Grapevine Archive for June, 2013

Thu 27 Jun 2013

Hail damage in Vouvray

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branches ripped off vines

branches ripped off vines

Members may have heard about the terrible weather conditions affecting many parts of the continent recently. We received the following dramatic first-hand report of the particularly devastating hailstorm that passed through the Tours region on the morning of 17th June. Philippa and Charles Sydney, who are based in the region, will be familiar to members who have attended our Loire tastings.

Hailstones the size of golf balls

Hailstones the size of golf balls

‘Just back in from Vouvray. Drove up in the sunshine this afternoon with the roof down in the soft-top, but had to put the roof up on arrival in Vouvray as the rain was just starting and yet more storm clouds amassing.

The road up from the centre of Vouvray to the vineyards at the top was a mass of bright colours – bright green leaves carpeting the road, bright blue tarpaulin covering damaged roofs, yellow flashing lights on tractors clearing the roads and towing away damaged cars, and glistening white piles of hail stones on the side of the road. Impressive.

Usually you just see the damage on the leaves after hail – here it’s the whole stems that have been ripped right off the vines. I spoke to two producers, one who estimated 70% crop loss and the other around 60%.

The storm was very localised on Vouvray itself. It started at around 5.30am and “only” lasted about half an hour – but that was more than enough to devastate the land. I was there at 15.00pm – almost 10 hours later – and the hail stones still hadn’t melted!

The problems for the producers are even worse than usual because as well as losing the actual crop, many have also had severe damage to their tractors, chais, cars.

Goodness knows how things will turn out. Let’s just hope it isn’t as awful as it looks.’

Grim reading and our thoughts are with all the vignerons affected.

Categories : France, Loire
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Wed 26 Jun 2013

Food Without Fuss: Head For The Med

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These recipes, while hopefully of use and interest to all, were written with the summer 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

Janet Wynne Evans

The variety show currently on offer to Wine Without Fuss subscribers – so many grapes, so little time to peel them! – make me yearn for the Mediterranean, not so much the bobbing waves but the quieter hinterland where farming takes over from fishing, the landscape is dotted with ancient olive groves and the air is pungent with wild herbs. I think wistfully of markets heaving with goodies we can only dream about at home – less a matter of ingredients, more of the perfect ripeness and concentration conferred by the sun. The difference it makes to a simple courgette is phenomenal, and as for tomatoes, don’t get me started.

We have become accustomed to year-round hothouse-grown peppers and aubergines from the Low Countries and to call them vehicles would be to insult minibuses. I still recall Financial Times cook Philippa Davenport’s memorable description ‘Dutch dullard’ whenever I see an impressively large and glossy but essentially vapid ‘obo’ at the greengrocer’s and I wonder why we import tasteless aubergines when we could produce them under glass ourselves.

Recently, however, I’ve noticed home-grown offerings at farmers’ markets, including designer varieties like the wondrous lavender-striated Pearl which seem to have a bit more about them. Armed with the best olive oil and most patrician sherry vinegar I can lay my hands on, I’m ready to take myself off to the sun with a colourful and classic Spanish salad.

In his book Cook España, Drink España, Michelin-starred chef Mario Sandoval quotes an old Catalan saying that the purpose of eating together is to have a conversation, and that food simply gives you something to do with your hands while talking. I defy your guests not to be rendered momentarily speechless by the sheer tastiness of this delightful dish, even if the odd dullard has sneaked into your shopping basket.

Traditional Roasted Vegetables

Wine recommendation: fruity reds made from garnacha or tempranillo, and rosés made from these varieties work brilliantly. White wines should be gutsy and full and Mediterranean in feel. The white grapes of the Rhône – marsanne, roussanne, viognier, grenache – deliver on all counts.

2 aubergines
3 red peppers
2 tomatoes
1 onion
1 whole garlic bulb
Salt to taste
Extra-virgin olive oil
Sherry vinegar (optional)
Fresh dill, to garnish

Preheat the oven to 180C (350F, Gas Mark 4). Wash and dry the aubergines, peppers and tomatoes, and place in an ovenproof dish with the onion and garlic. Drizzle over some olive oil and sprinkle on a little salt. Roast in the oven for about 20 minutes until tender (the onion requires the most cooking). Remove the dish from the oven and set aside to cool.

When warm, peel the vegetables, tomatoes and garlic cloves. Cut the aubergines and peppers into fine strips, and the tomatoes and onion into segments. Keep all the vegetables separate from one another. Dress each with plenty of olive oil, and a few drops of sherry vinegar if desired, then set aside in the refrigerator to chill.

On a large, flat plate, assemble a round vegetable ‘tart’ about 29cm (8in) in diameter. Arrange the strips of red pepper around the outside, and then, working inward, a ring of onion segments aubergine strips, tomato wedges and finish with a pile of soft garlic in the centre. Cut it into 4 portions and use a cake slice to transfer the slices to individual plates. Garnish each with a sprig of fresh dill.

From Cook España Drink España by John Radford and Mario Sandoval (Mitchell Beazley, 2007)

Janet Wynne Evans
Specialist Wine Manager

Categories : Spain, Wine Without Fuss
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Tue 25 Jun 2013

An evening of Kiwi delight

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For Stephanie Searle of the Tastings and Events Team, the New Zealand tasting is the highlight of her year. She wasn’t disappointed

Matt Sutherland of Dog Point pouring his wine

Matt Sutherland of Dog Point pouring his wine

Every year The Society’s Tastings team hosts approximately 114 wine-centred events both within the UK and close to our French operation in Montreuil. From wine dinners, tutored tastings and informal walk-around tastings through to lunches, masterclasses and workshops, the opportunity to try wonderful wine is always there. Just like our members, we all have our favourite wine regions and styles so through the year there is always somebody within the team who is looking forward in anticipation to particular events taking place.

Last week my own delight knew no bounds when the team, along with Society buyer Pierre Mansour, hosted two informal, walk-around tastings that showcased the delicious, unusual and often truly exquisite wines from New Zealand.

With 27 wines to try, a tasting booklet and a glass in hand, and a host of winery representatives there to answer our questions as we tasted, our senses took the lead as we were able to glide the room experiencing, enjoying, comparing and contrasting the wines.

Choosing to start to with pinot gris, I headed for the Kumeu River table where their just off-dry, aromatic, succulent and well-balanced Kumeu River Pinot Gris, 2011 showed both richness and length. It was good to try it alongside the Prophet’s Rock Pinot Gris, 2010 which was more floral on the nose. One member described the aroma as ‘rich lilac hand cream’. I could taste cream soda and Cornish ice cream!

In total there were six chardonnays to try – the Kiwi style is broadly flavoured, round with a touch of oak for creaminess and lemon bursting through. The Wither Hills Chardonnay 2011 was a good example and at only £7.95 a bottle, it is excellent value for money.

Two chardonnays stood out for me as they revealed multiple layers of complexity and depth. Dog Point Chardonnay, 2010 had hints of spicy biscuit that in no way overpowered the fresh lemon notes. The Neudorf Chardonnay, 2011 was also delightful, unleashing the freshness of lemon sorbet with vanilla pod and cream.

Greywacke Wild Sauvignon

Greywacke Wild Sauvignon

The seven featured sauvignon blancs all had something slightly different to offer. Some were in the style that made New Zealand so famous: heady aromas of grass, gooseberry and nettle. Slightly more restrained was the Craggy Range Te Muna Road Vineyard, Sauvignon Blanc, 2012 which revealed peach and apple fruitiness, and the Greywacke Wild Sauvignon, 2011 was a true revelation for me. By skilfully using indigenous yeasts and old oak barrels, winemaker Kevin Judd has created a delightfully distinctive and complex Sauvignon which is perfumed, smooth and enticingly rich. At £23 a bottle it isn’t cheap but in my view, it is definitely worth it!

Two very different rieslings were also available for tasting. The Hunter’s Riesling, 2011 was lively and dry yet crisp. It showed the first notes of emerging petrol aromas and will continue to age well for another few years yet.

Tim and Judy Finn from Neudorf

Tim and Judy Finn from Neudorf

Winery owners, Tim and Judy Finn received many positive comments about their Neudorf Brightwater Riesling, 2010. With lots of flora on the nose and palate, this wine was dry with great length and richness. A lovely wine – this one will definitely be going in my rack!

The pinot noir wines that I tried were ALL delicious and it was a joy to be able to glide from table to table tasting so many of them. Seresin Estate’s Momo Pinot Noir, 2011, made using organically grown grapes, is keenly priced at just £12.50 a bottle and Prophet’s Rock Pinot Noir, 2009 offers such depth and sophistication that it really is a ‘must try’ wine. Dog Point Pinot Noir, 2010 was gloriously fragrant, pure and plummy – Pierre Mansour’s description, not mine, but one with which I heartily agree.

Holding its own on the Te Mata table was the Te Mata Woodthorpe Cabernet-Merlot, 2009. Fragrant yet clear, it was a thoroughly enjoyable blend with cedary aromas and suppleness. It was exceptionally easy to drink with good length.

My final wine of the evening was Craggy Range Gimblett Gravels Syrah, 2010. Closer in style to the Rhône than to other new world examples of the grape, this syrah would perfectly partner sizzling red meats on the barbeque.

Of course, having tried all of the wines, the great temptation was to do a second tour of the tables but like a good wine, I showed restraint!

Categories : Miscellaneous
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Fri 21 Jun 2013

Wir sind ein Stevenager

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The original menu served to John F. Kennedy in June 1963

The original menu for JFK in June 1963

It was 50 years ago this weekend that President John F. Kennedy made his famous speech at the Brandenburg Gate. The menu (pictured), while bound with decorative cord, bore no culinary frills – smoked salmon, grilled chicken, strawberries, cheese platter. Wines on the menu that day included Reichsgraf von Kesselstatt’s Piesporter Goldtröpfchen Riesling Spätlese.

To celebrate the anniversary, after his own Brandenburg Gate speech on 19th June, President Obama was presented with a bottle of the same wine, but from the 2011 vintage.

As Annegret Reh-Gartner from von Kesselstatt says: “Proof that our wines are still memorable after 50 years!”

Our buyer for Germany Sebastian Payne MW blogged here about The Society’s Saar Riesling, made for us by von Kesselstatt, and The Society currently stocks a further six wines from this excellent estate.


Ewan Murray
PR Manager

Categories : Germany, Miscellaneous
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Wed 19 Jun 2013


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The Society's Saar Riesling

The Society’s Saar Riesling: ‘Low in alcohol (11%) but high in flavour, strong in acidity but soft and generous as a sweet ripe peach’

Wine journalists, like Masters of Wine, do not always agree about which wines to recommend, but a distinguished list, including Matthew Jukes, Jane MacQuitty, Jancis Robinson, Anthony Rose and The Wine Gang have recently praised The Society’s Saar Riesling. Most recently David Williams made it his Best Buy for Summer in The Observer Food Monthly.

“This racy German riesling from vineyards around the Saar tributary of the Mosel was made for wasting (but not wasted) afternoons in the garden. Low in alcohol (11%) but high in flavour, strong in acidity but soft and generous as a sweet ripe peach.”

We select and blend it each year with Annegret Reh and her winemaker Wolfgang Mertes from the von Kesselstatt estate – which has an almost unrivalled clutch of top-quality vineyards in the region to make our job more interesting.

The von Kesselstatt estate has a history of more than 660 years, and was bought by Gunther Reh in 1978. Annagret has since taken the important decision to concentrate on her very best sites, 36 hectares in all, reducing yields and only using indigenous yeasts, ensuring vineyards keep their personality.

Our Saar Riesling varies with the vintage, sometimes including grapes from Scharzhofberg, sometimes Wiltinger Gottesfuss and Braunfels, sometimes Oberemmeler Agritiusberg and the excellent but less well-known Niedermenniger Herrenberg.

The wine is just off-dry, sweetness (4), and in fact drier than in earlier vintages as grapes have been beautifully ripe in recent years, but the refreshing balance of a little sweetness and natural acidity makes it delicious both with food or on its own.  With only 11% alcohol it leaves the head clear and spirit refreshed.

Well worth £8.95, in fact.

Stop press

This wine also won its category in this year’s Wine Champions blind tastings. All the winners are revealed here. There will also be an offer of 2012 German Rieslings in July. The 2012 harvest was excellent and rewarding though quantities are down. The wines have lovely freshness, balance and length of flavour. Watch this space!


Categories : Miscellaneous
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Tue 18 Jun 2013

Frog’s Leap (members wiggle!)

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John Williams Frog's Leap

‘it is clear that John is deeply in love with wine and with his patch of land in the Napa’

Tastings and events manager Simon Mason reports on a thoroughly good evening in the presence of owner-winemaker of Frog’s Leap, John Williams

It is fair to say that very few Wine Society tutored tastings begin with a room full of members, their arms outstretched and fingers wiggling, being encouraged to think like a grapevine. Such is the persuasive power of Frog’s Leap owner and winemaker John Williams that all joined in, although I suspect far fewer kicked off their shoes as suggested to ‘feel the dirt between their toes’.

Frog’s Leap makes the most elegant, harmonious and in our view, magnificently ageworthy style of Napa Valley wine so we were delighted to be joined by John and his wife, Tori for a masterclass in organic farming and a fascinating critique of the current state of winemaking in the Napa Valley, all illustrated by a selection of Frog’s Leap wines from The Society’s current range as well as John’s own cellar.

John is a passionate advocate of organic vineyard practices and talks enthusiastically and convincingly about his philosophy. Viewed by some as an eccentric, it is clear that behind the light-hearted approach is some very serious and thoughtful winemaking. Taking us from his early days as a cheesemaker through his awakening interest in the world of wine (more pretty women and fewer cows were a big part of the appeal, apparently), John went on to talk about his time as winemaker at Stag’s Leap. There, he worked alongside André Tchelistcheff to produce the legendary 1973 Stag’s Leap that memorably rated top wine at the 1976 Judgement of Paris. Talking of the people and places he has worked, it is clear that John is deeply in love with wine and with his patch of land in the Napa.

We begin the tasting with an aperitif of Frog’s Leap Napa Sauvignon Blanc 2012. Crisp and refreshing and with a low (for the region) 12.7% alcohol, this is a perfect introduction to John’s philosophy of growing as perfect a grape as possible and then interfering as little as possible in the cellars. This also allows us to pick up the first hints of slate and minerality that we learn anchor the wine in the Rutherford region of Napa.

Moving on to a flight of zinfandels from 2010, 2008 and 1993 the last of which which was served in magnum (a problem for John as they are just too much for one person and just too little for two), John passionately outlines his belief that many wineries in Napa and beyond are going down a very negative path to produce fruit filled and highly coloured wines that are approachable when young and in the barrel merely to satisfy the tastes of certain influential US critics. Beautifully illustrated with a comparison to petals falling all too quickly from shop-bought flowers, it was hard not to agree with John as we tasted the still fresh 1993. Taking a vote, the 2008 was the members’ favourite of the three although I thought the 2010 to be deliciously vibrant and hope to tuck a few bottles away for twenty or so years just to check John is still practising what he preached.

We progress to three vintages of merlot: 2009, 2008 and 2002, the latter two again served from magnum. Merlot is John’s favourite grape and in his inimitable style, he tells us of his belief that the film Sideways has saved the grape in the US – following the film, all the bad winemakers switched from making awful merlot to making awful pinot noir, leaving merlot to those who knew what they were doing. Among the members present, the complex and still well-structured 2002 was the most popular of the three, but for me the 2008 was the star, with just the right amount of development to bring harmony to the wine as well as a fairly light 12.9% alcohol, which left it refreshing to taste.

Onwards to a pair of Napa cabernets from 2009 and 1998. John explained how many of his wines come under the category of ‘barely legal’ due to his frequent use of the minimum possible amount of stated grape variety. The 1998 cabernet sauvignon containing 77% cabernet sauvignon against a legal minimum of 75% which for John, creates greater nuance and complexity.

Discussing the challenges presented by farming organically in poor years, we learn that there are no such things as bad vintages, instead, John draws the comparison with parenting a difficult child – one accepts that they will present a challenge and then one works hard to bring them up to be the best that they can be, all the while preserving their own individual character.

Finishing the tasting with two vintages of flagship Rutherford Cabernet Sauvignon, John explains how André Tchelistcheff first identified that there was something special about the Rutherford soil and coined the phrase ‘Rutherford dust’ to describe the distinctive aromatic characteristics of the area. Tasting the 2009 and 2007 Rutherford Cabernet, we were told to look for a texture like ‘running your hand over a piece of velvet, against the nap’. Both exceedingly youthful but still immensely drinkable, John’s reply to a member’s question about age worthiness in wines without massive amounts of tannins was entirely in keeping with the character of the man – it is like people, he explained – ‘If you are ugly when you are young, you are going to be ugly when you are old’.

A final few questions from members allowed John a chance to explain the history of the winery name (a contraction of Frog Farm where the early wines were made and Stag’s Leap where the first grapes were ‘borrowed’ from) as well as to share a few more anecdotes from his years in Napa. Highly entertaining and refreshingly honest, John’s passion and enthusiasm for his land and his grapes was wonderful to hear. Behind the quirky name and lighthearted delivery, however, is some seriously good wine that places Frog’s Leap in the pantheon of true Californian greats.

View Frog’s Leap wines


Categories : Wine Tastings
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Tue 11 Jun 2013

Wine Champions 2013: The Results!

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The 2013 Wine Champions have now been unveiled; the result of our buyers blind-tasting some 534 wines to find the perfect bottles for drinking now. We hope you enjoy the fruits of 17 painstaking, labour-intensive and thoroughly enjoyable tasting sessions.

And the winners are…
You can browse the winners online here, whilst those wishing to find out more can enjoy the following video interview with The Society’s head of buying, Tim Sykes, on the 2013 Championship, including footage of the tastings:

Jo Locke MW and Mark Buckenham

Jo Locke MW and Mark Buckenham assessing the candidates during this year’s tastings.

Last week, I updated Grapevine readers with some of my impressions from the 2013 tastings, including a few trends I was able to reveal (such as the welcome return of sauvignon blanc).

There were also several things I wasn’t able to reveal owing to the embargo on announcing winners until the publication of the offer. I am now delighted to be able to divulge them!

The under-£6 red that became the most successful champion in the entire 13-year history of Wine Champions, winning an unprecedented clean sweep of full marks from every taster.
Take a bow, The Society’s French Full Red!

The under-£8 sherry that stole the Fortified tasting with its remarkable, brain-boggling array of flavours (and for that matter the similarly priced sweet wine that impressed among grand cru classics at 10 times the price).
Romate Maribel Amontillado and Cono Sur Riesling Noble, 2011 respectively.

Janet Wynne Evans

Janet Wynne Evans

The cheapest white in the offer that put several seasoned tasters in mind of a far more expensive ‘taste-alike’.
The Society’s Chilean Chardonnay, Limarí Valley was yet again a giant-killing star of the chardonnay tasting. Its combination of richness and refinement reminded a number of us of Burgundy: some testament to the striking quality and value we continue to find in this popular wine and in the Limarí Valley region as a whole.

And the grower that bagged a rare hat-trick of Champions (no mean feat when pitted against some 500+ opponents).
This honour went to three showstopping, crystalline German rieslings from Weingut Von Kesselstatt, available to try in a special six-bottle mixed case put together to celebrate the achievement.

All that remains is to wish you happy drinking – do let us know what you think – and to advise those looking for a special bottle in due course that the 2013 Fine Wine Champions will be unveiled in August’s Fine Wine List.

Martin Brown
Digital Copywriter

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Mon 10 Jun 2013

Rioja: Sisters Doing It For Themselves, Part 2

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María José López de Heredia at The Society's recent Rioja tasting.

María José López de Heredia at The Society’s recent Rioja tasting.

Read part one here.

If one bodega can claim to be an expert in the production of aged whites it’s López de Heredia. Sisters María José and Mercedes have never been averse to ageing whites in oak for as long as reds and to taste the wines is a revelation.

Their 100% viura 2003 Viña Gravonia Blanco, a vintage for whites which María told me, ‘you would normally run a mile from,’ was fabulous. ‘This was one of the longest harvests in our history. We started picking on September 24th and didn’t finish until October 23rd. There had been a heatwave from May to August and we wanted to let the vines make the most of the September rains,’ she explained.

Preconceptions about white Rioja being oxidised and oaky are immediately dispelled. Dry with a lovely fragrant nuttiness and complex honeyed finish the wine still has an enthralling zip of acidity and extraordinary length. Despite the ultra-traditional nature of the wines, they are ideally suited to modern cuisine and you could happily serve this alongside Asia-style cooking as well as the more conventional seafood or chicken dishes.

The remarkable cellars of López de Heredia.

The remarkable cellars of López de Heredia.

Vina Tondonia Blanco RiojaThe bodega bottles its best wines under the Viña Tondonia label, Tondonia being the 100-hectare vineyard on the right bank of the Ebro river and one of the finest in the Haro region. The 1996 Reserva Blanco shown on the night, a blend of 90% viura and 10% malvasia has spent ten years in barrel in the historic cobwebby vaults of the bodega. This long ageing imparts an ethereal quality to the wines which have enticing smoky, caramel aromas and intense, vivid flavours that last and last. That a 17-year-old wine can still taste so fresh is remarkable.

Somewhat paradoxically for a bodega renowned for its long-lived wines, María José says that the point of wine is not that it should last for ever, ‘it’s far better to drink and enjoy wine,’ she says, ‘this is why we appreciate members of The Wine Society as we can see that they take pleasure from our wines.’

From the labels on the bottles which still show the grandfather’s hand-drawn image of the bodega, unchanged since around 1885, little else has changed at the winery. Though they respect technology they haven’t introduced much in the way of new technology, ‘what we do works, so we don’t want to change things,’ María says. ‘We grow our vines in an old-fashioned way, we ferment in traditional 160-year-old vats and use 100-year-old presses. We don’t filter and just use egg white for fining. Ours are very natural wines.’ María doesn’t like the terms ‘natural, organic or biodynamic’ as she believes classifying your wines in this way limits them.

‘What we do is labour-intensive but we believe that making wine is a craft and we are still working to realise the project that our great grandfather started in 1877.’

Joanna Goodman
News Editor

Categories : Spain, Wine Tastings
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Fri 07 Jun 2013

Rioja: Sisters Doing It For Themselves

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Recently Rioja’s finest gathered in London and Edinburgh to show Society members their wines and talk about what it is that makes them so special.

Manuel Muga discussing his wines with Society members at the tasting.

Manuel Muga discussing his wines with Society members at the tasting.

Rioja has long been the jewel in Spain’s fine winemaking crown. The bodegas present, Muga, La Rioja Alta S.A, Lopez de Heredia, Amezola de la Mora and CVNE, all family owned and with over 600 years of winemaking heritage between them, can lay claim to being largely responsible for this and for establishing a benchmark of quality by which others measure themselves.

Though all the wineries are steeped in tradition, key to their success is the fact that they haven’t rested on their laurels. A healthy respect for the past is matched by a desire to constantly improve and innovate. Everyone that I spoke to talked of fulfilling the dreams of their ancestors and carrying on their work – the sense of a generational responsibility and family pride – not unique to this group, nonetheless came across very strongly.

Sisters Cristina and María Amézola represent the new generation in Rioja. They were Spain’s youngest winemakers when they took up the reins at just 17 and 18 respectively following the tragic death of their father.

Cristina and María Amézola

María and Cristina Amézola

They were studying at university and hadn’t even thought about working in the family business. Their mother continued to run the business until they finished their studies. ‘Coming back to the winery felt like the right thing to do,’ Cristina told me – they really had to hit the ground running and Cristina, who had been studying journalism, found herself in charge of production, winemaking and tourism. Her sister gravitated towards sales and marketing as well as overseeing finances and viticulture and now travels widely promoting their wines.

Both are now settled in their roles and are pleased to be carrying on the work of their father and uncle who had replanted the vineyards and restored the winery in the 1980s. The bodega dates back to the 19th century and had been in the family for generations but had fallen into disrepair following the outbreak of phylloxera.

Cristina told me how much she had learned from their consultant oenologue, Georges Pauli, a respected Bordeaux winemaker and bodega manager Julio Galeretta. She acknowledged that one of the most challenging aspects of her role comes when she has to act as mediator between consultant and cellarmaster. Old ways die hard; justifiably so. Between them they are obviously getting it right though as their wines demonstrate a seamless blend of innovation and tradition.

Their treatment of the white grape viura reveals something of their spirit to try new things. ‘People told us to grub up the white grapes.’ María told me. But the sisters thought it was important to keep the five hectares of viura they had and to make smaller quantities of better quality wines. ‘Viura is the tempranillo of the white grapes,’ María says, ‘it’s a difficult variety…it has fruit but it isn’t obvious and it needs careful ageing in barrel…the key is to get the balance right between freshness and flavour and to allow the mineral character to shine through.’

Bodega Amezola

Bodega Amezola

In fact the historic viura grape (which goes by the name macabeo throughout the rest of Spain and macabeu/maccabéo over the border in Roussillon), was not the original white grape of Rioja. Garnacha blanca and malvasia predominated in pre-phylloxera Riojan vineyards. Growers were encouraged to replant with viura after the epidemic as it was high-yielding and resisted oxidation well. But the grape is not easy to grow or vinify and needs to be pruned hard and be grown at altitude to get the best out of it. But despite the grape’s reputation – Oz Clarke said in his Encyclopedia of Grapes, ‘it is a grape which obstinately defies nearly all attempts to turn it into world-class wine’ – the sisters believe in its potential, eschewing the normal practice of throwing in some malvasia or garnacha blanca into the blend.

They showed their 2010 Iñigo Blanco on the night (we don’t list, as we feel it is rather pricey). Their best vintage yet, the sisters told me, it showed great purity of fruit, a mix of white peach and apricot on the nose and an appetising rich texture and full flavour. A wine to get the taste buds going before a meal but with enough richness to accompany seafood or chicken dishes; very much a white Rioja in the modern mould but no less authentic for that.

The sisters are also experimenting with blending a little viura into their red crianza wines to give them added freshness (a maximum of 5% is permitted). While this might be something of a novelty in Rioja today it actually harks back to an age-old tradition when white and red grapes were often grown side by side and picked and fermented together.

But if proof were needed that viura is capable of making great white wine and in a traditional style capable of long ageing, another pair of sisters, María José and Mercedes of historic López de Heredia, can provide it. More on them to follow next week.

Joanna Goodman
News Editor

Categories : Spain, Wine Tastings
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Wed 05 Jun 2013

Wine Champions 2013: News From The Tasting Room

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There is now less than a week to go until the 2013 Wine Champions are unveiled.

Wine Champions candidates are all tasted under strict blind conditions.

Wine Champions candidates are all tasted under strict blind conditions.

For 13 years, the annual crop of Wine Champions has provided the inspiration for Society members’ summer wine racks. They are the victors of a huge blind-tasting exercise carried out by The Society’s buyers, showcased in a perennially popular and, dare we say, hotly anticipated selection.

The fundamental aim of the Championship tastings is to find the best of the best from our range for enjoying now. (Or as one taster put it, nose firmly in glass at the time, ‘distinguishing between the competent and the sexy’!)

I was lucky enough to join the buying team and fellow scribe Janet Wynne Evans for this year’s tastings. In 17 sessions, we put no fewer than 534 wines through their paces: 68 Bordeaux blends, 61 pinot noir and gamay wines, 40 dessert and fortified wines, 62 Rhône varieties, 93 Mediterranean reds, 42 sauvignons, semillons and blends of the two, 82 aromatic whites, 43 chardonnays, 21 rosés and 22 sparkling wines.

The rules are the same today as they were in the very first Championship back in the year 2000 and are, quite rightly, rather strict.

Society buyer Sebastian Payne MW

Society buyer Sebastian Payne MW

The wines’ identities must remain secret until their official unveiling, but I have been permitted to divulge a few pieces of news from the tasting room to whet members’ appetites ahead of next week:

As head of buying Tim Sykes mentioned in April, particular successes included pinot noir and chardonnay, both from Burgundy and elsewhere, and, hearteningly, for our Society and Exhibition-label wines.

I am also able to reveal the welcome and triumphant return of sauvignon blanc this year. The lack of sauvignons in last year’s selection was a surprise; ultimately, the 2012 candidates were narrowly overshadowed by the stunning array of Mediterranean and aromatic whites against which they were pitted. This year is a different story though, and fans of the grape that has arguably become the G&T of our time will not be disappointed by the 2013 results.

A couple of eye-catching regional as well as varietal successes were also in evidence, and the Mediterranean Reds tasting was a particularly fruitful session in 2013. Look out for a very strong showing from Italy that reflects the country’s breathtaking regional diversity as much as its winemakers’ dexterity.

'And the winners are...?' Casting the votes at the end of a tasting session

‘And the winners are…?’ Pierre Mansour tots up the votes at the end of a tasting session

Tim also mentioned the £9–£15 price bracket as something of a sweet spot for value, but there are several spectacular under-£10 wines whose identities, when revealed, caused a great amount of excitement. On this front, there is much that I am impatient to tell you.

For instance, the identities of

• The under-£6 red that became the most successful champion in the entire 13-year history of Wine Champions, winning an unprecedented clean sweep of full marks from every taster.

• The under-£8 sherry that stole the fortified tasting with its remarkable, brain-boggling array of flavours (and for that matter the similarly priced sweet wine that impressed among grand cru classics at 10 times the price).

• The cheapest white in the offer that put several seasoned tasters in mind of a far more expensive ‘taste-alike’.

• And the grower that bagged a rare hat-trick of Champions (no mean feat when pitted against some 500+ opponents).

All will be revealed next week!

Martin Brown
Digital Copywriter

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