Grapevine Archive for April, 2012

Mon 30 Apr 2012

Work stops on controversial Mosel bridge

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Contractors have stopped work on Mosel bridge

Members may remember the tale of the 500ft-high bridge and four-lane motorway planned to pass through some of the Mosel?s most prestigious vineyards and the lobbying and campaigning that has taken place, not just by locals but by wine-lovers and wine writers the world over.

Despite fierce protest, legal challenges and political wrangling, construction had started on the new route. However, the latest news from Pro-Mosel, the body set up to channel support against the so-called B50 project, gives fresh hope though, as the construction company involved in the development has stopped all activities until further notice:

?Construction cranes have been dismantled, demonstrably angry workers have been sent away. According to witnesses, the building company Porr have suspended their activities on the construction of the Mosel bridge until further notice. It has been reported that static calculations are missing, and that only the measurements for the first bridge pier have been reliably calculated. Officially, the contractors refuse to confirm this information.?

Apparently, similar problems have already been cited by critics of the project. Last year, a report was produced which criticised a lack of exploration of the subsoil, in particular in the area of the bridge. The Mosel region is susceptible to landslides and with supporting piers designed to reach a height of 160 metres, there is a particularly high risk of instability.

You can read the full press-release and find out more about the bridge and the campaign to stop its construction on Pro-Mosel?s website.

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Thu 26 Apr 2012

The secret of longevity

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Oldie grape pickers in Madiran, south-west France, where the local red from the tannat grape is thought to be an important factor in the region having double the national average of men aged over 90.

A report in The Independent the other day caught my eye. It appears that the residents of the small Somerset village of Hinton St George have the highest life expectancy for retired men in the country. What is their secret?


And I quote: ??Most of them have at least one glass of red wine a day,? confides Gill Esp, a woman in her sixties who works at the local tea shop. Indeed, this tea room also runs a wine club, but Ms Esp and her fellow members won?t tolerate any old plonk.
?No no, they order from The Wine Society,? she says.?

To your health!

Categories : Miscellaneous
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Tue 24 Apr 2012

Lunch at the Wine Society

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Have you ever wondered what goes on behind the scenes of your Wine Society? Or maybe you would be interested in seeing the second largest wine warehouse in Europe? Perhaps you?re keen to visit the temperature-controlled cellars where your wines are safely stored? Are you curious to find out a little more about The Wine Society?s 138-year-old history?

If the answer to any or all of these questions is ?yes? then a visit to our Stevenage HQ for a three-course lunch, accompanying wines and a behind-the-scenes tour of The Wine Society, could be for you!

Society lunches start with an aperitif in The Cellar Showroom

Ever popular, the Lunches at The Wine Society have been an important and well-attended part of the Tasting Team’s diary for many years now. In that time new buildings have been constructed, or had their usage changed, a streamlined bottle picking and transportation system has been introduced and the premises, as a whole, have been refurbished and updated.

Members come from far and wide to the lunches, which begin at noon with a warm welcome and a sparkling aperitif in The Society?s Showroom. While flutes are in hand, a brief talk on the key points and highlights of The Society?s long history is told by a member of the Tastings team. Fortunately, The Society?s history has been both interesting and, at times, amusing, so smiles rather than dropped faces tend to appear upon hearing some of the revelations and highlights from times past!

Members enjoying a tour of the warehouse

With coats and jackets on (always recommended when touring the temperature-controlled cellars), the behind-the-scenes tour of the warehouses, bottle picking and despatch areas gets underway. Members are often taken-aback when viewing the sheer size of our cellarage and storage facilities. Warehouse 1 alone, for instance, the largest of its kind in Europe, can accommodate up to 335,000 cases of wine including hundreds of cases belonging to members who have bought and chosen to cellar their wines at The Society.

Lunches feature five wines, including something a little bit special from the cellars

Following the tour, the lunch itself gets underway in The Society?s ?Members? Room? where a seated, three-course buffet is served, accompanied by five specially selected wines, one of which is a fine and rare example from the company?s wine archive! Seated on tables of eight, the lunches provide a great opportunity for our visitors to enjoy the company of others who appreciate their wine, or to enjoy the experience alongside their friends and/or family.

Naturally, all good things must come to an end and, with coffee served, a short talk is given on the wines that have been tasted. Everybody has at least one or two wines which they particularly enjoyed with their lunch, so just for fun, a ?hands-in-the-air? vote is taken to find out which of the wines proved to be the favourites of the day.

When the event has finished, at approximately 3pm, members make their way back through The Showroom to browse, buy or head off for their carriages or trains ?.

 If you are interested in joining us for lunch in the near future, the next ones with places available are on 5th July, 26th July and 20th September. You can book your tickets here.  

We look forward to welcoming you.

Stephanie Searle
Tastings & Events team

NB If given sufficient notice, the chef is able to cater for special diets so nobody need be excluded from attending these events. There is also a service lift enabling wheelchair users to enjoy the lunch and part of the tour itself.

Categories : Wine Tastings
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Tue 24 Apr 2012

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Sacré Blanc for breakfast

Sacré Blanc for breakfast

Sacré bleu it?s Sacré Blanc! Our new brilliant chenin blanc from Mourat, Sacré Blanc, Chenin, Vin de Pays de Loire, 2011 (J Mourat Père et Fils), is put through its paces by David Whelehan on Ireland: AM, the popular Irish breakfast show. The wine is featured after 2 minutes 30 seconds.

The wine is available for £8.50 per bottle (£102 the case) in The Society?s current Loire offer, which closes on Sunday, 20th May.

One of Mourat?s reds featured in the offer also received a favourable writeup from Jancis Robinson MW ( She wrote:

J Mourat, Collection 2010 Fiefs Vendéens Mareuil 16 Drink 2012-2014 Very unusual stumpy flask-like bottle. Racy and bone dry on, according to the back label, volcanic rhyolite soils. Bags of character. Dry finish. Great balance and interest. Just the sort of wine the Wine Society does so well. Long. Uncompromising in its dryness. Don?t serve too cool ? nor too warm!

Categories : France, Loire
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Fri 20 Apr 2012

Champagne in Whitehall

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ChampagneNo saucy farce this but the annual Champagne tasting put on by the CIVC in the splendid Banqueting House, a remnant of the lost Palace of Whitehall.

The event is an opportunity to taste very widely and gives a snapshot of who is doing what in Champagne.

Nearly 70 Houses were present and each showed three wines: non vintage, vintage plus one other.

This is not a blind tasting so there is the potential to be thoroughly biased. Having said that, with so many wines to taste and given the constraints of time, many wines fall by the wayside. One also assumes that all the wines on show come from running stock. But disgorgement dates are bound to vary and these can radically influence how a wine tastes. Very recently disgorged wines often taste out of kilter. The storing of Champagne leaves no room for error and anything badly stored can easily taste oxidized.

And to conclude? Well not really much different from last year: a few outstanding wines with everything that one might wish for in a bottle of Champagne. The majority are decent enough and in the right context, perfectly acceptable, and then there are the howlers, to be avoided. As last year I?ve given comments for each House and I?ve included last year?s verdict as well.

Champagne is an extraordinary product with over 300m bottles produced every year and all under just the one appellation. It comes in umpteen styles. Some are best for parties; others need a more gastronomic approach. I?ve given an indication where appropriate. My notes are a quick appraisal of how the wines tasted on the day, they are not intended as full-blown tasting notes but I show them here for your interest.

Here goes?

Champagne Verdict 2012

Marcel Orford-Williams
Champagne buyer

Mon 16 Apr 2012

Australia: Tasting The Diversity

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Shining a light on the diversity of Australian wine

Our annual Australia growers tasting came round all too fast this year. It only felt like five minutes ago when we were in Cheltenham last year; but then they do say that time flies when you?re having fun going to lots of Wine Society tastings.

On this occasion, buyer Pierre Mansour decided to highlight the diversity of Australian wines, and the effects that the climate, soil ? that whole bundle of environmental factors that the French neatly define as terroir ? of Australia?s many wine regions can have on the wines.

To a great extent it is the proliferation of mass-market wines which dominates the entry-level sector of the UK wine-trade that has (perhaps) given Australia an image of an industrial wine-producing nation. However the quality of wine from small-scale, family-run growers is outstanding as was evidenced by the wines on show at the tasting.

The tasting also served to highlight the shift in wine style made by many producers. Gone were the over-extracted, dense reds and highly alcoholic, heavily-oaked whites. In their place were fresher, more delicate, lovely whites such as the Tahbilk Viognier, 2011 and the Plantagenet Riesling, 2010; both at a much more reasonable 12.5% abv.

d'Arenberg's show-stopping The Beautiful View Grenache won many admirers

Amongst the reds there were the elegant, but still muscular Fraser Gallop Cabernet-Merlot, 2009 from the Margaret River, and Sandro Mosele?s Burgundy-styled Kooyong Massale Pinot Noir, 2010 from Victoria. For those who prefer their reds a bit more beefy, there was plenty on offer with Mount Langhi?s stirring selection: Billi Billi Shiraz, 2008 and The Society?s Exhibition Victoria Shiraz, 2006 both packed in plenty of rich, plummy fruit and peppery spice.

Peter Lehmann?s Stonewell Shiraz, 2006 (£30 a bottle), d?Arenberg?s The Beautiful View Grenache, 2009 (£38) and Leeuwin?s Prelude Chardonnay, 2009 (£23) all represented the top end of Australia?s wine production, and what treats they were.

Speaking of treats, a wine not to be missed was the Bleasdale Sparkling Shiraz, a rich, chocolatey, off-dry shiraz, which was?. fizzy. So wrong, and yet, so right! Apparently it works a treat with chocolate cake, but unfortunately there was none available on the night ? I?ll keep you posted.

All in all there was an eclectic mix of reds and whites, sparkling and fortified which highlighted brilliantly just what Australia has to offer wine lovers everywhere at any budget.

Many of these wines feature in our current Australian Excellence offer (which runs until 20th May 2012).

Emma Howat
Tastings & Events Co-ordinator

Categories : Australia, Wine Tastings
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Thu 12 Apr 2012

Easter in the Cape

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The stunning landscape at Warwick Wine Estate

Easter in the Cape is traditionally a time that South African winemakers kick back and relax after the trials and tribulations of harvest have finally settled down. 2012 is a little different as harvest started late and Easter came early so most quality-orientated winemakers had to forego the joys of the Easter long weekend for the wine cellar to care for their baby vintage.

It is at moments like this where the privilege of seniority becomes most tangible. It is in the context of this seniority and as Managing Director of Warwick Wine Estate that I found myself enjoying the Easter weekend with the Ratcliffe family in the African bush North of Pretoria surrounded by nature and a lot of wild animals – family notwithstanding.

I also found myself with the enviable task of working through a case of Warwick Cabernet Sauvignon 1985, a gem from the cellar which is holding up beautifully. After smashing open the wooden case with perhaps a little too much gusto, my sister Jenny Ratcliffe-Wright and I pronounced that the wine was spectacular. There is something particularly exciting and satisfying about drinking a wine of this age which has developed so much complexity.

It is also satisfying to know that there would probably be a lot of Wine Society members who have this wine in their cellar as it was one of the very first vintages that we sold through the Society. My advice if you have this is to give in, open a bottle and then drink it all. It is in peak condition and a tribute to the winemaker – who coincidentally happens to be mom – ‘The First Lady‘.


Mike Ratcliffe
Managing Director Warwick and Vilafonte

Categories : South Africa
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Wed 11 Apr 2012

Meerlust & The Amazing Mr Hannes Myburgh

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Hannes Myburgh

Late last month, Hannes Myburgh, the owner of South African winery Meerlust Estate, treated a small group of 80 members to an intimate wine tasting in the lovely and rather grand surroundings of the Vintner?s Hall.

Despite having studied oenology, Hannes was keen to point out that he was not a wine-maker (that accolade goes to Chris Williams, who has been the Cellar master at Meerlust since 2004 when he took over from Georgio della Cia; prior to that, Chris had been Assistant Winemaker since 1995). Hannes sees himself more as the custodian of a seventeenth-century national monument or, as he puts it, the farm. Hannes is the eighth generation of the Myburgh family to run the estate – a stunning example of Cape Dutch architecture – and as he put it so succinctly, sometimes he has to pinch himself as he just can?t believe he lives in such a beautiful place.

The Myburghs have been making wine on the estate since 1756 ? the year Mozart was born.

Members enjoying the wines

This workshop concentrated mainly on Meerlust?s Rubicon label. However, we started events with the lovely, toasty Meerlust Estate Chardonnay, 2009. This incredibly complex white is beautifully balanced, and while still very young, it showed its potential. For those who could exercise restraint, Hannes recommended keeping some of the wine back till the end to see how it opened and developed in the glass ? a perfect white-wine candidate for decanting.

Next we tried the Meerlust Estate Red, 2009, a blend of cabernet sauvignon and merlot. This wine is made up of younger estate-grown fruit not yet of sufficient quality for inclusion in the flagship blend, Rubicon. This is a big, rich juicy wine ideal for curling up with next to a block of good-quality cheddar ? or is that just me? Next came the Meerlust Estate Cabernet, 2009, and then the Meerlust Estate Kentridge Cabernet Sauvignon, 2004, Limited Edition which came in magnum. Both were beautifully made, with the 2004 showing a little more age and complexity as a result of its age and perhaps the larger bottle.

What surprised us all, though in hindsight perhaps it shouldn?t have done, was how Bordeaux-like these wines were. Obviously they had more ripe cassis fruit than one might expect from France, but there were the underlying cigar box and cedar notes so typical of good Bordeaux as well.

From this point on we were fully immersed in the world of Meerlust?s Rubicon wines, and what a pleasant place to be it was. The phrase ?crossing the Rubicon? originated from when Caesar?s army crossed the Rubicon River in 49BC, considered at the time to be an act of insurrection. Apparently Hannes? father and his friend came up with the name when discussing the idea of producing a new Bordeaux blend ? something which had never been done in South Africa until that point, and which was mightily frowned upon by the other winemakers in the area.

The flight of Rubicons, including the maiden 1984 vintage

And so it was in 1984 that Meerlust created their first Rubicon wine, a Bordeaux blend of cabernet sauvignon, merlot and cabernet franc, Meerlust?s flagship wine. In this little flight of loveliness we tried the 2006, 2005, 2001, 1998, 1991 and 1984. There were obvious differences between the wines due to their respective ages. The younger wines were all plum fruit, cedar and spice, with hints of violets on the finish. As we tasted the older vintages, which were still remarkably fresh, the wines became more minerally, the plum turned to red fruits, the violets more apparent and the spice, more spiced, rather than spicy. The 1998 and the 1991 were total treats, drinking perfectly now, but the shock (in a good way) of the night was just how well the 1984 was still drinking. It was a beautiful, elegant red with such complexity and amazing length: the tannins had completely softened, but the acidity was still there.

So, what did I learn about Meerlust on that Monday evening? Well, firstly, not to think of South Africa as a modern wine-making country. Secondly that Meerlust?s wines, and the Rubicon?s in particular will last as long as you have the will power to keep them.

And thirdly, along with many of the other ladies, and perhaps some of the men there that evening, I am now nursing a little crush on the amazing Mr Hannes Myburgh!

Emma Howat
Tastings & Events Co-ordinator

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Tue 10 Apr 2012

The Week The World Came To Bordeaux

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Primeurs week in Bordeaux is a marathon of tastings of inky young red (and a few dry and sweet white) wines, a whirlwind of meeting and greeting, top and tailed by fine food and wines. You may be thinking that we wine buyers are spoiled – and you’d be right (we’ll spare you the detail, but these experiences re-affirm why Bordeaux remains unrivaled in the world for its potential finesse and keeping potential) but the pleasure is greater, and the debate all the more stimulating in the good company of buyers and sellers from all over the world.

At Château Haut-Bailly this year our tasting group included contingents from the UK, Canada, Switzerland, Germany, Chicago, and Texas (featured). The debate was open, friendly, and lively thanks to General Manager Véronique Sanders’ invitation to all of us to give her our views on the prospects for the Bordeaux Primeurs campaign this year. Irrespective of national and personal preferences, all nationalities were of one voice in asking for Bordeaux to reduce its prices significantly this year.

Generous hospitality is not unusual in Bordeaux, but this relaxed and open discussion was as refreshing as the very fine range of wines we enjoyed. Wines that could not come from anywhere else.

Please remember that we will be offering the 30 or so most sought-after wines from the vintage in a different way this year, requiring members to pre-order them. For more information, please refer to our website.

Joanna Locke MW
Buyer, Bordeaux

Thu 05 Apr 2012

Video: Marcel Orford-Williams on Alsace

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You can watch our own Marcel Orford-Williams (buyer for Alsace) discussing and tasting Alsace wines with Joanna Simon in the latest in a series of videos made for Wines of Alsace.

Society members can order the 2010 vintage of the sylvaner now, while the muscat will be available soon.

Look out for our offer of 2010 Alsace next month!

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