Grapevine Archive for March, 2013

golf tasting

Memories of the Tee & Taste event

This year marks the 20th anniversary of a Wine Society presence in the north of France. From a collection point at the Ryssen distillery, to our own shop in the market town of Hesdin to our own showroom in Montreuil-sur-Mer, our French operation has survived and flourished thanks to the enthusiasm and support of members.

The dinners organised by our tastings and events team have played a core role in this success and this year, to celebrate, we have organised a number of special Tour de France wine dinners and members purchasing from our Montreuil showroom before the end of May will have an opportunity to win tickets to one of them. 

Over the years we have hosted many successful events in France, ranging from themed dinners to golf tournaments, treasure hunts, chocolate tastings and son-et-lumière performances. Not only have they proved highly popular but members and staff alike have often returned with many a good tale to tell. Some of these are recounted in the April edition of Societynews and we would love to hear more from members about their experiences of visiting The Society in France, whether attending an event or not. We would especially like to see photos or video clips of your visit to France. 

Perhaps you have a particular restaurant or hotel that you would like to tell other members about? Have you been to any memorable places of interest in the surrounding area? 

Please add your comments to this blog post or send in your contributions to the news editor at or at our usual address. 

There will be prizes of bottles of Champagne for the best entries and we may use photos on the covers of our French wine lists. 

We look forward to hearing from you.

Categories : France, Wine Tastings
Comments (7)

There is a sporadically told lowbrow joke that Rioja is the only wine true to its name (it puns on the pronunciation ‘reoccur’ and has to do with what happens when you drink too much of it…).

Yet styles of red Rioja have fragmented and diversified in recent decades. The more traditionally minded wines are still as they have always been, but they are now joined by fruitier, younger-drinking wines and chunkier, more modern-minded wines that spend less time in (generally newer) oak.

Acknowledging this, recent offers from The Society have grouped the Riojas into three broad categories devised by Spain buyer Pierre Mansour: traditional, modern classical and modern.

Tasting The Distinction
In an effort to show The Society’s Marketing department what these categories were about, and the differences between them, Pierre recently treated us to a quick blind tasting at Society HQ: three glasses of red wine were put in front of each of us and our impressions were invited. It occurred to me that members might be interested in them.

Wine One
Probably young, thoroughly tasty and very enjoyable, the first wine struck a lovely balance between plump, juicy red-fruit flavours and a stylish lick of vanilla from (presumably quite light) oak ageing. While ready to drink, it clearly had some time ahead of it. More or less everyone in the group seemed to enjoy it.
Identity: Muga Reserva, 2008 (£13.50 per bottle)
Style: Modern-classical
Though Muga itself is a very traditional bodega, this particular wine is a shining example of the ‘modern-classical’ style: these wines are imbued with some of the stuffing needed to develop in bottle, but their comparatively racy fruit flavours make them a delight to drink at all stages, as evinced by this relatively youthful but delicious wine.
Further drinking: For those wishing to explore other modern-classical Riojas, we recommend the wines of Contino.

The cask room at Muga

Wine Two
A markedly darker colour than the first wine and running a gamut of far blacker fruit flavours and more pronounced, polished oak. It was mouth-coating and chunky; a big-biceped wine whose somewhat dense tannins meant that it felt too young for drinking. Interestingly, many younger members of the department seemed to particularly like this one.
Identity: Roda Reserva, 2007 (c.£25, not currently available)
Style: Modern
Modern-style Rioja tends to be richer, smoother and darker-fruited, as was the case here. Aged in newer wood for less time, these often need considerable keeping as shown by this wine which, while a year older than the Muga, was clearly not yet ready to go, hence it not currently being for sale. There are, however, exceptions:
Further drinking: The youthful yet gorgeous Tobelos Reserva, 2008 (£19.50 per bottle) is conspicuously delicious to drink now and was the standout of a recent buying trip to the region.

Wine Three
When tilted to the light against the previous two wines’ respective red and purple colours, this wine was noticeably tawnier, with a colour perhaps best described as russet. Its perfume was sensational, ethereal even, far subtler than the previous two wines. Silky in texture with savoury sandalwood-like notes and medium in body, this was manifestly different from the previous, fruitier propositions. More so than the preceding wines, this is the sort of Rioja that would be used in wine schools to show what the region’s wine is classically thought of as. Lots of people picked this as their favourite including, it must be said, most of the elder members of the team!
Identity: La Rioja Alta, Viña Ardanza Reserva Especial, 2001 (£18.50 per bottle)
Style: Traditional
Long cask ageing tends to make these wines ready to drink on release, as was the case here (though there is absolutely no hurry to drink this one!). Where wines one and two sang and shouted, this one whispered, relying on nicety and nuance more than brawn or berry fruit.
Further drinking: The Society’s Rioja (£6.95 per bottle) offers a taste of the traditional style at a friendly price; Viña Amézola Crianza, Rioja, 2006 (£10.50) is also highly recommended.

La Rioja Alta vineyards

Are you a Rioja traditionalist, modernist or modern-classicist?
This tasting showed that these three broad styles all have their merits and suit different audiences and contexts. Indeed, a few of the best bodegas have hedged their bets including wines that conform to each of the three respective categories in their portfolios.

It is savvy to be doing so; the problem, as often seems the case in wine, is communicating these differences to the people who might like them. This is, we hope, where The Society comes in.

Martin Brown
Digital Copywriter

Categories : Spain, Wine Tastings
Comments (10)
Fri 15 Mar 2013

A Year To Remember

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This year my buying colleagues Mark Buckenham and Sebastian Payne MW notch up their fortieth year as employees of The Wine Society.

Sebastian Payne MW and Mark Buckenham

Let’s hope they are persuaded to bring out a few stories for posterity, and for the enjoyment and benefit of those more recent recruits as well as all those who will remember those ‘old’ days of Wine Society bottlings, and when Chile was barely a twinkle in the British wine buyer’s eye!

One who remembers those early days well is Bernard Chéreau, supplier of Muscadet to The Society for nearly thirty years. On my recent visit to the Nantais, Bernard was recalling Sebastian’s first visit, to taste 1984 or 1985 he thought, a follow-up visit from Sebastian and Marcel Orford-Williams (who, coincidentally, shares Bernard’s birth year), and one from CEO of the time Edmund Penning-Rowsell.

Muscadet has ended up with a small but very good vintage 2012; indeed, one grower I spoke to recently claimed that it may be the best of the past 20 years, maybe as good as 1949 (presumably legendary?!).

A visit to the region comes highly recommended, even if you are only passing through en route to the south west or to Spain. If you can’t get there this year or next, look out for more news from this underrated region on Society Grapevine, in Society mailings, and elsewhere.

Jo Locke MW
Society Buyer

Comments (4)
Wed 13 Mar 2013

Wine and Video: Seeing is Believing?

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The USB wine tap: a beautifully simple idea.

A quick connection into the laptop or PC and a whole world of wine opens up beneath the fingertips, or indeed taste buds. With a built-in tap to dispense the wine being browsed on screen, such a device would revolutionise wine buying; the click-to-sip ratio would no doubt send delivery companies and wine drinkers into a frenzy, albeit for very different reasons.

If only such a device existed…which of course it doesn’t.

While the technology of winemaking has evolved hugely over the last century methods of wine communication have been somewhat slower. The written word still is still very much king (‘And rightly so!’ chorus my copywriter colleagues), be it in print or via digital media, and with such elegant exponents as Hugh Johnson, Jancis Robinson and, if I may mention in such hallowed company, our very own Janet Wynne Evans, who am I to disagree?

However, as fanciful as the idea of having wine-via-wireless is, we do have the next best thing: video.

We now have the chance to see for ourselves the many shades of gold, lemon, straw and the million and one other descriptors for white wine and to compare the brickish orange of a well-aged Rioja to the vibrant purples of a youthful new world shiraz. And of course we are able to find out others’ opinions on wines and, hopefully, better inform our own vinous choices.

In this short video Simon Mason, The Wine Society’s Tasting & Events manager, highlights two of the gems from the 2011 vintage for white Bordeaux and talks through the growing conditions as well as providing a few tips about serving temperature along the way.

Seeing is believing? You decide.

We hope you enjoy it.

Gareth Park
Marketing Campaign Manager for Bordeaux

Categories : Bordeaux, France
Comments (6)

In Threadneedle Street, ‘Going underground’ (as The Society’s Languedoc Wine and Truffle Dinner at Merchant Taylor’s Hall was advertised) would normally involve Bank Station, but you’d probably need to own the bank to pay for the weight of black truffles consumed on this memorable February night.

Captain of Team Truffle was Franck Putelat of Restaurant Le Parc in Carcassonne (two Michelin stars), accompanied by two of his chefs, his pastry-cook and – a great honour, given the secrecy surrounding the hunt for the über-tuber – his local truffle specialist, Philippe Barrière.

Team Wine was led by Society buyer Marcel Orford-Williams, fielding an impressive line-up of producers from a region very dear to The Society’s heart. The Languedoc, he told us, produces more wine than the whole of Australia, but a historical reputation for quantity rather than quality is outdated. The region has come convincingly of age since Edmund Penning-Rowsell, Chairman of The Society from 1964 until 1987, tipped it for stardom. There are now more than ten Michelin-garlanded restaurants in the département of the Aude alone, and it’s clear that the wines deserve them.

Sitting in judgement of the rapport between black gold and liquid gold were some 170 members, their appetites whetted by Françoise Antech-Gazeau‘s patrician Crémant de Limoux Cuvée Saint Laurent (£9.25 per bottle) and surely some of the most luxurious canapés ever to grace a silver salver: truffled brioche, ‘mimosas’ of truffled quail’s eggs, shot-glasses of intensely mushroomy foam and an extraordinary macaroon, sandwiched not with buttercream, but truffled foie gras. Despite clear indications of a spectacular dinner to come, it was hard not to linger over the aperitif.

The Society\’s Corbières from Ollieux-Romanis

Our guest growers had sung beautifully for their supper at a small, select pre-prandial tasting. From Domaine de Barroubio, Raymond Miquel previewed the new vintage of his richly-fragranced but elegantly dry Muscat Sec, a treat in store. Miren de Lorgeril brought softly fruity Cabardès from Château de Pennautier (£6.95 per bottle), a blend of midi and Médoc varieties, and Christophe Barbier showcased his Terres Salées Rouge from the Côtes de Perpigan, a 100% merlot in a darker ocean of carignan and grenache. Isabelle Coustal of Château Sainte Eulalie in Minervois unveiled her homage to her grandfather – Grand Vin, an unoaked blend of old vine-fruit, including 102-year-old carignan, 80-year old grenache and syrah – a mere stripling at 35 (watch this space). Pierre Bories of Château Ollieux-Romanis, the wine brains behind The Society’s Corbières (£7.25 per bottle) eloquently explained it to members, while Jérôme and Sabine Bertrand of Domaine Bertrand-Berge demonstrated, with the aid of a natty iPad picture gallery (and several bottles of smooth, liquorice-infused Origines 2010, [£8.25 per bottle]), how their stony, galet-strewn soils and biodynamic approach are hard work, but reap dividends.

Creamy truffle risotto

Dinner, more reminiscent of a series of exquisite tapas than a formal menu, enabled our guest growers to ramp up the volume with flagship cuvées. It began with a creamy truffle risotto, followed by oyster tartare with beef, artichokes and black truffle, one of M. Putelat’s signature dishes. Accompanying it was Bourboulenc, Domaine Simonet, IGP l’Aude, 2011 (£7.50 per bottle). Infrequently seen flying solo even hereabouts, this fascinating grape nevertheless had the composure needed to mop up two complex starters.

Scallops with truffled celery ravioli

Next came bruschetta of Castelnaudry haricot beans (this is, after all, cassoulet territory), mozzarella and black truffle, quickly followed by another signature dish, scallops with truffled celery ravioli. Entrusted with the job of seeing these two off was Corbières Blanc, Cuvée Prestige, Chateau Ollieux Romanis, 2011, a fragrant blend of marsanne and roussanne with a dash of grenache blanc. Like new-wave Rhône whites made from the same varieties, this was food wine par excellence, dealing easily with the creaminess of the cheese, the mealiness of the beans and pungency of the truffle without overwhelming the delicate scallop. Quite wonderful.

On to truffled chicken, and an exceptional cheese course of (inevitably) truffled Vacherin, in perfect spooning condition, served with yeasty brioche and a salad of sweet lamb’s lettuce, or mâche. At this stage, four reds, representing the four great terroirs of the Languedoc, were served together for comparison. First up was Corbières Boutenac Château Ollieux Romanis, Atal Sia, 2008, a copybook carignan from a hotspot for the grape was possibly the best with the cheese, and despite its name, which translates as ‘Let It Be’ nobody felt inclined to. In marked contrast, and extremely good with the chicken was the drier, more Bordelais style of Cabardès, l’Esprit de Pennautier, 2009 from the meeting point of Atlantic and Mediterranean climatic influences. Tasting Minervois La Livinière Cuvée Cantilène, Château Sainte Eulalie, 2010 (£11.50) in magnum (£25) was a ripe and generous treat, bathing both courses in generous fruit. Finally, Fitou Mégalithes, Domaine Bertrand-Berge, 2009, a full-throttle, deep-throated red with a clean, dry finish that drew a deep, satisfying line under the savoury part of the meal.

Truffled Bourdaloue Pear

Finally, dessert, in the form of a (merely lightly) truffled Bourdaloue Pear, accompanied by the soft, fragrant notes, sweet but not cloying, of Blanquette de Limoux Méthode Ancestrale (£9.50 per bottle). Françoise reminded us that Limoux was all of a fizz in 1531, well before Champagne, and this sweeter style is a modern interpretation of a traditional style, honouring the unique characteristics of the mauzac grape. This glass with the delicate air and strong sense of place was a highlight of the meal for me, and, with the pear, one of the best matches of the evening. I also loved the opulence of Muscat St Jean de Minervois, 2011, Domaine de Barroubio, the flipside of the dry muscat that had launched this unforgettable evening, several hours before and the lingering sweetness it left on the palate.

I also heard from my rugby-mad French colleagues, an expression I never thought I’d hear them use with foreboding. I refer of course to la cuillère de bois – the Wooden Spoon.

Let’s not forget, though, that you can’t cook properly without one of those.

Janet Wynne Evans
Specialist Wine Manager

Comments (0)

These recipes, while hopefully of use and interest to all, were written with the Easter 2013 selections of The Society’s Wine Without Fuss subscription scheme particularly in mind. Voted Best Wine Club by Which? Magazine, Wine Without Fuss offers regular selections of delicious wines with the minimum of fuss. Why not join the growing band of members who let their Society take the strain, and are regularly glad they do?

Janet Wynne Evans

A Sicilian tendency in this Easter’s Wine Without Fuss selection has made me think of tuna, and a terrific restaurant outside Palermo.

We were on the way home after a spontaneous trip, brought on by a “flight sale”. The fares were a notional 99p each, which, even after taxes and sundry o’Learies, came to less than £45, there and back. We quickly made up for that by splurging on a smart hired Alfa, and, to match, a new set of Pinninfarina-designed luggage (Gad, those wheels! that acceleration!). Facing a massive weight surcharge on the return flight, we thought we might as well go for broke.

Nino Graziano’s restaurant was rather tucked away and undeservedly quiet, given the Michelin star it boasted, but at least the reception desk was groaning under the statutory twenty copies of Chef’s Tome. I normally snub this kind of merchandising on principle, but let’s just say that after lunch here, I not only snapped one up but, flushed with nero d’avola, invited Nino himself to sign it. His simple message “Saluti gastronomici” said it all.

The unbelievable intensity and modern-art presentation of Nino’s stand-out fish course demand time and effort – making just the right tomato sauce, home drying your own olives to crush into your olio nero and blanching a leek to make edible ribbons. I include his instructions for these because they not only make enjoyable reading with your feet up, but worth doing if time permits. If not, a quick raid on larder or freezer will yield better than adequate results. The one thing not to stint on is the quality of the olive oil.

Keep a tight rein on the chilli powder and you can enjoy this with any number of characterful whites or lightish fruity reds. Both the Grillo in the white and mixed Everyday cases and the Frappato in the red and mixed Premium Selection will be delicious, as will the Spring Vouvray on offer in French Classics.


Loosely translated from Cucina di Sicilia by Nino Graziano (Biblioteca Culinaria srl, 2003)
Serves 4

350g tuna loin cut into 12 thin slices, ideally by your friendly local fishmonger
12 mint leaves, washed and dried
4 small ripe tomatoes, diced
Half a red onion, finely diced
Extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper
150ml tomato sauce (see below)
20g sesame seeds
20l white wine vinegar
25g sugar
a careful pinch of cayenne pepper or powdered chilli
half a carrot, very finely diced
half a courgette, very finely diced
salt and pepper

To serve (these final flourishes can be prepared well in advance. The leek ribbons and skewers are optional, but make dinner a joy to behold, as you can see from the above photograph.)
1 medium courgette, diced
100g cooked cannellini beans
50g baby broad beans, shelled
Blanched leek ribbons (see below)
Black olive oil (see below)
Mint oil (see below)
12 wooden skewers
Whole salt

First prepare the piquant sauce. Combine the tomato sauce with the sesame, vinegar, sugar, cayenne, carrot and courgette in a bowl. Check the seasoning and refrigerate for an hour to let the flavours infuse.

Place the tuna slices, a few at a time, between two sheets of cling-film on a large, sturdy and stable wooden board. With a meat hammer or end of rolling pin, bash them until they are quite thin and malleable. Top each with a mint leaf, and some of the diced tomatoes and onions. Season well and roll tightly into a sausage shape.

In a large pan, heat some oil and toss the courgette and beans for a minute or so. Season and keep warm. Add more oil and over a brisk heat, cook the tuna roll for 1-2 minutes on all sides. Carefully lift them out of the pan and put three on each of four warmed plates with some of the beans and courgettes in the middle. Now, if you want to, spear each roll with a long wooden skewer and bring the tops together to form a kind of tripod on each plate. Secure each with a leek ribbon, tied in a double knot. Drizzle some of the black and green oils around the plate, and stud with a few salt crystals. Hand round the piquant sauce separately.


Salsa di pomodoro (Nino’s tomato sauce)
1kg fresh tomatoes
2 tbs extra virgin olive oil
1 red onion, diced
1 clove of garlic
a walnut-sized knob of butter
a pinch of sugar
bayleaf, parsley, rosemary, sage and time
salt and pepper

Peel the tomatoes. The easiest way to do that is to bring a large pan of water to the boil while you cut a cross in the bottom of each tomato with the point of a sharp knife. Once the water comes to the boil, take it off the heat and lower the tomatoes into the pan. Give them a scant minute, then lift them out with a slotted spoon and pull away the peel, which should have curled up obligingly around the cross. Chop them roughly. There is no need to deseed them.

Heat a tablespoon of the olive oil and let the onions and garlic take on some colour. Add the tomatoes with the sugar and season well. Simmer on a medium heat for 45m. Meanwhile, melt the butter in a small pan, add the remaining oil and add the herbs. Let them infuse well, then strain through a fine sieve into the sauce at the end of the cooking time.
Quick cheat: add finely-chopped fresh herbs to a good brand of prepared tomato sauce.

Leek “ribbons”
Most leek recipes call for the white part only, but here’s a speaking part for the green end. Select a long, handsome leek, and cut in half lengthwise. Reserve one half for another use. From the other, cut long ribbons, about a centimetre wide. They should be long enough to be tied in a double knot. You only need four, but a few spares in case of accidents is a good idea. Wash thoroughly to remove any grit and blanch the strips in boiling water for a minute or so until they are soft but have not lost their tensile strength. Refresh under the cold tap and dry on kitchen paper.
Quick cheat: long, sturdy chives will do the job without the blanching. Knot them twice, as tightly as you can without breaking them, to stop them springing free.

Olio Nero (Black Olive Oil)
100g black olives
100ml extra-virgin olive oil

Preheat the oven to 80?C/Gas ½-1. Put in the olives and dry for 4 hours.
Put into a blender with the oil and combine.
Quick cheat: I have successfully used semi-dried vacuum-packed black Olives du Marché

Olio alla Menta (Mint Oil)
200ml extra-virgin olive oil
A small bunch of fresh mint, washed and thoroughly dried

Process the oil and the mint and strain through a fine sieve, pushing as much flavour through as you can. The oil should be a clear, bright green. You can do this with basil too.
Quick cheat: Not a commercially flavoured oil, which will have neither the punch nor the colour. Use a top-quality plain oil and shred the mint into it.

Janet Wynne Evans
Specialist Wine Manager

Photograph reproduced from Cucina di Sicilia by Nino Graziano © Biblioteca Culinaria srl, 2003

Categories : Wine Without Fuss
Comments (3)