Grapevine Archive for March, 2015

Swiss mountain restaurantApart from making their appearance in the April List, Switzerland and Crete haven’t much in common on the face of it. Coincidentally, though, both are places that I have visited just once in my life. I mean no disrespect to either – so many places, so little time, is my mantra nowadays, and of all the holiday spots I have most enjoyably ticked off, there are just two to which I return again and again, dosh permitting: the Caribbean, for the rapid decompression it delivers and Corsica, for its beauty, individuality, tasty food and transformed wines.

My only proper Swiss foray (I don’t count a quick dash through the St Gothard pass, en route to Italy) was a very upscale works trip in the 1970s, and my life Before Wine. It being January, our hosts kicked off with a soirée de raclette, which was new to me, but an enormous wheel of the eponymous cheese melting before a roaring wood fire, platters of little baked tatties, bowls of crisp salad and bottles of chilled white wine looked  quite promising.

Having been shown the simple etiquette by a smiling, dirndl-clad waitress – (a) spear your spud (b) run it along the surface of the cheese to gather up the melted strings (c) transfer to mouth and (d) wash down with the searingly dry wine – the salad, as ever, was optional and quite possibly for decorative purposes only – I was hooked. Not so much by what might have been described as a bit of an outlandish take on Welsh rabbit, but the combination of mountain cheese and a bracing white wine. Box ticked.

My experience of Crete was a late-summer break in a small, beachside apartment complex. For the first few days, we had the place almost to ourselves, with nothing to distract us but the smell of jasmine and the undivided attention of a bewhiskered barman with a penchant for the Pet Shop Boys, played at deafening volume. We were joined for the last few days by an enormous family party who, every morning, snubbed the yoghurt and honey on offer and took itself off in a fleet of taxis to Chania for the full English breakfast. For all I know they did this every evening too, as dinner was not an option at the ranch, beyond a Greek salad that was emphatically NOT purely for decoration. In fact, it outclassed every one I had ever sampled and I spent some years trying to pinpoint what made it so good. Countless varieties of tomato, different brands of feta cheese, litres of designer oils and a whole colony of Little Gems were sacrificed in the attempt, but the solution was blissfully cheap and easy in the end. See below.

Our preferred dining-spot was a restaurant along the beach that quickly got the royal warrant  for  lamb or swordfish kebabs that managed to stay unfeasibly moist despite the ferocity of the barbecue. The cubes were separated by sweet, ripe tomatoes that managed not to explode, olives and dark, musky bay-leaves.  It came, naturally, with chips.

Which, as everybody knows, can’t be had just the once.


Cheese & wine party

You can buy raclette from specialist cheesemongers, and even a raclette kit – an electrical element to melt it on – but I have long since recognised the difficulty of replicating at home that cosy night in an Alpine tavern. Many members may, like me, be itching to get out old fondue set instead, along with the equally dusty bottle of kirsch traditionally used as a final flourish.

Fondue simply means ‘melted’ and it looks simple enough, but it isn’t really. A mountain of grated cheese doesn’t automatically sink effortlessly into a bottle of tart white wine and many of my efforts have turned out to be a bit lumpisch to be honest so I won’t pass on any whizz-bang tips to enhance the recipe book that came with the set.  Just make sure you buy the right kind of cheese (it doesn’t work with Cheddar) and a wine of high natural acidity, and be prepared for a lot of stirring – traditionally, in a figure of eight – to ensure a good liaison between the two.

baked camembertTo those for whom fondue sets are just that bit too retro, I say not ‘hard cheese’  but a whole bloomy or washed-rind one, enlivened by a splash of white wine and a scattering of fresh thyme and baked in its box for 20 minutes in a hot oven, until bubbling volcanically. Camembert or, if you’re feeding a crowd, Brie work well, but my all-time favourite for this is Golden Cenarth, from my home county of Carmarthenshire and increasingly available in good cheese shops on this side of the Severn Bridge. Hand around sourdough or walnut-bread soldiers or even some little boiled potatoes to dunk into the molten cheese and relish the way in which the wine, like a piercing yodel, calls your palate to order.

Serve with one of our new whites from Domaine des Muses  in the heart of Swiss Valais, either the light, dry refreshing Fendant Classique 2013 (£16.50 instead of £19.50 for one bottle until Sunday 3rd May 2015), or the more exotic Petite Arvine Tradition 2013 (£30) with aromas of peach and apricot to the fore.


Recipe: Marinated char-grilled swordfish with secret-ingredient Greek salad

I find it easier to keep swordfish moist by char-grilling it in one piece, and a thinnish one at that, rather than cubing it. As with tuna, the point about a thinnish piece of meaty fish is that it cooks very quickly without losing its juiciness.

By all means use powdered bay, but I recommend home-drying fresh leaves (a minute or so in a microwave will do it), storing them in a jar and crushing them to order for maximum punch.

Get marinating the night before, or at least 12 hours in advance.

For the swordfish

4 swordfish steaks, about 150g each
1 lemon
1 tablespoon of fruity olive oil plus a little more for brushing
A shallot,  peeled and thinly sliced
2 dried bay leaves crumbled and pounded (use a spice/coffee mill or a pestle and mortar)
Whole sea-salt crystals

Zest and juice the lemon into a shallow container. Add the oil, powdered bay and shallot. Put in the fish and spoon the marinade over it. Leave for 12 hours, preferably overnight in the fridge.

When ready to cook, heat up a ridged char-pan until very hot – very faintly smoking. Lift the fish from its marinade and brush with a little extra oil.

Place the steaks carefully on the pan (you may need to do this in two pans or two batches) and press down with a fish slice. Resist the temptation to shuffle them about.  After a minute or so gently see if they can be easily lifted. If not, be patient. Once they come quietly, turn the steaks 180C for half a minute if you want to achieve a trendy diamond scorch mark.

Flip over and cook on the other side for no more than two minutes. Season generously with the whole salt and keep warm between two plates in a low oven while you cook the other two and finish the salad, which is the perfect accompaniment.

For the salad 

 I like to make this in individual bowls, but a large platter is appealing too.

2-3 Little Gem lettuces or a large Cos (wrong island, but at least Greek!), rinsed
A vine of the ripest tomatoes you can get, halved or quartered
A cucumber
200g feta cheese, cut into small cubes
A small jar of preferably Greek olives in oil (very  important)
A small bunch of mint, leaves only, washed and dried
A large, juicy lemon
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Greek salad

Firstly, peel the cucumber, halve lengthwise and  scoop out the watery seeds with a spoon. Chop each half into chunky pieces and put in a colander. Give them a good sprinkling of salt and leave for about 20 minutes. Rinse thoroughly and pat dry with kitchen paper. This manoeuvre boosts crunch and flavour in a vegetable famous for neither attribute, but skip it if you’re short of time.

If using Little Gems, trim off the root and peel away the individual leaves. If using Cos, trim off the root , chop or roughly tear the rest and arrange on your plate (s).

Scatter the cucumber, tomatoes and feta on top and give everything a good grinding of black pepper. The olives should provide plenty of salt.

Drain as many olives as you fancy of their oil, but don’t discard the oil. Add them to the salad.

Finally, dress with a good squeeze of lemon juice and – here’s the top tip – some of the oil from the olive jar.

This can now sit patiently while you make a bonfire of Euros or smash a few plates. Chop and add the mint just before serving.  I like to give everyone a slice of lemon and serve of the olive oil in a little jug to that guests can adjust the dressing to suit their palate.

Try with our new Cretan white Vidiano Karavitakis 2014 (£9.95) – Karavitakis is the name of the winery based near Chania, vidiano an indigenous variety which has an aroma of lime and apricot and spicy fresh fruit on the palate.


Go to the Wine World & News pages for more recipes

Categories : Other Europe
Comments (0)
Wed 25 Mar 2015

The Society’s Rioja: New Blend, New Vintage

Posted by: | Comments (2)

By far my most important buying job of the year is putting together the blend of The Society’s Rioja (important because around 11,000 members every year buy it).

In the blending room - The mathematics behind The Society's Rioja

In the blending room – The mathematics behind The Society’s Rioja

Last November at Bodegas Palacio in Laguardia, winemaker Roberto Rodriguez and I spent most of a day mixing, tweaking and tasting various components. Quality this year is excellent, thanks to the concentration of the vintage (2011) and the fact that Roberto gave me access to some of his finest barrels of tempranillo normally destined for reserva-level wines.

Looking closer at the components, it’s clear to see why. Firstly, 2011 saw some of the Bodega’s healthiest tempranillo grapes which meant the wines were able to support extensive ageing. This year we selected from barrels where the wines have aged for a staggering 22 months (that’s 7 months more than the previous vintage).

Incidentally that means the wine does legally qualify to be labelled as a reserva. The barrels chosen were 90% American oak, a significant feature in good traditional-style Rioja, and 10% French oak: this combination endows the wine with a round, smooth texture and a hint of vanilla spice.

Our shipment of the new blend has arrived from Rioja and is available now for £7.50 per bottle. I hope you like it.

Pierre Mansour
Society Buyer

Comments (2)

These recipes, while hopefully of use and interest to all, were written with the Easter 2015 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.

Janet Wynne Evans

Janet Wynne Evans

Holiday wine can either go down without touching the sides, never mind engaging the brain, or it can open the door to a wealth of food traditions. After all, what grows together usually goes together and some of my best ideas for ‘Wine and Dine’ notes have started with a casual and unpretentious glass of something local.

At the heart of every foodscape is a local hero. In the past, I’ve raved about Campania’s San Marzano tomatoes, Jamaican callaloo, Galician octopus, Corsican figatellu, Tudela peppers and much more besides.

I used to be frustrated by the difficulty of finding such ingredients here, though you usually can these days, thanks to the web-enabled global village we now inhabit. If not, I now just apply some lateral thinking to our own local produce – no less good, merely different, and so easy to take for granted.

Below, and guided by our Wine Without Fuss selection this Easter, are the home settings for some favourite food thoughts from abroad. They are the result of many years of devouring the world whether with a knife and fork on the spot, or from afar with a cookery book and a bit of imagination, while waiting for the chance to visit the many places that lie in store. There are many of them that I will probably never see now. But there’s a lot to be said for travelling in hope!

Jamón jamón
Jabugo and Teruel (Spain), Capocollo and San Daniele (Italy) and coppa (Corsica) are, for me, the last word in cured ham, a first priority to tuck into as soon as bags are unpacked. It’s funny how well a glass of something local, of any colour, works.

Cruz de Piedra: a cheerful choice for denser ham dishes.

Cruz de Piedra: a cheerful choice for denser ham dishes.

The small Croatian triangle of Istria produces another fine example called prsut, and I’m delighted that our Man in the Balkans Sebastian Payne MW has unearthed its soulmate in our Easter Wine Without Fuss selection: Vina Laguna Malvazija 2013 (Buyers’ Everyday Whites) is perfect with any prosciutto, either straight from the pack or a decorously draped platter. You’ll find a crisp chardonnay a good match too (Faldeos Nevados Chardonnay 2013 (Buyers’ Premium Whites) or Château de Beauregard, Saint-Véran Vernay 2013 (Buyers’ French Classic Dry Whites). A good red choice for the denser hams is a brisk, fruity garnacha like Cruz de Piedra in Buyers’ Premium Reds.

Know your onions
Calabria’s sweet Tropea onions are seldom seen in my neck of the woods but any old red onion, and even a ferocious English one can be slowly fried down to a caramelly mellowness which will make you weep in a good way.

As well as trying them under baked pork chops with Savuto Rosso, Colacino 2012 (Buyers’ Premium Reds) as suggested in the Wine and Dine note, try folding them into a creamy onion tart. In that case, a good option would be a white Alsace such as Cave de Turckheim Pinot Gris 2013 (Buyers’ Premium Whites).

Whatever their provenance, onions can be quickly promoted from rhythm section to solo by quartering them through the base and roasting them with fresh thyme and the merest drop of balsamic vinegar. Pile them on bruschetta or adapt the idea for a savoury tarte tatin. This extra notch of sweetness demands a bit more oomph from the wine and I’d head for Australia with Bleasdale The Broad-Side Langhorne Creek Shiraz-Cabernet-Malbec 2012 (Buyers’ Premium Reds).

Follow the links….
You need a decent Italian deli for those densely meaty, fragrant sausages in which the old Boot excels. All they need is a quick browning in a hot oven and a leisurely 40-minute braise at a lower temperature with cannellini beans, tomatoes and a bit of red wine while you relax with an aperitif. I first tasted this deceptively simple dish in Greve, in the heart of Chianti Classico, where it was billed rather ghoulishly as Fagiolini all’ Uccelletto though the eponymous ‘little bird’ is conspicuous by its absence.

Even a very high-class butcher here tends to be trapped, banger-wise, between the traditional and the combustive, from Dragon’s Breath to Towering Inferno, so in extremis, opt for the former, the meatier the better (80% plus) and wild boar if possible. A generous pinch of toasted fennel seeds and a more controlled dash of chilli will give your sausage and bean casserole the Italian touch. Chianti Casale del Vento 2012 (Buyers’ Everyday Reds) would remind me of that first Tuscan encounter.

Who, having visited the Roussillon port of Collioure, could forget the magical light, a famous magnet for artists, or the bouillabaisse (zarzuela in Catalan) to eat while basking in it? Mine, which was consumed in a pieds-dans-l’eau restaurant of some repute called La Frégate, was like the Mediterranean in a bowl (in a good way), fragrant and stuffed with all manner of unfamiliar things like dogfish and sea-scorpion.

A fish stew is the most flexible feast there is and as long as there is a balance of any firm white flesh and flavoursome seafood, the key to conveying a sense of place is the rhythm section – in this case, a splash of vermouth, a pinch of saffron, onions, peppers and tomatoes, a bunch of herbs and some good stock made from discarded prawn or crayfish shells.

I like to serve mine with some spicy rouille and another Catalan speciality from over the border. Pan amb tomaquet is merely toasted bread, rubbed with garlic and spread with smashed fresh tomatoes, but the tomatoes must be good and ripe, not northern and peevish. Collioure, Domaine de Tremadoc 2013 (Buyers’ Classic Whites) is the obvious choice: you could also try Massamier La Mignarde, Coteaux de Peyriac 2013 (Buyers’ Everyday Whites).

..and Shade

David Baverstock

David Baverstock

A birthday treat in the Alentejo in October 2013 offered a long-awaited opportunity to visit the model Esporão estate. Here, Australian oenologist David Baverstock thrives alongside the indigenous Portuguese grapes he champions, coaxing from them focused, high-octane flavours that overlay the clean-cut, crisp, quality of really smart winemaking.

An equally smart on-site restaurant, open to the public produces a modern twist on traditional ingredients. On my visit the highlight of the autumnal menu was octopus roasted in a wood oven with a red wine sauce and potatoes infused with coriander, unexpectedly served with the estate’s Reserve White. It would have worked equally well with a red or a rosé, demonstrating yet again the sheer versatility of Portuguese wines.

In 2014, I spent my birthday in Puglia where, in the precariously perched seaside town of Polignano, I enjoyed a similar and equally delicious dish of polpo in primitivo, so the world is clearly catching up with the Bond villains among us, who dare to uncork red wine with fish.

A decent Portuguese Man o’ War is hard to source, but a pearly chunk of hake will do the trick. Firstly wash some baby potatoes (don’t peel them), pat dry and toss in olive oil and a liberal helping of toasted coriander seeds, smashed in a pestle and mortar. For a really authentic touch, add a pinch of dried pennyroyal (poejo) – a linchpin of Alentejano cooking. Fresh coriander leaves (add them at the end) are a good substitute. Bake in a hot oven for about 40 minutes until crisp and brown. Leave in the oven, but switch it off.

Brush one chunky, skin-on fillet of hake per person with oil, season well and fy skin-side down until the skin is crisp – about four or five minutes. Flip over and cook for just a minute until the fillet is opaque. Transfer to a plate and put in the oven to keep warm.

Deglaze the pan with a generous glass of red wine and a dash of concentrated shellfish stock. Simmer briskly until well reduced, syrupy almost, and season to taste. Arrange the fish on the potatoes and nap with the red wine glaze.

Both Esporão wines in the Easter Wine Without Fuss selection – Verdelho in Buyers’ Premium Whites, and Monte Velho Tinto 2013 in Buyers’ Everyday Bottles – will rise magnificently to the occasion.

Blast from the past
Continuing the fish and red theme, I spent one of my student years at the University of Montpellier. I say University, but most of our time was spent honing an outrageous accent du Midi in various bars, clubs (one of which was called Le Pou Qui Pleure – the ‘Louse with a Grouse’) and, on sunny days, the Mediterranean-side resorts of Palavas –Les-Flots or Sète. Ubiquitous in the restaurants we couldn’t afford were mussels from Bouzigues on the Bassin de Thau, a large saltwater lake nearby. The recipe below is a classic bit of Sétois surf and turf. A real pro would open the mussels before cooking and stuffing them, but this method ensures you can sort out any bad boys before they do the same to you.

If you’re not keen on mussels, try putting this delicious stuffing into large field mushrooms and baking them in the sauce.

Serves 4-6

First make a simple tomato sauce, or use a good bottled variety. For the stuffing, combine 300g lean pork mince with 120g sourdough breadcrumbs, 3 cloves garlic, crushed and 2 beaten eggs. Season with salt and pepper and a little chopped continental parsley.

Rinse and debeard 500g large mussels, discarding any open ones. Bring a large pot of salted water to the boil and throw in the mussels. Give them 4 minutes and drain well, discarding any that are still closed. Separate the shells at the hinge, loosen the meats and spoon in some stuffing. Replace the top shells and secure each mussel with a bit of kitchen string into which you have tucked an optional fresh bay-leaf. This is a bit long-winded but adds to the rustic charm.

Add 100ml concentrated fish stock and a splash of pastis or dry white vermouth to the vermouth and stock to the tomato sauce in a pan big enough to take the mussels. Bring to the boil, cover and simmer gently for 30minutes. Taste the sauce and boil a bit longer lid-off if it seems too thin. Season well. Bring to the table in the pan, along with some scissors to snip the string. Tuck in with plenty of crusty bread and a glass of local hero Domaine Magellan Rouge, Pays de l’Hérault 2012 (Buyers’ Premium Reds).

From the mind’s eye
When I finally get to South Africa, one of two things I plan to do if my timing is right is to catch and cook my own sardines on the beach in Durban, armed with a juicy lemon, some sea-salt and a chilled bottle of Piekeniers White 2013 (Buyers’ Everyday Whites).

The other is to sample Karoo lamb. This hardy breed grazes on unpromisingly scrubby soils covered with intensely flavoured wild herbs that apparently make their way into the meat. It can be braised slowly in the traditional European style with garlic, rosemary and olive oil, or given a more cosmopolitan and spicy Cape Malay approach as in the ‘potjie’ below. The key here is a good garam masala, made from freshly toasted spices and it’s best made to order. The beauty of South African reds and whites, for that matter, is that they cope brilliantly with these fairly demanding flavours. The Liberator Francophile Syrah (Buyers’ Premium Red) is a perfect example.


A potjie is a large casserole or Dutch oven. A lidded cast-iron one works well. Set your oven at 150C /Gas 2. Brown four shanks well in vegetable oil and set aside. Throw in two large onions, wedged into eighths and brown them too, before adding 2-3 crushed cloves of garlic and a thumb of root ginger, finely grated. Sprinkle in two heaped teaspoons of garam masala, a pinch of turmeric and some crumbled chilli flakes, to taste. Let it sizzle away gently before adding a 400g tin of peeled plum tomatoes. Fill the empty tin with water and add that too, along with a glass of red wine. I also add some smoked sun-dried tomatoes for an extra boost. Simmer for a few minutes, then, return the lamb to the pot, cover very tightly with foil and put on the lid. Transfer to the oven for two hours, ensuring it doesn’t boil dry (add a little more wine or water). Finish with a spoonful of mango chutney if you like and serve with wedges of roasted butternut squash or baked sweet potatoes.

Janet Wynne Evans

Categories : Wine Without Fuss
Comments (0)
Thu 19 Mar 2015

Cycling From Stevenage To Montreuil

Posted by: | Comments (5)

As you may already be aware, 2015 marks the 50th anniversary of The Wine Society’s move from London to Stevenage.

To mark this occasion, The Society is hosting an anniversary fair on the 13th June, displaying 50 of the wines which best represent the Society of 2015.

However, the following Saturday, on June 20th, something much more gruelling will be undertaken by seven members of staff.

It all began with a casual off the cuff remark – ‘why don’t we cycle to Montreuil to mark the occasion?’ – between a couple of members of The Society’s newly formed cycling club in the summer of 2014.

A three-part map of the route, via Google Maps

A three-part map of the route, via Google Maps

This spawned into a handful of eager, and some not so eager, cyclists from throughout The Society to rise to the challenge of cycling from The Society’s UK Showroom in Hertfordshire, to The Society’s French Showroom in Montreuil.

The team consists of a handful of experienced, and some not so experienced, cyclists from throughout the ranks of The Society’s staff. The Tastings Team is represented by Simon Mason, Matthew Horsley and Jon Granger; Member Services by Freddy Bulmer, Ben Briffett and me; and the warehouse by Thom Cleary.

The true nature of the ride only really hit home when the route was mapped out, totalling a staggering 145 miles. The idea to complete the distance in a day naturally shook a few of the group who are a little newer to cycling; however, with a few training rides, the wheels are in motion for the longest bicycle ride that any of us have undertaken in a day.

Although some long distance knowledge is on our side, the route through rural Hertfordshire, Essex, Kent and northern France will be a challenge for even the mentally and physically strongest among us!

So with tyres pumped solid, training plans plotted, and weekends lost to peddling through rain and shine, we’ll be ready to go on the day of the ride.

All of that said, the hardest part of preparation is getting seven oenophiles to agree on what to drink in celebration at the end!

Thom Buzzard
Member Services

The ride itself is a celebration of 50 years of The Society’s home in Stevenage, but we will be also raising money for Macmillan Cancer Support. Should you wish to donate, you can do so via this link.

Categories : Montreuil
Comments (5)

A number of factors can affect the perceived taste of a wine, price being one, even mood, and when advising Society members I try to ascertain as many of these parameters (with the exception of mood!) when I am seeking out a suitable wine.

Standing-up winesMany moons ago I was introduced to the concept of ‘standing-up’ or ‘sitting-down’ wines, and I endeavour to incorporate this into any advice given.

Questioning one’s drinking position may seem a tad intrusive, but it is not to be taken literally!

For me, ‘standing-up’ wines relate to those easily accessible bottles, possibly not too complex but fruit driven and able to deliver immediate gratification. ‘Sitting-down’ wines I see as having a little more complexity, perhaps classified as fine wines but those that promote palate-pondering and are there to partner a particular meal.

While I believe that nearly every meal can be enhanced by the addition of wine sometimes a glass is used as a pre-dinner drink or just something to unwind with. At drinks parties or receptions, wine performs much the same task; these easy drinkers can be seen as standing-up wines.

Sitting-down winesOther, possibly more formal times when wine becomes part of the meal, it enriches the dining experience and I find a little more thought is required when choosing these sitting-down wines.

Deciding what constitutes a sitting down or standing up wine, for me, has no geographical or grape-related boundaries but I do feel some areas lend themselves more to sitting down – Alsace or Bordeaux; and Chile offers a number of excellent standing-up options. There will always be times when only a glass of £6 merlot will be better received than a £20 claret – and vice versa.

There is no right and wrong. The beauty is locating a particular wine for a particular occasion.

Sitting or standing, wine’s enjoyment never diminishes.

Conrad Braganza
The Cellar Showroom

Categories : Miscellaneous
Comments (1)
Tue 10 Mar 2015

Blending The Society’s Claret

Posted by: | Comments (1)

Not long ago I was lucky enough to be able to watch as The Society’s Claret blend was put together by buyers Tim Sykes and Jo Locke while on a short trip to Bordeaux. It was a fascinating insight into the care taken to create a wine that is so much a part of The Society’s fabric that it is sometimes easy to take for granted.

Blending The Society's ClaretThe Society’s Claret is one of those wines which defines the Society range and represents more than just supremely drinkable Bordeaux wine at an excellent price. After The Society’s White Burgundy it is our bestselling wine (and consequently our bestselling red wine), and as such it is an important introduction for many members to the joys of claret drinking.

It has to represent the Bordeaux style, as well as The Society, with aplomb while remaining good value and that is quite a responsibility. So how is it made and who makes it?

At the Quai de Bacalan, on the banks of the River Garonne in Bordeaux itself, sits the HQ of Maison Sichel: growers, négociants and long-time suppliers of The Society’s Claret, as well as a number of other fine Bordeaux wines. It is an unflashy façade that opens up, Tardis-like, onto a network of rooms and corridors that stretches way back from the river.

In a simple, white and bright tasting room in the heart of the complex, we found 12 bottles labelled from 1 to 12, each containing a blend already put together by the Sichel’s vastly experienced technical director Yvan Meyer from properties all over the Bordeaux appellation. The bottles contained varying ratios of merlot, cabernet sauvignon, and cabernet franc with three of the samples coming from the 2013 vintage and the rest from 2014.

Beside them stood a bottle of the current Society version, on sale as we speak, acting as a control and reference point. A sheet listed the samples and the proportions of each grape variety in each sample for Jo and Tim to refer to. Charlie Sichel, who had generously hosted us for dinner the night before, and Leigh Claridge, head of their UK sales team, looked on as the process got under way.

Under the watchful eye of Yvan, Jo and Tim tasted the current bottling followed by each sample individually, assessing merits and weaknesses and making many notes, occasionally revisiting the current bottling to confirm an impression. I followed in their wake, noting the clear difference between the current bottling and the younger samples. The extra time in bottle of the current edition showed clearly against the more primary fruit aromas and flavours and youthful tannins of the samples. The current claret was mellow, rounded and sweet fruited with flavours that were integrated and developed but without losing freshness. I enjoyed the youngsters but could see that they were still a little angular in comparison to the current example.

Jo Locke MW tasting the wines

Jo Locke MW tasting the wines

Having tasted each sample individually, noted their characteristics and considered their merits, Jo and Tim watched as Yvan took up a graduated cylinder and carefully began pouring different amounts of selected samples in to it. These he poured for us and again Tim and Jo weighed it up and made their notes.

This regimen was followed over the next two hours: each time a different amalgam of sample measures was tasted and assessed according to Tim and Jo’s requests and towards the end it came down to tweaks of samples that seemed the obviously best candidates.

Blending The Society's ClaretOne thing that made me stop and think was that it never appeared to be as simple as saying, for example, that it needed a little more acidity and then adding a drop of a sample that exhibited what seemed to be the right amount of acidity when assessed alone. It often seemed, for example, that the acidity displayed by a sample did not necessarily show as expected in the suggested blend and was lost in the mix after all, or stood out like a sore thumb. Therein lay the skill of Jo and Tim, judging the nuances, subtleties and potential of the blends, trying to accurately gauge how these youthful samples might evolve together as they were reassessed time and again until agreement on the final selection was reached after many blends, slurps, swirls, sniffs and scribbles.

There was a quiet satisfaction when the job had been done but no ceremony or celebration and we moved swiftly on to a tasting of a range of petit châteaux represented by Sichel, so there was no time to reflect any more deeply on the new Society’s Claret.

It was a job quietly and well done. Having tasted the final blend in its salad days I am very much looking forward to trying it when it reaches The Society’s list in a slightly more mature form.

Steve Farrow
Wine Information Editor

Comments (1)
Thu 05 Mar 2015

Bush Fires in South Africa

Posted by: | Comments (0)

Just this week I was discussing with a major supplier the advantages that South Africa has climatically: little frost risk, no earthquakes of note, plentiful sunshine, on- and off-shore winds which, on balance, are more positive than negative.

We forgot about ‘bush fires’. A more common phenomenon in Australia, they occur with less regularity in The Cape. Whilst essential for some indigenous flora, they can be devastating to wine farms – as has been the case with the current fires sweeping south, which at the time of writing have destroyed vines in Constantia and Noordhoek. All the more tragic with an exciting 2015 vintage in prospect.

This time-lapse video by Jason Aldridge on Youtube captures something of the scale and rapid growth of the fires. We wish everyone in the region the very best.

Comments (0)
Mon 02 Mar 2015

Charity Cases

Posted by: | Comments (11)

We had some great news last week when we received a letter from the Multiple Sclerosis Trust confirming that to date we have raised £13,898.35 from donations for empty wooden wine boxes at the door of The Cellar Showroom.

This fantastic achievement has been achieved over the last few years and will certainly continue for many years to come.

MS-Trust-logo1-262x300The MS Trust is a UK charity, providing information for anyone affected by multiple sclerosis, education programmes for health professionals, funding for practical research and campaigning for specialist multiple sclerosis services. They have been in operation for over 20 years and today reach over 40,000 people across the UK. I think you’ll all agree they are a hugely important charity and we in the showroom are proud to be supporting them. For more information please visit their website here.

So, we estimate that members give around £1 per box so that means we have shifted close to 14,000 wooden boxes. So what do members do with all these boxes? Well I’ve only been here 6 months and so far the most popular uses are as plant pots and storing DVDs. However, more unusual and inventive uses include:

• Creating an insect farm in the garden
• Presentation boxes for a wedding events company
• One member took 50 boxes to break down and use as panelling for a wall of his kitchen
• A manger for baby Jesus in a Nativity play
• Varnishing them and selling them on for £5 at car boot sales (cheeky!)
• A hedgehog house
• Decorative table tops
• As the border for some outside decking
• Placemats
• Cheeseboards
• Bedside tables

…and I’m sure many other great uses that have passed me by.

Well done to everyone involved and many thanks to the warehouse team who get the boxes together for us and bring them round to The Showroom.

And thanks to the humble wooden box

And thanks to the humble wooden box

Giles Cundy
The Cellar Showroom

Categories : Miscellaneous
Comments (11)