Grapevine Archive for May, 2012

Tue 29 May 2012

250 Dinners Down

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Recently I was lucky enough to be invited to speak when The Wine Society Dining Club celebrated their 250th dinner in Draper?s Hall in London.

Château Margaux

The location is splendid and the wines, which included Château Margaux 1983 and 1990, and the outstanding Pavillon Rouge 2000, were memorably magnificent. The bottles had been wisely laid down by the club en primeur when they cost very much less than they do today.

80 members and 40 guests attended and a very good time was had by us all.

Such bottles are meant to be shared and discussed among like-minded companions.

If you would like to know more about the Dining Club, you can visit their website or contact the Club Administrator by e-mail.

Sebastian Payne MW
Society Buyer

Categories : Bordeaux, France
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Thu 24 May 2012

Hugel: Passing on the Baton

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Last week a very fresh-faced Marc-André Hugel was over in the UK for his first solo appearance presenting his family?s wines at our tastings in London and Leeds. He also visited our offices in Stevenage to talk us through a range of Hugel wines, some of which he has had a hand in.

And if the proof of the pudding is in the ?. well, let?s just say that it looks as though the 13th generation of this great Alsace house will be continuing its good name long into the future.

22-year-old Marc-André (?almost 23?, he pointed out), is Etienne Hugel?s nephew (Etienne?s son, Jean-Frédéric is going to follow in his father?s footsteps and concentrate on sales). Despite his youth, he has been working in the family business since 2005. ?I originally wanted to sell the wine?, he said, ?but I did my first holiday job working in the vineyards in 2005, this and a work placement in California made me realise that I love viticulture and cellarwork.?

Marc-André?s first harvest chez Hugel was the 2009 vintage ? an auspicious start if ever there was one, but also a significant year in the Hugel household as this was when the late, great ?Johnny? Hugel passed away. 2010 was the first vintage Marc-André had a hand in vinifying ? a potentially unpromising year that was saved by a glorious Indian summer, to make for a smaller crop with good maturity underpinned by balancing acidity.

Although Marc-André will eventually become the winemaker at Hugel, he has to serve a pretty long apprenticeship: his uncle Marc is not going to be handing over the reins for many years yet. When we asked Marc-André about his ideas for the future, he was pretty sanguine about the fact that he would be spending the next 10-15 years learning the business and trying out new things. He says that he would like to produce a Crémant d?Alsace one day (his father is from Champagne). He also spoke about biodynamics and his desire to investigate the feasibility of working along these lines. He recognises that he may have a job convincing vineyard workers to change their ways though and prune ?because the moon is in the right place.?

From the 2010 vintage we tasted our own Society?s Vin d?Alsace ? a good introduction to the region?s wines, containing four of the noble grapes, gewurztraminer, riesling, pinot gris and muscat, plus sylvaner and pinot blanc. Completely dry yet tastes round and fruity with a touch of spice, it?s very versatile, making for a good ?house? white.

We also tasted the Tradition label Muscat and Pinot Gris. Marc-André told us that only 2% of the total Alsace vineyard plantings are made up of muscat and it is interesting to see what a different kind of wine it makes here in Alsace compared to its Mediterranean counterparts ? wonderfully aromatic, fresh and floral with a subtle power and touch of spice on the finish, this is a beautifully poised wine with some grapes coming from the grand cru Schoenenbourg vineyard. Marc-André recommends it as an aperitif or partner for asparagus.

The pinot gris was a real revelation, not as aromatic as muscat but with flavours that built on the palate as you tasted it, really quite full, with a long finish. You could imagine it partnering lots of dishes well, particularly Asian cooking.

From 2009, Marc-André?s first vintage in the family firm, we tried the pinot noir. Reds are only made in the best years and 2009 is one of the best for a long time. Marc-André told us that with global warming they are noticing that the reds are getting better and better and more pinot noir is being made (now 8% of total production of Alsace). ?We won?t be making Alsace Syrah though? he reassured us! He also told us how he had quite literally had a hand in making the wine, plunging down the cap of grape skins two or three times a day for a week.

Footage of him doing just that can be found below (NB: the talking is, alas, in French):

There was a lovely purity of fruit to the ripe cherry-like flavour ? a wine for charcuterie, cheese or poultry, Marc-André says.

From Marc-André?s holiday-job vintage, 2005, we tasted Hugel?s Riesling Jubilee. ?It was very hot in the vineyards in 2005,? he told us, ?but although the grapes were very ripe there was also a good minerality.? The Jubilee wines are all from grand cru vineyards and this is from the best plots within the Grand Cru Schoenenbourg vineyard. The wine has everything you would expect from a great riesling ? full, but dry flavour, floral, turning to kerosene bouquet and long, classy finish. ?Good with shellfish or smoked fish,? we were told.

If you didn?t get to our Alsace tastings, you can still enjoy the wines. The 2010s are showcased in our current offer from Alsace and the others are online and in the List. Take a ?schlück? as apparently they say in Alsace, we learned, and see what you think.

Joanna Goodman
Societynews Editor

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Thu 17 May 2012

An Invitation From The Committee

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Are you a member of The Society with a particular interest in digital communications (either professionally or personally)?

If so, we would be particularly interested in hearing from you.

Several times a year the Committee arranges informal meetings with groups of members. These provide a great opportunity to hear what a sample of members think about The Society and for members and Committee to meet one another ? both highly appropriate functions of a co-operative organisation owned by its members.

Our digital offerings constitute a large part of our current development plan, and we would like to gather as many members as possible to discuss them (be it our website, app, social media presence and potential other channels) over a glass of something interesting.

The meetings will take place on the 5th and 9th July in Central London in the early evening.

If you would be interested in taking part, please contact us at, quoting your share number and which of the dates you could make.

If you can?t make it but would like to send your views on our digital future, please also send an e-mail to the address above with your thoughts.

Sarah Evans

Categories : Miscellaneous
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Wed 16 May 2012

Growing Grey in the Sun

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Spring has sprung in the Roussillon, prompting Katie Jones of Domaine Jones to share her enthusiasm for the season of renewal. Hers is a pocket handkerchief estate making three lovely wines. Her white is outstanding and is made from the Grenache gris, locally prized for its ageing capacity but unknown anywhere else.

‘The more I work with this grape variety the more I like it. It is a little frightening though as the grapes are pink and the juice when the grapes are pressed is bright orange, so I am always amazed by the lovely pale colour of the final wine. Grenache Gris makes some of the best white wines from this area of southern France and is often blended with other local grapes. Mine is not blended but exclusively Grenache Gris.

So why are my Grenache Gris special? They are 80 years old, they are planted on black slate soils and therefore they produce a very limited amount of grapes. The low productivity of my vines gives great depth and concentration to the final wine. It also means that the root structure is so well established that they don?t suffer from summer drought.

It still makes me smile that I almost didn?t buy this vineyard. Monsieur Bourrell who sold it to me forgot to mention that half of the vineyard was planted with Grenache Gris and not the red Grenache noir that I was expecting. As he took the grapes to the local cooperative, it didn?t matter to him that half the grapes were white. When I told him that I wasn?t sure that I still wanted to buy his vineyard he told me it wasn?t a problem – I could just mix it all together and make the traditional sweet dessert wine from Maury!

Not on your nelly, Monsieur Bourrell.’

Here at The Society we still need to wait for the 2011 but a small quantity of the 2010 (ref FC22301) is still available to order. To do so, please call Member Services on 01438 740 222.

Marcel Orford-Williams
Society buyer

Categories : France, South of France
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Tue 15 May 2012

Gus The Spear – Meet Vlad The Impaler!

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Our wettest spring in years may have blunted the only green shoots we are likely to see here for a long time. Nevertheless, enough plucky bunches have made it through the rain to get Britain shaking the dust off its steamers and trawling the rack for the right white for asparagus, recalling, perhaps for the first time since last year, how devilishly tricky that can be.

Kiwi sauvignon blanc, a popular choice, often has a leguminous touch, but generally, I find it too trenchant to do anything but clash with the differently green spectrum of the vegetable. Not for nothing is it called a/grass by London?s fruit and veg community, whose members often display it alongside the contrasting glossy purple of a stack of obo?s (sic).

Like English straws, home-grown sparrer grass achieves a unique balance of sweetness and acidity. For that, I want a not-quite-dry, grapy northern hemisphere white. Quirky English wines sometimes work, and dry Alsace muscat is a sublime, if extravagant match. A third option, unveiled too late for last year?s crop and only now put through its paces, is – wait for it, I had to! – Prince Stirbey Tamâioasa Romaneasca Sec.

Prince Stirbey's asparagus-friendly whiteTamâioasa (pronounce it támmy-wássa) is an indigenous Romanian variety bursting with the aroma of fresh grapes and punchy on the palate with that vital bit of subtle sweetness in the background. At £9.50 it?s not as cheap as I feel such a tongue-twister should be, but it?s under a tenner, which the best Alsace muscats are not.

It can also absorb the extra ingredients that TV chefdom, in its restless wisdom, deems necessary to help asparagus along. For all I know, the predictable litany of pancetta, parmesan shavings and, Lord help us, blue cheese, tomatoes and anchovies, may transform Peruvian imports. For me, though, anyone who complicates our most glamorous product with anything other than heat, lightly salted butter and freshly ground white pepper deserves banishment to the Tower of London, or, better still, somewhere very gothic and scary in Transylvania.

Janet Wynne Evans
Specialist Wine Manager

Categories : Other Europe
Comments (2)

Society Grapevine has been up and running since 2009. During that time we?ve used it to update members on all manner of wines, vintages, regions, tastings and other developments at The Society during two busy years ? all in a more personal and immediate way than we?d have been able to do in our other online and printed communications.

What we would love to know is what you would like to see, or see more of, on here.

Are there any wine styles, countries or regions you think we?ve overlooked? Any people from or areas of The Society you?d like to hear more from? Perhaps you?d like to see us doing more with video, spend more time discussing wine news, or offer more wine-related advice?

Whatever your thoughts are, we would like to hear them. The Wine Society exists for its members, and giving us your opinions would help us know what you find the most interesting and relevant.
Whether a regular reader or first-time visitor, we welcome any feedback you may have.

Categories : Miscellaneous
Comments (18)

The Languedoc is a big place ? the largest single wine region on earth, according to some. It certainly feels like it, with over a thousand miles clocked up in less than a week.

Mont St Baudile with the vines of Montpeyroux in the foreground

This last trip was centered more on the Hérault Departement from Saint Chinian in the west to the Pic Saint Loup above Montpellier in the east.

I shall take nothing away from the Rhône, which has brilliant wines; but the Languedoc does too, and what was remarkable about this trip was the sheer quality of what was on offer and especially from the 2010 vintage.

The Rhône of course is not that far away and so seems reasonable that vintages should follow. The Languedoc being so large however, this is not always the case. 2008 is a great example: average in the Rhône but actually very good in the Languedoc.

Anyway, this is not about 2008 but rather about 2010: sublime in the Rhône and just as good in the Languedoc.

What makes 2010 special? The answer is that 2010 has everything. The wines are very dark, very fruity ? satisfyingly full bodied yet without any of the aggressive tannins that are often present in good vintages. There is nothing baked or raisiny in these 2010s; the relatively cool but dry summer prevented that and indeed allowed the grapes to preserve acidity. The weather was perfect and allowed growers to wait and pick when they liked. The grapes were fully ripe.

There are several 2010s forthcoming in the July List (Montpeyroux la Pinpanella from La Jase Castel is one of many favourites) but otherwise there will be a very full listing in a Languedoc offer which will be published in the autumn.

Marcel Orford-Williams
Society Buyer

There?s a lot of good wine out there. Missing out on a great one is understandable ? particularly in the case of the Loire Valley?s wines, boasting as they do an extraordinary array of grapes and styles ? but none the less tragic for it.

Society buyer Joanna Locke MW?s latest efforts to bring members the cream of the Loire?s remarkably varied crop can be found in our current offer, and it has been heartening to see the UK wine press giving plaudits to several of the wines therein.

Grapevine readers may already have seen the praise given to Mourat?s wines; to ensure that no other gems slip under your radar, we include below an assortment of other Society Loire offerings to have been given favourable mentions. Please note: our current Loire offer closes on Sunday 20th May.

Jancis Robinson recommended a further four Loire wines (?VGV? and ?GV? meaning ?very good value? and ?good value? respectively):

Robert Sérol, Vieilles Vignes 2011 Côte Roannaise 16.5/20 Drink 2012-2013
Lively and lifted. Rather stylish label. Light but true and savoury. Quintessential French country wine made with great facility. Silky texture, great persistence. Troisgros house wine by the way. VGV 12% £7.95 The Wine Society

Frédéric Mabileau, Les Rouillères Chenin Blanc 2011 Anjou 17/20 Drink 2012-2016
Lovely pure, fresh, appley aromas. Lots of tension and terroir. Finishes dry. This wine has just so much energy and typicity. Great stuff. Whistle clean. GV 13% £10.95 The Wine Society

La Claux Delorme 2011 Valençay 16/20 Drink 2012-2013
Very fragrant and floral. Gentle and off dry. Nice texture. Firm spine. Long. Well constructed. Good value. 13% £8.95 The Wine Society

Huet, Le Haut-Lieu Sec 2010 Vouvray 16+/20 Drink 2014-2018
Deeper flavoured than the Chenin des Rouillères 2011. With more honey and more wet wool. Lots to get your teeth into but awfully young for the moment. 12.5% £14.95 The Wine Society

Anthony Rose (The Independent) included a nod for the following wine in his article about The Wine Society:
?Frédéric Mabileau’s 2011 Chenin des Rouillères Anjou Blanc, £10.95, is a terrific expression of Loire Valley chenin blanc combining vivid appley freshness with a mineral-dry finish.?

Last but not least, The Wine Gang, made up of some of the best palates in the UK wine press, reviewed a ?budget selection? of Society wines. The Gang gave a timely reminder of the virtues of Muscadet, recommending a Society favourite in the process, as well as a relative newcomer to our range:

Domaine des Ratelles Muscadet Sèvre et Maine Sur Lie 2010
Muscadet doesn’t get a very good press these days. In fact it doesn’t get much press at all and its grape variety, Melon de Bourgogne, gets even less, but a good Muscadet ? the antithesis of a showy wine ? is a useful thing for washing down simple fish, seafood and salads. This one, with its delicate salted-nut and zesty citrus flavours, is as brisk as a swim in the Serpentine but much less masochistic. £6.75 at The Wine Society

Domaine de la Semellerie Chinon 2010
Youthful Loire Cabernet Franc with the signature sweet whiff of potato peelings, juicy raspberry and blackberry fruit and touches of spice, leather and liquorice. Light tannins and a nip of acidity complete the medium-bodied picture. £8.50 at The Wine Society

Categories : France, Loire
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Thu 03 May 2012

A Second Look at Bordeaux 2011

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The Society Bordeaux buying team of Sebastian Payne MW, Jo Locke MW and myself has recently spent a second week in Bordeaux, retasting many of the 2011s that we had sampled a fortnight previously during the annual ‘en primeur’ bunfight, and tasting many other 2011s for the first time. It is remarkable how in that short time many of the wines have evolved, and the week proved invaluable in helping us to distil down our selection for the main en primeur offer that we will be sending out next month. Over the course of our two sojourns in Bordeaux we have tasted several wines three, four and occasionally five times, so we feel we are well placed to put together a coherent and considered offer for members.

Week one had been a whirlwind, visiting some of the best-known wine names in the Bordeaux firmament, with one day that involved visits to Châteaux Léoville Las Cases, Lagrange, Pontet Canet, Mouton Rothschild, Lafite Rothschild, Latour and Ducru Beaucaillou ? and that was just in one morning?

Our second week was, with one or two exceptions, more modest in terms of the global renown of châteaux visited and wines tasted, but no less interesting or enlightening. The vast majority of châteaux that we have followed for a number of years have made fresh, attractive and classically proportioned red wines that we have no hesitation in recommending subject, of course, to the wines being sensibly priced. Examples include Château Le Conseiller, Château Bouscaut, Château Belgrave, Château d’Angludet, Château Cantemerle and Château Batailley, to name but a few. 2011 was also an excellent Sauternes and Barsac vintage, with consistently high quality across the board, and we will be offering several of our favourites in our main Bordeaux opening offer.

Week two was also an opportunity to taste at the esteemed premises of JP Moueix in Libourne. Having “extinguished” our mobile phones [see above], we were treated to a procession of delicious merlot-dominant right bank wines in the splendid Moueix tasting room ? a cavernous but tranquil setting for the Society tasters [right]. We also paid a visit to the strikingly Burgundian-looking cellars [below] of François Mitjavile at Château Tertre Roteboeuf in Saint Emilion, our annual opportunity to shoot the breeze with one of the most cerebral winemakers in Bordeaux, and taste the delicious fruits of his labours.

Our week ended with a visit to Château Reynon in the Premières Côtes de Bordeaux to see our old friend Denis Dubourdieu, wine guru, lecturer and oenologist to some of France’s most famous names; and a tasting at Château Climens in Barsac with owner Bérénice Lurton. Bérénice took us through no fewer than nine different barrels of 2011 Barsac, each cask containing the production of a single-day’s picking last autumn ? the later the harvest day the sweeter, more lush and complex the wines tasted. The 2011 Climens is a true labour of love.

All that we are waiting for now is for the châteaux to release their prices, and we are hoping that the owners and decision makers will take a pragmatic view this year and release the wines at sensible prices. We are expecting a flurry of activity from the Bordeaux négociants in the coming days, although the profusion of public holidays in France this month may hamper the process somewhat.

Tim Sykes
Head of Buying

The Society has put in place new procedures for ordering Bordeaux 2011 this year. The first of our two 2011 Bordeaux Opening Offers, containing 30 of the most sought after wines of the vintage, requires members to pre-order the wines before the prices are confirmed by the chateaux. The remaining, generally less expensive, wines will be offered as normal, in print and online, in June or July.

Wed 02 May 2012

High hopes, low barometer?

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Ewan Murray wasn’t the only Society taster putting his palate through its paces recently. Last week others were judging too. Here’s what happened on one of those days.

Tim Sykes

Some of the wine trade’s finest palates, including those of four of The Society’s buyers, were out in force last week as judging took place at the annual Decanter World Wine Awards. Thousands of wines from hundreds of viticultural regions were sniffed, swilled and spat over the five gruelling days of assessment and analysis.  Judges were faced with the olympian task of sorting out the top wines into the customary Gold, Silver, Bronze and Commended categories, with the best of the best being put forward for regional trophies.

Michael Schuster

Having been invited to judge on the Friday session at this year’s event I was delighted to learn that not only had I drawn one of the longest straws possible, tasting on the Burgundy panel, but also that I would be sitting next to Michael Schuster, Society Committee member and stalwart of the Decanter Burgundy panel for many years.

Michael assured me that he and the various Burgundy judges had, earlier in the week, awarded several Gold medals, so I sat down at 9.30 on Friday morning almost salivating at the prospect of blind tasting over 80 white and red Burgundies.

Come 4.30 in the afternoon, my enthusiasm had completely evaporated. Of the many wines we had tasted, from Bourgogne Hautes Côtes de Beaune to Premier Cru Meursault and from Bourgogne Pinot Noir to Premier Cru Morey St Denis, just two wines had, in the judges’ view, merited a Bronze medal. No Silvers, and certainly no Golds. “The most disappointing day’s tasting I have had in the ten years I have been judging at Decanter” was Michael’s bleak assessment.

My fellow judges and I were baffled as to the reasons for this lacklustre showing from one of the greatest wine regions of the world. We were tasting Burgundies mainly from the excellent 2009 and 2010 vintages, so how come the wines didn’t shine? One reason could be that barometric pressure was very low on Friday and that wines often fail to shine in such conditions. Our only other explanation was that few of the top producers in Burgundy enter their wines in competitions because demand for their wines outstrips supply several times over, particularly in a small harvest such as 2010. The great and the good of Burgundy will have sold out of their wines some time ago. However, as we had no idea whose wines we were tasting we could not verify this assertion. What remains clear is that earlier in the week many Burgundies were awarded Gold and Silver medals, so our day?s tasting was not representative of the week?s overall quality.  Thankfully, at the end of the final session our faith was restored when we were treated to six Gold medal winning wines from previous days? judging, all of which merited their award and indeed two of which we selected for regional trophies.

I retired to a local hostelry at the end of the day with some of my fellow judges for a well earned pint of ale. The general consensus was that a good pint of beer was infinitely more appealing than an average glass of Burgundy.

Tim Sykes
Head of Buying