Grapevine Archive for July, 2013
Our free monthly tastings in the Showroom have always proved popular with members coming to Stevenage, irrespective of the theme. The most recent took on an added theme when a power cut plunged us into darkness five minutes before the start of the tasting.
With The Cellar Showroom resembling, well, a cellar, quick thinking was needed and to avoid making a drama out of a crisis, not to mention disappointing members, we attempted some improvisation. With tasting tables and wine moved outside to the car park, those attending were treated to an impromptu alfresco wine tasting.
Mercifully, the sun was shining, and as such, the delicate refreshing nature of our new Prosecco and the lower-alcohol charms of The Society’s Vinho Verde were well received; likewise the thirst-quenching minerality of the Gaba do Xil Godello.
Our new chillable Chilean red, Miguel Torres Reserva de Pueblo Cepa País, proved popular – though keeping it chilled proved a challenge! The rich, smooth, blackberry-infused Ravenswood Lodi Old-Vine Zinfandel was a barbecue-friendly favourite.
Thankfully, power returned shortly after this tasting ended. It was almost as if it realised an earlier arrival would have ruined a truly unique experience. We are as confident as we can be that we have seen the back of the recent power outages, with mobile generators currently on site in the event of any further problems. Thanks to our members for your understanding and patience.
The Cellar Showroom
Pictured here are Tracy Richardson (left) of Member Services and Naomi Norwood of The Cellar Showroom surrounded by The Society’s record haul of awards at last night’s IWC (International Wine Challenge) Awards Ceremony and 30th Anniversary Summer Ball at the Grosvenor House Hotel on London’s Park Lane.
The highlight of the evening was when the judges named The Society their Wine Merchant of the Year, the second time in the last three years we have scooped their top award.
The IWC also awarded The Society Wine Club of the Year, for the third year, and Specialist Merchant of the Year awards for our Alsace range, for the sixth time in a row, Chile for the seventh year in eight, and we retained the Portugal award we picked up for the first time last year.
Presenting the award, judge Charles Metcalfe congratulated the team saying that The Society represented ‘the pinnacle of wine retailing’.
On a sweltering evening the great and the good of the wine trade were in attendance and kept entertained by the energetic double act of Tim Atkin MW and Charles Metcalfe, co-chairmen of the judges.
A particularly moving part of the evening was seeing veteran wine writer Hugh Johnson OBE pick up a Lifetime Achievement Award. All wine writers owe Hugh a huge debt of gratitude for leading the way. As scribe Malcolm Gluck put it on harpers.co.uk: ‘Johnson often writes so limpidly about his love I can taste the liquid in my mouth, though this is not as a result of crude fruit metaphors, the resort of hobbledehoys like myself, but by pinning down his feeling in such finely wrought aesthetic terms that one feels the experience as a personal encounter. This is, surely, the apotheosis of wine writing and we wine writers are, as expressionists in English, all in the giant shadow of this Monet of the craft.’
I think it is testament to Hugh’s high standing that most people’s reaction was amazement that he hadn’t already won such an honour.
Head Of Copy
Working in The Society’s Cellar Showroom, our team’s vinous matchmaking skills are tested daily, not only on what wine may suit a particular occasion but also – more often these days – a wine that will complement a particular meal.It’s often wise to remember local pairings and the natural affinity several regions’ foods have with their wines: the crisp minerality of Sancerre, for instance, is perfect with goat’s cheese, the spice-infused berry and smoke of a pinotage with a Braai (barbecue), the reds and whites of the Rhône with pâté and so on.
However, when studying for the WSET Diploma, a fellow student offered up a useful principle which I have been putting into practice recently: view wine as a sauce to enhance the meal.
Never one to shy away from a challenge that involves gratification of the tastebuds, I have spent several hours experimenting since hearing this principle phrased so eloquently, and it has been upheld:
For example, think of a haunch of venison, served with a blackberry sauce or redcurrant jelly. Northern Rhône syrah or something red from Burgundy’s Côte de Nuits would provide a suitable replacement, and enhancement, with aplomb.
With a salmon steak the squeeze of lime would more than be replaced by the addition of the citrusy precision of a riesling; or a creamy buttery sauce is admirably replaced or indeed complemented by an oaked chardonnay.
It’s an interesting way to think about matching food and wine, and I’ve learned from experience that it works well.
In summary, next time a wine is required, get saucy!
I was delighted to host a tasting of eight vintages of Lebanon’s Chateau Musar last month, attended by some 50 Society members. It was a great chance to examine what makes this iconic Lebanese wine so special.
We were fortunate to look at four of the estate’s most reputed years – 2005, 1997, 1995 & 1993. The wines all showed beautifully.
The currently available 2005 (£20 per bottle) continues to impress me: still in its first flush of youth and with plenty of time ahead, it is such a beautifully complete wine. The 2003 (also currently available for £20 per bottle) had a more subdued nose but a lovely, fleshy, sweet-fruited palate that everyone really enjoyed.
The 1998 was the most surprising wine of the tasting: this has come round well and is drinking perfectly now. It was one of the favourite wines amongst those present. It was nice to hear from Musar’s Jane Sowter that our thoughts chimed with those at the estate’s: ‘We didn’t use to feature it much and it was always overshadowed by the 1997 and 1999,’ she told me, ‘but everyone falls in love with it now.’ It is not hard to see why.
The 1997 provided a fascinating and delicious contrast to the elegant 1998: powerful and bold, it is full of flavour with an attractive spicy note that was pure pleasure to taste. The 1995 bowled me over: an amazing and dazzling wine. The 1993 was also superb, in a more mellow yet structured way.
The final wine was the fully mature 1977, and it was interesting to see this complex, cloudy and leathery Musar divide opinion. Some adored it, while others found its more savoury, less fruit-forward style challenging. Even more so than with punchier modern vintages, personal preference does seem to play a part when tasting wines of this age. Personally, I thought it showed the complex tertiary flavours you expect with a fine, high-quality aged wine yet was still incredibly fresh and lively on the palate.
All in all, a fantastic Musar tasting.
Society Buyer for Lebanon
Last week saw the passing of a ‘Baron’ and a Duke: two luminaries of the wine world, both in their 80s, from opposite ends – in every sense – of the world. Both Peter Lehmann in Australia, affectionately known as the ‘Baron of Barossa’, and the Comte de Lacarelle in Beaujolais can justifiably be regarded as having helped to change the face of their respective wine regions, and the habits of the wine-drinking public. Both men were concerned with producing wines of real quality and authenticity in an era when winemaking techniques were often rudimentary. Their legacies will live on, and we should all raise a glass to their memories.
Head of Buying
Over the course of my buying trips to the region, the enormity of Lehmann’s reputation, his contribution to the wine industry and the affection felt for him by those who worked with him was always obvious. His son Doug would visibly light up whenever his father was mentioned. The fierce loyalty he showed towards his growers and colleagues was as formidable as the remarkably consistent quality of his wines.
During Australia’s ‘wine glut’ in the 1970s, when overproduction and economic constraints conspired to put the industry in a perilous position, Peter was one of a handful of winemakers who promised to continue buying from growers against all economic odds. Indeed, even when his previous employer told him to buy fewer grapes from the network of growers he stood by his word (had he not, the likelihood is that the growers would have taken financial security from the government who were encouraging producers to grub up their vineyards).
In 1979 he established Masterton Barossa Vineyards and in 1982 it was renamed Peter Lehmann wines. Over the years, the portfolio of wines has grown and today represents one of the most consistent ranges in Australia. What marks it out is that the wines, at every price level, reflect the high quality and personality typical of Barossa.
Peter Lehmann leaves behind his wife and collaborator Margaret, their sons David and Philip, and Doug and Libby from his first marriage.
Society Buyer for Australia
Comte Durieu de Lacarelle
This is one of the oldest estates in Beaujolais which in its present form can be traced back to 1750. The Lacarelles had good business sense and at the time had created a Paris based company to sell the wines. The estate is large with about 150ha of vineyard, much of it in the hands of tenants, or in French ‘metayer’.
Durieu de Lacarelle took over the estate in 1969 though he remembers meeting Wine Society buyers long before that. He felt passionately that Beaujolais should be properly made in a way that the wine could be enjoyed young without having to be kept. To this end he applied all his skills as an oenologist at a time when the status of winemaker barely existed. He was in so many ways very much ahead of his time.
The Lacarelles were close to the Dépagneux family and it is that link which provided The Society such an invaluable source of good Beaujolais. The Society often listed Lacarelle wines as such and for many years also shipped in their nouveau. In our opinion, Lacarelle Nouveau was simply the best. And for good reason as the vines here were always among the first to ripen and made a Beaujolais that was by itself always soft and round. Little wonder then that Lacarelle often formed part of the Society Beaujolais Villages blend. The 2012 vintage, his last, was the not the easiest to manage with less than half a crop and was all sold as Nouveau
Comte Durieu de Lacarelle enjoyed meeting Wine Society buyers and never gave too much away in negotiation. He was invariably courteous and hospitable, opening up his immaculate gardens and graceful house to countless visitors. Those from The Wine Society, who sometimes turned up in vintage cars, were especially welcomed.
Society Buyer for Beaujolais
It has been an eye-opening experience, and it has confirmed to me that Chile, despite its established place in the UK market, still has considerable untapped potential as a quality wine-producing country.
My first visit to Chile was in the 1990s, when the industry was, from an international perspective, very much in its infancy. The majority of wines, with a few notable exceptions, were simple and eminently drinkable, but without much character. Most vines were planted in the country’s rich and highly productive flatlands, known as the Central Valley, south of the capital, Santiago, but little thought had been given to which climates and soils best suited particular grape varieties.
Over the years a gradual transformation has come about. Producers began matching the right varieties to the right microclimates in the traditional grape-growing areas, with sauvignon blanc, for example, being replaced in the hotter regions with red varieties better able to cope with the heat. At the same time, a number of cooler climates were identified in parts of Chile previously untouched by the vine.
The first such area was Casablanca, north-west of Santiago, where pioneer winemaker Pablo Morandé planted some of Chile’s first cool-climate vineyards. More recently, regions such as the Leyda Valley, located a few kilometres from the coast and benefiting from the cooling influence of the Pacific Ocean, was planted with varieties such as sauvignon blanc and pinot noir, and the results have been very impressive. The Society’s Chilean Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir, made for us by the eponymous Viña Leyda, are good examples of the quality potential of this part of Chile.During this trip I visited Ventolera, the other star of the Leyda Valley. My only visits to Leyda have been in winter, when coastal fog shrouds much of the region. This visit was no exception, with the sunny 18°C temperatures of Santiago, around 100km away, giving way to fog and a chilly 11°C. Stefano Gandolini, Ventolera’s winemaker, took my buying colleague Toby Morrhall and myself through an impressive range of sauvignons and pinot noirs in their tasting room with a view looking out over their foggy vineyards.
In addition to seeking out cooler-climate regions and matching the right grape varieties to climatic conditions, a great deal of work has been undertaken in recent years in Chile to map the soils of vineyard areas.
Ventolera is one of a handful of wineries that has dug a series of calicatas (pits) to better understand the soil profiles in the vineyard before matching the right clone of the appropriate variety. Try the 2012 Litoral (ie coastal) Sauvignon Blanc (£7.75) or the 2011 Ventolera Pinot Noir (£13.95) for a taste of Stefano’s labours.
Another producer that has taken the subject of soil mapping very seriously is Viña Tabalí, who excavated no fewer than 500 calicatas on their properties in Limarí, 400km north of Santiago, to ensure that their new vine plantings would perfectly match the mosaic of different soils on their land. The results are most impressive, with the chardonnays from their Talinay property (Chile’s coolest vineyard) demonstrating the strides Chile is making in its quest to be taken seriously as a producer of world-class wine.In addition to the work being carried out to maximise the potential of Chile’s diverse vineyards, a number of producers are finding ways to improve wine quality in the winery, not all of them as hi-tech as building computerised soil-profile maps.
For example, De Martino, whom we visited at their winery in Isla de Maipo, are ageing some of their wines in tinajas, which are large earthenware amphorae collected from the length and (admittedly narrow) breadth of the country. Sebastian De Martino (pictured) showed us an entire warehouse full of assorted sizes of these elegant containers that are a throwback to ancient times. The shape and porosity of the amphora are well suited to the fermentation and gentle ageing of wine. Members might like to try the delicious, savoury 2012 Viejas Tinajas Cinsault (£9.50), made from old vines located in the Itata region, almost 500km south of the capital.
Another company harking back to the past, but this time adding a modern twist, is Miguel Torres. The company is using país grapes, a drought-resistant variety traditionally used for blending (and still the country’s second most widely planted variety), to make a table wine. The twist is that they are employing the technique of carbonic maceration (used widely in Beaujolais) to soften the wine and make it more approachable when young. Miguel Torres has also recently launched a traditional-method rosé sparkling país which will undoubtedly have the champenois raising an eyelid in years to come.
These wines neatly encapsulate all that is good about the Chilean wine industry today, and demonstrate unequivocally that Chile has a bright future.
Head of Buying