Grapevine Archive for May, 2014
If you are travelling to or from France on holiday, or just coming for the day or weekend, these relaxed, informal buffets offer the chance to take a break, meet fellow Wine Society members, enjoy some local cooking and taste a range of 20 or so wines.
The next lunch date, Bienvenue chez les Ch’tis, is on Saturday 28th June, offering a selection of local dishes alongside wines chosen specially to complement these. Ch’ti is the Picardy dialect and the nickname for its inhabitants, whose culinary specialities include the delicious tarte au Maroilles made from the cheese of the same name, the simple but delectable tarte au sucre and the town’s own excellent cheese, Le Pavé Montreuillois. The lunch and walk-around tasting start at 11am and will go on until around 2.30pm, tickets at £45 per head are available on a first-come, first-served basis.
Contact Member Services or buy tickets on our website.There’s plenty to see and do in Montreuil itself and the surrounding area, making this a good destination in its own right for a short break or long-weekend. Angela Bird’s guidebook Northern France: What to do and see within 90 minutes of Calais is a good source of inspiration and insider knowledge. For those planning a trip the coming weeks, Angela has provided details of some events that may be of interest.
Things to do in and around Montreuil-sur-Mer
18th May & 15th June, 2014
Aux Marches Du Palais
A meet of collectors’ and classic cars, organised by the Le Touquet Automobiles de Collection club, featuring around 100 vehicles from Britain, Germany, Italy and France.
Palais des Congrès car park, Le Touquet. Information from Le Touquet tourist office, Palais des Congrès, Place de l’Hermitage, Le Touquet-Paris-Plage, 16km NW of Montreuil (tel: 03 21 06 72 00).
24th-25th May, 2014
Journées Doullennaises des Jardins d’Agrément
Delightful garden show, with stands laid out inside the town’s ancient citadel. Bigger every year, it attracts around 60 exhibitors from France and England alike. Special focus this year on “Les plantes et la mémoire”.
Doullens, 28km N of Amiens, 64km SE of Montreuil (tel: 06 07 27 68 79).
Admission 6€, under-15s free.
30th May-8th June, 2014
A series of 16 classical concerts and an opera given in a variety of venues located between the Canche and Authie rivers. Performances will be held at Berck, Montreuil, Le Touquet and villages around, and include open rehearsals, music related to food or to dance, and opportunities for audiences to mingle informally with performers.
Festival office, 4 Rue de la Rivière, 62180 Tigny-Noyelles (tel: 06 03 74 36 70).
Times and admission charges vary.
1st June, 2014
Balade Aux Jardins
Their proud owners give the public a chance to ogle some cherished American cars in the centre of Montreuil, before they set off for a leisurely drive around the flowery villages of the Montreuil area.
Place du Général de Gaulle, Montreuil (tel: 06 08 63 49 56).
7-9th June, 2014
Week-end ‘The Rose’
A couple of days of flower-themed activities and entertainment, with an exhibition of painting on porcelain; the creation of a new garden by the municipal gardeners; a sale of plants and roses; and, on Saturday (3.30pm), stilt-walkers striding through the streets.
Place de la Concorde, Hardelot; information from Hardelot tourist office (tel: 03 21 83 51 02).
15th June-15th September, 2014
La Cathédrale en Couleurs
This fantastic summer illumination show brings to life the wonderfully-carved medieval sculptures on the west front of Amiens cathedral. Traces of paint that originally embellished the stone statues were discovered during restoration. Today for an hour or so on summer evenings they are “repainted” thanks to some amazing lighting technology.
Daily: June 10.45pm; July 10.30pm; Aug 10pm; Sept 9.45pm.
Cathedral west front, off Rue Flatters, Amiens, 95km SE of Montreuil (tel: 03 22 71 60 50)
If you wish to order wines for collection, the showroom is open from 10.00am to 6.00pm. Just turn up and order from the 200 or so wines held in stock, or telephone through your pre-orders of unmixed dozens to Member Services on 01438 740222.
Wines collected from Montreuil benefit from a guaranteed saving of at least £20 per dozen, with an extra €3 per dozen for pre-ordered wines. Please ensure that you allow plenty of time for your pre-ordered wines to be prepared for you. You can find out more via our website.
My first Society buying trip was to the picturesque vineyards of Three Choirs, outside the town of Newent near Gloucester. Travelling with The Society’s Buyer for English wine, Mark Buckenham, our mission for the day was to blend two exclusive wines that Three Choirs produce for us: Midsummer Hill and Stone Brook. Following the tricky 2012 English harvest, we were keen to taste the 2013 vintage.
For any members who have not been to Three Choirs Vineyard, I would thoroughly recommend a visit. Situated on gently undulating south-facing slopes at the convergence of Herefordshire, Gloucestershire and Worcestershire, it is a very pretty spot indeed. Growing conditions here are defined by the unique microclimate: sheltered by the Malverns and the Brecon Beacons, the grapes are kept cool and clean by the breezes coming up the valley from the River Severn. A lone wind turbine in the middle distance somehow adds to the bucolic scene, rather than detracts.
Three Choirs grow a miscellany of different grape varieties, many of which go into our Midsummer Hill blend. The 2013 vintage here is characterised by its relative lightness and by a good balance of acidity – vital for freshness and crispness in a white wine.
This was my first experience of blending – something at which Society buyers are particularly skilled. The tasting room at Three Choirs resembles a science laboratory, with clean white surfaces, pipettes and measuring jugs. The process begins with a taste of the previous vintage so as to re-familiarise ourselves with the style. Incidentally, I was impressed at how well the Midsummer Hill 2012 was showing: still fresh and lifted, with lovely citrus and pear fruit. Next came the tricky part. With samples of various varieties in front of us, Mark and I, along with Martin Fowke and Liam Tinston of Three Choirs, began to blend different proportions to try to reach a wine that we think members will enjoy. We then repeated this painstaking, fascinating process for the Stone Brook.
When finally satisfied with the white blends, we turned our attention to rosé. Three Choirs have a number of dark-skinned grape varieties under vine, and the rosé blend will change from vintage to vintage. The 2013 blend is crisp, refreshing and vibrant, with a palate full of ripe cherry and red berry fruit.
One of the benefits of having such a wide variety of grapes under vine is that one can tweak the blends to maintain consistency of style and, more importantly, quality. Whilst the varieties themselves may not sound familiar (madeleine angevine , reichensteiner, seyval blanc, phoenix, siegerrebe, schönberger to name a few), I think that these 2013 Three Choirs blends are exceptional, and will make for perfect summer drinking.
The Muscadet region has enjoyed some fine early spring weather and Laurence and Gérard Vinet (Domaine des Ratelles) report that the vines are in good health, with the embryonic ‘bunches’ well formed.
They – and we! – are hopeful that there will be no spring frost to plague the area this year and that the crop will be closer to normal volumes, which should ease pressure on prices too. Fingers crossed for quality as well as quantity.
Jo Locke MW
The Society exists solely for members’ benefit, and your kind feedback confirms our satisfaction with our wine range. It is, however, always heartening to see wines we stock recognised by the industry as being ‘best in class’.
The results of the 2014 IWC (International Wine Challenge) have just been announced, and we have a raft of gold medals to celebrate, topped off with two national trophies. Some are available now (hyperlinked below), others later in the year.
The first of the trophies was awarded to that great English sparkling wine Nyetimber Brut Classic Cuvée 2009 from West Chiltington in Sussex. Nyetimber has been a fixture in our list for some time, challenging the very best across the Channel with the traditional chardonnay, pinot noir and pinot meunier blend.
The second trophy has deservedly gone to La Rocca 2011, made by the Pieropan family in Soave. Sons Andrea and Dario run the estate, although still under the watchful eye of father Nino, whose relationship with The Society goes back for decades! Not the first time that this wine has won the Italian White Trophy, and doubtless not the last!
For those who want more sparkle, we were very pleased to see a co-operatively produced Champagne pick up a gold medal – Le Brun de Neuville Chardonnay Brut NV, one of the increasing number of lesser-known Champagnes on our List. And a food-friendly viognier from long-standing Society suppliers Paul Jaboulet Aîné, their Condrieu, Domaine des Grands Amandiers 2012 also made the grade.
Moving to the reds, Paul Jaboulet Aîné have another success with a wine closely followed by Society members over the years, Crozes Hermitage Domaine de Thalabert 2009, while another Italian entry from Veneto, Valpolicella Superiore Ripasso Torre del Falasco 2012 made the grade, proving that it’s not just wines over £10 that can be award-winners. (Being a huge Italian fan, I was particularly pleased to see the ‘ripasso’ style rewarded.)
If you are in need of fortification, then sherry and port make up the remainder of our gold medals. Lustau La Ina is a classic of its type, and the more quirky Cayetano del Pino Solera Palo Cortado, only available from The Wine Society in the UK, is very different. (By the way, while you’re in the mood, why not try Cayetano’s elder diminutive sister, the Palo Cortado Viejisimo, with an estimated age of 30 years.) Taylor’s 2000 Vintage Port brings this golden list to a close.
We were also delighted to discover the following Society wines received silver medals in the same competition: The Society’s Champagne, The Society’s Rosé Champagne, Blind Spot Tasmania Sparkling Brut, The Society’s Exhibition Limarí Chardonnay, The Society’s Exhibition Gewurztraminer, The Society’s Exhibition Rioja Reserva, The Society’s Exhibition Rioja Gran Reserva (soon to be launched), The Society’s Exhibition Sauternes 2010 and The Society’s Exhibition Mature Medium Dry Oloroso Blend – a great endorsement of our buyers’ talents.
Today is officially Sauvignon Blanc Day.
What’s more, as The Society’s newly appointed buyer for New Zealand I feel this would be an opportunity missed not to highlight the wonderful options you have available to you with which to celebrate.
As it happens, New Zealand has just finished the 2014 harvest. Harvest reports are suggesting that the Marlborough sauvignon blanc crop this year is at all-time high levels. This is great on the one hand, as there should be plentiful volumes of sauvignon produced; however, on the other, much of this may be a little light, as rain at harvest and overloaded vines could lead to a dilution of the wonderful intensity associated with these wines.
This is why I have been tracking our favourite suppliers carefully over the last few weeks, and I am delighted that all have taken extra care this vintage to reduce their potential crop levels to ensure the delicious concentration we are used to.Whilst we wait for them to arrive, we still have a great selection from the excellent 2013 vintage, which I humbly suggest would be just the thing for the current weather.
Hopefully you will join me this evening in having a glass or two of well-chilled sauvignon – it is, after all, ‘the day’!
Society Buyer for New Zealand
If you would like to find out more about the 2013 Marlborough sauvignons, New Zealand-based wine writer Rebecca Gibb’s overview from earlier this year may be of interest.
Selecting the wines
In early April, we (Joanna Locke MW, Sebastian Payne MW and I) spent the best part of two weeks in Bordeaux, tasting and retasting several hundred wines from the 2013 vintage. We tasted most of the top wines at the châteaux, and many other wines were on show at the communal tastings organised by the Union des Grands Crus.
Here is an extract from our itinerary on a typical day:
Tuesday 1st April:
8.45 CH. LEOVILLE LAS CASES
9.30 UGC St Julien (CH. LAGRANGE)
10.00 CH. DUCRU BEAUCAILLOU
10.30 CH. LATOUR
11.00 CH. MOUTON ROTHSCHILD
11.30 CH. LAFITE ROTHSCHILD
12.00 CH. PONTET CANET
12.30 CH. LYNCH BAGES
14.15 CH. CALON SEGUR
14.30 CH. MONTROSE
15.00 CH. COS D’ESTOURNEL
15.30 UGC Pauillac/St Estèphe (Lafon Rochet)
16.15 CH. GRAND PUY LACOSTE
16.45 CH. PICHON LALANDE
18.00 CH. MARGAUX
Despite the challenging schedule we were able to come up with a clear view of the most promising wines of the vintage. It is impossible to generalise about which communes fared better than others in 2013, as we found that it was individual châteaux, rather than particular regions or communes that succeeded or failed.
This year, more than any other in recent times, required severe fruit selection by the châteaux, and as buyers our selection process has had to be equally rigorous. In both our pre-order (online) offer and our main (printed) offer, we have reduced considerably the number of wines offered. Those that have made the final cut are the very best, within their price category, that we tasted over the fortnight in Bordeaux.The style of the 2013 vintage
2013 is a Bordeaux vintage for drinkers rather than speculators, and will appeal to those members looking for wines with finesse and poise, rather than power. The red wines have fresh acidity, modest alcohol levels, perfumed fruit flavours and moderate tannin structure, and most will be drinking in the next five to ten years. The châteaux that made the most attractive wines avoided over extraction in the winery, carefully handling the grapes to ensure that the perfume and charm of the vintage were not lost.
The standout wines for me, and the ones which display the most appeal overall, are those from the François-Xavier Borie stable (Grand-Puy-Lacoste, Haut-Batailley and Lacoste Borie), Beau-Site and Batailley from the Castéja family, Angludet in Margaux, and Cantemerle. At the upper end of the scale, Mouton is probably the finest of the first growths, with Haut-Brion a close second. On the right bank, Grand Corbin-Despagne is particularly attractive, and Figeac is exceptional. All these wines will provide a great deal of medium-term drinking pleasure for claret lovers.
Head of Buying
Our main offer, which will include the majority of wines selected by the buyers and most of the more moderately priced wines, will be available from 27th May.
Some wines from our initial offer of the most highly sought-after wines are still available. Please call Member Services on 01438 741177 if you would like to order these wines.
Laurence Faller, one of the most talented winemakers in Alsace, has died quite suddenly following a heart attack at the ridiculously young age of 47, leaving two small children.
She was the daughter of Théo and Colette Faller of Domaine Weinbach, one of the best-known estates in Alsace. Her father died in 1979 leaving Colette and her older sister Cathy to run it. Laurence attended all the best schools, studying chemistry and enology before joining the family firm in 1993 and gradually taking over responsibility over winemaking and vineyard management, while her sister travelled the world over selling these extraordinary wines with their equally distinctive labels.
From 1998, she began converting the 75 acres of vineyard to biodynamic farming, convinced that this was the way to produce top quality. With every passing vintage, Laurence Faller was able to make wines of uncanny precision and elegance with a quality of fruit of great purity.
At Domaine Weinbach, everything is carefully etched out: steely rieslings, ethereal muscat, sumptuous pinot gris and luscious, sensuous gewurztraminers. ‘Cristallin’ was a favourite word in tasting notes, and achieving a sense of clarity in her wines was a principal aim.
Laurence Faller will be remembered by those many members who were fortunate enough to visit the estate, not least by members of The Wine Society’s Dinning Club. And of course, she will be remembered for the pleasure she gave us in her wonderful wines. One of the estate’s top gewurztraminers, Cuvée Laurence, is appropriately named after her.
Society Buyer for Alsace
Chester has earned a deserved reputation as one of Australia’s most forward-thinking winemakers, but this consciously backward-looking trial shows the profound influence past practices have at this winery.
In Chester’s own words, he wants the fruit ‘to be as close to nature as possible, a pure expression of its surroundings, where things like the soil, geology and age of the vines all impact the resulting wine.’
To that end, Bill and Monty have been signed up as the latest recruits and have been put to work in d’Arenberg’s ‘Beautiful View’ vineyard, the oldest grenache vineyard in the region.
You can see them at work in the below video with Chester and d’Arry Osbourne discussing the experiment. More from the team can be found at the d’Arenberg website.
The Beautiful View is an exceptional wine (we still have a few bottles of the 2009 vintage for sale should members wish to try for themselves), and we look forward to tasting the fruits of this experiment in the new vintage.
Our current Australia offer features a number of wines from d’Arenberg, and is available until Sunday 18th May while stocks last.
This recipe, while hopefully of use and interest to all, was written with the Spring 2014 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?
Find out more about Wine Without Fuss in a short video on our website.
The notion that you should never put into the pot that which you wouldn’t put in your glass is fighting talk for someone who deplores waste. While it’s madness to use a corked wine, which gets even worse as it’s reduced, it’s equally daft to discard anything merely slightly oxidised, or just over the hill, but still in view. Life may be too short to drink it but marinades with herbs, spices, garlic and the like will quickly Botox any wrinkles. Also, some allegedly sound wines that I find far too acidic to drink do a grand job of tenderising meat!
However, I take no chances when it comes to the classic wine risotto, a brilliantly adaptable recipe for the variety on offer in our Wine Without Fuss selections, and a prime example of something that transcends the very simple sum of its parts. I will never forget my first taste of it, possibly because it was my reward for an even more than usually interminable Aida at the arena in Verona. Rain stopped play twice (but long enough neither for a refund nor a restorative glass of Prosecco in the Piazza Brà), the performance was middling and a very large German lady sat on my foot in the gradinate without as much as an es tut mir leid. I am a sucker for even a mediocre O terra addio! as the ill-fated lovers are predictably entombed alive, but we felt pretty much the same as Aida and Radames, so we escaped, while we could, to the Antica Bottega dei Vini for a late supper of risotto al Amarone and a nice drop of the same from the impressive by-the-glass list.
A wine risotto has just three main components, but they have to be perfect. Firstly the rice, which should be short-grain, preferably Italian and definitely in date, not the remains of a bag that has been deteriorating dismally in the back of a kitchen cupboard. This is important because proper risotto rice should absorb several times its own volume of liquid, while keeping a nutty bite, and it won’t if it’s senile. It will also taste stale. Secondly, good stock, well-seasoned but not too strong or it will dominate flavour. Lastly, the wine, which should have plenty of flavour and body. A little tannic grip is good, but avoid oak, which will boil down to essence of plank. This perfect instance of wine being eaten and drunk simultaneously is no time for ‘cooking plonk’. Call me extravagant (you won’t be the first) but that’s another good reason for providing more than one bottle of each of the wines that make up a typical Wine Without Fuss case!
In her labour of love Risotto! Risotto! (Cassell, 1998)) – essential reading for fans of this quintessential dish – Valentina Harris quotes the old Italian dictum that ‘rice is born in water, but it must die in wine’. Let the wake commence!
Janet Wynne Evans
Specialist Wine Manager
A SIMPLE WINE RISOTTO
The recipe below has evolved over many years’ experimentation with countless wine-spattered magazine clippings. Reducing the wine to boost flavour was an early inspiration, though I’m sure I wasn’t alone in concluding that a wine risotto should properly taste of the star ingredient. Tempting though it is to gild the lily, adding overly strong ingredients (pungent sausages, highly smoked fish, very wild mushroom, strong greens or even too much grated Parmesan) may dominate the vinous kernel and it will become a different kind of risotto. However, a subtle sliver of protein or designer vegetable served alongside, rather than stirred in, is another matter and promotes a starter dish to a main course. Some suggestions are given below to match the wines in our Spring Wine Without Fuss selection.
Serves 4 either as a starter or a main course accompanied by fish, meat or vegetables.
2 generous knobs of butter, about 50g
1 banana shallot, peeled and chopped
200g premium Italian risotto rice, such as arborio, carnaroli or vialone
Salt and freshly-ground black pepper
500ml well-seasoned chicken, game or vegetable stock
A bottle of red or white wine of your choice
A handful of Parmesan or Pecorino shavings, to serve
A handful of chopped parsley to garnish
• Pour the wine into a pan, bring to the boil and bubble it down to about 2/3 of its volume – about 500ml. Taste for flavour and concentration as you go.
• Heat the stock to simmering point and keep it gently bubbling.
• Brown the shallot in the first knob of butter until translucent.
• Stir in the rice and ensure that every grain is coated and glossy and season well.
• Now add a ladleful of the reduced wine to the rice, and stir well. Let it evaporate before adding the rest, a ladleful at the time, allowing the pan to get almost dry between additions, seasoning as you go with salt and pepper.
• Now do the same with the hot stock, adding and stirring until the rice is creamy but al dente. This will take a good 20 minutes, possibly longer. Don’t rush it.
• Lastly, add the remaining butter and check the seasoning one more time. Stir well, cover and let it settle for a minute or so while calling the faithful to prayer. Disown any guest who prevaricates.
• Serve in warmed bowls scattered with the herbs and cheese shavings.
SOME VARIATIONS INSPIRED BY THE EASTER WINE WITHOUT FUSS SELECTION
Serve these ingredients alongside, rather than in the risotto.
The sweetness of the fennel needs a complementary note in the wine, which can be found in abundance in Blind Spot McLaren Vale Grenache-Shiraz-Mataro (Buyers’ Everyday Reds). Use either vegetable or chicken stock. The fennel should be quartered (or cut into eighths if large), slicing through the root to keep the pieces intact, seasoned, tossed in olive oil and burnished in a hot oven for 20–30 minutes.
Try this lightly steamed and criss-crossed reverently on a risotto made with Hilltop Corvinus Unoaked Hungarian Dry White 2013 (Buyers’ Everyday Whites) and vegetable stock. Try freshly-ground white pepper in this one.
A good bet for Beaujolais – Domaine du Coteau de la Ronze (Premium Reds) or for added power and depth, Fleurie, Domaine Gaidon (available only in the French Classic Reds case). Serve this with a grilled or roast chicken breast from the best beast you can find, or a mushroom-stuffed thigh.
An extension of the love-affair between goose and gewurz. Make up the risotto with chicken stock and Zarcillo Gewurztraminer (Buyers’ Everyday Whites). Make diagonal cuts in the fat of the duck breast, season well and add just a touch of five-spice powder for an oriental note. Fry breast-side down in a dry non-stick pan for about 15 minutes then flip over and give it another 5. Rest for 10 minutes. Slice on the diagonal and serve with the risotto on the side.
Make up the risotto as directed, but with fish stock and Calabria Bianco Terra di Gerace (only available in the Premium Whites case), and without cheese. Brush the skin of sea bream or red mullet fillets with olive oil and season well. Grill skin-side up for 6–8 minutes until the skin is crisp and the flesh opaque. Perch daintily on a mound of risotto.
The contrast between the pearlescent flakes of a chunk of baked cod or halibut and a red-wine risotto is surprisingly good. Make up the risotto with chicken, rather than fish stock and Quinta de Sant’Ana, Lisboa (available only in the Premium Reds case). The fish should be very, very fresh and not overcooked. Dare I suggest the microwave? Seasoned and confident fish cooks may want to do it skin side down in a frying pan. Purists may omit the cheese but a modicum is fine if you use chicken stock.
You could pick any number of whites for this, notably Pouilly-Fumé, Domaine Seguin (Classic French Whites) but why not confound the conventional and embrace your inner Bond villain with La Grave de Bertin (Buyers’ Everyday Reds)? No cheese, please.