Grapevine Archive for December, 2012

Mon 31 Dec 2012

Pierre Mansour: My Wines of 2012

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Pierre MansourAt this time of year I enjoy reading the annual roundups of the best music albums. My taste is adventurous, so I find these critically acclaimed lists hugely informative.

It got me thinking about wine: which ones have been my most memorable in 2012?

Here, in no particular order, are the five that completely knocked my socks off. Unlike music, good wine is produced in limited quantities, and as such not all are available to buy from The Society. I hope they are of interest nonetheless.

Cullen Kevin John Chardonnay, 2010, Margaret River (£57 per bottle)
An exquisite Margaret River chardonnay that exudes class and is featured in our current Giants of the New World offer.

Viña Zorzal Graciano, Navarra, 2010 (£6.75 per bottle)
Brilliant, fruity red, perfect for everyday drinking yet with enough character to keep you interested.

López de Heredia Viña Tondonia Reserva Blanco, Rioja, 1996 (£19.95 per bottle)
One of the world’s most original white wines from this ultra-traditional Rioja bodega, and which in 1996 worked beautifully.

Ridge Monte Bello, 1995
With 17 years under its belt, this classy cabernet is at its most focused and refined. A remarkable wine.

Chateau Musar, 1995
Possibly the greatest Musar I have tasted. Like a fine Burgundy with an exotic twist.

Pierre Mansour
Society Buyer

We always work well ahead of the schedule here at The Society when it comes to preparing our printed offers and Societynews. Shipping wines from the other side of the world means that we have to work at least six months ahead of our mailing dates. Christmas is done and dusted in the summer and my colleagues are currently putting finishing touches to offers due to be published in the spring.

While we don’t have to labour under quite the same restrictions when it comes to putting together Societynews, December’s Food for Thought article has been a good 12 months in the making. Janet Wynne Evans and I started talking about an article based around what to do with all those Christmas foodie leftovers this time last year.

Not content with providing some general culinary hints and tips (with wines to match, of course), Janet has produced more than 24 recipes, with suggestions of clever ways to use up anything from cheeseboard leftovers to a surfeit of cooked veg. There really is no excuse for throwing anything away this year.

Puff pastry tartJanet’s antipathetic attitude to turkey is well documented, so she asked around for suggestions from the rest of team here at Stevenage for our clear-up recipes for the big bird. Here’s mine, thrown together from ingredients I had to hand at the time. Why not let us know yours?

Moroccan Turkey Puff Pastry Tart
Serves 2 generously or 4 as a starter

250g 1 packet puff pastry
2-3 tbsp harissa paste
1 tbsp olive oil
half a red onion, thinly sliced
half a red pepper, diced
200g cooked turkey, shredded
2-3 tbsp raisins
2-3 tbsp pine nuts
a handful of chopped fresh herbs such as mint, coriander, flat-leaf parsley
half a standard pack of feta cheese, crumbled
a pomegranate, or a pack of pomegranate seeds
a couple of handfuls of rocket leaves
salt and black pepper

Pre-heat the oven to 200C/Gas 6.

Roll out the pastry to cover a greased baking tray. Score a 5cm border around the edge with a sharp knife, taking care not to cut all the way through the pastry. Spread the harissa paste over the base of the tart and set aside while you prepare the filling. Heat the olive oil in a pan, add the onions and cook over a gentle heat until translucent. Add the pepper and continue to cook for a minute, add the turkey, pine nuts and raisins and mix well. Stir in the fresh herbs. Pile into the reserved pastry case, drizzle a little more olive oil on top, and bake in the oven for about 20m. Once the pastry is golden, remove from the oven and leave to cool for about 10 m. Scatter the tart with rocket leaves, the crumbled feta and the pomegranate seeds. (If you are using a whole pomegranate, cut the fruit in half, hold over the tart, cut side down, and knock the seeds out with a meat hammer or the side of a large knife.) Serve warm.

Wine Recommendation: Lirac Blanc La Fermade, Domaine Maby, 2011 (£8.95 per bottle) has the concentration to cope with these strong characters without raising a white flag. Harissa, a fiery Moroccan chilli paste, can vary in strength so taste it first – if it seems dangerously hot for your taste, use just a thin film to line the pastry.

Access all the Remains of the Day recipes here.

Joanna Goodman
News Editor

Categories : Miscellaneous
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Fri 21 Dec 2012

Sancerre Claus Is Coming To Town

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photo-225x300Every now and then we like to lob a challenge into the Twittersphere, to see what comes back.

Given that we are well over half way through Advent, plus the fact that our Liberator song competition showed such excellent creative flair, we thought we’d ask members to come up with some Christmas wine songs. No prizes this time, but just the pride of getting a shout-out for your efforts.

We kicked things off ourselves with a few, including Rudolf the Red-Nosed Rheingau and When Santa Got Stuck Up The Ximenez, and here are some of the best from you.

The Bolly and the Ivy (@BollingerUK – of course – and @AnneInVino)
(or even the AbFab version The Bolly at The Ivy (@wineandwords))
Gamay in a Manger (@Gethin76)
The First Mosel (@theweefudgeco)
Once in Royal Tokaji City (@sipswooshspit)
Rudolph The Red Nosed Reine des Bois (@champdenwhite)
Deck The Halls With Dão and Bolly (@derbyshirewine)
O Tannin Bomb (@NJBottleKing)
There were plenty more, which can be found under the hashtags #christmaswinesongs or #christmaswinesong.

Thanks for joining in, and may we sing our greetings to you:

Have Yourself a Maury Little Christmas!

Ewan Murray
PR & Events Manager

Categories : Miscellaneous
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Thu 20 Dec 2012

Gold Blend: Blending The Society’s White Burgundy

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Last week I accompanied Society ‘Master Blender’ Marcel Orford-Williams on a whistle-stop trip to Mâcon in southern Burgundy. The primary purpose of the visit was to put together the assemblage, or blend, for next year’s Society White Burgundy, our best-selling wine.

Imagine, if you can, the onerous task of making a single, consistent ‘cuvée’ to keep many of our most demanding members’ palates satisfied throughout 2013. We sell more than 20 bottles of The Society’s White Burgundy every hour of every day throughout the entire year, and finding sufficient volumes of high-quality wine is by no means straightforward.

Jean-Marc DarbonFortunately help was at hand in the form of Maison Jacques Dépagneux, with whom we have been working very closely for over thirty years. Every year at about this time Jean-Marc Darbon (pictured) scours the cellars of the region, tasting wine from literally hundreds of tanks in order to make his pre-selection of chardonnay samples for The Society.

Once the samples from all corners of the appellation have arrived at the Dépagneux tasting room, Marcel is summoned to work his magic. Last Friday we arrived promptly at 9.00am chez Dépagneux and were presented with a lineup of over 40 samples of 2012 Mâcon sitting on the work bench. Each sample was labelled with the name of the grower, the tank number from his or her cellar and the volume of wine available.

Our first task was to taste every sample and eliminate the less promising wines. This done, after a modicum of debate (and thankfully little disagreement), we then set about putting together the constituent parts into a ‘super-cuvée’. The 2012 vintage thankfully produced whites of excellent, and consistent, quality so the final blending session was considerably less nerve-wracking than for the 2011 vintage (which tended to be patchy in quality and consequently very tricky to blend). Out came the measuring flasks and Jean-Marc studiously followed Marcel’s instructions.


Three hours and much tinkering and fine-tuning later, the blend was done and a collective sigh of relief rang out across central France – the 2012 Society White Burgundy will be an absolute cracker!

Tim Sykes
Head of Buying

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Wed 19 Dec 2012

Blending The Society’s Bordeaux Sauvignon

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Blending The Society's Bordeaux SauvignonThe prime reason for my visit to Bordeaux this week, earlier than usual, and usefully so, in a vintage when white volumes are down and there will be greater competition for the best wines.

A shortlist of 13 samples was tasted and re-tasted, whittled down from around 30 the previous day by people far more qualified than me to assess wines at this early stage.

The overall standard was good to high with no vineyard faults to cause concern. In the best wines there is no shortage of gras (literally fat, or body) this year. The challenge was to find sufficient freshness and structure for the longer haul, in this case into early 2014.

All sauvignon blanc, the samples came from a variety of sources around Bordeaux, including co-ops and growers. The advantage of blending from different sources is that greater complexity can be achieved, as well as higher quality, using the remarkably different examples to create a wine with better balance and keeping potential than any individual sample would deliver on its own.

Jo Locke MW
Society Buyer

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Tue 18 Dec 2012

Bordeaux In December

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Bordeaux-In-December-224x300Day two of my trip and the forecast rain has arrived, but the centre of Bordeaux is still glittering, with extravagant Christmas lights and smart shops not yet tempted into sale time. Not as lovely as the heart of London’s West End though, where I was for a tasting last week; and the Christmas market, bang in the centre on the Place Tourny, is not as charming as one in Winchester (Hants) visited a few weekends ago. The UK does its traditions well.

The stall holders here will not be quite as cold today, at least. As I strolled through from the car park yesterday many of them already looked positively blue and had a long evening ahead of them. Plenty of mulled wine, and customers (some children are already on holiday) around to cheer them up, however.

Day two of this trip is an important one, aiming to settle on the 2012 blend of The Society’s Bordeaux Sauvignon. Yesterday’s bright clear conditions would have been better, but if yesterday’s tasting at the Cave de Rauzan, looking at potential building blocks for the 2012 Château La Perriere, is anything to go by, there should be plenty of good material to work with.

Jo Locke MW
Society Buyer

Categories : Bordeaux, France
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Thu 13 Dec 2012

What a North and South

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However upsetting the recent result at the Millennium Stadium (what you mean, which result? Take your pick and stop going on about Twickers!) I welcome expeditionary forces from the antipodes to these shores.

Janet Wynne Evans

Janet Wynne Evans

It’s good news, for instance, to find that a once mediocre hostelry has been not so much gussied up as “Kiwied” or “Ozzed”. Food instantly becomes more ambitious without the gastro-posturing that has ruined many a traditional inn, and service is competent and charming if a tad informal for those among us who like to stand on ceremony. Most importantly, a glass of pub wine is suddenly worth drinking. It could be a verdant Marlborough sauvignon, fragrant Otago pinot noir, crisp Tassie chard or cockle-warming Barossa shiraz. Whatever it is, it hasn’t been open for days in a dusty corner of the bar because “there’s not much call for it.”.

One of the recent joys of wine appreciation has been to witness the exponential evolution of regional styles in Australia, replacing the in-yer-face but remarkably consistent fruit bombs of yore that did good grub no favours. New Zealand has always played the premium card, but I still vividly recall feeble, rain-soaked reds and piercingly sharp whites in which high water tables could almost be heard gurgling in the background. Let’s leave the past tense thankfully where it belongs.

But here’s a thing. We may speak the same language, but regional accents are now all the rage especially in a part of the world where terroir used to play second fiddle (and last desk at that) to technique. If early invaders communicated in a serious of grunts, as, frankly, did some of our Great British food, these polished new ambassadors can be remarkably inarticulate in a different way. They could be, well, just a bit too posh. Let me explain, with a few examples.

First up, never let an elegant Otago, Martinborough or Victoria pinot noir anywhere near a rustic beef stew. It will turn up its nose and say, I didn’t come all this way to break bread with a peasant, as I discovered only last week at my local bring-your-own-bottle bistro. I brung just such a wine, which, instead of chiming fortuitously with the plat du jour – boeuf bourgignon – just plain sulked. The husband observed, unattractively smugly, that Les Bleus (and, very occasionally, even the All Whites) were, when it mattered, wont to pull the hakka from under the All Blacks so this made sense. Be that as it may, Lesson One is save your posh antipodean pinot for roast beef or pheasant, prime steak, or, topically, the Christmas turkey, a fine match for Te Tera (£13.50 per bottle).

d'Arenberg The Footbolt Shiraz, 2007

d’Arenberg The Footbolt Shiraz, 2007

Lesson Two is to get yourself deprogrammed pronto if you are primed to reach for an Aussie shiraz whenever you feel a spice attack coming on the plate. Time was, a lively, rather than gob-combustive chilli and a gutsy shiraz could be a marriage made in heaven, followed by comfortably comatose tastebuds. Nowadays, a new reserve and complexity in the wine makes you want to savour it and think about it, not to have it blown off your tastebuds by a peppery kick in the food. For me, good Aussie shiraz works better in controlled explosions, wherein gentler spices like ginger or cinnamon, fragrant herbs, sweet roots and onions gently probe the velvety texture of the wine, which opens out to receive them. The Footbolt (£11.95 per bottle) is particularly good at that.

Lesson Three dares to impugn the near-sainted status of Kiwi sauvignon blanc which should never be considered a substitute for, say, Sancerre with a serious bit of goat’s milk cheese. Individually, the two are natural wonders, but together, frankly, they stink. The cheese is earthy and gamey, as it should be, the wine is gloriously clean and green and the net result is something akin to a farmyard not quite fumigated with extra-strength pine disinfectant. This is a waste of two stars. Head to the Loire or England for the cheese and reserve a benchmark Marlborough sauvignon for similarly high-octane flavours, like lemon grass and lime or the green buzz of basil and dill. My current coup de coeur is Greywacke – look out for the 2012 vintage, which will be available in the New Year.

My last Lesson – based on the law of diminishing returns – is never wish away proper, honest and true Australian chardonnay as we historically knew it for the sake of some European ideal of elegance and restraint. My best food match of the week was between just such an unashamedly rich, viscous and tropical brew and an outrageously creamy pumpkin soup perked up with star anise. The opulence of the fruit absorbed the sweetness of the pumpkin. Spicy new oak met the aniseed head on and shook hands. There was enough lemony acidity to cut through the cream too. Absolute bliss, and a nirvana moment for one who rarely wants soup with her wine, because it’s just too wet. For my next glimpse of heaven, I’ll turn to Leeuwin’s old-school Prelude Chardonnay (£23 per bottle), and gladly pay the price.

Roll on the Six Nations and the World Cup. It’s only a game. Unlike this food and wine lark, which is deadly serious, you know.

And there endeth the last Lesson.

Janet Wynne Evans
Specialist Wine Manager

Categories : Australia, New Zealand
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Wed 12 Dec 2012

Portable Presents: The Society’s New App

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AndroidWhen we launched The Society’s app for iPhone® last year, our proverbial mailbag from members seemed to be divided between those who were using it and those requesting an Android™ equivalent so that they could too. The disparity of devices covered by Android technology meant that this took a little while longer to develop, but it is nice to see that it seems to have gone down well thus far.

The app is free and available to download from Google Play™ Store. More information on its features can be found at

Although the app can only deliver to home addresses at present, a number of messages and tweets (such as that pictured) suggest members have found it a useful way to get their Christmas shopping done.

Whether a Society member or not, you can still enjoy a number of features on the app, such as our interactive Food & Wine Matcher, vintage chart and expert guides to aid wine choices when out and about.

All of which might come into its own at a time of year when food and wine are rightly brought to the fore in many people’s lives!

As ever, please do keep your feedback coming, whether via a comment, e-mail or our Twitter & Facebook pages. We hope you enjoy the app and find it useful.

Nicky Glennon
Head of Digital Marketing

Categories : Miscellaneous
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Tue 11 Dec 2012

Wine-Rack Staple: Bricco Suagnà Rosso, 2008

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Bricco Suagnà Rosso, 2008The buying team is in the process of choosing wines for the next Buyers’ Favourites offer, due out in a few months’ time. If I had not chosen the Bricco Rosso (£6.25 per bottle) as one of mine last time, it would be among my personal selection, with a glowing endorsement for its food friendliness and adaptability. (Not that repetition is banned – in fact I think one colleague chose a previous vintage the year before – just plenty of other good things to allow us to ring the changes!)

The combination of savoury flavours, freshness and cut make this Piemontese red a perfect match for all things Italian of course, but it is capable of much more.

It recently rose brilliantly to the challenge of a delicious partridge-stuffed pheasant (yes, you did read that right – a bird within a bird, boned and further enhanced with a rich sausagemeat stuffing). Not prepared by my own fair hand, but by an enterprising young couple whose stall at our fortnightly farmers’ market is packed with traditional and unusual options for carnivores such as ourselves. One bird serves 3-4 perfectly.

As far as the wine match was concerned, a mature and rich red Burgundy would have been a perfect match had I had one, but the modest Italian was to hand and at a fraction of the price (fortunately for our wine budget my other half is not a lover of pinot noir!).

The enterprising producer of said Gourmet Local Meats is Terrys of Swanbourne – well worth a visit!

Jo Locke MW
Society Buyer

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Thu 06 Dec 2012

All I Want for Christmas is a…

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… half bottle of delicious, delectable, unctuous sherry.

Williams & Humbert 'As You Like It' Amontillado

Williams & Humbert ‘As You Like It’ Amontillado

Once you’ve worked at The Society for a few months it dawns on you that much of your hard-earned income is going to be transferred straight back to your employers.

‘I didn’t see any point in bringing you a bottle of wine’ is a phrase you get all too familiar with as yet another friend turns up at your doorstep with a bunch of flowers and, er, little else. Or worse, they think it highly amusing that they bring a bottle of the latest gimmicky, confected high-street plonk in order to ‘keep me real’, before making great inroads into my prized, but far from bottomless, cellar (if that isn’t making a bit too much of my cupboard under the stairs).

The trouble with working here is that friends and family expect you to blow them away with the wines you provide. ‘Should be easy given your privileged position,’ I hear you cry. Employees of The Society are in constant search of the ‘wow’ bottle with which to woo friends.

Subtlety and elegance, I’ve found to my cost, don’t really do it. ‘You’ll be amazed at the refinement of this godello from north-west Spain’ doesn’t always cut the mustard with guests who rarely shop outside the supermarkets and think that I drink Meursault for breakfast*.

Anyway, for what it’s worth, here’s my rundown of winners that don’t disappoint or necessitate re-mortgaging the house:

Wacky: for non-geeks. Chateau Musar is always a revelation and well met. ‘Lebanon? Wine? Who knew?’ and it’s delicious. Equally, Moroccan syrah.

A flavour of the unknown: Kiwi pinot. Though, strangely (and I don’t know why), this works better for men than women. Women, in my experience, seem to prefer a heartier brew.

A flavour unknown II: good Madeira is always a winner – and this is more for women than men I find.

Maturity: Marcel Orford-Williams released some ten-year-old Alsace riesling last Christmas for under £20 that was a big hit.

So that brings me, at last, to the sherry, which fulfils majestically and deliciously all criteria.

Everybody say: ‘Ahhhhh…’

Never before have I seen such a room full of usually loud opinionated people becalmed by a mince pie and a glass of amber liquid as I did this week.

And what a liquid. It was Williams & Humbert As You Like It Amontillado, a wine I first noticed when I saw that buyer Toby Morrhall said that it had ‘bowled him over’. That takes some doing. But I completely see what he means. The wine is now about 30 years old and the ageing process has mellowed the beguiling dried fruit and nutty flavours making them gloriously rich, complex and just oh so irresistible. It’s a wine to sniff and savour and luxuriate in. The palate doesn’t disappoint either: adding a welcome freshness to the rich flavours. We tried it with mince pies, but piquant Cheddar or perhaps even a strong blue cheese would, I’m sure, work just as well. Or just savour a glass by the fire. At £22 per half bottle I grant you that this isn’t a cheap wow – but it’s Christmas and such is the richness and intensity that a little goes a long way.

Friends and family please note that this is now top of my Christmas wish list, and my new favourite wow wine. Anyone turning up at my doorstep clutching such a bottle is guaranteed a very warm welcome indeed.

Paul Trelford
Head of Copy

* For the record I don’t … OK, there was that one time but that was very much the exception.

Categories : Fortified, Spain
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