Grapevine Archive for November, 2013
What has 640 legs and drinks 256 bottles of wine in 90 minutes?
The answer: Wine Society members at our recent tasting of Spanish wines.
It was clear to see why, after tasting the wines on show at Merchant Taylors’ Hall in London earlier this month, Spain is now one of our most important sources of wines, and why these wines are so popular with members.
34 wines were available to taste, many of which were poured by winemakers and representatives from some of Spain’s finest wineries.
So what makes Spain so outstanding at the moment? For me, the primary reason is that it manages to deliver at whatever price point you care to look at. ‘Diversity’ can be a somewhat overused term in wine circles but it’s certainly true of Spain.
I spent a large part of the recent tasting pouring Cruz de Piedra Macabeo. At £5.75, this was a white that, I have to admit, I was unfamiliar with. When members started coming back not just for a second taste but for a third and fourth try, I quickly started to take notice, particularly when there were many more expensive wines vying for their attention.
My colleagues pouring wines at a similar price point – both reds and whites – reported the same thing. There was no doubt that Spain can certainly hold its own in terms of offering great value for money.
But it is not just at the entry level that Spain shines. I was lucky enough to try a selection of Riojas from £6.95 to £34 and was impressed that all of them delivered a great wine for the price.
The Society’s Rioja Crianza is made by Bodega Palacio, a winery with a history nearly as long and rich as The Society itself. Each year The Society’s Spanish buyer Pierre Mansour travels to Rioja to carefully blend the wine with the expert team at Palacio to provide an end result which is absolutely typical of a traditional Rioja. I struggle to think of another wine made with over 250 years of combined winemaking expertise and hand blended to such exacting specifications for under £7.
At the other end of the pricing spectrum was the Contino Graciano Rioja 2007. This was one of the wines that made me take a step back upon tasting. It is only produced in exceptional years and yes, ok, it is £34 so it should be excellent, but when compared to wines of similar quality from other regions that £34 price tag starts to swim into perspective. With 15 months in French and US oak and with a tiny overall production of 330 cases (the typical production of a left bank chateau of a similar quality might be around 20,000 cases) this might be even be considered by some a bargain.
Pierre recently described Spain as ‘the most exciting, vibrant wine country in the northern hemisphere’ but don’t just take his word for it, it would appear that the several hundred members who enjoyed the recent Spanish tastings would agree with him.
If you weren’t able to attend the tastings then all these wines and more are available as part of our latest featured range of Spanish wines.
Filipa Pato is the daughter of the Bairrada region’s most famous son, Luís Pato. Luís is described as a nonconformist and a pioneer, and has been crafting some of Barirrada’s, if not Portugal’s, finest red and white wines since the early 1980s, garnering worldwide acclaim and multiple awards along the way.
It appears that the winemaking apple does not fall far from the tree.
Standing in Filipa’s newly acquired vineyard in Bairrada, some of the problems and opportunities faced by those producers dedicated to Portugal’s indigenous grape varieties and winemaking heritage become apparent. The vineyard used to belong to a grower who, since the closure of the local co-operative five years earlier, has struggled to find buyers for his grapes. This is a story repeated throughout the region.
The unspoilt way of life and the beauty of these rural Portuguese vineyards is certainly attractive to visitors more accustomed to the hectic pace of modern living. But for the younger generation growing up in the same sleepy surroundings there are few prospects and little to entice them to stay in the region. Consequently the majority have left for the larger towns and cities where there are far greater opportunities for education and employment.
Speaking to Filipa, it becomes clear that there is conflict between her desire to uphold the traditional way of life in the region coupled with a real feeling of responsibility to help the population of smaller growers balanced against commercial considerations, sustainability and quality.
In many ways she is a conservationist, but one firmly rooted in the reality of today’s ever-changing wine marketplace.
The problem, however, has created an opportunity: now many growers who originally refused to sell their grapes are queuing up to do so, which has allowed the indigenous grapes of the region to take shape in the hands of a forward-thinking winemaker.
Much of the fruit Filipa buys comes from old vines that have been traditionally farmed but in many cases were at risk of being replaced with more profitable crops. Indeed, she was so shocked at what she called the `devastation’ of Bairrada’s native baga variety that she formed along with her father, the group ‘Baga Friends’, whose aim is to keep and maintain the heritage of the old vineyards of this grape.
Despite (and maybe because of) having a famous winemaking father, Filipa is very much her own person. Her winery is modest, located in pretty little farmhouse. Wines are tasted at the kitchen table with most of the house taken up by vats, stainless-steel tanks and barrels.
The basement cellar is dark and cool and, it wouldn’t be unfair to say, a little run down. The wines, however, are not – and are recognised as such by noted UK wine critics Jamie Goode, Sarah Ahmed and Jancis Robinson MW amongst others.
Filipa describes her winemaking style as producing ‘authentic wines without makeup’. No flashy use of new oak or overblown marketing hyperbole here. The wines are very much allowed to speak for themselves. If oak is needed then it is used, but always as a supporting role to the flavours and idiosyncrasies of the region’s indigenous grapes.
The end result is a range of finely crafted wines that speak of the terroir of Bairrada and that respect the traditions of the region while showing off the huge potential that is gradually starting to be recognised outside of Portugal. These attributes, combined with honesty and elegance, could easily be applied to describe Filipa herself.
You can read an interview with Filipa’s father, Luís Pato, on the Wine World & News section of our website.
Don’t miss Filipa’s and Luís’ wines, alongside many more, in The Society’s current featured range of Portuguese wines.
Although the first story, concerning a supposed forthcoming global wine shortage, was somewhat specious (see Jancis Robinson’s excellent rebuttal), anything to remind us that it is not an endlessly available commodity is arguably welcome: the remarkable effort, expense and complexity involved in making good-quality wine is something we are always in danger of undervaluing.
The second story, hot on the heels of a recent investigation from BBC’s Watchdog, concerns a study by mysupermarket and Guardian Money into the pricing on some of the major wine brands sold by the supermarkets over the past year, leading to accusations of ‘manufactured discounts’: putting an item on the shelf at an inflated price before advertising a perfectly legal yet somewhat too-good-to-be-true ‘50% off’ deal.
I therefore wanted to clarify and reassure members that artificially inflated prices, loss-leaders and the like are not devices used by The Wine Society.
Our objective, unchanged since our foundation in 1874, is to source ‘the best wines at the best possible price’.
As members will notice, we do occasionally offer savings on wines. These are always clearly marked alongside a transparent explanation of how and why they are being employed. By far the most common are:
1) Modest savings to encourage exploration
Quite simply, we want members to try different wines. Incentives to do so, whether for ‘one bottle only’ or for pre-mixed cases seem appropriate ways to encourage a sense of discovering new wines and areas, and continue to prove popular.
2) Supplier-supported savings
The producers (and, occasionally, regional bodies) with whom we work want you to try their wines, and sometimes offer their support for temporary price reductions as an incentive to do so.
3) Clearance and bin ends
Warehouse space is finite and we occasionally ask for your help in order to clear the decks, making way for new vintages and new wines.
For more information, please refer to The Society’s Value Charter, introduced this year to explain how and why The Society’s unique model can provide members with the best of the world’s vineyards at competitive prices with good service, without the short-term distractions of shareholder dividends and growth purely for growth’s sake.
Every autumn, the French food and wine marketing organisation Sopexa, on behalf of French Wines With Style, hosts the Absolutely Cracking Wines From France tasting where they ask key wine writers, bloggers and sommeliers to put forward the best French wines they have tasted in the last year.
While you’d expect The Society to feature, given the strength and depth in our French offering, this year we had more wines represented in the tasting than any other merchant – more than double the second most mentioned! Testament indeed to the combined talents of buyers Marcel Orford-Williams (Alsace, Beaujolais, Champagne, Rhône, South of France), Jo Locke MW (Bordeaux, Loire) and Toby Morrhall (Burgundy).
156 wines featured in the tasting from 75 UK merchants, and 23 came from The Society. We’ve put together a 12-bottle mixed case of 2 x 6.
Red: Domaine du Cros, Lo Sang del Pais, Marcillac 2012
Writer, blogger & the Sunday Express‘s wine expert Jamie Goode says of this wine: “It’s bloody, ferrous, meaty and fresh, with minerality and bright fruit. It’s drinakable. It’s food friendly. And I like to drink it.” It’s one of the most versatile wines we have on our list, and while you may have never heard of the fer servadou grape, it’s very worth getting to know, and offers such excellent value for money.
White: Domaine Cauhapé,Chant des Vignes Sec, Jurancon 2012
Award-winning wine writer and regular Decanter columnist Andrew Jefford sums up this wine in his inimitable style, to which there really is nothing to add: “Gros manseng is blended with 40% of the rare camaralet de Lasseube to make this bracing, complex dry Jurançon. Aromas almost jump from the glass – pineapple, hay, pounded almonds, hawthorn blossom, a little banana, somne fresh apricot. On the palate the wine is rousing, vivid, saline and incisive, yet every bit as perfumed, and as singular, as its aromas – deverting yet palate-cleansing. I don’t think you’ll find a more intriguing aperitif from France than this, and few to match it for concentration and character.”
Sparkling: Domaine du Montbourgeau, Crémant du Jura NV
The UK’s acknowledged Jura expert, Wink Lorch, says: “This Crémant from 100% chardonnay has purity, finesse and a lightness from start to finish. Yet it remains distinctly Jura in its flavours.” She is so right – there is something so crisp, clean and … well, ‘mountain air’ about this wine. The most refreshing fizz you’ll drink this year, and cerrtainly the one the family and I will be seeing in Christmas with.
Sweet: Maydie, Tannat Vintage, Madiran 2010
Expert wine buyer Christine Parkinson, from London’s Hakkasan restaurants, says: “This is a vin doux naturel from a grape usually better known for tannic, dry wines. The wine has flavours of blackberry and damson which mesh well with the sappy sweetness and a structure reather like a young vintage Port.” Delicious, and has the added bonus of going very well with chocolate!
We regularly feature strongly at this annual tasting, but we don’t rest on our laurels. Marcel, Jo and Toby are already combing the vines of France to ensure we stay on top of our game.
This is an account of how I got to experience how one of our drivers goes about his day’s work recently.
My day started at 4am! A total shock to me and my alarm clock, normally set for 7am. At 5, I met Dale at the warehouse. The day’s work was already loaded onto pallets. His worksheet was set out in delivery order (1 to 32).
Once inside, he sorted the cases into reverse order so drop 32 was at the back of the van working forward, so once at the drops minimum time was spent searching for boxes. A heavy but effective start to the day!
Our route was south London. We hit the A1 at 5.40am and on into the smoke, missing a LOT of rush-hour traffic. The early start was a very good idea.
Dale works two of our Stevenage shifts and some London ones, driving over 1,000 miles a week. He is 33 and knows south London like a cabbie! As we chatted, I also discovered that he played football from an early age to a very high level and two of his mates went onto make careers: a certain Elvis Hammond and Darren Bent. He has always loved driving, but to my dismay has never rode a motorbike. I duly bored him with tales of my biking years…
The first drop of the day was at a large, fairly new development close to the Thames. Up in the lift with four cases we saw several ‘costly suits’ on the way down. I wondered whether their day was going to be more stressful than ours!
Dale has a very good rapport with his ‘regular customers’ (his words, not mine) and takes tremendous pride in his work. A prime example of this was towards the end of the run when we received no reply after ringing the doorbell. There were no instructions for where to leave the wine in the event of this, so Dale tried four neighbours. Only one was in, but they refused delivery. Undeterred, however, Dale called the member, who then called his wife. Ten minutes later, the wine was safely inside.
Dale knows the area extremely well and the rest of the drops were all on schedule. He completed all drops safely and, escaping the heavy traffic in Kilburn via the back roads, we were back at base at 2pm.
This was sunny Wednesday, rather than the stormy Monday but the day’s work still took nine hours to complete (not counting the driver’s commute). It was a long, hard day’s graft: all these guys need to be fit, strong and have a very good even temperament and a sense of humour for what their days present.
I really enjoyed my day with Dale, a man who really does travel the extra mile for Society members.