Grapevine Archive for June, 2014
This recipe, while hopefully of use and interest to all, was written with the Summer 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.First it was five and now it’s seven, though ideally our continued well-being needs nearer 10-12 portions of fruit and veg a day – quite a challenge for most omnivores especially on those days when only a big plate of chips will convince us that life can’t be all bad. However, on a recent holiday in Istanbul, I found a secret weapon in the struggle to eat responsibly. It’s called meze.
This dazzling array of little starter dishes is merely the appetiser for a traditional Turkish meal, but they are so moreish, and provoke such indecision, that the main course is often abandoned. Aubergines, chickpeas, olives and tomatoes are always in evidence, as are grated fennel and carrot and stuffed cabbage. A bit of minced lamb might figure, or deep-fried calamari with tarator, the unctuous Levantine dip of soaked white bread and pounded walnuts, pine nuts or tahini. But the main thrust of a meze moment is fresh vegetables, simply prepared sometimes with gentle, but intriguing spices like sumac, sometimes just a little seasoning. A few of these instead of the usual meat and two veg will easily satisfy both the inner man and the health police.
Like some of my favourite recipes, the one that follows fell quite unexpectedly into my collection. Promotional literature in hotel rooms is usually best left undisturbed but the pile of predictable corporate guff in mine contained a wondrous publication called Cornucopia: Istanbul Unwrapped, which greatly enhanced my stay, from tips on unearthing treasures in the bewildering Grand Bazaar to seasonal eats. It took all my restraint not to half-inch the whole magazine, but I could not resist scribbling down this simple but terrific recipe from its publisher, the food writer and photographer Berrin Torolsan.
The ingredients are few and straightforward and the dish can be left to chunter away while you see to other pressing matters (like rubbing a bit of lamb with a few of those Grand Bazaar spices, ready for the barbecue). Turkish wines have never been better, as I hope members have discovered for themselves in our Lists, but the point about meze is that they marry happily with many other regions, styles and colours.
In moderation, of course. If a glass of vinified grapes counted as a seven-a-day portion, we’d all be model citizens!
Wine Matches from The Society’s Summer Wine Without Fuss Selections
The only remotely tricky ingredient here is the unripe northern-European tomato. The added sugar and purée do much to neutralise acidity, but it always pays with tomatoes to think fruit rather than vegetable and to look for plenty in the glass, avoiding anything very dry. There’s plenty of inspiration here, from southern France and Italy: try Vermentino Sicilia Mandrarossa in the Buyers’ Everyday White Selection and Corbières Le Blanc Paysan, Castelmaure (Premium Whites), ever-dependable Bricco Rosso Suagnà, Langhe Rosso 2009.
Spain scores with Vinlara Tempranillo, Ribera del Duero 2012 (Buyers’ Everyday Reds) as does the Cape, with the chenin-driven Curator white (Buyers’ Everyday Whites) and the luscious red berries of Boschendal 1685 Merlot Coastal 2012 (Premium Reds). Grignan les Adhémar Rouge Secret de Terroir, Domaine de Montine 2012 (Premium Reds) and the aristocratic Montpeyroux La Pimpanela, Domaine La Jasse-Castel 2011 (Buyers’ French Classic Reds – the 2011 is still available on our website) are a treat, especially with that soukh-spiced lamb option, and Pinot Blanc, Domaine Ginglinger 2012 (Buyers’ French Classic Whites) is the surprise match.
Fresh green beans (fasulye) are a seasonal Turkish summer staple. Strictly speaking, AySe Kadin are string or Kenya beans but I prefer to use home-grown stick or runner beans in season which are all the better for a good, leisurely simmering. As a nation, we’ve become used to preferring our veggies al dente, but it’s precisely the softness and sweetness of the beans that makes this so delicious, so don’t be tempted to rush them.
• 500g fresh green beans
• 4 tbs olive oil
• 1 large onion, finely chopped
• 1 large tomato, peeled and chopped
• A pinch of sugar
• 1 tablespoon double-concentrate tomato paste (see below*)
• Top and tail the beans: slice runner beans into thin strips, not lozenges
• Rinse and drain them well.
• Heat the oil and fry the onion until translucent.
• Add the tomato, and cook for 5 minutes, stirring frequently
• Add the beans and stir-fry for 2 minutes.
• Season with the sugar and salt and add half a glass of cold water (about 150ml) into which you have stirred the tomato paste.
• Bring to the boil, reduce heat and simmer until the liquid has reduced and the beans are very tender**.
• Check the seasoning and serve at room temperature.
* Borrowed from another of Berrin Torolsan’s recipes, and a sure-fire way of making a silk purse out of a sow’s ear of a Benelux tomato.
** Depending on the freshness of the beans this can take the best part of an hour at a slow simmer. Imported Kenya beans take longer. Check from time to time to make sure nothing is sticking or burning, and add a little water if needed.
Janet Wynne Evans
We have noticed for some time that several members are using Twitter and Facebook to swap their thoughts on wines purchased from The Society, so it seemed a nice idea to open this up to others.
For the very first time, therefore, we will be holding an online guided tasting of three wines, all from New Zealand, on Thursday 3rd July from 7.30pm to 8.30pm UK time, hosted by Society buyer Sarah Knowles.
Those who make use of Facebook and/or Twitter, are cordially invited to crack open any or all of these wines (all of which are currently featured in our New Zealand offer) and taste along with Sarah, resident tweeter Ewan Murray and yours truly on Facebook.
This tasting is an opportunity to add your comments about the wines as we all taste together online from the comfort of our own sofas!
To take part, simply…
1) Order the wines
The wines we will be tasting (in order) are as follows:
Should you wish to stock up whilst placing your order (and benefit from free UK delivery), all of the wines are available, along with nine others, in the New Zealand Mixed Dozen Case for £129 (a saving of £8.25). Alternatively you can pick your own selection from the current New Zealand offer.
To ensure delivery before we taste, please order by 12 noon on Tuesday 1st July.
2) Log in, crack open the wines and enjoy!
Simply log in to Twitter and/or Facebook from 7.30pm on the 3rd July and look up twitter.com/thewinesociety or facebook.com/thewinesociety, or search via the hashtag #twsTaste on either service.
During the tasting feel free to add your thoughts and comments, and do let us know if you’re enjoying a particular dish with the wines too – food and wine matching tips are always welcome!
All that remains is to remind anyone interested to make sure the whites are nicely chilled!
We look forward to talking to you on 3rd July.
What a coincidence! The day the 2012 Alsace offer got underway, there I was, on cherished ground in Alsace for a huge trade tasting with nearly 100 growers in attendance.This was the second such event and, like the first, the idea was to showcase Alsace riesling in all its various styles and their multiplicity of flavours. About half the wines were riesling and the rest was everything else. Young wines were on show but many brought older wines too, in order to prove the longevity of this extraordinary grape. (Regretfully I missed out on a chance to taste a 1945 riesling from Schlumberger. Too busy trying to sample at least one wine from each table!).
Last year, The Wine Society was fortunate to be rewarded as best Alsace Wine merchant by the IWC (International Wine Challenge) so this was a good opportunity to taste from a large number of producers with a view to deepen the range still further. I wasn’t disappointed and I was able to identify several producers that will warrant a second visit. This year we introduced a grand cru sylvaner; next year there may be a rare klevener de Heiligenstein, a cousin of gewurztraminer found only in the village of Heiligenstein and making a delicately perfumed and spicy white wine.Most of the wines on show came from the 2012 vintage which is not surprising as that is very much the current vintage for most producers. I had already tasted a fair few back in February when making the selection for The Society’s current offer. This week I added to my knowledge of this vintage with the best part of 200 more wines. And what a delight they are.
Alsace vintages tend to come in three vintage styles. There are the weighty vintages like 2011, 2009 and 2007, marked by heat and high levels of ripeness that make full-flavoured, generous wines. Rarer are vintages like 2010, 2008 and 2001 that are the result of a very long growing season; these wines are steely, marked by both high levels of ripeness and also acidity, a perfect combination for long keeping. The third group, typified by 2012 and 2004, produces wines that are relatively light with charm and an abundance of fruit.
On a day like last Tuesday, what better way to spend lunch than with a knuckle of pork and a glass of 2012 riesling, generously poured by our friend Jean Trimbach? The restaurant, by the way, for anyone with an idea of visiting this fairytale countryside, was the ‘Pfifferhus’ in Ribeauvillé, on the main street, which I think makes an especially good choucroute that has a little sharpness and clean, refreshing flavours.
In the course of a day I probably tasted a little short of 300 wines from nearly 100 producers. Standards were high, surprisingly so, and of course helped by the excellence of the 2012 vintage.
And the 2013s are looking similarly good. Isabelle and Céline Meyer of Josmeyer, knowing that I was coming, brought a sample of 2013 Exhibition Riesling (pictured right).This is going to be something quite special, though we will have to wait till the autumn to try it. Josmeyer were among the standout producers at the tasting, able to demonstrate depth in their range and also the longevity of their wines. I loved 2000 Riesling Pflanzerreben from Rolly-Gassmann and was bowled over by a 1976 Riesling Grand Cru Kirchberg from Domaine Louis Sipp. And there were equally exceptional wines from Leon Beyer, Trimbach , Schlumberger, Weinbach and Zind Humbrecht among others.
Alsace is an extraordinarily polyglot region of France and there was as much English spoken at the fair as French, with visitors from all over the world. Of note was the contingent of Japanese, no doubt on the quest for the most precise and pure examples of riesling to match their exquisite cooking!
Society Buyer for Alsace
It has been two weeks since we revealed the results of our 2014 Wine Champions tastings: an annual exercise undertaken to whittle down hundreds of bottles to the best of the best for drinking now, all under strict blind-tasting conditions. We hope Society members are enjoying the victors!
A number of photographs were taken throughout the tastings for the purposes of this offer, and we include a few choice shots in the gallery below, hopefully to give a little more of a flavour of what this remarkably interesting but admittedly also rather gruelling exercise entails!
Once upon a time, there were no appellations, let alone the hierarchy of labelling possibilities that exist today, and these have been changing subtly over the years.The term appellation controlée is very gradually being superseded by appellation d’origine protégée or AOP for short. The now obsolete term VDQS has all but disappeared and wines like Saint-Bris, Moselle and Saint-Mont have all been elevated to full appellation status.
At one time, anything not of appellation contrôlée level was merely labelled vin de table, then as a way of improving quality and encouraging innovation a new vin de pays category was created. This allowed for an indication of provenance and at the same time offered producers more flexibility in the grape varieties that could be used and size of yields which were less restrictive than for appellation-level wines.
Vin de pays has been incredibly successful and the model has been copied elsewhere, in Italy and Spain. The same Europe-wide legislation that meant a change of name for AOC wines applies to vin de pays too and from the 2010 vintage this category is officially called IGP, or indication géographique protégée (though the term vin de pays is still permitted and often used on labels).
At the more prosaic level, the term vin de table was never very satisfactory; it gave producers little scope to individualise these wines and carried rather negative connotations for consumers. Now that has changed with the creation of vin de France which with one fell swoop replaces vin de table.
So what is the difference?
Vin de France still cannot give any idea of provenance other than being French but it opens up the potential for some creative cross-border blending and inventive use of unusual varieties. Now grape variety can appear on the label or even grape varieties if more than one is used, and the choice of varieties are now more or less without limit.
Another recently listed wine which takes advantage of this new category and which has already proved popular with members is the Duo Des Deux Mers Sauvignon-Viognier (£6.25). The two seas in question here are the Atlantic and Mediterranean, combining as it does fruity fresh sauvignon from Gascony with ripe soft Languedoc viognier.
Most vin de France wines are priced at entry level, but by no means all. A fine if eccentric example is the so called historical 19th century blend from Château Palmer – 85% Margaux merlot and cabernet and 15% syrah from the Rhône Valley. Though I doubt the grands crus will be rushing to take advantage of the new vin de France category, the possibilities for everyday drinking wines are endless!
Recently my colleague Shaun Kiernan, The Society’s fine wine manager, extolled the virtues of laying wine down and the pleasure gained from drinking wine at its delicious peak (a sentiment echoed by our buyers in the below video).
This is something I endeavour to practice at every opportunity, the only failing being my patience, or lack of it.
Many of the wines I have in my Members’ Reserves, though entering their drinking window, I feel are still perhaps a little too young.
Though wines traditionally laid down tend to be fine wines, and thus carry an associated price tag, I have found that the quality and depth of The Society’s listings, and the flexibility with regard to putting self-made mixed cases into Reserves, allows one to reap the benefits of sampling aged wine via a more modest outlay and timeframe.
My criteria for my modest BCP (Braganza Cellar Plan, modelled on our own Vintage Cellar Plan – as yet there is no copyright for the former) has been wines that have enough structure and body under £10. In the past I have laid down 3 each of Valpolicella Superiore Ripasso Torre del Falasco 2008 (the gold medal-winning 2012 vintage is now available for £9.50), Weinert Carrascal 2007 from Argentina (look out for the 2009 vintage coming soon) and Spain’s Blau, Montsant 2011 (the 2012 is currently on sale for £8.95). These should come to fruition in 2015/16 and I tend to push the drink date envelope so will look to withdraw them as a Christmas present to myself next year.
The current Society List has some potential BCP wines, namely, Côtes-du-Rhône, Château Courac 2010 (£7.95) and Domaine Gonon, Mâcon La Roche Vineuse 2012 (£9.50). Both have drink dates of up to 2017, ensuring a very pleasant Christmas in three years’ time.
While I appreciate these wines may never display the complexities and tertiary flavours that can come with laying down of fine wines, I am confident that even with this short period of maturation these wines are a testament to the quality of The Society’s range, and how even someone as eager as me can enjoy a certain maturity to their wine without paying a king’s ransom.
Non-vintage Champagne is also something I enjoy ageing. Whilst we advise drinking such wines within 2 years of purchase to ensure freshness, those who like a little more nuttiness and complexity may be interested to know that The Society’s Champagne takes on a lovely rounded quality after a couple of years.
I’d love to hear your own experiences of cellaring more modest bottles. For a little more information about laying down wine, please refer to our Storing Wine page and/or the video below.
The Cellar Showroom
There is always so much to do, try, buy, watch and taste at county shows and this year, for the first time, The Wine Society had a stand at The Hertfordshire County Show in Redbourn on the 24th and 25th May.
With our UK HQ based in Stevenage, it proved an excellent opportunity for some of our local members to sample a few of our more popular wines and for the visiting public, the chance to try our wines and find out more about The Wine Society.
Alongside the horse, sheep, cattle and dog events at the show, there were hand-made crafts, pipe bands, motorcycle displays, a circus and a host of local (and not so local) companies displaying their wares.
The Wine Society’s stand was in the large food and drinks marquee, where locally produced foods and delicacies, usually only found in farm shops and delicatessens, were in abundance. Other stands featured foods and beverages from further afield including spicy German sausage and delicious Italian salami – I couldn’t resist buying some of that!
Poor weather on the Bank Holiday Saturday dictated that the show was not particularly busy, but by the Sunday the sun was shining and people came along in droves.
The 12 wines that Public Relations manager Ewan Murray had selected for people to try covered a wide range in terms of style, colour, country of origin and price. Even more varied were the tastes and wine-drinking experiences of those who visited the stand. A number of people wanted to find out more about The Wine Society, so we spent time explaining to them how it worked, what they could expect, the services that we offered and, most importantly, why we felt that we were representing a long standing company at probably the most exciting time in its 140-year history.
So what wines did we offer for tasting at the show?
• Blanquette de Limoux Brut Nature, Antech (£9.95)
• The Society’s Vinho Verde (£6.25)
• Falanghina del Sannio, Janare 2013 (£7.25)
• Lawson’s Dry Hills Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2013 (£9.95)
• The Society’s Chablis (£11.50)
• Piesporter Goldtröpfchen Riesling Kabinett, von Kesselstatt 2008 (£12.50)
• Percheron Shiraz-Mourvèdre, Western Cape 2013 (£5.95)
• Côtes d’Auvergne Gamay, Cave Saint-Verny 2011 (£7.95)
• Valpolicella Superiore Ripasso, Torre del Falasco 2012 (£9.50)
• Cepa Gavilán Crianza, Ribera del Duero 2011 (£10.95)
• Martinborough Vineyards Te Tera Martinborough Pinot Noir 2012 (£13.50)
• Half bottle of Blind Spot Rutherglen Muscat (£7.25)
The three front-runners in terms of what the tasting public particularly enjoyed were firstly, the Falanghina del Sannio which also comes highly recommended by Wine Society buyer Sebastian Payne MW. He wrote: ‘2013 was a difficult year for reds (very wet summer) in Campania but no problem for whites and this falanghina is very good indeed. It is a fresh, fragrant ‘cook’s’ aperitif wine which, at home, all guests are welcome to share and which all of us guzzle with pleasure.’
Close on the heels of the falanghina was the Lawson’s Dry Hills Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc. A juicy and generous New Zealand sauvignon blanc with notes of lemon and gooseberry zest – it was the perfect wine for such a lovely, hot day.
Of the red wines that were featured, it was the Valpolicella Superiore Ripasso which proved to be the tasters favourite. This International Wine Challenge 2014 gold-medal winner is a deliciously intense and full-blooded ‘baby Amarone’ with ripe-fruit character and gorgeous, persistent notes of fig and raisin.
Although we were unable to sell any wine to non members, many enthusiatic visitors took away literature and membership application forms. It was also very pleasing to hear so many people giving us positive comments and feedback about the wines that they’d tasted.
If you are local to Hertfordshire I would fully recommend a visit to the show when it returns to the showground in Redbourn on 23rd and 24th May 2015. There is so much there for the whole family to enjoy, and with a bit of luck, the sun will come out too!
Tastings & Events
It may be of interest for members to note that most of the wines that we took to the show are featured in our current Wine Champions offer that runs until Sunday 13th July.
I appreciate sport may not be to everyone’s liking and that for some the current festival of football may seem more like an endurance test than a pleasurable way to spend a summer. (Don’t believe me? Just ask the other members of my household…).
To alleviate this problem, and save me from falling foul of my family (the penalty for which I am all too familiar with), I have resorted to what I feel I know best, namely food and wine. A look at the fixtures ahead reveals the meeting of 32 countries throws up a while host of culinary and beverage options.
So, as well as watching, I shall be eating and drinking football.
• The meeting of Germany and Portugal on Monday 16th June gives me a chance to try a slow-roasted pork belly with garlic and black pepper (to replicate the unique leitão style) that would be perfectly complemented by a slightly off-dry riesling from Germany such as The Society’s.
• The Greek-Japanese meeting on the 19th allows the opportunity to try the fresh full-flavoured Greek offering of Hatzidakis Santorini with tempura-battered seafood and vegetables. You could, of course, offer wine a rest on the bench and bring on a substitute in the form of Greek beer ‘Fix’, which can be found in our Summer Beers Case. It’s also worth noting that this selection includes a Brazilian beer, too, which I suspect could be useful in the later stages of the tournament…
• The more adventurous could try suya, a Nigerian kebab flavoured with cayenne pepper and spices, which would work wonderfully with the soft berry fruit of an Argentine Malbec (I’ll likely be calling up Faldeos Nevados Malbec 2013) when made with beef, to mark the countries meeting on the 25th June.
• As for England, the remarkably good 2013 vintage of Three Choirs Midsummer Hill should see off an Italian crab linguine with as much aplomb as I hope Roy Hodgson’s team will tomorrow. I also predict great things for a hearty plate of roast beef versus Ururguay’s Atlántico Sur Garzón Vineyard Maldonado Marselan.
If you have ‘extra time’, it would be interesting to see what matches members try out over the coming month.
‘All in all it has been a rather unexceptional year so far as our financial statements are concerned. On the whole, we think that is rather a good thing.’ - Sarah Evans, Chairman
On Monday night 342 members gathered at the Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre for The Society’s 140th AGM. In her speech, The Society’s Chairman Sarah Evans talked about the strong performance of The Society over the past year, with 5.5% more new members joining compared to the previous year and with each member purchasing a little more too.In volume terms members’ purchases over the last year increased, which Sarah said was ‘roughly equivalent to about 2.5 Olympic size swimming pools. Not quite a ‘wine lake’ … yet!’
The importance of keeping up-to-date with digital media was emphasised with several stories from SocietyGrapevine shared with the members present. Sarah said that in future the Annual Report will be published online with a simplified printed document for those that prefer to receive the information in this way. She said that there were no plans to stop sending out our Lists and offers by mail though.
Sarah also emphasised how seriously The Society takes comments and questions from members with each being assigned to the appropriate member of staff or passed on to the Committee for consideration if deemed necessary. She also reminded members of our primary aim to offer ‘the best overall value to members’ and that the Value Charter, published this year, sets this out for all to see.
In this our 140th year, Sarah made a point of reminding members of our history and quoted from minutes of our 40th AGM in 1914, which showed that two new wines were to be included:
‘a ‘Chablis type’ and one a ‘claret type’: both from the 1907 vintage in California. In fact we first listed wines from California in 1890 and Australian wines as early as 1880.’
We have scanned in pages from the 1914 July List for those interested in looking at the sort of wines members had access to 100 years ago.
Questions and comments from the floor included a request for graphs showing trends in members’ drinking preferences; a question about the age profile of new members and how this compared to the existing membership; a thank you for allowing the withdrawal of part-cases from Members’ Reserves and a request for the facility to lay down mixed six-bottle cases; an update on progress in expanding our listing of English and Welsh wines, and a request to be able to collect wines bought en primeur from Montreuil.
A full transcript of the questions and answers and minutes from the meeting will be posted on the website in due course.
In the meantime, the Chairman’s speech can be viewed here.
Society buyers spend a lot of time travelling. There is no substitute for visiting a vineyard – speaking with a producer, tasting, seeing the vines and soil and aspect – to get a true feel for the quality of a wine. That notwithstanding, Society buyers are also very thorough. A wine that impresses in the vigneron’s cellar may not do so quite as much in the cold light of day, and so invariably samples will be collected for a second appraisal in The Society’s tasting room here in Stevenage.It was such a tasting that I was fortunate enough to take part in recently with Marcel Orford-Williams, freshly returned from a whistle-stop tour of Alsace, and newly appointed Society buyer Sarah Knowles.
The Society has a superb, award-winning range of Alsace wines, and this is largely a result of Marcel’s skill and eye for quality. It is also testament to the rigorous selection process through which each wine is put before listing.
And so, over the course of three days, I joined Marcel in the tasting room along with around 150 Alsace wines, mostly from the 2012 vintage.
Our first day covered the workhorses of Alsace: a selection of blends, along with some single-varietal sylvaner, pinot blanc and chesselas. Our second day took in riesling, from bone dry to a glorious Sélection de Grains Noble. We then tasted through a range of pinot gris – rounded, generous and, for the most part, reassuringly dry. Gewurztraminer brought the proceedings to a close on the third day, an aromatic rear guard action covering the full spectrum of sweetness.
Aside from the sheer quality of the vintage, the one thing that struck me the most about these tastings was the different ‘house styles’ that one begins to appreciate when tasting through such a varied offering: Beyer’s full-flavoured wines of complexity that cry out for food; Josmeyer’s charming, elegant wines that feel as though they just want to be drunk; Rolly Gassman’s highly aromatic wines with a characteristic richness that comes from picking very ripe; Weinbach’s purity and easy charm; Trimbach, the embodiment of class and precision in every sniff and sip…
…and these are just a few of the producers featured in our current Alsace 2012 offer.
In short, Alsace is a region of contrasts and has a wine to suit almost every palate, pocket and occasion. I wholeheartedly recommend that members explore the fruits of this excellent vintage.
The Society’s 2012 Alsace offer is available now.