Grapevine Archive for October, 2013

Wed 30 Oct 2013

Food Without Fuss: Oven Ready

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This recipe, while hopefully of use and interest to all, was written with the winter 2013 selections of The Society’s Wine Without Fuss subscription scheme particularly in mind. Voted Best Wine Club by both The Independent and 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?

You can now find out more about Wine Without Fuss in a short video on our website.

Janet Wynne Evans

Janet Wynne Evans

I heard a rumour the other day that a number of newspaper and magazine editors have taken against printing any recipe that takes longer than 30 minutes to make. What nonsense. At this fraught time of year, what could be better than something that can be slipped into a low oven and left for hours, without risk of overcooking, while other pressing matters are attended to? After a long day, a cold nip and a mad world, coming home to the promise, then the aroma, and finally the sheer, melting tenderness of this pork dish is bliss.

The recipe, one of my enduring favourites, comes courtesy of Philippa Davenport, who for many years was the cookery correspondent of the Financial Times. My original clipping, no longer a pristine pink, but withered by age, grease and overuse and held together with sellotape, is one of my prized possessions. Whether I serve it for two or scale it up considerably for my colleagues here, compliments abound. The recipe is always requested, and I share it here with the kind permission of the author, who, blessed with a thoroughness I could never aspire to, even went to the trouble of cooking it again, using metric measurements, to ensure that it worked.

British pork is at its very best now. By all means deploy rare breeds and even farmed wild ones, but it’s my belief that the important things are the rearing, and the ratio of fat to lean meat. This recipe calls unashamedly for the fattiest, but most flavoursome cut of all, the belly. If you are too worried about how flat yours should be, let’s meet again in the New Year belt-tightening feature.

Apart from being simplicity itself to prepare and impeccably behaved while left to its own bubbling devices, this dish is a winner with any number of wines, white or red. Pork and honeyed whites are known to live happily together and I’d single out Benedict Slovenian White (not surprising, given its proximity to Austria) in the Buyers’ Everyday Selection. Riesling is another very pork-friendly variety: Corte Ignacio in the Premium Whites has all the lime-slicked piquancy and concentrated fruit you could wish for. In the French Classics selection, I’d choose the Collioure for its focused, full-throttle fruit and overall polish.

Reds must be exceptionally fruity, but with good backbone to cut through the richness and square up to the deep flavour of the prunes. Step forward the serious mien but warm heart of Domaine Gournier’s IGP Cévennes in the Everyday Selection and the wonderfully-named Drác Magic in the Premium Reds. It will happily mop up any of the reds in the French Classics case, though my top pick would be the deeply satisfying fruit of Moulin-à-Vent Labruyère.

© Philippa Davenport

Serves 4 generously
• 1kg boneless belly pork rashers
• 1 dozen prunes
• 1 smallish onion
• 1-2 tbsp each chopped coriander flat parsley
• 3 -4 tbs lemon thyme leaves
• 2 fat garlic cloves
• A small corner of a chicken stock cube
• 2-3 butter papers
• 1 tbsp tarragon or white wine vinegar plus enough unsweetened grape juice to make 300ml in total

Lightly butter a large shallow dish that will take the pork in a single layer. A Le Creuset buffet casserole is ideal. Cut each rasher in half, but leave the rinds on. They will enrich the gravy deliciously and are good to eat.

Lay the pork jigsaw fashion in the dish, squeezing the prunes into the gaps. Scatter the herbs and the finely chopped garlic over the meat. Season well with salt and pepper. Add the crumbled stock and veil the lot with the onion, slicing as paper thin as you can.

Pour on the liquids which should come almost level with the top of the meat. Lay the butter papers directly on top. Cover with a well-fitting lid or double thickness of tightly crimped foil.

Place the dish in a cold oven, turn it to 300F/150C/Gas 3 and bake for 3.5 hours.

A little longer will do no harm provided the temperature is low and the dish is well-sealed. When ready, the meat should be so tender that even the toothless would rejoice in eating it.

Serve with lots of mashed potatoes to soak up the flavoursome gravy, and a clean green salad of bitter leaves on the side.

Janet Wynne Evans
Specialist Wine Manager

When trying out food and wine matches at home, remember that help is at hand in the form of The Society’s interactive Food & Wine Matcher.

Categories : Wine Without Fuss
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Sherry is seen by many as a tricky beast – either too alcoholic, too different, or the kind of drink your grandma keeps on her sideboard to be produced with a flourish on special occasions. As a result, it is most unfairly maligned. Even at The Wine Society, with its plethora of wine-savvy members, sherry sales peak at Christmas and then gradually fall away over the rest of the year.

As such, the tastings team decided that it was high time we celebrated the individuality and diversity that sherry offers. From bone-dry, crisp fino to rich, sweet oloroso, with everything in between, sherry is a food-pairing dream come true, so what better way to show the merits of sherry than to drink it with a meal?

The Society's sherry buyer Toby Morrhall talks to members

The Society’s sherry buyer Toby Morrhall talks to members

Getting Toby Morrhall, The Society’s sherry buyer, on board was easy. To employ a famous catchphrase, Toby firmly believes that sherry is for life, not just for Christmas, and is passionate about getting people to actually drink sherry – and not in little thimble-sized glasses either, but proper wine glasses. Those shocked by the thought of consuming large glasses of fortified wine, should consider that many table wines are now hitting 15% – the lighter finos and manzanillas don’t come out much higher than that.

Three of the movers and shakers of the sherry world were invited to come and talk at the event: Marcelino Piquero of Sánchez Romate, Peter Dauthieu (who represents Cayetano and Williams and Humbert) and Ignacio Lopez de Carrizosa of Lustau. Our idea was to show a range of sherries throughout the dinner, a different sherry to be matched with each course, which would, of course, be specially designed to match perfectly.

Toby feels that it is very important that sherry should not be ‘ghettoised’; that is to say, that people should not be made to believe that sherry only works with Spanish-style food. To this end we chose two very different restaurants, with the idea of hosting two consecutive evenings, with the same line-up of sherries accompanying very different styles of food.

The first restaurant was Moro: based in Exmouth Market, London, Moro is famous for its Spanish and Moroccan-inspired cuisine. The second was The Hinds Head in Bray, Heston Blumenthal’s Michelin-starred gastropub, which specialises in traditional British-style cuisine.

It goes without saying that the two evenings were completely different, but each worked equally well in their own very different ways.

Members enjoying the Botaina Amontillado in Bray

Members enjoying the Botaina Amontillado in Bray

Having seen the menu for Moro a week before the event, I couldn’t wait to try the food. It was my first visit to the restaurant and it didn’t disappoint. Everything was so beautifully done, and the food matched the sherry to perfection – we had sent a sample bottle of each of the sherries to both restaurants beforehand so they could try the wines before planning the menu. Samantha Clark was doing the cooking and whilst in theory the dishes were simple, it was plain to see that the ingredients used were of the very finest quality and the flavours were truly excellent. There were many highlights to the meal, even the olives we had as a nibble whilst drinking the La Ina were fantastic, however for me the standout dishes had to be the seared wild mushrooms with Iberico panceta and almonds, with the Botaina Amontillado, and chocolate and apricot tart with The Society’s Exhibition Oloroso Dulce – we were told later that Sam and Sam had reduced the amount of sugar in the chocolate tart so that it would pair better with the Oloroso, and I have to say that whilst I’m sure it would have been even more decadent with more sugar, as it was it worked perfectly.

Another night, another four-course-dinner. This time we were heading across the country to Bray for a very British-style of dinner. From the bright, open-plan restaurant that was Moro, we found ourselves at the Hinds Head, a beautiful 15th century pub, complete with low ceilings and wooden beams. Head chef Kevin Love created a four-course meal, based on seasonal, local produce which would complement our sherries perfectly. The contrast couldn’t have been more different. Instead of olives, we had ‘devils on horseback’: prunes, which had been injected with alcohol, wrapped in parma ham, and grilled. The salty and sweet flavours worked perfectly with the tang of the La Ina Fino, as did the Mussel broth, which was probably in culinary terms the highlight of my evening. The veal was incredibly rich and stood up to the gutsy Botaina and the Cayetano Palo Cortado. The remarkable As You Like It Amontillado shone with the Cheddar and blue cheeses, showing that sherry really is a serious contender to port when it comes to the cheese board.

So what did we intend to achieve with these sherry dinners – apart from having some great food? Whilst it would be wonderful if everyone suddenly saw fit to drink sherry throughout their meal, matching a different wine to each course, even we know that would be an impossible dream. However, what we hope to have shown is that sherry shouldn’t be relegated to the sideboard by default. There are so many different and wonderful wines out there that there really is a sherry for every occasion. The key is to be brave and have fun experimenting, there is a whole new world of food and sherry matching that awaits. Believe me, it is a lot of fun!

Emma Howat
Tastings & Events Co-Ordinator

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Wed 23 Oct 2013

The Great Sherry Festival

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Conrad Braganza, The Cellar Showroom’s fine wine adviser, says it’s time that sherry stepped out from behind the trifle and got the recognition it deserves. He’ll be opening up some of his favourite bottles in the Showroom over the rest of the week.

Sherry never ceases to excite my vinous passion. A wine of such diversity, versatility and quality should not be confined to an occasional festive appearance. So when the Sherry Institute promoted its inaugural Great Sherry Festival this month I was only too happy to lend it my full support.

A layer of flor yeast prevents fino sherry from oxidising

A layer of flor yeast prevents fino sherry from oxidising

So, for the rest of the week, in addition to the wines available to taste via the Showroom’s Enomatic machines, there will also a selection of sherries to try that we feel epitomise the amazing range of styles, and breath-taking quality, the wines of Jerez offer wine lovers.

Members will be able to taste a true gamut of styles, from the excellent-value Society’s Fino, the perfect aperitif, to Manzanilla Pasada, an aged sherry with the concentration to handle a shellfish stew or seared tuna steak. Discover The Society’s Exhibition Viejo Oloroso, a dry aromatic wine that complements hard cheeses, or unctuous fig-infused Pedro Ximénez, a wine to turn simply fried chicken livers into a midweek treat or can contrast beautifully when poured over vanilla ice-cream.

The affinity that sherry has with food, coupled with the plethora of palate pleasures it offers, makes it a perfect wine regardless of your occasion. It’s has long been time for sherry to step out from behind the trifle and declare itself one of the world’s great wines.

We hope you can join me in fighting the good fight.

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Tue 22 Oct 2013

Lofty Heights and Happy Landings in the Warehouse

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Warehouse Four at The Wine Society

Warehouse Four at The Wine Society

When I tell people that I work at The Wine Society, the reaction is usually one of curiosity, jealously and/or wildly inaccurate perceptions (for instance we haven’t had a staff sherry allowance since the late 70s!).

Working for The Society offers a fascinating mix of excellent people, a sincere desire to do the right thing and, of course, amazing wines.

However, the other day I found myself truly wishing I was elsewhere, as I ascended 50 feet into the air to the very top of our fourth (and largest) warehouse to look at some possible ideas for some photography.

I would never confess to being great with heights but I didn’t quite expect the degree of absolute terror that set in as soon as we started the gentle ascent towards the ceiling of what is one of Europe’s tallest warehouses. Luckily I was accompanied by my marketing colleague Alex Chrysostomou (who had to hold the camera as I refused to let go of the sides of the forklift cabin) and forklift driver Arian Bytyci, who naturally was completely unfazed at the prospect of being so high up; he didn’t even seem remotely daunted when the forklift cab started to sway from side to side (I’m assured that the movement, although perfectly safe, is exaggerated when carrying a full load, something I’m more than happy to take Arian’s word on).

The view from the ground

The view from the ground

Going up...

Going up…

Despite the shaking legs, sweaty palms and the mask of fear etched on my face, even I couldn’t help but be impressed by the scale of the operation in our warehouses here at Stevenage. While not quite emulating the pope and kissing the floor upon coming down to earth it was a close run thing.

One of the enormous forklifts at Warehouse Four. Each weights 12,300kg.

One of the enormous forklifts at Warehouse Four. Each weighs 12,300kg.

So next time I open a bottle of wine from The Society I shall definitely be raising a glass to Arian and his colleagues in the warehouse, while keeping both feet firmly planted on the ground.

Gareth Park
Campaign Manager

Categories : Miscellaneous
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Fri 18 Oct 2013

Matching Chocolate With Wine

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When trying out food and wine matches at home, remember that help is at hand in the form of The Society’s interactive Food & Wine Matcher.

Chocolate and wine: when asked, most will say they are mutually exclusive, and that to try and pair the two is a fool’s errand. However, never daunted, an intrepid band of Society members came together on a balmy Saturday morning to get to grips with this thorny issue: to try and discover exactly what wine would match Cadbury’s Dairy Milk!

Society members trying out the combinations.

Society members trying out the combinations.

‘Death by chocolate is a common form of wine extermination’ is a quotation I remember well from one of my favourite wine and food matching books; whilst this pronouncement might seem somewhat gloomy (especially considering we were devoting a whole morning to the subject) however, matching chocolate and wine is tricky but by no means impossible. It just demands a bit of experimentation…

So why does everyone say pairing chocolate and wine can’t be done?

Firstly, chocolate is a bit like cheese: when it melts in the mouth, it coats the palate making it tough to actually taste the flavours of the wine. Chocolate tends to be quite sweet, which can strip dry wines of all their fruit, leaving just acidity and tannins, and finally, good chocolate can be intensely flavoured.

The best way to tackle chocolate and wine matching is to heed some of the basic tenets of food and wine matching:

1. Generally, the wine must be at least as sweet as the chocolate; otherwise the chocolate will make the wine taste dry and bitter.
2. Avoid any wines which are too tannic as chocolate tends to make such wines taste even more so.
3. Consider the flavours and try to balance them – if your chocolate is very intense, make sure you match it with an equally intense wine or the chocolate will overpower it. The same principle works with delicate flavours.
4. Fortified wines can work well with chocolate as they have the added kick of alcohol which give them the power to stand up to the sweetness and mouth-coating texture of the chocolate. Look for wines such as sherries, tawny port, Madeira and fortified reds from the south of France.
5. If in doubt, try muscat. This grape variety has a real affinity with chocolate.

The art of matching wine and chocolate is not new; however on this particular occasion we decided that we wanted to explore matching wines with those chocolates you can buy on the High Street: Fruit and Nut, Galaxy, Kit Kat, or Chocolate Orange, etc. There had to be a wine out there which could stand up to such guilty pleasures…

A lot of preparation went into planning this workshop, with many within The Society becoming involved. Many combinations which we initially thought might work fell by the wayside, and it was some weeks (and half a stone) later that we ultimately narrowed down the winning combinations. In addition to this we had invited each member attending to bring their own favourite chocolate along, which also threw up a few surprises.

Chocolate and wine workshopFor some certain combinations were total winners, whilst others remained less convinced. In terms of wines, muscat-based wines generally worked, as well as the Madeira, whilst the most accommodating chocolates on the day were Cadbury’s Fruit and Nut and Terry’s Chocolate Orange. A special case was also made for Hotel Chocolat’s salted caramels (brought along by at least two of the members attending the workshop as their chocolate of choice).

The overriding feeling at the end of the day was that whilst chocolate and wine matching is not an exact science, there is a lot of fun to be had by experimenting. That and a general sense of hyperactivity brought about by way too much sugar and alcohol – a winning combination!

Here’s what we tried on the day:

The chocolatesMoscato d’Asti, 2012, Perrone Elio (£7.50)
Pretty much went well with everything on the day, but the highlights were Brix Milk Chocolate, Cadbury’s Fruit and Nut, and Terry’s Chocolate Orange.
The secret to this wine’s success with chocolate is the bubbles. The fizz helps to cut through the melty, chocolaty texture. Rather than masking the richness of the chocolate this light, refreshing and palate-cleansing wine does the opposite.

Gewurztraminer Calcaire, Domaine Zind Humbrecht 2011 (£16)
Matched with Green and Black’s White and Ginger Chocolate.
This particular gewurztraminer is made in quite a rich style and so we matched it with the white chocolate, as the two were well balanced in terms of their weight of flavour. The exotic flavours of rose petal, lychee and peach complemented the creamy vanilla flavours of the white chocolate. The ginger chocolate was a more contentious pairing, which made the wine taste spicier and drier.

Ravenswood Lodi Old Vine Zinfandel 2010 (£8.75); 2011 vintage now available
We paired this one with the Brix Medium Dark Chocolate although many said that it also worked well with the dark chocolate.
I had to look very hard when trying to find a suitable red wine. The key here was to opt for a darker chocolate with higher cocoa solids and less sugar. This wine’s very ripe fruit flavours were complemented by vanilla from its oak ageing, which mirrored the flavours of the chocolate.

Royal Tokaji Aszú 5 Puttonyos 2008 (£22)
We tried this with the Green and Black’s Butterscotch, Cadbury’s Caramel and Guylaine Pralines.
Tokaji Aszú is a unique style of wine: the addition of botrytised wine to that made from healthy grapes produces a wine with high levels of residual sugar, an alcoholic strength of around 10%, and tropical fruit flavours coupled with fresh acidity. It matched the chocolates’ sweetness whilst the caramel and nut flavours worked well too; what’s more, its tropical fruit flavours enhance the buttery caramel notes in the Butterscotch and Caramel chocolates.Many members said that this wine worked really well with Terry’s Chocolate Orange.

The Society’s Exhibition Sauternes 2010 (£9.95 per half / £19 per 75cl bottle)
We tried this wine with the Green and Black’s White Chocolate and the Guylaine Pralines.
Again this wine is made from botrytised grapes which give the Sauternes a honeyed sweetness that worked well with the white chocolate. The sweetness of both chocolates and the Sauternes are matched, whilst the natural acidity in the Sauternes helped freshen the palate and stops the chocolate from appearing too sweet or cloying.

Nuy Red Muskadel (£8.95)
Worked well with the Guylaine Pralines and Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups.
A fortified muscat which has a slightly oxidative character. Being made from muscat the wine has a lovely fruit quality to it, and being fortified, it has the guts to stand up to chocolate. I matched this wine with the praline and the Peanut Butter Cups as I really liked the sweet/savoury combination at work. This wine was a bit of a crowd-pleaser when it came to the chocolates as it was decided that it also worked with Bounty, Cadbury’s Fruit and Nut and Crunchie!

The Society’s Exhibition Tawny Port 10 Years Old (£16.50)
Matched with Brix Medium Dark and Milk Chocolate and Cadbury’s Fruit and Nut.
A no brainer: this wine’s prolonged wood ageing and slightly oxidative character result in nutty, caramel-like, dried-fruit flavours that sang with the chocolate.

Maydie Tannat Vintage 2010 (£13.95)
Perfect with Kitkat, Bounty and Brix Dark Chocolate.
This sweet, fortified red hails from south-western France, and is rich, dense, with black currant and cherry fruit, framed by notes of chocolate and spice.

Henriques & Henriques Malvasia, 10 years old (£17)
This Madeira worked with everything! Fortified to stand up to the gooiest of candidates, plenty of acidity to cleanse the palate and caramel, nut and coffee flavours in abundance.
For me the combination of this Madeira with Crunchie was the highlight of the workshop. The honeycomb/burnt sugar combination was perfection – although I also suspect it might have been a ‘Marmite’ pairing as one member of staff at The Society, who shall remain nameless said it was the most horrendous paring they had ever come across! As they say, variety is the spice of life!

Emma Howat
Tastings & Events Co-ordinator

Categories : Wine Tastings
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Wed 16 Oct 2013

Rhine & Danube: Shifting the Centre

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Marcel Orford-Williams reveals the thinking behind The Society’s current offer, From Golden Rhine to Blue Danube, and why now is the time to be exploring these remarkable wines.

Maps have always been a passion for me. When friends would queue up for the latest album, I would be in Long Acre, immersed in charts.

Our Rhine Danube map. Click to enlarge.

Our Rhine and Danube map. Click to enlarge.

One of my interests was studying different map projections or simply looking at maps from different angles. After all why persist in seeing a map with north on top? Why not south, or east? Why see the world with our small islands conveniently placed in the middle and, in Mercator’s projection, unduly large?

And so I looked at the layout of Europe’s vineyards which, typically, are centred on the three most important regions: Iberia, Italy and, in between, France. Without the Roman Empire, viticulture might have remained close to the Mediterranean shore. Instead, Hellenistic culture in its vinous form was carried on the backs of Roman legionaries wherever they went, often following great river valleys such as the Ebro, Rhône or Garonne and as far east as the Rhine and Danube which remained a border of sorts until the Barbarian surge.

Rhine Valley

Rhine Valley

Borders are contradictory, being both barrier and passage. They have changed and evolved over the centuries after wars and dynastic ties. Transylvania, Romanian today, used to be Hungarian. Hungary used to be Turkish. The Ottomans lay siege to Vienna twice, which was once the centre of Germany, while Alsace, French today, was once part of the Holy Roman Empire.

This is where Europe comes together, and in so many ways. Not least in music, whereby a river cruise might start with Hildegard of Bingen and end on the Danube with Enescu, by way of Beethoven and Bartók. And, of course there’s the wines – a veritable cross-pollination of tastes and styles.

I think it was the late and much missed Barry Sutton, one time general manager of The Wine Society, who amused himself with the idea of a buying trip along the Rhine with grateful growers coming to our barge with samples to taste and maybe the odd refreshing beer. Now, thanks to a recently built canal, our trip can extend all the way from the North Sea to the Black Sea.

The Rhine-Danube basin has become home to a vast number of grape varieties. In modern times, they have been bought in from France or Italy, everything from cabernet sauvignon to sangiovese. Before, though, varieties were often created from happy marriages with wild vines.

Riesling, for instance, almost certainly arose out of crossings between the obscure gouais blanc from France, traminer from Italy and wild vines that would have grown along the banks of the Rhine. Another offspring of the gouais blanc is likely to be Hungary’s furmint.

In the west, maritime influences moderate the climate so that Bordeaux or the Minho are relatively cool and damp. In Central Europe, the climate is distinctly continental with cold winters and hot summers. The Romans loved to plant on hillsides and it’s no coincidence that so many of the best vineyards in Germany, Alsace and Austria are planted on steep valley sides. Long growing seasons and hot summers create certain styles and there is a common feature that links Alsace to Austria and Romania. So many of the wines are fragrant, sometimes heady with exotic scents and many are full-flavoured and generous.

The steep Bacharacher Hahn vineyard

The steep Bacharacher Hahn vineyard

One of the loveliest vineyards is the Bacharacher Hahn, steep and south facing and overlooking the ancient town and the Rhine. Close by is the narrowest point of the river north of the Swiss border. At one point a 120m cliff plunges into the water. There are rocks to snare ships and also, so it was believed, the deadly water sprite Lorelei, to lure watermen to a certain death. Mendelssohn was here and began writing an opera for Jenny Lind, and, just down the river, Hildegard of Bingen lived and meditated. Maybe she had a say in the creation of the riesling grape? Her many interests included botany, after all.

She spent some time in the village of Ruppertsberg where she founded the monastery. Tucked into the Haardt are fabulous vineyards, in Ruppertsberg itself and next door in Forst and Wachenheim, that today are the source of some of the world’s finest dry white wines, made of course from the riesling grape. Riesling may have come from here or it may have come from Alsace or even the Wachau in Austria on the Danube.

All three make stunning dry riesling, each in a slightly different style. So good they were that at one time that these dry rieslings commanded higher prices than any chardonnay from Burgundy. The Rheingau then suddenly stunned the world with sweet wine made from grapes affected by noble rot. But these rare delicacies were known about for much longer. Well before the Bishop of Fulda enjoyed the first Spätlese, or late-harvest wine, Hapsburg princes were savouring the immortal delights of Tokaji.

Opposite Bingen, but slightly downstream, as the Rhein faces north again towards the narrows and the mischievous Lorelei, pinot noir, known in Germany as spätburgunder, occupies some of the best slopes. Burgundy’s finest grape (which actually predates riesling) is a red variety of choice and lovers of pinot can expect to pay high prices and the wines are sometimes good enough to stand comparison with Burgundy. Further upstream , the Rhine marks a border between Germany and France. Curiously, pinot noir used to be a major variety in Alsace and its popularity is on the rise, as it is on the German side in Baden. Pinot Noir has good Central European credentials and lovely examples can even be found right at the end of our barge journey in Romania.

The Danube winding through Austria

The Danube winding through Austria

Austria has become one of the smartest wine countries of Europe, frequently picking up international prizes. It wasn’t always so but in some ways the scandal that nearly destroyed its reputation became its saviour as serious growers were left with no choice but to work for quality. Steep Danubian vineyards produce great dry whites from riesling and the local grüner veltliner while the warm, misty shores of the Neuseidlersee produce great reds and, of course, fabulous sweet wines. Noble rot here is almost guaranteed.

Vineyards in Tokaj, Hungary

Vineyards in Tokaj, Hungary

And so to the east and real promised land that is slowly rediscovering itself after years under state controls. Hungary stands out as it has a sophisticated wine culture and strongly identified grape varieties and styles, dominated of course by Tokaji. This is so obviously a great wine that as soon as state controls were relaxed, foreign investment came pouring in. Rehabilitation of Romania as a wine-producing country has been slower but is nonetheless exciting with new estates, more western in outlook and far more quality minded.

The future for this part of Europe is surely bright. For so long this has been a battlefield confronting the great European Empires. Irredentist squabbles apart, the vast Rhine and Danube basin is surely destined for peace and its wondrous patchwork of vineyards will be allowed to prosper.

Marcel Orford-Williams
Society Buyer

View the current Rhine and Danube offer

Mon 14 Oct 2013

Inside The Sommelier’s Kitbag

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Due to my husband’s job, I’m lucky enough to be able to eat out relatively regularly and to learn from sommeliers.

Alsace wines are remarkably versatile with food

Alsace wines are remarkably versatile with food

Sommeliers put up with working horrible hours and dealing with snotty customers because they are passionate about wine and I’ve generally found them to be enthusiastic teachers if you show a little interest.

Sometimes you can’t beat the classic wine and food combinations, of course, but I’ve found the reassurance of a sommelier’s recommendation a great way to push me out of my comfort zone. A bit like The Wine Society’s Promise, if you don’t like their recommendation they will find you something else that will suit, so you really have nothing to lose.

Being a bit sad, my husband and I often play the ‘guess the wine match’ game with the more esoteric dishes and time after time, when chefs throw the sommeliers a curveball of a dish it is the wines from Alsace to which they turn.

We’ve had an elegant starter of salsify served with a savoury coffee and cardamom set cream, paired beautifully with a very slightly off-dry pinot blanc with a subtle touch of oak.

Eating at London’s Duck and Waffle, we were duty bound to try their eponymous all-day brunch signature dish, bequeathed from its Miami sister restaurant: a waffle topped with duck confit, a fried duck egg and lashings of mustard and maple sauce. When trying to think of a wine that could cope this somewhat overwhelming combination, we were flummoxed. The sommelier recommended Alsace pinot gris and frankly we thought he was nuts (‘white wine and duck?!’) Needless to say we were wrong.

An off-dry gewurztraminer also saved the day at our recent chocolate workshop (of which more on this blog shortly) to work with white chocolate and even Bounty bars.

As an aside, we’ve enjoyed using sommeliers’ expertise to learn about sake which I think I would have been far too nervous to navigate alone. A light and delicately styled sake served chilled is a wonderful accompaniment to the increasingly popular cerviche dishes and a more full-bodied style, lightly warmed, can work with rare beef and wasabi.

If generally you find yourself always ordering the same old bottle, why not give the sommelier a go?

Louisa Peskett
Senior Merchandiser & Food Buyer

When trying out food and wine matches at home, remember that help is at hand in the form of The Society’s interactive Food & Wine Matcher.

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Mardi Roberts, Ridgeview, Sussex:

Grapes at Ridgeview

Grapes at Ridgeview

2013 has been a fantastic growing season for Ridgeview.
We began the year with delayed budburst due to quite a cold winter; the benefit of the delay was that this lessened the period that we were at risk of frost. We had a very warm start to the summer which meant that we had perfect conditions for flowering, resulting in a fantastic and very even fruit set.

The good weather has carried right through the season giving us lovely clean bunches with above average yields which are ripening very nicely. We will expect to harvest our Ridgeview grapes on or around the 14th of October which is consistent with previous harvest dates.
Our anticipation is that the 2013 vintage will be of very good size, excellent quality with both sugar and acidity levels in harmony for what we consider perfect for bottle-fermented sparkling wine.

Martin Fowke, Three Choirs, Gloucestershire:

Three Choirs vineyard

Three Choirs vineyard

Things are looking good at Three Choirs, although the harvest is much later than we have become used to in recent years. We have only just started picking, which is about two weeks later than average. This is due primarily to the very late start to the season, and the fact that we have a bigger crop on the vine to ripen.
The weather is holding up quite well, temperatures are still good, especially when the sun comes out, and the nights are not going too low. The crop is clean, and looks like it will hang for a while. The acid balance in the grape looks to be good this year, and so we are optimistic that the quality of the 2013 wines will be good. As we have had low yields for several years, this increased volume will help to fill the cellar up again! So the feeling is that we have an excellent quality/quantity balance!

Categories : England
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Tue 08 Oct 2013

The Day The Jura Came To London

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On a cold wet day back in May, 27 growers from the Jura came to London to show more than 150 wines to the UK trade and press. It was the first time that this tiny region south-east of Burgundy had sent a delegation here and I, for one, was keen to meet them.

And what a day it was; what was so nice was that most of those present really got stuck in. With so many wines to taste, pacing oneself was essential. Very sensibly the Jura made sure there was sustenance in the form of three delicious cheeses and copious amounts of bread. Respecting the 10am start was important and most of those who began early were still tasting (and spitting!) five hours later.

Jura's  Etoile appellation takes its name from its many fossilised starfish (pentacines)

Jura’s Etoile appellation takes its name from its many fossilised starfish (pentacines)

The wines of the Jura are not well known or particularly well understood in this country.

Map of JuraPerhaps this is because it is a little off the beaten track and up until now there hasn’t been a concerted effort made by the region to get its wines better known. But a new generation of passionate young growers are turning around the fortunes of this historic region.

For many the Jura is synonymous with the quirky, sherry-style vin jaune, which is produced in an oxidative way, but these wines account for only about 4% of the total output. There are in fact many styles of wine made, from sparkling through to dessert vin de paille and even delicate, fresh pale reds.

Eccentric grape varieties give the wines real appeal. At one time there would have been more than 40; today five predominate, including three red. Though chardonnay is the most widely planted of the whites, it’s the local savagnin which is the region’s signature grape. Its tangy, fresh flavour, often accompanied by a whiff of curry powder, make it a great gastronomic wine with all sorts of potential.

I have written a guide to the Jura to give members a bit more background on this extraordinary region and its unique wines and have introduced several new wines to our selection recently, with more to come.

L'Etoile Vin Jaune, Domaine de Montbourgeau 2006

L’Etoile Vin Jaune, Domaine de Montbourgeau 2006

We list Stéphane Tissot’s lovely nutty jaune-style 2009 savagnin from the Arbois appellation, which is made in the traditional way, alongside new wines from Domaine Montbourgeau, who are based in l’Etoile where the wines tend to have a lighter touch with great finesse and minerality. Their 2009 savagnin spent three years in barrel, protected from oxidation by a film of flor yeast. The 2006 Vin Jaune was aged under flor for six years and is very fine with an exceptionally long finish. The best-known producer in l’Etoile, Montbourgeau also make delightful sparkling wine. Introduced in the summer, the Crémant will be the Explore bottle in next month’s Societynews. For dessert-wine lovers, we have selected an exquisite, rare Vin de Paille from Domaine Berthet-Bondet. Made from shrivelled grapes, dried further on straw mats to concentrate the sugars, then bottled in specially made half bottles, this would be delightful with the local Comté cheese or tarte aux abricots.

I hope that you will enjoy discovering, or maybe rediscovering, the wines of the Jura as much as I enjoyed the day the Jura came to London.

Marcel Orford-Williams
Society Buyer

View Jura wines
View Guide to the Jura

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Tue 01 Oct 2013

A Video Recap

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Society members’ appetite for video seems to be growing, if the feedback we’ve received is anything to go by.

This includes this very blog, where my colleague Gareth Park’s article on wine and video back in April was met with an encouraging response.

In case members have missed the most recent of our forays into this medium, then, the latest Society videos can be found below. We hope you enjoy them and welcome any feedback, good or bad.

Wine Without Fuss
Society buyers Tim Sykes and Pierre Mansour discuss our popular subscription scheme, providing members with great wines, selected and delivered with the minimum of fuss…

Bernardo Barberani
The wonderful wines of Barberani have been rightly popular with Society members for some time. Here, the charming Bernardo Barberani discusses his wines, the beautiful region of Orvieto and his long-standing relationship with The Wine Society.

Vicky Mareque from Pazo de Señorans on The Society’s Exhibition Albariño
The newest addition to our flagship Exhibition range is a pure, peachy and delightful white sourced from one of Galicia’s leading estates in a magnificent vintage, all of which Vicky Mareque talks about here.

Jane Hunter OBE from Hunter’s Wines on The Society’s Exhibition Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc
The ‘First Lady’ of New Zealand wine discusses this delicious Exhibition-label sauvignon blanc and how sauvignon winemaking has developed in the region.

Michael Brajkovich MW from Kumeu River on The Society’s Exhibition New Zealand Chardonnay
New Zealand’s first Master of Wine talks about this exclusive single-vineyard chardonnay, sourced from his world-renowned Auckland estate.

Categories : Miscellaneous
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