Grapevine Archive for September, 2014
I have just returned from a cycling trip with a friend and fellow Wine Society employee, David Marsh (head of Information Systems). The main objective was to see if we could cycle up the classic hills of Alpe d’Huez in the Alps and the so-called ‘Giant of Provence’, Mont Ventoux, both of which are well-known routes for the Tour de France. However, we put aside a day in the Rhône for cycling through the vineyards and sought out a few of our growers to pop in and see how the vintage was going, and a little ‘degustation’ at the same time.
Most growers are always pleased to welcome Wine Society members, though harvest time is obviously a little busier for them. We managed to visit three growers in Seguret, Gigondas and Rasteau. We were planning on cycling up to Vinsobres to visit the Jaumes too but the mistral wind (and a little wrong turning I made) put this out of our reach in the time we had.
Firstly in Seguret, we visited Domaine Pourra who make Séguret Côtes-du-Rhône Villages Mont Bayon (£14.50) for us. There they said that they will be starting the harvests this week – it would normally be earlier but after the rain of the last couple of weeks, needed the mistral wind to dry the grapes. The harvest is, however, looking good.
Some estates have started harvesting already, particularly those lower down on the plain below Seguret and Gigondas. Indeed we saw a lot of the small narrow tractors on the roads taking trailers full of grapes from the vineyards to the wineries, and we could smell the winemaking as we cycled through the villages. In Rasteau (more later), we also saw the local co-operative working flat out emptying and weighing trailer-loads of grapes from their farmer-members. Domaine Pourra’s vineyards are higher up on the slopes above the village, and above Gigondas so mature and are picked a couple of weeks later. They will start the harvest with their syrah (‘bien mur’). The 2010 of the wine we buy (2009 is on sale now) will be bottled shortly to make space for this year’s harvest – the pallet of bottles arrived the day before we visited, and the corks were due the next day (fingers crossed).
Next a few kilometres on to Gigondas and Château de Saint Cosme, who make our Exhibition Gigondas (we are currently selling the 2011 at £14.95) and whose wines we sell in our Rhône opening offer. They are just north of the village (well signposted) and have vineyards right up to the ‘Dentelles de Montmirail’ ridge.
They make one white wine and the grapes for this are all harvested. They are now starting on the reds, and all the guys were out at harvest. Again, they were glad of the mistral wind and were optimistic about the harvest. They offered us a tasting suite of their white blend, then their 100% syrah Côtes-du-Rhône called Les Deux Albions (after Louis Barruol’s English wife and the vineyard on the Plan d’Albion near Sault on the slopes of Mont Ventoux) and their Gigondas 2012 which is the closest to the Exhibition blend they do for us. They also do a Châteauneuf though this is with bought-in grapes and so does not carry the ‘Château’ prefix on the label.
Last but not least was Domaine La Soumade on the Route d’Orange just outside Rasteau. This involved a cycle against the wind made worse by the aforementioned wrong turning doubling the distance. But it was worth it, we were welcomed by the nephew of the owner, and he showed us the old winery and the vineyards. We sell their Rasteau Côtes-du-Rhône Villages 2011 (£12.50). There we had a flight of wines to taste as shown in the adjacent photo.
One general point about the tastings: we found that we were generally tasting the latest vintage, occasionally the preceding one, and with the exception of the cheaper wines, the wines needed more time to age (hence The Society will often have bought and kept earlier vintages which will be sold when ready). But this does give a good experience of trying to discern what the wines will be like in a few years, and it is still a great way to compare and contrast different wines side by side.
Head of Marketing
And as a PS, I’m glad to say that we did make it successfully up Mont Ventoux, not in a record time and a lot of younger (and thinner?) cyclists passed us.
Or maybe they just had better bikes?
A good knowledge of wine is an important part of working at The Society, particularly for those who are in constant contact with our members.
For, just as it is inadvisable to buy an umbrella from a wet man, one should hesitate before buying wine from someone who knows nothing about it.
Fortunately, this is not something members are likely to encounter from The Society, and the reason for this is training.
All members of Society staff are encouraged to learn about wine. It is the lifeblood of our co-operative, and infinitely interesting to boot! To support in this endeavour, we hold regular training sessions to keep staff up to date on our wines and, vitally, how they taste.
Last week, fine wine adviser Freddy Bulmer hosted a series of training sessions dedicated to our Exhibition range.
The Society’s Exhibition wines represent fine expressions of the vineyards, terroir or regions from which they originate, and we work with some of the world’s best winemakers to source and blend them.
Below are a handful of comments on three of the wines featured.
The Society’s Exhibition Pouilly-Fuissé 2012 (£17.50)
• ‘So enjoyable on its own but a real candidate for a gift bottle and a Christmas treat, with ageing potential to boot.’
• ‘Like a mini-Meursault, at a third of the price!’
The Society’s Exhibition Crozes-Hermitage 2012 (£12.95)
• ‘Has everything great Crozes should have.’
The Society’s Exhibition Rioja Reserva 2007 (£13.95)
• ‘This wine is a stunner.’
• ‘So elegant, refined and balanced.’
You can view all wines featured in the current Exhibition offer.
I can’t recall a Society event I’ve attended with such a palpable buzz in the air as the South Africa tasting held earlier this month at Lord’s.
There seemed a noticeable excitement about the wines, with members of all manner of ages coming together to enjoy some of the highlights from Jo Locke MW’s range, in the company of the growers behind the labels.
Cape Point: exciting new sauvignons
The elephant in the room changing its spots?
Pinotage, South Africa’s indigenous Marmite grape, has long been a favourite topic of tasters and trade, provoking as it can a mixed response (one winemaker is alleged to have uttered the words ‘Don’t steal, rape, or murder – or make pinotage’). Increasingly, however, it appears that the different potential styles of pinotage are at least as diverse…
Chenins for all seasons
Like pinotage, the chameleonic chenin blanc grape is never far from the limelight in South Africa and rightly so. I spent much of the night pouring A Fistful of Schist Reserve Chenin Blanc, the cheapest wine of the tasting, and yet a winner of numerous converts as the night went on. I know this is the ‘house white’ of several colleagues and it’s easy to see why – it’s a delightful, fresh and citrusy chenin that has admirable varietal typicity for under £6. Some advance ‘under-the-table’ tastes of the new Fistful of Schist Colombard and Grenache Rosé were also there to whet appetites and wet whistles, both of which they did admirably.
Delheim: serious chenin (and cabernet) for a silly price
The Delheim Family Chenin Blanc (£11.95) from Stellenbosch was a showstopper for me (not to mention their silky, juicy and thoroughly good-value Cabernet). While similarly exuberant and dry, this is a cut above A Fistful of Schist in terms of complexity and focus, as one would expect for the price, and yet I would not have been surprised to find out this wine cost more.
Jayne Beaumont was also there, pouring her family’s top chenin, Hope Marguerite (£16.50). A wine that would not look out of place in a line-up of fine Vouvrays, this pure, elegant and yet rich example of the grape showed once again why it is a benchmark within The Society’s range.
A last straw
To further demonstrate chenin’s versatility, the Tierhoek team brought along their famed Straw Wine (£17.50 per half bottle), made from high-altitude chenin fruit that is dried on straw mats before a sherry-like solera process, resulting in a lusciously sweet, honeyed and gloopy glass of remarkable intensity and complexity. A treat, and a fine way to end the tasting.
There were many other highlights, too numerous to list here.
Those new to South Africa’s wines however should find much to enjoy in Jo Locke MW’s handpicked Introduction to South Africa selection, narrowing the field and reducing the noise to arrive at a shortlist of six bottles priced between £5.95 and £9.50.
A wider selection of wines can be found in our main South Africa offering.
In my 11 years at The Society I have been lucky enough to have visited Montreuil-sur-Mer well over 100 times having had oversight of day-to-day activities in the showroom as well as in my capacity as Tastings & Events Manager and latterly as PR Manager. Just this week I have finished reading Thomas Keneally’s brilliant The Daughters of Mars, which brought home to me another side of the history of this area of Northern France. Though known variously as The Society’s French outpost, home to a pair of Michelin-starred restaurants and the inspiration behind the first half of Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables, this year it is the town’s crucial role in World War I that has come to the fore.
General Headquarters had been based in Saint Omer since October 1914. With the slow but sure advance of the German front line it was decided in March 1916 to move GHQ to Montreuil – further from the front line but closer to the ports of Boulogne and Etaples, the latter also being the location for a large training base and a 20,000 bed military hospital site, as well as having direct rail links to the front on the Somme.
The logistical side of the war effort has often been overlooked in this year of centenary commemorations. The British Expeditionary Trust has put that to rights with an excellent exhibition, Le Monde à nos Portes (The World at our Gates) set up in tandem with the Musée de Montreuil in the Citadel. The story of Montreuil and the Côte d’Opale is told through an excellent photographic record. Pictures of King George V, Field Marshal Douglas Haig and Président Raymond Poincaré in the streets of Montreuil are displayed alongside a whole host of British, French, Canadian, Italian, American and Indian soldiers and backroom staff.
The communications centre was originally in the theatre on what is now known as Place Général de Gaulle, but this was moved to the casemates of the Citadel in early 1918. There were telephony improvements as the war progressed, but towers in the Citadel and along the rampart walls were still used as lofts for carrier pigeons for messages between the front at GHQ.
From the early 20th century’s Belle Epoque where well-to-do French and British tourists flocked to the French coast from Deauville to Le Touquet through to the dismantling of GHQ in 1919, this excellent exhibition marking the years when Montreuil was at the epicentre of the war effort is well worth a visit.
Next time you head to Montreuil to stock up on any of the 200 wines for sale on the spot, or to pick up your pre-ordered cases, be sure you make time to visit the Citadel, which also has its own fascinating history. I learn something new every time I go.
A few weeks before England’s harvest in September, a few colleagues and I were fortunate enough to visit Ridgeview Wine Estate in Sussex. Some of us at The Wine Society are currently undergoing our Level 3 studies for our WSET (Wine & Spirits Education Trust) qualifications. The purpose of the trip I organised was to understand and learn about the whole process of producing wines. Not being able to travel the world to further my studies, I thought the best or more viable chance would be to visit a UK winery.
Ridgeview’s multi-award-winning sparkling wine is well known worldwide. First founded in 1994 by Mike and Chris Roberts, it’s a family company dedicated in the production of the highest-quality sparkling wine using traditional sparkling grape varieties and methods at the foot of the South Downs in Sussex.
After a three-hour journey from The Wine Society in Stevenage (it would have been shorter had we not been caught up in the Tour of Britain bike race!), we were greeted with a lovely lunch put on for us by Ridgeview, before heading off on a vineyard tour. This was presented by Daniel, one of the very knowledgeable and experienced assistant winemakers. He told us about the techniques that Ridgeview uses to grow and produce such great-quality grapes which go in their sparkling wine.
Thirteen French clones of chardonnay, pinot noir and pinot meunier on three different rootstocks were selected to emulate l’assemblage of the Champagne houses that combine together the vintages of small vineyards, thereby creating imaginative blends.
Since then, they have expanded from the single site to develop close partnerships with local growers who are predominantly in or adjacent to the South Downs National Park. Only being 70 miles (as the crow flies) from the Champagne region of France, their soils and climate are not too different. The location is also good for producing fully ripe grapes with great flavour, but which aren’t high in alcohol. With the climate of the UK (we get cold nights even in summer, after all!) English grapes have super acidity, a prerequisite for high-quality fizz.
The winery is purpose built with an underground cellar where the wines can be stored in perfect conditions for the secondary fermentation and lees ageing. Their grape press is capable of pressing four tonnes of grapes to create 2,000 litres of grape juice after the free-run is discarded and gyropalates help rotate the bottles, moving the dead yeast lees to the neck of the bottle before the final closure is made.
Afterwards, we were fortunate to have a special tasting hosted by Mardi Roberts (sales and marketing manager) who gave us an informal tutored tasting of their range.
At present, we stock two of Ridgeview’s sparkling wines. The Ridgeview Bloomsbury 2011 (£23 per bottle) is a chardonnay-dominant blend which is supported by the fullness of the red grapes pinot noir and pinot meunier. It has a light gold colour, a lovely mousse and an enticing nose of citrus fruit with a hint of melon and honey. The chardonnay brings finesse, along with crisp fruit freshness and toasty notes, while the two pinots add depth and character. This will age very gracefully, if you can be patient!
Both wines, price wise, are very similar to many Champagnes and dare I say give more of a pleasurable experience both on nose and palate compared to wines 80 miles south of Ridgeview – but that’s my opinion and feel free to disagree!
If you are ever in the area, I would highly recommend popping by to visit. More information can be found on the Ridgeview website. We would like to say a huge thank you to those from Ridgeview for providing us with a very educational and interesting experience in visiting their winery.
Our Members’ Favourites offer, which closes on Sunday 28th September, counts down our 35 bestselling producer-label wines. It is selected by Society members voting with their feet, yet many also take the time to tell us what they think of the wines.
At a Showroom tasting, we caught up with a number of members to get their views on some of the top sellers from this year:
What do YOU think?
Submit a written review of one of the Members’ Favourite wines on our website by noon on Tuesday 30th September for a chance to win a bottle of this year’s straight-in-at-number-one wine, Prosecco Brut I Duecento. The authors of the most interesting, amusing or striking reviews will receive a bottle, so good luck!
To leave a review, simply scroll down to the bottom of the wine’s product page on our website and click ‘Write your own review’ (you’ll need to be logged in to do this).
Earlier this week, the 10th annual Louis Roederer Wine Writers’ Awards ceremony was held in London, recognising the top wine journalists and communicators throughout the world.
We were delighted to see former Society colleague Richard Mayson win the International Wine Feature Writer of the Year award and Society contributor Nina Caplan named International Wine Columnist of the Year, for their work in The World of Fine Wine and New Statesman respectively.
The Society’s foremost aim is, of course, to offer our members the best wines at the best possible prices. However, we also aim to provide as much good-quality information about them as we can, whether for the inquisitive beginner or the seasoned expert.
A key part of this process is our long and proud history of hosting exclusive articles from the best professional wine writers. It is therefore particularly pleasing to see Richard and Nina’s efforts recognised by this top-class judging panel.
Read Society articles by the winners
For those wishing to explore the work of these award-winning writers on The Society’s website, we present some of Richard’s and Nina’s most recent contributions below:
• Richard Mayson: ‘Vintage Port: A Rich Tradition’
‘The declaration of a new port vintage brings out the historian in me,’ wrote Richard Mayson when 2011 was declared. Here’s his look at the history of this noble wine, from its origins in the 18th century to the present.
• Nina Caplan: ‘A Precious Inheritance’
Nina’s father, Harold Caplan, served on The Wine Society’s committee of management for 11 years, chairing the wine sub-committee for four of those. This lovely piece explores how the love of wine is among the most valuable of heirlooms.
• Nina Caplan: ‘Your Granny Wouldn’t Like It!’
A lament to the fact that sherry still carries the albatross of being perceived as as a sweet digestif for the superannuated, and attempts to right the wrong in this enlightening piece on the diversity of styles and value for money offered by this perennially underrated wine.
• Nina Caplan: ‘What To Drink At Easter’
Last Easter, we published this reflection on similarities and differences between Jewish and Christian Easter festivities and rituals and how, when it comes to choice of wine, ‘France is still the Holy Land’ in Nina’s opinion.
Wonderfully, the wines on this trip stood up to the pretty astonishing surroundings.
I had a wonderful tasting with Annika, owner of the small but perfectly formed Mount Koinga vineyard. The Wine Society has been the exclusive customer for the wines from this property managed by Mike and hand crafted by Paul Pujol at Prophet’s Rock.
I went on, with Paul, to visit a number of his vineyards including the one where the Exhibition Central Otago Pinot is sourced from.
Aptly named Rocky Point, as you can see from the photos, it is on a steep aspect overlooking the mirror-like Lake Dunstan and snow-capped mountains beyond. A tough vineyard for vines, encouraging complex flavours to develop in these concentrated grapes.
I was able to try the next vintage of the Exhibition wine which, although just bottled, had plenty of sour cherry and cranberry notes, fine tannins and great length.
A full tasting of the wines from Prophet’s Rock including some back vintages also really demonstrated how well the pinots and rieslings can age, becoming very complex and fine.
On to Victoria on this whistlestop trip.
Society Buyer for New Zealand
I am currently on my first buying trip Down Under with The Wine Society.
Marlborough lived up to its great reputation, with added sheep! I had two full days here, seeing 12 producers spanning long-term Society favourites to new suppliers.All in all I managed to taste the new 2014 sauvignons from Greywacke, Seresin, Villa Maria, Brent Marris‘s Three Terraces, te Pa, Dog Point, Framinghams, Isabel, Lawsons, Wither Hills, Mahi and last, but by no means least, Hunter’s.
Everyone is describing 2014 as the vintage of two halves: those who picked before the rains (harvesting healthy concentrated grapes) and those who didn’t (who got left with dilute swollen fruit). I am delighted to assure you that all of our producers worked hard this vintage to pick early and carefully craft some wonderful 2014s. What’s more, I hope the photos from our travels – a menagerie of farm animals and talented winemakers – dispel any ideas of very large corporate wineries. We really are working with the cream of the crop.
The 2014 sauvignons that I tried had great purity, typical concentration, and fresh acidity. I also had the opportunity to work with a number of winemakers to blend our own unique wines which I hope you will enjoy next year!
I can’t write this blog post without quickly mentioning the unsung heroes of the tastings though: chardonnay and pinot noir. Without a doubt these made up some of the best wines I tried over the two days.
The 2013 and 2014 Marlborough chardonnays were tasting wonderfully, rich in apple and citrus flavours, integrated and balanced oak notes, and plenty of cut lemon acidity. We’ll definitely be stocking a few more in 2015.
The pinots also really shone. Elegant, tightly grained with opulent red berry fruit perfume, the 2013s were showing well.
Roll on Central Otago and then on to Oz!
Society Buyer for New Zealand
When preparing an article for Decanter magazine, I was able to compare a run of older vintages at two outstanding but very different Margaux châteaux.
Palmer, which now sells for very top-end super-second prices, was long a favourite of Wine Society members originally because of its outstanding record in the sixties and seventies when many of its neighbours were under-performing. The 1966 was one of the wines of the vintage and its 1970 outshone first-growth Margaux by a long way. One of the secrets of Palmer’s success in cooler years was the quality of its merlot planted on great terroir.
Rauzan-Ségla, whose place at the top of the second-growth in the 1855 classification is testimony to its potential suffered because its succession of owners lacked the means or the will to invest in vineyard and cellar. Since its purchase in 1994 by the Wertheimer family, who own Chanel, and their considerable investment in draining, restructuring the vineyard, rebuilding the cellar and far greater selection for the first wine Rauzan-Ségla has been steadily regaining its rightful place.
Here are some recent tasting notes for members lucky enough to have older vintages from either property.
All wines were decanted two hours in advance.
1995: A big wine with rich tannic structure without a trace of astringency, but currently not quite ‘married’. Seems to be in a dip. Good keeper till 2020 plus but leave now for a couple of years. 40% cabernet sauvignon, 51% merlot, 9% cabernet franc. Now–2025.
1996: Much more expressive than 1995 now with silky texture, lovely middle palate and freshness and vitality. Lots still to give but delicious now. The last year cabernet franc was used at Palmer. 55% cabernet sauvignon, 40% merlot, 4% cabernet franc, 1% petit verdot. Now–2020.
1998: Lovely ‘blackcurrant’ fragrance. Glorious rounded fruit. A great Médoc success in this vintage. Still in its first phase of maturity. 48% cabernet sauvignon, 52% merlot, 5% petit verdot. Now–2020.
2000: Pure salivating fruit. Firm long palate with minty touch. Wonderful to taste now, but probably a mistake to drink with food because almost too ‘big’ and will be finer in ten years. 53% cabernet sauvignon, 47% merlot. Now–2025.
2001: This vintage is completely ready with fragrant bouquet, creamy texture and peppery finish. Good rather than great. Would go well with chicken and mushrooms. 51% cabernet sauvignon, 47% merlot, 7% petit verdot. Now–2022.
2004: Has just ‘opened’ up in spring 2014. Serious dark fruit, succulent, with body and fruit and highly enjoyable now with a real touch of class too. First phase of maturity. Thomas Duroux arrived this year and changed the way the vineyards were worked and made stricter selection. 46% cabernet sauvignon, 47% merlot, 7% petit verdot. Now–2025.
2005: Absolutely gorgeous with an abundance of fragrant fruit, dense ripe, rich and naturally sweet. This will close up and should be kept. 2017–2030.
Palmer will be 100% organically cultivated from 2014, after beginning with a one hectare trial in 1998.
Since manager John Kolasa arrived in July 1994 with the Wertheimer purchase, huge long-term improvements have been made to vineyard, cellar and in precise vinification. Such changes take time to show but are now fully effective. Second wine Ségla is an excellent buy.
1995: A big wine which smells evolved but remains powerful and tannic-structured. Very good merlot this year. Will be better still from 2016. 60% cabernet sauvignon, 36% merlot, 4% cabernet franc. Now–2025.
1996: Delicious claret to drink now, in 2014, with vivacity and liveliness. Would go well with a juicy steak. 60% cabernet sauvignon, 40% merlot. Representing 42% of the crop. Now–2020.
1998: Ready to drink but best decanted two hours in advance as quite slow to ‘open’. Blueberry bouquet. Chicken and mushroom wine. 65% cabernet sauvignon, 35% merlot. Now–2018.
2000: Serious, rich, big-style claret, ‘like 1986 but better made’ with power and structure. The petit verdot helped fill the middle palate. 61% cabernet sauvignon, 36% merlot, 3% petit verdot. From 2019–2025.
2001: Tastes a shade pinched and at this stage the 2002 is better. Maybe better in two years; from 63.5% cabernet sauvignon, 33.5% merlot and 3% cabernet franc. 2016–2022.
2004: Enjoyable now with fresh, soft fruit and elegant Margaux finesse. 52.5% cabernet sauvignon, 42% merlot, 4% petit verdot, 1.5% cabernet franc. Now–2022.
2005: Great wine. Ripe and very classy but worth holding till 2020. 2017–2030.
Sebastian Payne MW