Grapevine Archive for April, 2013

Recently I received these fantastic photos from Michael and Paul Brajkovich from Kumeu River, source of our Exhibition New Zealand Chardonnay and perhaps the finest producers of chardonnay in the country.

These pictures were taken on 12th March at their Hunting Hill vineyard, where Paul Brajkovich says ‘Quality is outstanding but unfortunately the quantity very low due to spring frost. As you can see… the fruit is beautiful (pity we do not have more of it!). ’ Michael echoed these sentiments: ‘Everything looking really good here if very small. 2013 has potential to be even better than 2010!’

Kumeu River harvest 2013

Kumeu River harvest 2013

Kumeu River harvest 2013

Kumeu River harvest 2013

Kumeu River harvest 2013

Kumeu River harvest 2013

Kumeu River harvest 2013

Kumeu River harvest 2013

Kumeu River harvest 2013

Kumeu River harvest 2013

KKumeu River harvest 2013

Pierre Mansour
Society Buyer for New Zealand

Categories : New Zealand
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Wed 24 Apr 2013

A Tasting of Château d’Yquem

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This was the Society workshop that many had been waiting for – a tasting of what is reputed to be the best sweet wine in the world, Château d’Yquem, hosted by The Society’s buyer for Bordeaux, Joanna Locke MW.

A group of 48 happy members tasted their way through eight vintages of Yquem, starting with 2003 and finishing with the 1954. I must confess at this point that I had never been lucky enough to try Château d’Yquem before. I’d heard so much about this liquid gold that I was slightly apprehensive that it might not live up to the hype that surrounds it. However, I was not disappointed. Even in ‘lesser’ vintages, the sheer quality was apparent.

Château d’Yquem tasting

Château d’Yquem was recognised as being pretty special in the Bordeaux Classification of 1855, which saw the creation of a ranking system based on the wines market price at the time. Awarded the status of ‘premier grand cru superieur’, Château d’Yquem continues to be recognised as producing the best dessert wine in the world.

Though sold in 1999 to the luxury goods company LVMH, Yquem is still managed by the family and in 1998 Sandrine Garbay was appointed as cellar manager – a rather daring move in a very male-dominated world perhaps, and one which has proved to be a success.

The greatest vintages are those which have been affected by noble rot, a rather unattractive mould which leads to a biochemical process in which the volume of water in the grapes is reduced, leading to a loss of water and a concentration of sugar, whilst retaining the high acidity that gives the wines their freshness and stops them from being leaden on the palate. Unlike other properties in Sauternes who pick whole bunches affected by noble rot, Château d’Yquem pride themselves on picking the grapes individually; the must is then fermented in 100% new oak barrels for 36 months.

As with any great wine there is a lot of vintage variation with the wines of Château d’Yquem: the levels of residual sugar vary, as does the colour, particularly if the weather was warm towards harvest. There are also, as became evident during the workshop, differences in style due to the quality and quantity of noble rot present in each vintage. Whilst some of the wines showed better than others and we all had our own favourites, which of course all differed, this workshop was an amazing opportunity to taste this world-renowned wine. At the prices some of these wines now command, this is quite possibly the only way I would be able to try such treats.

The wines:

Y de Yquem, 2000
Château d’Yquem’s dry white was included in this tasting as a little ‘extra’. This was an interesting wine, reminiscent of white Rioja in style. It is a wine of two halves – the first round of sauvignon and semillon to go into the blend were picked early to retain their crisp acidity and primary fruit character, then after the grapes had been picked for their sweet wine, a second round of late-picked, fully ripe semillon was added to the blend to give the wine added body and richness. Incredibly complex, with some citrus, white-peach and pineapple fruit and nutty walnut and caramel notes (partly from the oak ageing, partly from some oxidation), long length and fresh acidity. I could see this being a bit of a marmite wine – you either love it or you hate it. I loved it.

Château d’Yquem, 2003
2003 was a plentiful, highly regarded but atypical vintage with a very warm summer producing super-ripe grapes. The grapes were not affected by noble rot, but achieved their concentration of sugars due to dehydration, being left on the vine after the vine had started to go into its winter dormancy. As such, the vintage was picked in one pass through the vineyard (the average vintage takes six passes to pick all the botrytised grapes). This gives a wine which has a purity that you don’t sometimes get with botrytis, but also lacks the complexity botrytis can give a wine.
The 2003 had a mid-gold colour, with an intense nose with notes of honey, blossom, peach, apricot, creamy citrus and nuts. On the palate the wine was intensely sweet but beautifully balanced. Honey, toast and nuts, with cream, apricot and peach. Clean and refreshing, with high acidity, high sugar levels (147g/l of residual sugar) and typically for Sauternes, highish alcohol (14%).

Château d’Yquem, 2001
Considered to be a great Sauternes and Barsac vintage. The botrytis was prevalent this year and took hold quickly, ensuring healthier grapes that were not affected by undesirable grey rot, and a faster concentration of sugars in the grapes.
Again pale gold in colour with notes of honey, toast, peach and apricot, hazelnut and a touch of the medicine cabinet (a good thing: an indicator that there has been botrytis) on the nose. The palate had all of the above, with great complexity and very long length. Intensely sweet (150g/l residual sugar), beautifully complex and utterly balanced, this was perhaps the star wine of the workshop? The 2001 is still very young – the French consider it to be infanticide to drink Sauternes younger than 10 years old!

Château d’Yquem, 1999
Golden colour with some peach and apricot, creamy hazelnut and honey on the nose. Fresh acidity on the palate with marmalade notes and a little bit of bitter orange peel on the long finish. The quantities were small, and the quality good, though 1999 is not ranked amongst the best vintages. This wine is drinking well now.

Château d’Yquem, 1996
More old-fashioned in style, the 1996 does not have the reputation of other vintages and the quality is less consistent. It took five passes through the vineyards to pick the grapes for this vintage. With 122g/l of residual sugar, this wine lacks the fresh acidity present in the other vintages and is quite high-toned (has a lot of volatile acidity) in style. There is peach and apricot kernel here, with hints of mushroomy complexity (sign of botrytis).

Château d’Yquem, 1988
Not a heavily botrytised year – botrytis arrived late and was not consistent, therefore the wine has more purity than in more heavily botrytised years.
The wine has a deeper, more golden colour than previous wines. Brown sugar, golden syrup and honey on the nose, with a little bit of volatile acidity which adds complexity. There is very fresh acidity, with the usual creamy peach and apricot fruits, some walnut and floral notes, and excellent length. This is a beautifully balanced wine.

Château d’Yquem, 1986
1986 was made in the same style as 1996, but the noble rot was more consistent and therefore the resulting wine is much more complex. In addition to the peach, apricot, walnut and honey and fresh acidity, a few of us picked up a slight blue-cheese note, with the medicine cabinet lurking in the background. This wine had the second-lowest residual sugar levels of the workshop with just 97g/l.

Château d’Yquem, 1981
The property had high hopes for the 1981 vintage, which were unfortunately ultimately unfounded as the vintage only proved to be of modest quality and now lacks the freshness that other vintages displayed. Deep gold in colour the wine has the creamy, nutty peach and apricot flavours of the other wines, with some hints of blue cheese and good length.

Château d’Yquem, 1954
1954 was picked in two passes through the vineyard. A golden, tawny colour with nutty walnut and slightly oxidised notes, the 1954 is (unsurprisingly) starting to take on aged characteristics rather like a tawny port. In spite of its more advanced age, the 1954 still shows remarkable freshness, great length and has a lovely complexity. The residual sugar in this wine is 85g/l. A vintage in decline? Perhaps, but a real treat to have the opportunity to taste.

Emma Howat
Tastings & Events Co-ordinator

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Today was my first taste of the new Exhibition Crozes-Hermitage since it arrived in Stevenage and I have to say that I was quietly very impressed.

The Society's Exhibition Crozes HermitageIt replaced a perfectly good wine which we had been buying for years from the excellent Tain Coop. It was good and yet, and yet…

The trouble about the Exhibition range is that the wines chosen for it have to be better than just good and rightly or wrongly I felt that what we had done up til now was good but maybe not the benchmark that the Exhibition label demands. And so I kept on looking.

The ‘Eureka’ moment came inthe autumn during a meeting with Nicolas Jaboulet at his new office in Valence. Nicolas is the son of Michel Jaboulet who was last in charge of the family firm before the sale to Jean-Jacques Frey. Nicolas entered the firm and was quickly given responsibility of the UK market and with it The Wine Society account. Things didn’t go as planned. The Jaboulet family had invested big sums on new cellars and vineyard and there was not enough cash in the bank when two members of the family decided to walk.

All that is history now. For Nicolas there was a time for reflection, an unwelcome bout of illness and, since the 2007 vintage, a completely new direction, when he decided to go it alone and start his own négoce company. This wasn’t easy at first but luck was on his side. For a start he got technical and financial support from the Perrin family of Beaucastel. A joint venture was created adopting the compromise name of Nicolas Perrin. But also, Nicolas as a member of one of the most respected families in the Rhône Valley, suddenly found he had loads of friends and loads of people happy to sell him wine.

Nicolas JabouletNicolas Jaboulet

Back to my meeting in Valence. I tasted all the 2011s which were lovely but the Crozes was absolutely stunning. 2011 as a vintage could be good but not always, and over the weeks that I had been in the Rhône from September to November, I had tasted lots of indifferent Crozes. But Nicolas’ wine was exceptional. It comes from lots of growers, including all the top names. This wine I thought would be perfect for the Exhibition label and so we began talking. And then another bit of luck as an American customer pulled out. This was my opportunity to get my hands on something really quite special and fully worthy of the Exhibition label.

How does the new wine differ? Already just the aroma is different as Nicolas’ wine has more intensity, brightness and purity. The taste matches the smell: greater intensity and finesse and much better length.

Crozes- Hermitage is the most important appellation in the northern Rhône, accounting for well over half the production. A good Crozes is an essential requirement in any merchant’s armoury and I think this fits the bill to perfection. I would love to hear your views.

The new Exhibition Crozes-Hermitage is available now, priced at £12.50 per bottle.

Marcel Orford-Williams
Society Buyer for Rhône

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Fri 19 Apr 2013

Spring Cleaning at Alfred Gratien

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A big spring clean, as it turns out, to get this venerable company fit for 2014, when it will celebrate its 150th year in business.

In every wine house there is always a room set aside for old labels. As a record of a great wine house’s activities over the years, there is nothing quite like it short of the bottles themselves. There is nothing simple about labels as it is much more than just the name of the wine and the producer. There are legal requirements and these will change according to where the wine is being sold, so one wine may need half a dozen labels or more, and most houses will keep records of every one.

The label room at Alfred Gratien did need, in all honesty, a little bit of sorting out and at last, as part of the extensive transformation at the Château Gratien site above the Loire in Saumur, that has come.

The result is that they have found The Wine Society’s very first label dating back to the 1906 vintage:

1906 Gratien label with The Wine Society’s stamp

Marcel Orford-Williams
Champagne Buyer

Categories : Champagne, France
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Wed 17 Apr 2013

World Malbec Day

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grape varietyIt seems that every grape has its day in the sun these days and today it is the turn of malbec. This is the third year now that the world has united to celebrate the great grape of Argentina and the grape behind the ‘black wines of Cahors’ in France’s South West.

Find out more about this variety (which is also known as cot or auxerrois) on our recently posted GUIDE TO MALBEC in the new Wine World & News pages of The Society’s website. If you happen to have a suitable bottle at home and have been looking for an excuse to crack it open…today’s the day!

Categories : South of France
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Tue 16 Apr 2013

2012 Bordeaux – What to Expect

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Against expectations, Society buyers Joanna Locke MW and Tim Sykes find themselves genuinely excited and impressed by 2012 clarets.

The cellars at Ausone
2012 has produced a Bordeaux vintage full of surprises. From properties that did, genuinely, make better wine this year than last, to wonderful cabernet-dominated wines in a generally more merlot-oriented vintage, our first week of tasting the grands crus and much else besides was a fascinating one.

We began with a ‘ok, impress me’ attitude, and found ourselves, well, impressed! As already noted on Grapevine, thus far the vintage has not received a great deal of comment, let alone hype, which is not only refreshing but all to the good for we buyers. Top-end Bordeaux has honestly risen to the 2012 challenge and cleverly kept its counsel on this one, allowing trade and press to make up their own minds. The general mood during UGC week, amongst a turnout of visitors not quite up to the numbers for the celebrated 2009 and 2010 vintages but pretty much in line with last year, seemed to be one of positive surprise sprinkled with genuine enthusiasm. A US buyer whose palate and opinion we respect used the analogy of childbirth to describe the long labour required for success in 2012 but (mostly) joyful end result that is parenthood!

The vineyards at de Fonbel in full bloom
Thu 11 Apr 2013

Bordeaux 2012

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Society buyers Tim Sykes and Joanna Locke’s first impressions on a far from black-and-white vintage

Tasting at the UGC
Until now there has been little comment from trade or press about the 2012 vintage in Bordeaux. The debate that did start early was around whether prices would be appropriate to ignite significant interest. The jury is still out on that one (though there seems to be a general consensus that prices will – or at least should – be out earlier this year) but we will know soon enough, and there is plenty of lobbying going on here in Bordeaux for sensible pricing this year.

We’ve been told it’s a merlot year, and Sauternes has been in the limelight more for news of notable omissions from any 2012 campaign (Yquem, Suduiraut, Rieussec) than for the few good news stories.

Into our fourth (mostly wet!) day of Bordeaux’s UGC (Union des Grands Crus) week we are better placed to comment ourselves. The consistent message for us, irrespective of some statements to the contrary (for example that merlot was the success of the vintage, that cabernet(s) didn’t ripen, and that Sauternes was a write-off) is that this is not a consistent vintage. The dry whites may be the honorable exception, and today’s Graves/Pessac tasting was impressive, reds as well as whites.

The chai at Mouton-Rothschild
Overall for Bordeaux 2012 the picture is not black and white. Indeed it is not even safe just to go for the ‘best’ producers. One producer commented to us that it’s a buyer’s vintage, meaning not that we are spoilt for choice but that we have to work hard to sort the good from the ordinary, in stark contrast to 2010, for example, where we just had to hope we had enough money to buy everything we wanted!

We have tasted good and great wines already this week. Our first selection of pre-order wines will be available on the website in the next few weeks. Our second, wider, offer will be available in print and online in June.

Contrary to earlier speculation, 2012 Bordeaux is well worth a look.

Joanna Locke MW and Tim Sykes
Society Buyers

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Marcel Orford-Williams reports on a tragic case of Midi sabotage

The spirit of Jean de Florette, Pagnol’s story of jealousy and conspiracy against the outsider in rural France, seems to live on in the Languedoc-Roussillon.

The victim is a Wine Society supplier called Katie Jones. Despite originally coming from Ashby-de-la-Zouch in Leicestershire, Katie could hardly be called an outsider having worked for years as export director for the influential Mont Tauch co-operative in Tuchan, one of the villages that make up the Fitou Appellation. And she even married a local.

Katie Jones takes a hands on approach in the vineyard

Katie’s ambition was to make and sell her own wine and bought a few choice parcels of vineyard, some in Tuchan itself but some a little distance away and over a hill or two in Maury. This meant that she had vines in neighbouring Departements, something which was by itself already complicated. From a purely administrative point of view, she should have had two cellars, one in Tuchan for her reds and one in Maury. To make things worse, her first efforts were immediately noticed, especially the white grenache gris from old vines on the slopes above Maury. Her wines began to sell easily at a time when many of her colleagues, less troubled by the exigencies of customer demands, were finding it increasingly hard to sell their bland wines.

And then Katie began to win medals. Both the International Wine Challenge and Decanter heaped praise on her wines and I remember being at the Decanter dinner last year when she received her award. I visited her tiny cellar in the rue du Vatican in January and tasted the range. The 2012 grenache gris was gorgeous and we duly put our marker on a few cases. We even carried a profile of Katie in March’s edition of SocietyNews.

Imagine my disappointment and anger when I received news last week from Katie that she had ‘lost’ two vats of Domaine Jones Blanc 2012.

Foul play is suspected.

So, no 2012 grenache blanc from Domaine Jones and her growing list of fans, myself included, will have to wait another year for the 2013. There is a little 2011 left which is at its best now. The reds (we stock her grenache and her Fitou) luckily were spared so that is some consolation and of course no one was harmed. But for Katie there is still the feeling of bitterness and sadness and then there is also the knowledge that within her community, there is such malice and envy.

Growing grapevines isn’t easy at the best of times and harder still in a place such as Tuchan with its extremes of climate and terrain. But it would take a lot more than this to prevent Katie from doing what she loves best. We wish her well for the 2013 vintage!

Categories : France, Miscellaneous
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Thu 04 Apr 2013

Wine Champs – my first impressions

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Tim Sykes, The Society’s head of buying, reports on this year’s Society Wine Champions taste off

I am delighted to report that the 2013 Wine Champions tastings have taken place, and that this year’s winners will shortly be unveiled.

Tim Sykes putting a potential Champion through its paces

For those members unfamiliar with ‘Champs’, as we refer to it in the Buying department, each year we hold a mammoth series of tastings to pick out the wines that we consider the best of the best from our range. Rather than selecting wines which we consider will develop into stars after a few more years in bottle, Wine Champions is all about pinpointing wines at their very peak, which will provide immediate drinking pleasure for members.

This year’s Champs was my first since joining The Society, and I have to admit to being staggered by the sheer number of wines to be tasted. Several weeks before the scheduled tasting sessions, each buyer is invited to propose wines from their respective areas of buying responsibility for the various categories to be tasted (for example Aromatic Whites, Mediterranean Reds, Rhône varietals under £15 per bottle, New World Pinot Noir, Bordeaux varietals etc), and the nominated wines are assembled in, or perhaps more accurately shoehorned into, the tasting room in Stevenage.

To ensure absolute integrity and to eradicate any potential bias in the process, all 500+ wines entered into Champs are tasted blind. Canvas sleeves are placed over the bottles to be tasted and all capsules are removed to ensure that none of the judges recognise any of the wines being tasted. The wines are then lined up in flights of approximately 20 to 30 wines, normally in ascending order of price.

Anonymous bottles awaiting judgement

Then the fun begins. The buying team assembles in the tasting room and everyone present tastes through the flights at their own pace, earmarking those wines they believe to be candidates for the honour of Wine Champion. We are looking for wines that raise their heads above the parapet, and which we believe offer the character, typicity and sheer drinking pleasure to be worthy of the moniker of Wine Champion. At the end of each tasting session we hold a post mortem; each judge nominates the wines that he or she believes to be a Champion, and where there is no consensus or where there is a dissenting voice we retaste the wine in question, and debate its merits. As one can imagine, in a room full of highly competitive buyers, there is a great deal of pride at stake, so the debates can be become quite animated.

For me the whole tasting and judging process of the Wine Champions neatly encapsulates the culture of fairness and integrity that is at the heart of The Wine Society. We go to great lengths to ensure that the wines will not be recognised by the judges; my colleague Emma Dorahy, who organises the samples and coordinates the tastings, is the only person who knows exactly which wines will appear in the final lineup, and for that reason she graciously declines to be included in the judging process.

This year’s Wine Champs has thrown up a very diverse range of winners, both in terms of wine styles and prices. Whilst the pricing ‘sweet spot’ for winners sits in the £9–£15 price band, there are nevertheless several worthy winners below £9 per bottle. I am also gratified to see that a number of Society and Exhibition wines have been crowned Champs – recognition of the time and effort that the buying team puts into these two standard-bearing ranges. Pinot noir has this year garnered a higher than usual number of Champs gongs, partly the result of good recent vintages both in Burgundy and New Zealand, and the emergence of Chile as a serious producer of this most capricious of varieties. And chardonnay, in its various guises, has made a comeback this year with some stunning wines to excite members’ palates.

Look out for further news in the coming weeks in the run-up to our release of the Wine Champions offer in June.

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