Fri 24 May 2013

A Grand Day Out: Our Most Ambitious Tasting Yet?


Every year The Wine Society takes advantage of the London International Wine Fair and the presence in the country of so many growers by inviting them to come and pour their wines, and talk with enthusiastic members.

This year we decided to do things a little differently and invited members and producers to our premises in Stevenage for an ambitious and exclusive mini wine fair for Society members: ‘A Grand Day Out’ (cheese and crackers optional).

The tasting in full swing

The tasting in full swing

Australia's Mac Forbes, the man behind our 'Blind Spot' range.

Australia’s Mac Forbes, the man behind our ‘Blind Spot’ range.

And so it was that on Sunday morning, over 500 members poured in to our tasting marquee to sample the 96 wines on offer, the majority presented by the winemakers themselves.

The wines were arranged in a rough alphabetical order based on country of origin and so Australian producer Mac Forbes had a busy start to the day. Showing both his own wines and the exclusive Blind Spot range, the highlights for me were a sneak preview of the spicy Mac Forbes RS 14 Riesling, 2012 (stock due in June) and the soft and succulent Blind Spot Grenache-Shiraz-Mataro.

Basaline Despagne

Basaline Despagne

Further round the marquee, Basaline Despagne cut as stylish a figure as her wines, with the 2012 vintage of Society favourite Château Bel Air Perponcher Réserve blanc showing extremely well. Flying the flag for New Zealand, Jane Hunter OBE and Michael Brajkovich MW between them showcased the diversity of premium New Zealand whites – Michael’s Kumeu River Estate Chardonnay, 2010 proving a balanced and complex wine after the vibrant intensity of Jane’s 2012 Exhibition Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc.

Nipping outside briefly for some air (and making a note to book a larger marquee next time) I received a tip off from a member that the Italian offerings were simply stunning and so made my way to the back of the marquee where Bernardo Barberani was charming an enthusiastic audience of members. The wines didn’t disappoint. The seductive and elegant Foresco had the potential to embarrass many a higher-priced Tuscan wine and a second glass, accompanied with a slice of game pie would have made an extremely enjoyable lunch.

Michael Brajkovich MW from Kumeu River and Society buyer Pierre Mansour

Michael Brajkovich MW from Kumeu River and Society buyer Pierre Mansour

Passing the members gathering for a cellar tour, I made my way up to the Members Room just in time to find Serge and Gaston Hochar of Chateau Musar checking their wines before their masterclass. Like many with an interest in wine, I am a big fan of Chateau Musar and was keen to meet the men behind the cult wine.

The Society's Chairman, Sarah Evans, meets Chateu Musar's Serge Hochar

The Society’s Chairman, Sarah Evans, meets Chateau Musar’s Serge Hochar

Well aware of Serge’s status as winner of the Decanter Winemaker of the Year, I approached cautiously in case an Ego of the Year was a part of the prize. It became immediately apparent however that Serge is an utterly charming, thoughtful and fascinating man.

As he explained to me how he had first visited The Wine Society with his father in 1971, it was clear that this visit to Stevenage was much more than an opportunity to show his wines.

Their masterclass overran massively, simply because members didn’t want it to end, and because Serge and Gaston love to share their passion for what they do. Serge’s philosophy on life seemed a perfect note on which to end the day – be happy, be positive, be funny.

Simon Mason
Head of Tastings & Events

Categories : Wine Tastings


  1. Iris Lane says:

    Sounds to have been a wonderful day and I am sorry that I don’t live nearer to Stevenage so that i could have taxied home!

  2. Robin Smith says:

    Agree, looks fantastic but not conducive to those of us west of London. I go to the Decanter events simply because I can get there by train (without having to change numerous times). A plea to look at transport links before undertaking such a good looking event in the future.

  3. Declan Dwyer says:

    How do you get an invitation?!

  4. Mike White says:

    I wasn’t the only Musar groupie at the Hochars’ masterclass and I am now the proud possessor of Serge’s business card and the autographs of father and son. The worrying news is that, if I was to follow Serge’s advice, I’m going to have to wait another 15 years or so before I tackle my Musar 2004. The wine might be brilliant then but I’m not sure that I will be.

  5. Tom Bennett says:

    You must have been asked this question a thousand times, is there a decent hotel within walking distance?

    • Martin Brown says:

      No problem, Tom! There’s a Premier Inn across the road and a Novotel nearby. We are also about 10-15 minutes’ walk from Stevenage itself, which also has a couple of hotels. Hope of use.

  6. Rob Maulik says:

    My wife and I attended the event with our son and his girlfriend, we had a great time…… The tour of the societies cellars provided a usefull break in our quest to taste all 96! It was indeed a “Grand day out” please consider holding it again, I know of many members who would love to take part.

  7. Angela Trotter says:

    We thoroughly enjoyed A Grand Day Out on 19 May. It made a pleasant change to be able to travel by train from Peterborough without having to go to London and it was fascinating to be able to see inside The Wine Society’s HQ in Stevenage. I hope you continue to organise similar Stevenage-based events.

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