Grapevine Archive for January, 2014

Fri 31 Jan 2014

Uruguay: Willows Soaking, Drinking Mate

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Willows in Uruguay

In Uruguay they still use willow (mimbre) to tie up the vines after pruning. They are soaked first to improve flexibility.

Daniel Pisano making mate

Daniel Pisano is making and drinking a mate made from yerba mate (llex paraguariensis) which is popular in Uruguay and Argentina.

Daniel Pisano drinking mate

We have bought some wines from Pisano which will be available later this year.

Toby Morrhall
Society Buyer for South America

Stop press (5/2/14): our new South American offering is now available online until Sunday 2nd March.

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Thu 30 Jan 2014

Cellar Surprises: Burgundy In South Africa

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Savigny Marconnets 1966 Wine Society bottling

This Wine Society bottling of 1966 Savigny Marconnets was proffered by friend and supplier Richard Kelley (whom some members may know better under his moninker of ‘Rick The Cape Crusader’, used for The Liberator wines), who was my usual guide for several days on my last trip to South Africa.

His generous habit is to travel with a mixed case of interesting bottles from his own cellar for the benefit of friends and colleagues in the local wine industry where such bottles are rare and the thirst for vinous experience is insatiable.

This particular bottle, purchased as part of a mixed case at auction (another of Richard’s habits, which he tells me yields more happy surprises than bad ones), was included for my benefit, and that of our generous hosts on this beautiful early summer’s evening.

Served blind it threw us not just on age but on origin, too (though these were the days of a little enhancement with something from further south!). The wine had clearly coasted through its recent long haul flight and was absolutely delicious, all the more so for the occasion and the kindness shared.

Jo Locke MW
Society Buyer

Tue 28 Jan 2014

Postcard From Chile: Machas

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Machas are Chilean saltwater clams. They are bivalves with the scientific name mesodesma donacium. Their flesh looks like a stone-age flint head.

They are grey when raw but turn a lovely pink when cooked. The flavour is quite mild.


One of the most common dishes you will find on a menu in a Chilean seafood restaurant is Machas la parmesana, a gratin of machas with cheese, which is rarely parmesan in Chile.

Creamy dishes are giving way to lighter dishes where the favour of the seafood takes centre place. Today Peruvian cuisine has made it to Chile.

This mixed ceviche enjoyed at La Mar, an excellent Peruvian seafood restaurant in Santiago, has a macha in the foreground.


But where’s the wine? Look out for a number of seafood-friendly Chilean finds in our forthcoming South America offering, available from 3rd February.

Toby Morrhall
Society Buyer for South America

Stop press (5/2/14): our new South American offering is now available online until Sunday 2nd March.

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I went to visit the unusual Itata Valley, 400 km south of Santiago, Chile, with Sebastian De Martino and winemakers Marcelo Retamal and Eduardo Jordan.

Itata Valley

Left to right: Eduardo Jordan (winemaker) , Sebastian De Martino (sales director), Marcelo Retamal (head winemaker) standing in the old cinsault bush-vine vineyard from which the De Martino Gallardía del Itata Cinsault comes from.

Left to right: Eduardo Jordan (winemaker) , Sebastian De Martino (sales director), Marcelo Retamal (head winemaker) standing in the old cinsault bush-vine vineyard from which the De Martino Gallardía del Itata Cinsault comes from.

It’s unusual for Chile because there is 1100mm of rainfall and vines need no irrigation. Indeed it felt quite European. There is much greenery and evidence of moisture from the mushrooms.

Mushroom in Itata Mushrooms in Itata

Most vineyards in Chile are irrigated, trained on wires and on flat land so it was novel for me to see in Chile unirrigated bushvines on rolling hillsides.


There is mainly cinsault and muscat planted here. De Martino’s Gallardía del Itata Cinsault 2013 is now available for £8.95 per bottle.

Toby Morrhall
Society Buyer for South America

Stop press (5/2/14): our new South American offering is now available online until Sunday 2nd March.

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‘Let’s start from the beginning – it’s a very good place to start.’

Assessing colourOne of the most interesting things about working in the wine industry is that there is always something new to learn. The world of wine is an evolving one – there to keep us on our toes, to intrigue us, enthral us and offer ever more diverse ways to share our passion with others.

Increasingly, wine consumers are wanting to develop their own knowledge and appreciation of wine. To help our newer members and their guests on this journey, the Tastings & Events Team hold regular wine workshops to guide members through the basic principles of wine tasting – ‘how to’, ‘why we need to’, ‘why particular wines taste the way that they do’, and ‘how we can tell if there are faults with the wine’.

On a sunny Saturday morning earlier in January, Simon Mason, The Society’s Tastings & Events manager, welcomed 48 of our members and their guests to a workshop, ‘A Beginner’s Guide to Wine Tasting’, at our premises in Stevenage.


Over the course of the session, everyone was given a selection of ten wines covering a range of styles, from crisp whites to gutsy reds with a wonderful sweet example for good measure:

The wines that were tasted at this workshop were:

Tastings manager Simon Mason introduces the workshop

Tastings manager Simon Mason introduces the workshop

England: Ridgeview Fitzrovia Rosé 2010 (£22)

Burgundy: Mâcon Villages, Domaine Mallory et Benjamin Talmard 2012 (£9.50)
Germany: Niedermenniger Riesling Kabinett 2012 (von Kesselstatt) (£9.50)
Spain: Navajas Blanco Crianza, Rioja 2010 (£7.50)

Italy: Brunello di Montalcino Gianni Brunelli 2008 (£28)
New Zealand: Momo Pinot Noir 2011 Marlborough (£11.95, currently out of stock)
Australia: The Society’s Exhibition Victoria Shiraz 2010 (£17.50)
Bordeaux: La Réserve de Leoville Barton 1997 Saint-Julien (Not available for sale)
Bordeaux: Château Belgrave 2007 Haut-Médoc (£29)

Bordeaux: The Society’s Exhibition Sauternes 2010 (£19, or £9.95 per half bottle)

As we worked our way through the wines, Simon talked us through all the things that we can look for when tasting wine.

Making sure that the right conditions were in place when trying the wines was key. A light, bright room for visibility and an absence of any interfering smells, such as food and perfume, were essentials.

The glassware used for tasting wine was also important. A tulip-shaped glass featuring a good wide lower point with a narrower top is the ideal glass for capturing the full range of aromas, and for keeping the wine inside the glass when swirling! Simon explained the best styles of glassware for drinking different wines to enhance their flavour profiles, and thus why we use different glasses for red and white wines and very small glasses for sherry and fortified wines.

As we went through the process of tasting the wines we were given clear instruction of what we should be looking for in the appearance of the wine, what we identified on the nose, what the palate picked up when tasting, and lastly our conclusions. There is a definitive vocabulary used for describing our findings and we were encouraged to use these terms when analysing the wines. For example, we described or identified clarity, intensity, colour, condition, aromatic characteristics, sweetness, acidity, tannins, body, flavours and, lastly, finish.

FoodWe briefly looked at the more popular grape varieties and how viticulture, viniculture and age were key factors in determining the taste and appearance of the final bottled product. Of particular interest was the influence of botrytis (noble rot) in the making of sweet wines such as the Sauternes that we tasted.

Simon explained the more common wine faults we are likely to come across; essentially, what can and sometimes does go wrong and how we can identify these problems. He then gave information on ideal temperatures for keeping and serving different wines, the best storage conditions and the need for certain wines to be decanted.

As well as the ten different wines to try we were also given a plate containing various foods and ‘tastes’ that would alter the flavour and enjoyment of the wines (both positively and negatively). Sugar, salt, lemon, apple, spicy crisps, cheese, grapes and a strip of PTC paper to show our response to bitterness when it reacted to the proteins on our tongue, all produced some surprising results and an interesting talking point for us to end on.

We are holding another ‘Beginner’s Guide To Wine Tasting’ workshop at our premises in Stevenage on Saturday 29th March from 11am to 12.30pm. Tickets are available for £35 and can be ordered online or by calling Member Services on 01438 740222, quoting reference number TG140329.

You may also be interested to visit The Society’s online Guide To Tasting. To help members get the most out of tasting wine, our buyers have also put together a 10-bottle Guide To Tasting Case with a 20-page booklet and detailed tasting notes exploring the subjects about which members seek advice most often.

Stephanie Searle
Tastings & Events Team

Categories : Wine Tastings
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Tue 21 Jan 2014

Viognier: A Grape Back From The Brink

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The 2012 vintage has been fantastic for white Rhône wines and though quantities are small, we are delighted to be offering a selection in our opening offer from the region.

It is incredible to think that viognier, today a rather trendy white grape variety found in vineyards across the winemaking world, was on the verge of extinction less than 50 years ago.



In the 1960s total plantings barely covered ten hectares and all of these were on the steep-sided terraced vineyards of Condrieu and Château-Grillet in the northern Rhône. The vertiginous slopes are difficult to farm and the viognier vines were old and diseased. Prone to coulure, they were producing pitifully low yields making the wines expensive to produce and had no real market to support them.

That this remarkable grape has survived and gone on to be a variety of global significance is down to the persistence of two northern Rhône growers, E. Guigal and Georges Vernay. Widely regarded as pioneers in the resurrection of the Condrieu appellation, they both saw the beauty and potential of this grape and made it their business to improve the health of the vines, by selecting and propagating those in best shape.

It wasn’t just for its ability to produce exotically perfumed peachy whites that they persevered with the grape. Guigal in particular was passionate about adding in the permitted small amounts of viognier to his syrah to add bloom and fragrance to his Côte-Rôtie wines.

Viognier growing in Guigal's Condrieu vineyards

Viognier growing in Guigal’s Condrieu vineyards

Meanwhile the improvements that Guigal and Vernay brought about in their Condrieu helped bring the grape to a wider audience. Condrieu became highly sought after and the grape the trendy new white grape of the early eighties.

Becoming fashionable isn’t always a great thing, but for viognier it has helped to preserve the grape for future generations as growers throughout the world sought to introduce it to their regions improving the quality of the vine stock as they did so. And while nowhere quite matches the complexity of viognier from Condrieu, there are some great-pretenders from the Cape to California and all (warm) growing regions in between.

If you’d like to find out more about the different styles of Condrieu, read buyer Marcel Orford-William’s post from his visit to the region last year.

You can also read our profile of viognier in our Guide to Grapes in Wine World & News.

Joanna Goodman
News Editor

Categories : France, Rhône
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Mon 20 Jan 2014

Postcard From Chile: Picoroco

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This is the oddest thing I have eaten.


It is delicious with a taste in between a scallop, brown crab meat and a clam. Called picoroco in Chile, it’s a giant barnacle (austromegabalanus psittacus).


It is often served in seafood stews over there. It can be boiled or steamed but the best way to cook it is to put it on the barbecue and pour a few drops of white wine into the cavity. It squirts out juice when ready, like a mini volcano erupting.


Pull out the claw and the edible part is attached to it. There’s not much meat but it’s delicious.


While you can’t find this in England at the time of writing, a perfect accompaniement would be our first sparkling wine from Chile, Subercaseaux, named after Don Melchor’s wife’s surname, a delicious pinot and chardonnay sparkling wine from Limarí.

Look out for this wine in our forthcoming South America offer, which will be available from 3rd February. Substitute grilled scallops for the picoroco!

Toby Morrhall
Society Buyer for South America

Stop press (5/2/14): our new South American offering is now available online until Sunday 2nd March.

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Fri 17 Jan 2014

Postcard From Chile: Pan Casero y Pebre

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The way you start a meal in Chile is with lovely warm, rustic homebaked bread, pan casero, straight from the oven and a spicy salsa called pebre made of coriander, chopped onion, olive oil, garlic and ground or pureed spicy aji peppers. It is sometimes made with tomatoes too and varies in spiciness.

Pan Casero y Pebre

This is to whet your appetite for our South American offer, which will be available from 3rd February!

Toby Morrhall
Society Buyer for South America

Stop press (5/2/14): our new South American offering is now available online until Sunday 2nd March.

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Rebecca Gibb

Rebecca Gibb

Rebecca Gibb, an English wine writer living in New Zealand, made a trip to Marlborough to taste the 2013 wines. Here she reports back on her assessment of the vintage and shares her notes on some of her favourite wines.

View The Society’s offer of 2013 Marlborough sauvignon blanc

The sun shone long and bright across New Zealand’s sauvignon capital in the months leading up to the 2013 harvest.

It was a long, sunny and dry growing season in Marlborough and across New Zealand, after two fairly unremarkable summers.

Greywacke winemaker Kevin Judd summarises the season: ‘Overall, a delightful summer with heat summation marginally above the long-term average and lots of beautiful sunny days, a stark contrast to the previous season, the coolest for 15 years, posting the lowest February sunshine hours since records began 84 years prior.’

Indeed, the 2012 sauvignons reflected the cool conditions of that vintage: growers that left too much fruit on the vines struggled to get their fruit ripe. Many of the entry-level to mid-range sauvignons were eye-wateringly high in acid, leaving you reaching for the Rennies or calling the dentist.


What a difference a year makes
The spectacular summer has given the 2013 wines a much riper fruit profile, a little more body and the acids are mouthwatering rather than eyewatering. They are beautifully balanced with moderate alcohol levels, in general. There’s also a clear flavour profile in the 2013 wines: gooseberry and elderflower flavours coupled with lemony acidity are hallmarks of the vintage.

My tasting notes:

2013 Greywacke Sauvignon Blanc (sample) (£15.50 per bottle)
A restrained and serious Kiwi sauvignon. Finely balanced and pure. Forget passionfruit and sweaty armpits, this pulls back on the exuberance, offering citrus and flinty characters. It’s relatively full-bodied with good weight on the mid palate, coupled with textural layers. 18/20

Dog Point Sauvignon Blanc2013 Dog Point Sauvignon Blanc (£12.95 per bottle)
I’m hard to impress but this could be the best sauvignon blanc I’ve tasted in New Zealand since landing here four years ago. While James Healey, the owner/winemaker at Dog Point, really pushes the boundaries with his Section 94 Sauvignon making it a ‘love it or hate it’ wine, this sauvignon provides complex sulfide-derived struck match/flint character in balance with gooseberry, elderflower and cut grass. It is a weighty sauvignon with a waxy texture and lovely line on the finish. It’s an interesting and harmonious wine. This is next level stuff and shows sauvignon blanc could hold our interest for a lot longer yet. 19/20

2013 Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc (£19 per bottle)
A bright, zingy sauvignon blanc. This is not an overly exuberant Kiwi sauvignon but does offer classic varietal flavors from gooseberry and elderflower to green apple and lemon. Plenty of concentration here and crisp acidity leaves you salivating for another slurp. 18/20

Read Rebecca’s article, ‘New Zealand sauvignon blanc: the next generation’, in Wine World & News

View The Society’s offer of 2013 Marlborough sauvignon blanc.

Rebecca Gibb is an English wine writer and MW student living in New Zealand. She was the Louis Roederer Emerging Wine Writer of the Year 2010, is editor of and has her own website at

Categories : New Zealand
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108 new members were elected to The Wine Society in 1914. The dominant profession was medicine, not surprising since The Society’s offices were in the headquarters of The Medical Society of London in Chandos Street.

There was a fair mix of other occupations. Two names most would recognise today, HG Wells and John Galsworthy, joined just before the war. Membership recruitment remained steady the next year but had dropped to 36 by 1919, and did not pick up again until 1921, coinciding with a great vintage all over Europe.

The Wine Society's December 1914 List

The Wine Society’s December 1914 List

On the List, port took pride of place with 34 entries, and in addition there was a trailer for the 1912 vintage – which could be seen as The Wine Society’s first opening offer. The Society had been founded on the back of a cellar full of Portuguese wine left over after the Great Exhibition of 1874. The Bordeaux list was topped by Montrose 1900, ‘a very fine soft wine’ and Yquem 1901 (‘fine bouquets luscious’) at 60 shillings a dozen.

Intriguingly, Château Ducru Beaucaillou appeared as a sparkling white Médoc, ‘a most interesting light wine where Champagne is inadvisable’. Ducru’s current owner, Bruno Borie, is clearly missing a sales opportunity.

Burgundies, apparently ‘possess(ing) more tannin and body than found in claret’ – and so almost certainly bolstered with something from further south – went back to Corton 1898.

In 1914 Germany was very well represented and included the most expensive wine on the list, Scharzhofburger Auslese 1907 at 68 shillings a dozen. There were a couple of Hungarian wines, which survived the cull of all German wines from this list later in the war. Outside Portugal and France the list just had Chianti and Capri Bianco from Italy, three Australians, five Californian wines, Grand Canary and a good list of whiskies, brandy and liqueurs. By 1918 the wine list had been much reduced, apart from a long and impressive list of vintage ports. Liqueurs and aperitifs had grown. German wines came back in time for the great 1921 vintage in 1923.

The back pages pictured the Society’s cellars in Hills Place, under the Palladium, including the photograph of one of the nine corridors in the Society’s ‘Bin cellars’ (as opposed to Barrel cellar) which adorns the cover of our latest January–April 2014 List, which will be arriving on members’ doorsteps in the coming days.

The Society's new January - April 2014 List

The Society’s new January – April 2014 List

At the beginning of lists current during the First World War was a short history of The Wine Society and ‘Notes on Wine’, explaining how it was made and what to expect, stressing the importance of proper cellar accommodation: ‘The modern imperious demand for non-basement villas, maisonettes and flats has sadly curtailed the accommodation for storing wines and spirits, while such as is vouched for by the builder is too often of the hole-and corner type, and liable to great variations of temperature’.

The writer complained, perhaps foreseeing the creation of our temperature-controlled Members’ Reserves cellars.

The recommended ‘Order of Serving Wine’ gives a flavour of the times:

Sherry // As an appetiser and with Soup
Hock, Moselle or light Sauternes // With Fish
Sparkling White or still red Wines // With various meats
Sauternes or Sherry // With sweet
Fine Cognac or Liqueur // After Savoury
Fine Old Bottle Claret or Vintage Port // With Dessert

Sebastian Payne MW
Society Buyer

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