Wed 26 Feb 2014

Wine Champions: A Flavour of the 2014 Tastings


At last! After the wettest of starts, spring seems finally to be springing in the UK. Here at The Society we are in full swing planning a number of offerings for that elusive warmer weather.

The buyers assessing some of this year's candidates

The buyers assessing some of this year’s candidates

The highlight, as ever, is the annual unveiling of our Wine Champions.

The Champions are gleaned from a series of blind tastings by the buying team. All labels are concealed, allowing no room for potential bias and enabling the tasters to focus entirely on what’s in the bottle rather than on it. Hundreds of wines are tasted and whittled down to best-of-the-best selection of ‘Champions’: wines that are giving of their delicious best, at the top of their game and guaranteed to please Society members over the summer and beyond.

I have been fortunate enough to take part in these fascinating, enjoyable and admittedly rather exhausting tasting sessions for three years now, and each campaign throws up its own trends, conundrums, excitements and surprises.

What made 2014’s Championship?
I am, of course, sworn to secrecy as to the identities of the winning wines themselves. However, to whet members’ appetites, I have been permitted to divulge the following:

Star country?
Two of our buyers’ tweets from the tasting should tell you who one of the star countries was this year:

This is perhaps unsurprising given the diversity of Italian wine, with its thousands of native varieties and disparate styles. However, I cannot recall such a buzz about Italian wines in previous ‘Champs’ tastings I have been here for. Do look out for the wines from The Boot in this year’s offer.

Sweet spots: Portuguese white and Argentine red
Also particularly striking in 2014 were these two heartening ‘sweet spots’. The quality of Portugal’s red and white wines has been on a glorious upward curve for some time now, and their white wines showed this year that, for style, flavour and value, they can compete with anyone.

Able to satisfy and stimulate across a range of price points, Argentine malbec’s irresistibly moreish, food-friendly flavour has long been a favourite of UK wine drinkers. Rich pickings indeed – but these wines are not just about richness. We found some remarkable examples, benefiting from creative blending, old vines, an emphasis on finesse rather than power and some recent successful vintages. I hope you enjoy them as much as we did!

A quick peek inside the tasting room during this year’s Bordeaux round.

Tanked out
Tasting hundreds of wines all day sounds like a dream come true (and it is, of course), but those who have not had the pleasure of tasting a large number of tank samples may not appreciate how difficult it can be after a while! The buyers are very experienced at tasting and assessing tank samples, but a late 2013 vintage across so many regions meant that several of the infant wines’ samples that reached us were particularly embryonic. Healthy and sometimes impassioned debate is as mandatory as the quality of the final shortlist, for one begets the other, and meticulous retasting and deliberation ensures each wine gets the fairest chance it can in its category and line-up. This was especially necessary for many of the 2013 tank samples, as the team expertly sifted through the sulphur aromas and primary fruit to form consensus.

South Africa
A final mention must go to South Africa: we may not have chosen a vast number of Cape Champs this year, but I can’t remember the wines showing better. In only three years of my attendance at these tastings, the progression in quality has been noticeable, something I find quite breathtaking. It would be difficult to refute the assertion that, of all the countries making wine today, the Cape has the biggest spring in its step right now.

Fine Wine Champions
The fun doesn’t stop once the initial list of Champions is unveiled: the Fine Wine Champions will follow shortly afterwards in the August Fine Wine List. I could write at least as much again about the exceptional wines and happy surprises that went into the premium line-up. Perhaps I will nearer the time…

Martin Brown

Digital Copywriter

The 2014 Wine Champions will be unveiled in June.


  1. JerryW says:

    Wonderful! I am deeply envious.

    I find I can cope with extensive tastings OK but what I do find very hard is tasting wines that are far from ready, and thus totally different to how they will one day be.. my deep respect, to those who can taste a solid Bordeaux, perhaps not even bottled yet, and say how it is going to end up!

    • Simon Rosen says:

      Tasters can only strongly suggest how it will end up and they will not taste top chateaus blind. They will only make a fool of themselves. Taste a young Cheval Blanc, 100% Cabernet Franc blind out of context and I suspect even MW’s will struggle.

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