Grapevine Archive for June, 2015

I was fortunate to work a number of vintages in New Zealand from 2010 to 2013, mainly at Wither Hills in their pinot noir cellar. The sun-filled days of vintage, the hustle and bustle of a working cellar and the smell of new French oak barrels, fresh ferments and pristine fruit left an unforgettable impression of not only New Zealand but also of their winemaking capabilities.

MarlboroughYou’d be forgiven for thinking that Marlborough is all about the sauvignon blanc grape. However, chardonnay and aromatic white varieties such as pinot gris and riesling thrive here along with the classic red grape pinot noir.

Situated to the North of New Zealand’s South Island, this remarkable region is bathed with large amounts of summer sunshine and is just a stone’s throw away from the Pacific with its cooling sea breeze. The region came to prominence in the 1970s when a number of producers experimented with growing the sauvignon blanc grape variety. The results, which have been remarkable, have led to many a winemaker aiming to replicate this unique style. Such was their success that the rest, as they say, is history.

Pinot noir was first planted here in the early 1970s. Critics were highly sceptical at first and many doubted whether this variety actually establish a strong regional base. Many producers didn’t begin to start growing or making pinot noir until the mid1990s, but by 2009 the region had around 2,000 hectares of area under vine – about half of the country’s entire pinot noir output.

Marlborough pinot isn’t red Burgundy and nor does it pretend to be. Producers have created their own unique style and each vintage gets better and better. Yes, there are certainly influences from the likes of Volnay and Pommard (indeed, many a New Zealand winemaker will have often worked a vintage or two in Burgundy and inspiration from the region is certainly evident), but they remain distinct.

Pinot from Marlborough is delicate, supple, balanced and, most importantly, a style which remains unique. It could be said that Marlborough pinot noir sits somewhere between that of the bolder and fruitier Central Otago style and that of the elegant, layered and spicy pinot of Martinborough, just a short hop north by plane.

Two Marlborough pinot noir highlights from our current New Zealand offer:

Wither Hills Marlborough Pinot Noir 2010 (£10.50)
The 2010 vintage was the first to benefit from Wither Hills’s newly acquired and automated ‘vistalys’ optical berry sorter. This high-speed conveyer-based grape-sorting system selects only optimum grapes, free of any defect and also prevents any vineyard detritus from being included in the fermentation. The blend of individually sourced parcels from the southern Wairau valley vineyards of Ben Morven and Taylor River have produce a plush wine, with deep fruit, silky structure with smooth flavour. It also benefits from integrated acidity and tannin. Excellent depth of flavour and a superb example of a cracking value Marlborough pinot noir, which shows how long this variety can keep and improve. A worthy 2014 Wine Society Wine Champion that has repeated last year’s feat in this year’s competition too.

Cloudy Bay

The Cloudy Bay winery

Cloudy Bay Marlborough Pinot Noir 2011 (£23)
Fine and perfumed on the nose, with subtle red fruits which, builds slowly as it aerates in the glass. This wine has excellent balance and length of flavour on the palate. French oak has been delicately intertwined to produce a velvety texture with redcurrants and sour plum.

An unusually wet winter in 2010 provided the perfect conditions for rapid spring growth. Warm conditions followed and allowed for a high level of fruit set. This led to a heavy crop allowing the vines to be ruthlessly thinned at the start of 2011 to enhance fruit quality, advance the ripening of the grape leading to increased flavour concentration.

This is a classic and understated style with body but if resisted will stand the test of time.

Food matching
New Zealand’s diversity, sustainability, rich farming history and tradition provide all the ingredients for exciting food and wine match. Think fresh Easter lamb cooked on a spit over hot coals in the vineyard, fresh venison from the hills overlooking the Wairau valley and seared Asian spiced duck breast with a sweet pinot reduction… all of these certainly hit the spot!

Pour yourself a glass and enjoy!

Paul Shipley
Member Services

Categories : New Zealand
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A couple of weeks ago two of the Rhône’ iconic figures came to London.

In the evening Philippe Guigal made his first appearance at a Society event, showing his wines over dinner to a hundred members assembled at the Bleeding Heart restaurant near Farringdon.

Famille Guigal

Famille Guigal

When The Society first began buying from Guigal, that company was most clearly associated with Côte-Rôtie and Condrieu, and little else. But the intervening years has seen the business expand hugely.

There were corporate acquisitions that brought in valuable new vineyards, not only on Côte-Rôtie and Condrieu but also on Hermitage and Saint-Joseph. Fabulous new cellars were built in Ampuis allowing for further expansion. Guigal Côtes-du-Rhône (£9.95), for example has become an important wine and The Society is very pleased indeed to be among the many stockists of this impeccable wine.

Head of Tastings Simon Mason busy opening the wines at Bleeding Heart.

Head of Tastings Simon Mason busy opening the wines at Bleeding Heart

For the dinner, Guigal opened the evening with the viognier-based 2013 white which we will welcome to our range very shortly. That was before a lovely bottle of 2012 Saint-Joseph Blanc and their exceptional 2011 Saint-Joseph Rouge (£19). At the heart of the tasting, the 2008 vintage was tasted across the Côte-Rôtie range. The vintage is now fully ready and a joy to sip, perfect with dishes on show (we still have some stock of the 2008 La Turque at £134). Philippe was engaging and eloquent and this will not be his last visit to The Wine Society.

Earlier in day, I attended a masterclass in London: a tasting of the 2014 vintage with Michel Chapoutier in the chair. This was my first real chance to taste some top wines from this vintage. Not the easiest of vintages, 2014 had started with a warm, dry spring but then suffered a cool summer which delayed ripening before fine weather returned in September.

The whites, picked in early September were brilliant and it is clear that 2014 will be a great vintage for white Rhônes. This was really the result of the cool summer which meant that acidities were preserved rather than burnt away. Harvesting the reds later in September and through to October was trickier as the warm September was not without rain. The steep slopes of Hermitage and Saint-Joseph are of course well placed to cope with sudden heavy rains as the water naturally drains away easily.

The Chapoutier wines are brilliant: very dark in colour, fragrant and very fine with elegant tannins and nicely etched fruit flavours. I shall now look forward to my next trip to the Rhône in November.

Marcel Orford-Williams
Society Buyer

Categories : France, Rhône
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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 2015 IWC (International Wine Challenge) and Decanter World Wine Awards have been announced, with a raft of gold medals to celebrate, topped off with some coveted regional and international trophies. Some are available now (hyperlinked below), others later in the year.

International Wine Challenge Trophies

International Wine Challenge TrophyViña Undurraga T.H. Cabernet Sauvignon, Maipo 2012 (£11.50)
Maipo Cabernet Sauvignon Trophy – International Cabernet Sauvignon Trophy
We have been following Chilean winemaker Rafael Urrejola’s elegant wines since his time at Viña Leyda. He is perhaps the most talented winemaker of his generation. At Undurraga he has been given free rein to go out and search for wines made from the best combinations of grape variety, soil and climate in a project called ‘TH’ or ‘Terroir Hunter’. His wines are always beautifully balanced, and this exciting red is formed more by its terroir than a caricature of its grape variety, producing a wine which is the opposite of the soft and squidgy new world ‘fruit bomb’ style.

The Society’s Exhibition Crozes-Hermitage 2012 (£11.95)
Crozes-Hermitage Trophy
We were delighted to see this wine rated so highly in only its second vintage. Nicolas Jaboulet was tasked with using his extensive contacts in the northern Rhône to come up with a blend, all coming from well-known growers, before being bottled by the Perrin family. This is a fragrant, full and refined Crozes, with blackberry fruit and a hint of peppery spice.

Framingham Classic Riesling 2012 (£11.95)
Marlborough Riesling Trophy
Andrew Hedley has a marksman’s touch with the riesling grape, and this wine, utilising the oldest riesling vines in New Zealand, has been well received by members and the press since its introduction last year. Like an aristocratic German riesling, albeit not too dry, electrocuted with Marlborough freshness.

Pieropan La Rocca 2012 (£22.50)
Soave Trophy
Sons Andrea and Dario run this exceptional 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 Soave Trophy, and doubtless not the last!

Verdicchio di Matelica Riserva Mirum La Monacesca 2012 and Matetic Vineyards EQ Syrah 2012, which will arrive shortly, also won the San Antonio Valley Syrah and Marche White Trophies respectively. The Society’s Exhibition New Zealand Chardonnay 2013, now sadly out of stock, also won the Kumeu Chardonnay Trophy, Auckland Chardonnay Trophy and overall New Zealand Chardonnay Trophy.

Decanter Trophies

Decanter World Wine Awards TrophyRiesling Grand Cru Kirchberg, Domaine Louis Sipp 2013 (£23)
Dry White Alsace over £15 Trophy
We were delighted to see this bone-dry, mineral, richly flavoured and very long Alsace riesling being recognised. This comes from a top grand cru vineyard, one of the region’s finest, overlooking Ribeauvillé, and a vintage perfectly suited to the riesling grape.

La Rioja Alta 890 Seleccion Especial Gran Reserva 2001 (£75)
Red Rioja Gran Reserva over £15 Trophy
We are delighted to have secured more stock of this expensive but simply remarkable Rioja, described by buyer Pierre Mansour as ‘a uniquely brilliant wine.’ 2001 is a highly acclaimed Rioja vintage, and winemaker Julio Sáenz describes it ambitiously as ‘the best 890 in our history.’ Such is the quality of this 2001 gran reserva that it has been deemed the highest distinction of ‘Selección Especial’ (the first time in La Rioja Alta’s history).

Paul Ginglinger Gewurztraminer Grand Cru Pfersigberg 2013 (International Trophy: Off-Dry over £15), Terrunyo Carménère Lot N°1 2013 (Chilean Red Single-Varietal over £15) and Soalheiro Alvarinho Vinho Verde Monção e Melgaço, 2014 (White Northern Portugal over £15) are all en route.

Gold-Medal Winners

At the IWC, sparkling success came in the form of a gold for Champagne Charles Heidsieck Brut Reserve NV (£43). Lustau Botaina Amontillado (£11.50) and Cayetano del Pino Palo Cortado Solera (£14.50) flew the flag for sherry, whilst the stylish and now-ready Taylor’s 1985 port (£75) also won.

Look out also for an Antipodean trio of winners coming soon in the form of Pask Declaration Syrah 2013 (New Zealand) and Penfolds Bin 707 Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 and Bin 389 Cabernet Shiraz 2012.

Fortified wines also performed well at Decanter, and golds were awarded to Hidalgo Pastrana Manzanilla Pasada (£10.50) and Osborne Capuchino Palo Cortado, 30 years old 50cl (£21), continuing sherry’s rich vein of form this year, and Henriques & Henriques Bual, 15 years old 50cl (£25) from Madeira.

Forthcoming Decanter gold-medal winners include Paul Ginglinger Riesling Grand Cru Pfersigberg 2013 from Alsace, Muga Selección Especial Rioja Reserva 2010, Frog’s Leap Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 from California and Penfolds Yattarna Chardonnay 2012.

Categories : Wine Competitions
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And to finish my piece on the ‘Alsace spring’, events relating to visits by the Hugel family…

Hugel is The Society’s oldest supplier for Alsace. We are not sure when the romance started; suffice to say that The Society is Hugel’s second-oldest customer in the UK after The Savoy!

Our first purchase was likely to have been a modest chasselas-sylvaner blend. This has now evolved over the years and today The Society’s Vin d’Alsace (£7.95) is a very smart dry white indeed. Sylvaner remains the base but nearly all the region’s grape varieties are included in the blend. Currently we are on the 2013 vintage which is the best made for a while. 2014 promises also to be pretty special.

This year Hugel et Fils changes its name to Famille Hugel: recognition that three generations now work for the business and that at least one of them is not a man! Times are a-changing.

The brand new Hugel wine: Schoelhammer Riesling 2007

The brand new Hugel wine: Schoelhammer Riesling 2007

Not to be outdone by their cousins, the Trimbachs, Hugel are also releasing something grand and mature for the first time. And what is really exciting is that it’s a completely new wine made from riesling.

This will be a riesling, from the great 2007 vintage and it will come from a single vineyard called Schoelhammer, a small plot of old vines on the grand cru Schoenenbourg above the town of Riquewihr.

Such an event had to be marked by a grand occasion and so journalists, buyers and sommeliers were invited to taste the new baby on a wonderfully sunny spring day in London. The event was not disappointing. Riesling Schoelhammer is unquestionably a great dry riesling and I can’t wait to have it here in Stevenage for members to buy.

Three generations from the Hugel family came to London that day. Etienne Hugel was there together with his son Jean-Frederic. Better still, André came to represent the senior generation at the unveiling of Schoelhammer Riesling. Etienne’s father is 86 years old and hasn’t really retired. (The senior Trimbach, Bernard, 83, is much the same.)

Three generations of the Hugel family: (l-r) Jean-Frederic, Etienne and André

Three generations of the Hugel family: (l-r) Jean-Frederic, Etienne and André

Born in 1929, André Hugel is the survivor of three extraordinary brothers whose lives encompassed the tragedies of the war years. Alsace did not just suffer occupation as with the rest of France: it was officially annexed by Germany which meant that Alsace men could be called up. Georges, the eldest was called and was wounded on the Eastern Front. Johnny fared better, serving mostly in Italy and avoiding any fighting, acquiring fluency in Italian instead.

Johnny would come to occupy a central place in Alsace not just for Hugel but as a veritable ambassador for Alsace wines in general. André was 15 when on 5th December 1944, Riquewihr was liberated by a Texan regiment. Andre Hugel ensures that the flag of the lone star state is hoisted above the town hall every year to mark the anniversary.

For André Hugel this was his first ever visit to the UK. As Riquewihr’s residential archivist and historian, a visit to London seemed long overdue and thanks to Ray Bowden, one time chairman of The Society, visits to the Cabinet War Rooms were duly arranged. That was in the morning before all three Hugels travelled up to Stevenage. They were greeted by both past and present Chairmen of the Society and by our Chief Executive for a guided tour of the premises followed by lunch.

A Note on Trimbach

Jean Trimbach

Jean Trimbach enjoying his own recent visit to Stevenage!

In my last post, I mentioned that Alsace wines often need time to come round. Many produces hold their best wine back until they feel they’re quite ready. Pierre Gassmann or Domaine Rolly Gassmann is soon to release a top gewurztraminer from the 1994 vintage and he still has some 1990 riesling to put on the market. Trimbach, undoubtedly one of the great names in Alsace also release top wines late. We have some stock of their top wine, Clos Sainte Hune, from the 2009 vintage, released earlier this year (£109).

Trimbach have also been busy buying up vineyards, never too far away from Ribeauvillé, but these will allow them to improve quality and launch new wines. Indeed, a new Trimbach riesling will be launched this year and it promises to be something very special. Watch this space.

Also exciting from Trimbach is the new bottling machine, an expensive investment, but one which will have a positive effect on quality and even allow for bottling under screwcap. We’ve just taken delivery of the 2013 Pinot Blanc (£8.95) under screwcap, and the wine is quite delicious.

Marcel Orford-Williams
Society Buyer

Find wines from Hugel and Trimbach in our current offer of the 2013 Alsace vintage.

Several Society members already use Twitter to swap their thoughts on wines purchased from The Society. Last year we explored this idea a little further and hosted an online tasting of New Zealand wines, which proved very enjoyable; we hope this edition will be even more so.

Join us for an online guided tasting of two of the 2015 Wine Champions on Thursday 2nd July from 7.30pm-8.30pm UK time.

Wine Champions 2015 Tasting; The Wine SocietyMembers who use Twitter are cordially invited to crack open either or both of these wines – both of which triumphed in our extensive blind-tasting sessions to find the best of our best for drinking now – and taste along with our resident tweeters Ewan Murray and myself. 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 two wines we will be tasting (in order), both of which can be found in our 2015 Wine Champions offer, are as follows:

Puglia Bianco, A Mano 2014 (£7.50 per bottle)
This delicious, spot-hitting crisp dry white from Italy shone in the tasting room for its modern, summery style; coupled with its friendly price tag, we therefore thought it the perfect candidate for this tasting.

3C Cariñena 2014 (£5.25 per bottle)
The cheapest of our Champions, this red bowled our tasters over with its succulent, tangy and berry-laden charms. Try for yourself and let us know what you think on the day!

To ensure delivery before we taste, please order by noon on Monday 29th June.

2) Log in, crack open the wines and enjoy!
Simply log in to Twitter from 7.30pm on the 2nd July and look up, or search via the hashtag #TWSTaste.

In advance of the tasting we suggest Twitter users follow @TheWineSociety so that you will easily see when the tasting gets going.

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!

We look forward to talking to you on 2nd July.

Martin Brown
Digital Copywriter

Categories : Wine Tastings
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Mon 22 Jun 2015

Breakfast Of (Wine) Champions

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Janet Wynne Evans wishes she’d had this, instead of porridge, to start the day during this year’s Wine Champions blind-tasting campaign.

Janet Wynne Evans The Wine Society

Assessing the candidates at this year’s Wine Champions blind tastings.

While even I would stop short of claiming that a recipe could be life-changing, the discovery of a particularly useful one does make me wonder how I ever got along without it.

Step forward sformata, a kind of soufflé of the most unthreatening and indolent kind. Despite my love of all things Italian, from beautiful cars to bel canto, I hadn’t come across this one until I spotted it earlier this year in the Saturday Guardian (yes, I know, Evans the Champagne socialist is well and truly out of the closet).

Its author, Thomasina Miers, I associate mainly with innovative Mexican recipes, but she’s a lady of many facets and I thank her for the idea below. I give it verbatim, hopefully not only with her blessing but also with her indulgence: as you’ll readily see, it’s a fine template for umpteen variations.

The ingredients are very likely to be found in most fridges: nothing complicated, just eggs, Parmesan cheese, a tub of cream and some green vegetables. I used some leftover braised leeks, and couldn’t resist crumbling in a corner of Stilton that needed rehoming, to very pleasing effect.

Pierre Mansour and Janet Wynne Evans The Wine Society

With Pierre Mansour during the 2015 Wine Champions tastings

Then evolved my favourite brunch version, replacing the Romanesco broccoli below with a couple of vines of baby plum tomatoes, halved and roasted (to get as much water out of them as possible) and a large bag of spinach, wilted with a scrap of butter, lemon juice and white pepper, and brutally squeezed with your bare hands, again to extract the water that will inhibit a good set. I line and top the dish with Parmesan, but inside I use heartier English cheese like Gloucester or Poacher. I‘m sure that by this point it has long since officially ceased to be a sformata, but there it is.

Like many straightforward recipes, this one does create a fair bit of washing up, but the half-hour cooking time is just long enough for you to stack your dishy, or significant other plongeur with the dirties and clear the decks before it’s time to tuck in.

I’d serve my breakfast of Champions with a Champion glass of something elegant, focused and white . This year’s winners offer up some terrific options, including riesling, which is always comfortable with anything eggy. The terrifically multi-tasking and well-priced Zarcillo Bío-Bío Riesling 2014 (£6.50) would be a my choice for every day or, for a special brunch, a cracker from Annegret von Kesselstatt which won all our tasters’ hearts but was too limited in stock to include in the offer: Ockfener Bockstein Riesling Kabinett 2013 (£12.95 – but be quick!).

Thomasina Miers’ Romanesco Broccoli and Pecorino Sformata
(Guardian Weekend, 14th March 2015 )
Serves six.

• A knob of butter
• 120g pecorino or Parmesan (or a mix of both), plus extra for sprinkling
• 1 small romanesco (about 600g); or normal broccoli or cauliflower, core removed and broken into florets
• 4 eggs, separated
• 300ml double cream
• ¼ nutmeg, finely grated
• Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Heat the oven to 200 degrees C (390F, gas mark 6) and rub the butter around a one-litre baking dish*. Scatter over a tablespoon of the grated cheese and shake around the dish to coat.

Bring a pan of salter water to the boil and blanch the romanesco for four to five minutes, until just tender, and then drain and leave to steam dry for five minutes. Once dry, finely chop and transfer to a bowl.

Beat the egg yolks and cream in another bowl until slightly thickened, then stir in the remaining cheese, nutmeg and chopped romanesco, and season well.

In a third bowl, whisk the egg whites to stiff peaks. Stir two tablespoons of the egg whites into the romanesco mix and, once incorporated, carefully fold in the rest, taking care not to over-mix and knock out most of the air.

Tip into the baking dish so the mix comes right up to the rim, dust with a little extra cheese and bake for 30-35 minutes (but check after 25 or so minutes in case you don’t want it to take on too much colour) – when cooked, the sformata should have a slight wobble in the centre and a golden top.

I like to eat this with a crisp green salad dressed in a sharp vinaigrette.

Sformata is surprisingly good warmed through the next day and will turn your colleagues green with envy about your packed lunch: any spare romanesco can be baked as cauliflower cheese.

Janet Wynne Evans
Fine Wine Editor

For a full list of wines that triumphed in our blind tastings to find the best of our best for drinking now, visit our Wine Champions 2015 offer.

* Cook’s note: I usually make this in two half-litre gratin dishes (one for now, one for later). Go for shallow rather than deep . Mine have a base measurement of 7 x 5 inches (18 x 13 cm) and are about 1½ inches (4cm) deep. Reduce the cooking time to 25 minutes and check after 20 – these little beauties brown fast.

Categories : Chile, Germany, Other Europe
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Thu 18 Jun 2015

An Alsace Spring: Visiting and Tasting

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Springtime seems to be so much about Alsace, or at least it seems to be the case for me. This year it started with a visit to Alsace at the close of winter, returning home on Saint David’s Day. Not a daffodil in sight until I got home.

This had been a packed trip, lasting a full five days with three or four visits a day. Alsace requires a certain stamina: so many grape varieties, so many wines and so many vintages! Alsace wines need time to come round so one is often at least a vintage behind. Most of what I tasted was from the 2013 vintage, the results of which have just been made available in our Alsace 2013 offer.

Josmeyer, whose wines are an integral part of our Alsace range and my springtime itinerary

Josmeyer, whose wines are an integral part of our Alsace range and my springtime itinerary

And what a vintage 2013 has turned out to be. I shall pass over the details suffice to mention a few key points:

• Non-existent spring
• Very late flowering…
• …and then a long wait to a very late harvest.
• Yields were tiny and what little there was of very good quality.

What is clear is that 2013 is very fine for riesling and exceptionally fine for the entire pinot gris family. I don’t often veer towards pinot gris in my tastes but 2013 is a great pinot gris vintage.

There was also a very special week in April when I was one of the judges for the Decanter World Wine Awards: thousands of wines judged by panels of tasters recruited for the occasion from the international wine trade. My job was sorting out Alsace and the Alsace panel of four tasters was made up of Thierry Meyer, a Strasbourg based authority on Alsace, Eric Zwiebel, sommelier at the Summer Lodge Hotel in Dorset and Aristide Spies, a master sommelier based in Belgium. We tasted some 300 wines, awarding medals to the very best.

Spring is also the time of the year when The Society welcomes Alsace through a couple of members’ tastings. We enjoyed triumphant tastings in London at the Merchant Taylor’s Hall where 300 members attended and following that a repeat show in Manchester where a further 200 members tasted 28 wines from seven producers.

Springtime vines

Springtime vines

These were exceptional occasions with some quite extraordinary wines on show. I was especially moved to see Catherine Faller of Domaine Weinbach, still overwhelmed by the double loss of her mother and sister who died within a year of each other. That week was the anniversary of Laurence Faller’s death, such a capable winemaker who left us far too soon.

It was good to meet so many members in London and it was good that they were clearly enjoying their wines. A few told me how struck they were by the marked differences in taste and style and how each of the seven houses present seemed to have a readily identifiable style.

Why should this be so? Of course a lot of it is down to the people who make the wine and in a region which thrives in the spirit of individuality, such divergences are hardly surprising. But there is more.

There is another vital factor that is there to make Alsace so rewarding and fascinating. That extra factor is terroir which in Alsace is particularly complex. Just how geology may affect the taste of a wine is hard to tell and forms part of a much talked about subject. But soil structure in Alsace can change with every few hundred yards and it’s not just about the proportion of limestone to clay though both are present in Alsace. Vines also grow on sandstone, schist, gneiss and basalt, not forgetting alluvial sediments and wine styles differ from producer to producer and vineyard to vineyard.

Vineyard is therefore key to understanding Alsace, at least among the grander wines. Locals of course have known about the best sites for a thousand years or more, though it seems fairly obvious when standing by the sandstone wall that is the grand cru Knipperlé in Guebwiller that this has to be special. And the same must be true for the steep basalt slope of the Rangen at the southern end of Alsace in Thann or the granite of the Schlossberg above Kaysersberg?

Many of these vineyards were recognised long ago; some would have enjoyed the same reputation as any of the iconic sites of the Côtes de Nuits in Burgundy. Yet formal classification has been quite recent. Today there are some 51 grands crus in Alsace and without a doubt these produce the best wines. Soon there will be a secondary classification which will appear as premiers crus. More on that later.

Only four grape varieties, riesling, pinot gris, muscat and gewurztraminer may use the grand cru appellation. There is one exception for the now rare sylvaner grape from the grand cru Zotzenberg; and soon there will be another exception which will be made for the outstanding potential of pinot noir grown on the grands crus Hengst and Vorbourg. Veronique Muré showed two stunning pinot noirs from the grand cru Vorbourg last night at The Society’s tasting in London.

And so, on an emotional note, the Alsace spring comes to an end with the 2013 vintage offer.

Marcel Orford-Williams
Society Buyer

Mon 15 Jun 2015

South Africa: Feeling Liberated

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Four years ago The Society featured the first in our series of ‘The Liberator’ wines. At the time I was a little nervous. The quality of the wines was without question – not surprising really considering who the winemaker was, whose identity we are sworn to keep secret even now. It was more the concept.

The Liberator Blood Brothers Blue LabelHaving a wine with an accompanying comic strip, cartoon-like labels and running a caption competition as part of their launch felt pretty out there, particularly for a ‘serious’ wine merchant like The Wine Society. There was, however, no need to worry as members snapped up the wines and got into the spirit. Members who want to cast their minds back or might have missed this the first time around can view it here.

We have steadily featured more wines in The Liberator series over the previous few years from a variety of producers, some that we were allowed to name with others preferring to remain anonymous so to not cause conflict with their `day jobs’ as winemakers with some of South Africa’s most famous and respected estates.

One thing all the wines (or, as they are referred to by the mastermind behind the Liberator series Richard Kelley MW, ‘episodes’) have in common is that they all have a sense of fun while maintaining the highest levels of quality and value.

Our two latest Liberator editions, The Blood Brothers Red and Blue labels, epitomise this `serious fun’ aspect of this series more so than any of the previous releases.

The Liberator Blood Brothers Red LabelThe Red Label is new world take on a classic southern Rhône blend but in true Liberator style throws in a twist with a splash of zinfandel. It’s is important to iterate here that this is no mere gimmick: this is made by a very respected award-winning winemaker who doesn’t mess about. Those desperate to find out who this is can find out by having a little dig around on the

The other part of the duo is the Blue Label. This is a true blue-blooded example featuring all the classic Bordeaux varieties again made by the same talented winemaker as the Red label wine.

Both wines, like all those that have gone before them, feature an accompanying comic strip that goes some way to explain the ethos, rationale, quirkiness and uniqueness of these one-off wines; after all, there can’t be too many wines that have the backing of not one but two masters of wines, Richard Kelley MW and The Society’s own buyer for South Africa Joanna Locke MW, but that also compare styles of Bordeaux and the Rhône to the Gallagher brothers and the Charlton brothers!

Gareth Park
Marketing Campaign Manager

Categories : South Africa
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Fri 12 Jun 2015

Gin and bear it

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As part of Saturday’s World Gin Day, The Cellar Showroom’s fine wine co-ordinator Conrad Braganza celebrates mother’s ruin

Not many drinks can claim to be British classics but gin definitely has my vote. It draws on so many ingredients or botanicals gathered from around the world to create the unique flavours I feel mirror British culture and history.

However, gin’s roots have a Dutch origin; indeed it is believed the word ‘gin’ is derived from the Dutch for juniper jenever, the common ingredient in all gins.

Juniper berries are an essential ingredient in gin

Juniper berries are an essential ingredient in gin

Along the way gin has been credited with making soldiers braver (‘Dutch courage’), helping the medicine go down (quinine was mixed with gin to counter malaria in the far reaches of the British Empire) and for the decline in morality (‘mother’s ruin!’) in the 18th century.

When I heard that Saturday 13th June was World Gin Day I felt obliged to offer my appreciation of this British institution. Where would we be without a Singapore Sling, a Tom Collins or the host of cocktails that use gin as its base? Let alone the quintessential long cool aperitif, a G&T.

Gin Lane by William Hogarth

Gin Lane by William Hogarth

At The Society we have accumulated a selection of gins. Traditionalist could try the citrus-dominated The Society’s Gin (GN91) with its classic juniper fragrance or for those preferring a bit more intensity try The Society’s High Strength Gin (GN101) with a with a higher natural alcoholic strength. Both are crying out for tonic, ice and slice, and for me a great partner to curries.

Taking a neutral spirit and adding a host of flavours to create a pleasurable drink is both and art and a science. Recently there has been a wave of small-batch gins on the market that are not only using the established botanicals, like liquorice root, coriander seeds or lemon peel, but also introducing other flavours such as elderflower and even samphire.

Using Northamptonshire natural spring water and a range of botanicals, including elderflower that imparts its characteristic fragrance, Warner Edwards Harrington Dry Gin (GN141) is a handcrafted smooth gin. Some of the ingredients are a secret, but it displays plenty of spice and ginger.

From Kent and sourcing the botanicals locally in the ‘Garden of England’ comes Anno Dry Gin (GN151), an artisan gin which displays the characteristic juniper and citrus notes but with a smooth spicy finish.

Not forgetting Sloe Gin (LR111), a delightful Yorkshire spirit with a cherry and almond palate, perfect sipped neat, as the alcohol is a modest 20%.

With summer round the corner, a refreshing cocktail or a classic G&T is on the cards. I will just have to gin and bear it, which really isn’t a hardship!

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Mon 08 Jun 2015

Wine Champions 2015: In At The Deep End

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When I arrived at The Wine Society in March 2014 ‘Champs’ had just finished and was whispered of in hushed tones with knowing looks – I knew then that this was going to be quite some offer…

In October we were e-mailed the timetable for the 2015 campaign – 21 tastings over 16 days, over 3 months covering some 693 wines. These sorts of e-mails are why I lie to my dentist!

All wines were to be tasted blind in sensible broad categories.

I have to admit at this point being pretty pleased at the prospect.

An infographic showing some of the numbers behind the 2015 Wine Champions offer. Click to view in full size.

An infographic showing some of the numbers behind the 2015 Wine Champions offer.
Click to view in full size.

I only ended up buying wine for a living because of a chance blind tasting at university that had me hooked from the first gewürztraminer. Since then I have always held blind tasting on a pedestal – I keep a great group of friends from university to continue this hobby over long lunches on weekends. I jumped into the MW studies mainly to gain the opportunities to taste blind many times a week with like-minded students, and I can still often be found bagging wines up when tasting for an offer to ensure objectivity.

The blind tastings themselves, given the number of wines were something of a marathon, but incredibly interesting. The full Buying Team is involved – we all taste round the wines individually and then score out loud.

Sarah KnowlesThis is where we either found ourselves, in total agreement about great wines, or having to justify our outlying high and low marks, retasting as we go. Debates ensue, still all blind, and Champs are selected.

Then the ‘eureka’ moment – the unveiling. What were you fighting for? What didn’t you like? And, most importantly, what are you going to buy for your own enjoyment on the opening day of the offer?

As a judge for various national wine awards, I found the comparatively savage ‘cut rate’ for this offer at the pointy end – of the 693 wines tasted, we ‘champed’ just 80 and then cut this in a final blind taste off to the 43 wines in this year’s main offer. (A selection of Fine Wine Champions will also follow in August.)

No compromises are made – wines low in stock or esoteric in style were successful regardless of the logistical issues their selection can create. I believe in the past this has also lead to offers without a single sauvignon blanc, or offers like this where three of the whites are vinho verde.

This is, to put it simply, the point.

I hope you enjoy the spoils of the 2015 offer.

Sarah Knowles
Society Buyer

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