are simple: the wines are tasted in categories under strict blind conditions (labels are all concealed as in the picture below, thereby allowing no room for potential bias) before votes are cast to crown the champions.

A ?champion? is a wine at the top of its game, giving of its delicious best. The offer is all about what?s in the bottle, and how it tastes in the here and now. It goes without saying that the buyers work incredibly hard to select all the wines in The Society?s range, but the evolutionary nature of wine throws up the most wonderful surprises.

In this regard, the 2012 line-up certainly did not disappoint.

The wines are all tasted blind, with their labels concealed

The three forthcoming dispatches from the tasting room seek to relate my personal impressions of this process (which, having worked at The Society for only a year, was new to me). Though I am duty-bound not to reveal the results, I hope they will whet readers? appetite ahead of the winning wines being unveiled in June. The first will be posted tomorrow.

Martin Brown
Digital Copywriter

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Mon 12 Mar 2012

Kumeu River: Ten Years Back

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Earlier this month I met up with Paul Brajkovich from Kumeu River and he treated me to some older vintages of his Estate Chardonnay. We tasted five wines going back ten years to 2002:

The 2009 Chardonnay, currently listed, is rich and plump with a lovely hint of smoky oak that adds to the structure, poise and complexity of this delicious wine. It will age with ease for five years plus.

The refreshing 2007 is subtle and elegant while the 2005 tantalises with its precision, hint of orange peel and creamy texture. The 2004 is extraordinary: perfumed and peachy with silky texture and beautiful balance, certainly the wine of the tasting. The ten-year-old 2002 is showing attractive mature flavours, discreetly nutty and buttery, still lively and bright.

What was most enlightening was the consistency across all wines: they all showed subtle differences (vintages matter in the rather challenging environment of north Auckland?s rather cloudy, irregular weather), testament to the quality focus of this distinguished chardonnay family.

Pierre Mansour
Buyer for New Zealand

Tue 06 Mar 2012

South Australia Series, Part Six: Yalumba

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Our final visit was to Yalumba, in the town of Angaston, Barossa Valley. After a wet, stormy start to the morning, the cooler weather was a welcome relief after a few hot days and I was eagerly anticipating visiting the site of Australia?s oldest family owned winery. After soaking up the history of Yalumba from the storyboards in the cellar door, we met with Kirsty Gosse, brand administrator ? our host at Yalumba.

Founded by Samuel Smith in 1849, Yalumba is now headed by fifth generation Robert Hill Smith, who plays a pivotal role in marketing the premium brand profile Yalumba carries. Aboriginal for ?all the land around?, Yalumba took its name after the first vines were planted on a 30-acre parcel of land. Today they source fruit from the Eden Valley, Barossa Valley and the Adelaide Hills and are innovative in introducing new grape varieties to Australian drinkers, as well as predicting future trends and styles.

Winemaker Teresa was enthusiastic about the brand?s approach to up-and-coming wines like vermentino ? a great summer white with flavours of melon and grapefruit, zesty citrus and a refreshing, crisp acidity. This is just one of the varieties propagated in Yalumba?s own nursery, which provides consistency and reliability of vines as well as providing access to rare varieties and clones both for their own production and to growers throughout regions in Australia.

I was particularly taken by Yalumba?s interest in viognier, which even before my visit was a favourite white of mine. They have the largest commercial plantings in the Southern Hemisphere and have recently developed a viognier glass specifically for capturing the amazing nose of this wonderfully aromatic variety. Yalumba The Virgilius 2009 (The Society stocks the 2008 at £25 per bottle) is barrel-fermented in French oak barriques (more for texture than flavour) and has an intense nose of stone fruit (peaches and apricots), sweet spice and ginger. On the palate, it?s luscious and complex, floral and fruity ? a beautiful accompaniment to Moroccan food, blue cheese or even eggs benedict (wine for breakfast?? Wine not!). Of course, the wines were fantastic, but I was staggered by the amount of care and attention in the vineyards.

We drove out to the Heggies and Pewsey Vale vineyards to meet with Daryl, vineyard manager. His knowledge of the area, the land, climate, microclimates and specific areas of his vineyards was amazing. Of particular interest was that Yalumba have been using natural practices for nearly 30 years; this long without insecticides and 10 years without herbicides. The Pewsey Vale vineyard at 60ha ? almost entirely riesling ? has been organic for four years and is in its first year of biodynamic production and awaiting classification. The larger Heggies vineyard at 65ha ? riesling, chardonnay and merlot ? is irrigated from the onsite dam, which, when full, would hold enough water to irrigate the vineyard for three years!

The Society currently stocks Heggies Chardonnay (2010 at £12.75 a bottle); great intensity on the nose of stone fruit and oak. Due to the 500m altitude of the vineyard, this wine retains great acidity and on the palate a great minerality, as well as a complex texture from the wild yeasts used in the ferment.

As the biggest of the wineries, and a very well known brand, Yalumba by no means felt like a large scale production and retained as much care and attention as some of the smaller sites I visited. With incredible foresight and innovation of an enthusiastic team, I have no doubt that Yalumba will continue to stay at the forefront of South Aussie wine production.

Jo Mansell
Member Services

Categories : Australia
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