Grapevine Archive for August, 2015

Fri 28 Aug 2015

50 Years in Stevenage – A Celebratory Tasting

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Sebastian Payne MW started work with The Society in 1973, although he joined as a member along with his brother in 1967. Who better, then, to select a wine from each of The Society’s decades in Stevenage to taste with 60 lucky members at our recent celebration of 50 years in Stevenage?

The wines were almost, but not quite, incidental to the wealth of anecdotes that came forth during 60 fascinating minutes spent in our newly refurbished Members’ Room. Here are just a few of the stories, together with a brief look at each of the wines.


Not a shabby line-up ...

Not a shabby line-up…

Present Day
With a wealth of wine from South America, Eastern Europe and other newer stars elsewhere now available on The Society’s List, there were myriad choices for this decade’s wine. Sebastian kicked things off with a wine from this decade, the multi-IWC-award-winning (but sadly all gone now) The Society’s Exhibition New Zealand Chardonnay 2013, made for us by Paul Brajkovich at Kumeu River. Warming tropical fruit in a Burgundian style – the perfect illustration of what our Exhibition range, launched in 1999, is all about: benchmark examples of their kind offering excellent value for money, made for us by some of the world’s top names.

The committee showed great imagination and courage in deciding to move from our three cellars in London to purpose-built premises in Stevenage, taking advantage of the grants and tax breaks being given to businesses who moved to the new towns. Our cellar and bottling plant (closed in 1991) moved in 1965.

Christopher Tatham, buyer from 1958 to 1972 had a simple rule of thumb: ‘Wine should be delicious. When you put it in your mouth, do you like it? Would you pour another glass?’ Christopher was the first Society buyer to insist that each wine had a comprehensive tasting note.  Albert Cable, general manager at the time, was someone who, according to Sebastian, wrote ‘commendably short’ tasting notes, e.g. ‘A complete wine’.

Vouvray Le Mont Demi-Sec 1969 from Domaine Huet (currently available for £120 per bottle or £65 per half bottle) has aged beautifully because of the high acidity in the wine. There are only 10 grammes of residual sugar, so it’s almost ‘sec’, but it has a lovely structure and lightness of touch with such depth of flavour.


Sebastian Payne in full flow

Sebastian Payne in full flow

Several scandals (including Norwich-bottled Beaujolais that wasn’t Beaujolais!) reared their heads in the 1970s. Thankfully The Society’s impeccable and transparent sourcing, something that has been key throughout our 141-year history, did us a lot of good in the trade and in the eye of the consumer.

The Society has always had a nose for the quirky as well as the classic. Chateau Musar is very much in the first camp and has, overtime, put a foot firmly in the second. The Society was the first UK merchant to regularly import Musar, starting in 1971, and we remain firm friends with the Hochar family. The wine has a cult following. The late Serge Hochar was a charismatic winemaker who possessed vibrancy and passion for his vocation. His approach of seemingly minimum intervention led to a wine that his son Gaston describes as “amazing but disturbing”.

Sebastian presented the 1977 (the year of his first daughter’s birth, and also the year he became a Master of Wine). It’s a blend of cinsaut, carignan and cabernet sauvignon. A nod to the legendary inconsistency of the wine, which of course is a large part of its cult appeal. was given in Sebastian’s comment: “When Musar is good it is mind-blowing, and sometimes it’s not. I don’t know which glass you’ve got …”

The 1980s was the decade in which wine noticeably started to get better, as the weather was generally improving. It all started with 1982 Bordeaux and quality worldwide has, in the main, progressed pleasingly. In this decade we listed over 500 wines at once for the very first time, we started accepting credit cards and our Wine Without Fuss subscription scheme started. Sebastian became head of buying in 1985, hence his next choice of wine.

La Rioja Alta 904 Gran Reserva Rioja 1985 comes from a bodega with whom we have a long and fruitful relationship (La Rioja Alta make The Society’s Exhibition Rioja Reserva). Its silky texture and warming flavours of smoky and spicy strawberries and plum encapsulate what the perfect Rioja should taste like.


A full Members' Room

A full Members’ Room

The 90s began and ended with warehouse expansion at The Society (warehouses 2 and 3 were built), and our Stevenage Cellar Showroom opened its doors just as 1989 ended and 1990 began. Our flagship French wine region, Bordeaux, suffered terribly in 1991, 1992 and 1993 because of the vagaries of the weather , but not before the stellar vintage of 1990, rightly considered to be one of the great vintages of the century.

Our long-term relationships with growers are many, including the Barton family. Sebastian chose Château Langoa Barton 1990 to taste, the estate so well run by Anthony Barton since 1985, his uncle Ronald before him and his daughter Liliane now. The 1990 is very good – velvety in texture with rich flavours of cassis and raspberry overlaid with leather and tobacco. If you had to describe what old claret should taste like, you couldn’t do much better than this.

This was an exciting decade when The Society really flourished. Our website came into being (today over 60% of our business happens via this channel), South America, and Chile in particular, showed us what it can do, assisted greatly by the expert buying of Toby Morrhall, achieved through great relationships with the growers. These relationships epitomise how we go about our business, with honesty, loyalty and integrity. Our ‘Wine Championships’ started in 2001 – an annual blind tasting and benchmarking exercise of our portfolio.

It seemed appropriate to finish off our tasting with celebratory bubbles from The Society’s longest-standing grower. Alfred Gratien has been supplying sparkling wine and Champagne to us since 1906, and Alfred Gratien Brut 2000 (currently available for £42, or £27.50 per half) is a rich, beautifully structured fizz that would grace any occasion.

We raise our glasses to the next 50 years in Stevenage.

Ewan Murray
PR Manager

Categories : Miscellaneous
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Members who use our website on mobile phones and tablets may have noticed some changes recently.

We want members to have a great experience regardless of which device they choose to use, and with more members accessing the site via smaller screens (nearly half of all visits to are now made by mobile and tablet), we realised that our service needed to be improved.

Responsive designRedeveloping the site with Responsive Design in order to make it easier to view was therefore made one of the top priorities of our current wide-ranging Digital Strategy project.

So what’s different?
Members viewing The Society’s website on a desktop or laptop computer will notice very little difference. However, for mobile and tablet screens, content should now be readable without the need to zoom or scroll left to right. The design will automatically adapt to fit the screen optimally, whether you choose to view in portrait or landscape.

You can read more about the individual changes here (with tips on how to navigate the new design, should they be required).

The success of this project depends entirely on the quality of members’ experience, and we welcome your feedback.

Any members accessing the site via mobile or tablet since the responsive website was launched on 9th June, 2015 are very welcome to either e-mail feedback to or complete this short questionnaire.

Nicky Glennon
Head of Digital Marketing

Categories : Miscellaneous
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Wed 19 Aug 2015

What, No Sauvignon?!

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Janet Wynne Evans gets acid indigestion at a music festival…

Janet Wynne Evans

Janet Wynne Evans

Another festival season draws to a close and I’ve yet to sample Glasto and glamping. I just feel too old – though many who go, including some recent headline acts, are older even than me – for anything beyond one night only at a more intimate gathering, and only then if a walking miracle from my musically misspent youth is coming to town.

Lower-key events, where every penny of a limited budget is rightly spent on the music, can be a bit unsophisticated, infrastructure-wise. No trendy ‘pop-up’ eats, unless you count a bap shooting out of a toaster to ricochet off a burger, and forget the Bolly tent. It’s beer, beer and more beer, often as much vital sponsorship as social lubricant. One venue recently rebranded itself to honour a prominent lager brand (probably not the one you’re thinking of).

Whether or not keeping the bar open for the duration of the performance was part of the deal, it was unwise, given the dwindling capacity, elderly plumbing and compromised balance of superannuated jazz cats such as myself.

As yet another projectile of said lager shot from a tremulous paw down the back of my neck (‘sorry, babes!’), I wondered irritably why these things can’t be sponsored by Domaine de Chevalier (attention, Olivier Bernard).

Just one plucky refreshment stall was offering wine, a choice of four of the usual by-the-glass suspects. Already, one of these stalwarts had been crossed out and no prizes for guessing which.

Sauvignon blancYes, the sauvignon blanc tank had run dry – and before 6pm on Day Two of a three-day event.

It’s at times like this when I marvel at sauvignon blanc. Yes, it’s delicious but one of the joys of wine is its diversity and scope for consumer capriciousness. In my formative years, Vouvray and Bergerac were hot, or, in today’s parlance, ‘cool’. Sauvignon came either from the Loire or Bordeaux, or, at great expense, from California where it was called Fumé Blanc, another creature altogether.

Sauvignon blanc goes brilliantly with salty or piquant dishes, such as the salsa verde in the recipe below...

Sauvignon blanc goes brilliantly with salty or piquant dishes, such as the salsa verde in the recipe below…

But then, New Zealand galvanised the grape, with Chile and the Cape in hot pursuit, and a rightly rattled Loire and Bordeaux fought back in earnest.

How we’ve lapped up this war of the worlds, glass in hand! According to the Wine & Spirit Trade Association we Britons drank over 750,000 litres of it last year alone, placing it way ahead of any grape of any colour, and consumption is still on an upward trend.

Enough, surely! My inner wine merchant fervently wants the wheel of retailing to turn again, to other grapes that deliver equal excitement and gratification. But the real me, on that bright summer’s night, craved a glass of sauvignon blanc, and not just because there wasn’t any.

Of course, there was a bottle in the fridge when I got home, as, I suspect there is in most people’s, waiting for a chance to hit the spot, just as it is, or to shine even more brightly with impromptu fish and chips, cold chicken or a midnight feast of melted goat’s cheese on toast. Or, come to that, to wash down the supermarket smoked-salmon sandwiches we gratefully fell upon between sets.

Note to self: smuggle it through in a cool bag in future and don’t ever forget how much you love it.

Janet Wynne Evans
Fine Wine Editor

And Now For Some Salsa…
The salty and the piquant tend to make natural partners for sauvignon blanc. With three kinds of herbs, capers, mustard, anchovies, garlic, wine vinegar and lemon juice, a classic salsa verde is a cinch. I like to serve this vivid green supercharged sauce with white fish such as hake or cod. Serving it with oilier delights like salmon may be too much of a good thing.

Recipe: Grilled Hake with Salsa Verde
The ingredients below will make a generous tubful of sauce, and you should aim to finish it off within a few days out of respect for the fresh components, and the fact that with every passing day it looks more like pond-weed. But it makes such a sublime addition to cold chicken, baked potatoes, steamed greens and more besides that this should not be a problem.

• a couple of very generous handfuls each of parsley and basil leaves
• a similar quantity of dill or tarragon
• a smaller quantity of mint leaves (about ten big leaves should do it)
• 1-2 cloves garlic, to taste
• 1 tablespoon capers, well rinsed
• 4-6 salted or brined anchovies, rinsed
• a good teaspoon of Dijon mustard
• a dash of red wine vinegar
• a tablespoon of lemon juice
• Up to 100ml olive oil, to emulsify. No need for expensive extra-virgin.
• freshly ground black pepper, or white if you prefer
• 4 thickish hake fillets, about 150g each, skin on, scales removed

First make the salsa verde: Rinse the herbs and dry thoroughly on kitchen paper before mincing them in a food-processor or blender. Add the garlic, capers and anchovies, and blend again. Transfer the mixture to a bowl. The next bit is best done manually. Stir in the mustard, vinegar and lemon juice and then add the olive oil very gradually, whisking until you have a pesto-like consistency. Season with pepper and give it a final stir. The anchovies and mustard will provide enough salt.

Now for the hake: Run your fingers over the flesh to check for pin bones which should be tweezed out to avoid cruelty to guests. Lay them skin-side up in the base of a grill pan (lose the rack). Brush with a little oil and season well. Place at the top of a preheated grill, and remain on duty lowering the position or heat when the skin begins to bubble and blister.

Depending on the thickness of the fillet, it should take 8-10 minutes for the flesh to turn opaque. Be careful not to overcook. A fork inserted into the fillet should meet with no resistance.

Lift onto warmed plates and remove the skin, which will readily peel off to reveal the moist flesh below. Some (myself included) like to eat the skin, but it’s not everyone’s choice, so best assume the latter. Add a dollop of salsa verde, having the bowl on hand for reinforcements if required. Tender little new potatoes, simply steamed or crisp, thin French fries make delicious partners.

Any self-respecting sauvignon blanc on our List should handle this with aplomb. The verdant Marlborough style is especially well-suited, but the choice is yours!

Clearly, you can never have too much sauvignon blanc, and your Society has taken that to heart, with the result that we now need to liberate some warehouse space. For a limited period, members are invited to stock up and save money on a cosmopolitan selection of sauvignons from France, New Zealand, the Cape and Chile.

Find the wines by the bottle in our Summer Clearance or stock up on the Summer Clearance Sauvignon Blanc Mixed Case with a saving of £17.50.

Categories : Miscellaneous
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Tue 18 Aug 2015

Bordeaux’s ‘Near Perfect 2015 Harvest’?

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Well, it’s started. This provocative (at least in wine trade circles) headline appeared in The Telegraph last week extolling the virtues of a vintage not even harvested let alone safely in the cellar.

Grapes ripening in BordeauxVintages ending in 5 have indeed tended to be pretty good since 1985 (with 2005 being fabulous), but this is of course not guaranteed.

Bordeaux has seen some freak conditions so far this summer and now needs some rain if even a good vintage is to be delivered. For ‘near perfect’ we’ll wait until we have visited, tasted and talked to producers the length and breadth of Bordeaux (and not just the salesmen!).

Yields may well be low in many regions of France; there seems plenty of evidence for that so far but not enough to start talking up prices at this early stage.

Thank goodness for the common sense closing remarks in The Telegraph’s article from Bordeaux producer and blogger Gavin Quinney who commented that, given that harvest for reds is in late September, ‘most of us sit there with our fingers crossed and won’t say anything until the fat lady sings.’

We’re with the fat lady, if admittedly hoping we might all have another 2005 to look forward to.

Jo Locke MW
Society Buyer

Categories : Bordeaux, France
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Sebastian Payne MW celebrates 42 years at The Wine Society this year. During that time he has seen the Buying Team grow from just one in 1985 (himself – although he started at The Society in 1973 as promotions manager, he didn’t officially take a full buying role until the mid eighties) to its current size of seven active buyers scouring the globe for the best the wine world has to offer.

One constant over that period of three decades has been Sebastian’s role as Italian wine buyer.

Sebastian Payne MW

Sebastian Payne MW

Sebastian’s involvement with Italian wine started even before taking on the buying role he is now synonymous with, as assistant to the wine buyer of the time. `We were buying Italian wines in the 70s but not in a serious way. We had about eight reds and six of them were Chianti,’ he recalls.

It wasn’t until visiting Italy’s largest trade show, Vinitaly, in the early eighties that things started to take shape. At the time the easiest solution for a UK wine merchant or supermarket looking to stock Italian wines was to approach one of a few large companies in Italy who could effectively offer an off-the-peg range of Italian wines. No need then to invest time and money searching the length and breadth of a country whose sheer size let alone regional and stylistic diversity was for many an obstacle.


Hofstätter in the Alto Adige: The Society’s first direct Italian supplier.

For Sebastian, Vinitaly 1982 changed all that, establishing The Society’s first direct Italian supplier, Hofstätter in the Alto Adige, a relationship that still stands today.

Sebastian has visited Italy every year since 1990. With each visit he meets with established suppliers and one or two new prospects, gradually widening the range – a policy which over the last 25 years has seen strong relationships develop and bear fruit while still introducing exciting new finds and freshness to the range.

One such visit in the early days of his tenure was to a producer in Panzano, in the centre of Chianti country. The Society had been buying Chianti from a producer in the town for a few vintages and while the wine was good, the owner of the winery was a little unpredictable (and easily distracted with an obsession for making Vin Santo!). His neighbour at the time was a terracotta tile maker who also had an interest in Chianti having purchased an estate some decades earlier in the late 60s.

Sebastian Payne MW in 1973

Sebastian in 1973

His name was Dino Manetti and his wine was called Fontodi. That initial meeting was in 1985. Today, Dino’s son Giovanni Manetti will be familiar with many members who have attended one of The Society’s Italian tastings in recent years, as the relationship continues.

Dealing with suppliers in some regions, particularly during the early days in Campania, hasn’t always been so smooth. Business practices that today would be considered outrageous were unfortunately much more commonplace. It wasn’t unheard of for a buyer to taste one thing at the winery and yet receive something quite different at point of delivery. These producers fell by the wayside and a core of reliable trustworthy growers were maintained – growers who shared The Society’s view of a building a successful long-term relationship.

One of the key roles of a Society buyer, as Sebastian sees it, is to `sell the idea of The Society to the producers so that they want to sell to you’. Understanding that their wines are being sold directly to interested wine drinkers who appreciate and understand where the wine has come from is a big pull for producers and reflects the reasons why many choose to make wine in the first place. It is with those growers and producers who fully understand this that we have developed the longest and most fruitful partnerships.

On the subject of communication, Sebastian modestly describes his grasp of the Italian language as ‘Cellar Italian’! He is happy to converse on wine-related topics drawing upon a vocabulary partly picked up at university studying the classics but mainly garnered from years spent in the company of growers and producers. However, by his own admission he’s less comfortable discussing the finer points of Serie A. The nice thing about Italians, he says, is that they don’t mind when you get it wrong.

Sebastian has witnessed a remarkable rise in the popularity of Italian food on these shores during his tenure, a huge boon to Italy’s wine industry. He cites more confidence amongst wine drinkers to explore new wines that might pair well with the cuisine, and also less fear in pronouncing Italian wine names!

The big international varieties such cabernet and merlot used to play a much larger part in The Society’s Italian range than they do today. Here Sebastian is unequivocal that, like any wine-producing country, Italy should show a point of difference and be true to its own individual character; and that this is best expressed by the local grape varieties.

It took years of external influence from winemakers and buyers alike to help Sicily regain its confidence in indigenous grape varieties.

It took years of external influence from winemakers and buyers alike to help push Sicily back on track and to regain its confidence in its own individuality.

An example of this individual character being lost and then slowly regained can be seen in Sicily. Sebastian first visited Sicily in a buying capacity in 1992 and described an island where many producers seemed intent on trying to emulate the success that Australia had had with big well-known grapes. In doing so, the island’s wines had lost their own unique sense of character. It took years of external influence from winemakers and buyers alike to help push Sicily back on track and to regain its confidence in its own individuality. Anyone who has tasted wines from the nerello mascalese grape grown high up the sides of mount Etna will be glad they did.

Since stepping down as chief buyer in 2012 (a mantle he had held for 30 years) Sebastian has been able to dedicate more time to take up what he describes as `unfinished business’ with Italy. It would seem that this investment in time and energy has paid dividends as Italian sales at The Society have increased strongly in the last three years and the range continues to flourish.

When asked about the biggest challenge he faces as Italian wine buyer for The Society the answer comes readily: the biggest challenge and paradoxically the biggest attraction is the sheer diversity of wine styles, regions and grapes. The excitement that there is always something new to discover goes hand in hand with the complexity of the region and as Sebastian points out, ‘if you are interested in a subject then the more complex it gets the more fascinating it becomes.’

Whether sharing his fascination or simply looking for something delicious to open, our membership has been well served by this approach over the past three decades. With Sebastian noting that Italian winemakers are approaching native grape varieties with renewed confidence, better winemaking and better knowledge, the future also looks bright for fans of the country’s wines.

We’ll drink to that.

Gareth Park
Marketing Campaign Manager

NB: (added 9th August 2016) While you’re in the mood, why not check out our 2016 ‘The Best of Italy‘ offer 

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Wed 12 Aug 2015

English Sparkling Wine: Right Here, Right Now

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‘England can’t make decent wine’ is a phrase that I have been forced to roll my eyes at far too often.


Nyetimber in Sussex

Despite all the appreciation from wine writers and the international awards and plaudits loaded upon the wines of our fair isle, many people are still entrenched in the idea that the wines will never match up to those from more established wine regions.

Personally, I take great umbrage with this and feel that it is an assertion made either upon out-of-date experiences or a place of comically overdone wine snobbery. In response to this I feel the need to fly the flag for English wine whenever the opportunity arises.

Our new English wine offering is just such an opportunity.

In my opinion what will change the minds of all the naysayers are the sparkling wines produced in England which are a particular speciality of ours.

With producers such as Nyetimber, Camel Valley and Ridgeview it isn’t hard to see that quality is there. The wines from these producers generally cost about the same as the cheaper wines from the Grand Marques Champagne houses, but I find are often of a quality that far surpasses these and are easily worthy of competing amongst the Champagnes priced at £40-50.

The wines offer wonderful balance, finesse and refreshing acidity, they are delicious to drink young and some have the ability to age fantastically too. Their quality has been praised by wine writers such as Oz Clarke, Victoria Moore and Hugh Johnson to name a few, and have accrued countless medals and trophies at the Decanter Awards, International Wine Challenge and the International Wine & Spirit Competition.

Beautifully ripe chardonnay at Ridgeview

Beautifully ripe chardonnay at Ridgeview

Now as a reality check, it has to be acknowledged that it is hard to make top-quality wines in England: our climate is too cold and wet for a whole host of grape varieties. Indeed, considering the weather we have experienced this summer it is a surprise that we can grow grapes at all! It is unlikely that world-class red wines will ever be made in the UK, but with Cornwall less than 90 miles north of Champagne it’s easy to see that with the right grape and site selection it is more than possible to make great sparkling wines.

Alongside the general climatic difficulties, in common with other wine-producing regions, we do experience vintage variation. This can be especially dramatic in the UK; when we have a bad vintage it can be devastating, such as that in 2012 when some producers dumped their whole harvest. In Champagne they would have been able to utilise the less-good fruit, beefing up the blend with better wine from previous vintages. This isn’t the case in the UK yet, being a young producing country the reserves of old vintages haven’t had time to build up to such an extent yet. But this will come in time: as English producers become even more established and build up good reserve stocks, vintage variation will lessen and blends overall will improve further in quality.

Camel Valley

Camel Valley, Cornwall

Finally, one very exciting aspect for me about the current state of English wines is that ther are new wineries being founded and new vineyard new sites that are being found around the UK all the time.

Bluebell is a great example of a newcomer to the scene, having only released their second vintage this year. The wine is delicious and very distinctive to those from other English producers with a fuller-bodied, creamier and more developed style than the lighter and elegant Ridgeview or Camel Valley wines.

Our English offer has been put together to showcase some of the best wines that England produces and in a variety of styles. For me the England’s Finest Sparklers case in particular is a terrific showcase of the top-quality wines that can be made here.

With the superb quality of the 2014 vintage, the ever-increasing experience of the UK’s winemakers and their commitment to quality we should all be looking forward to seeing the development of our wineries in England over the next decade and with this the new treasures that will be unearthed.

Hugo Fountain
Marketing Campaign Manager

Our current offering of English wines (sparkling and still) is online now

Categories : England
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Thu 06 Aug 2015

P is for Pink is for Provence

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We shouldn’t need fine summer weather to enjoy good rosé wine; and of the myriad rosé being produced today, nothing quite matches the glamour and elegance of pink wine from Provence.

 Château Romanin, Provence

The vines of Château Romanin

Our latest offering of rosé from the region aims to prove this.

Provence has always been about pink wine, and today it represents 88% of the region’s entire production.

It used to be sold mainly in skittle-shaped clear-glass bottles and to be honest was rarely that good. Often mass produced from high yielding grapes and with little technology to improve quality, rosé de Provence was often a serious disappointment. That is changing and more and more, I’ve been enjoying my forays into the pink-tinted world of Provence.

Provence has always about mass and about a few beacons of brilliance. The beacons have become brighter of late and every year they grow in number.

Why the change?
1. Better technology used to make cleaner wines.
2. Real investment, often from outside the region. Louis Roederer and Perrin are two names to have invested here.
3. Climate change.
4. Competition from elsewhere.
5. Genuine desire to improve quality with lower yields, better husbandry, and better choice of grape varieties.

As growers try to make better wines by reducing yields and using better grape varieties such as mourvèdre, the wines have suddenly become more flavourful, characterful and even better to be drunk with food.

Provence roséNot so long ago, I had the great pleasure and honour of taking a small group of Wine Society members to the Rhône. One lunchtime we were in Cairanne where there is an excellent bar à vin with, not surprisingly, an excellent wine list. Of course we had an impressive Cairanne from the equally impressive 2010 vintage. This was a brilliant red but actually not quite what was needed with lunch during June.

However, the other wine we had was just the ticket and something wonderful to show off, particularly as it is only its second vintage. This was Miraval, a Côtes de Provence made by the Perrin family but owned by Hollywood stars Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie.

It was perfect: a wine with charm and ease and coping well with all the food that was put before us. And in came in a magnum. Magnums have become the in thing for top Provence wines and they do indeed make a real impact at the table.

On rosé and food
I drink rosé throughout the year. It is just a very easy wine to serve. It refreshes and it goes unerringly well with everything, and Provence rosé from good estates not only keeps well but improves in bottle and is often better after the summer is over.

Eggs and tomatoes are a real ‘no’ for most wines, and yet rosé wines work really well, unperturbed by the strong flavours even of salad dressing. With fish, especially grilled or fried, there is little better and likewise simply prepared meats including all manner of charcuterie.

So how to serve rosé?
Simplicity itself. There is no need to decant or to open hours before. Light chilling suffices but not so cold as to erase all the flavours.

What goes best with what?
Further to Emma Briffett’s recent piece on rosé and food matching, here are my suggestions for the wines in our current Provence offer.

1. Lighter styles
Côtes de Provence, Domaine Houchart Rosé, 2014 (£7.50): very round tasting, easy, no hard edges. Versatile. Best drunk very young.

Côtes de Provence Rosé, Château Barbanau 2014 (£9.25) & Coteaux Varois Saint-Qvinis Rosé, Domaine de Fontlade 2014 (£7.50): two crisp and bone-dry thirst quenchers that can be enjoyed with or without food and ideally now and over the next three or four months.

2. Mid-weight pinks
These all have more concentration and much more flavour. While remaining versatile, they come into their own with food. Lovely now but all will continue improving over the next few months.

Examples of this style:
Sainte-Victoire-Côtes de Provence Rosé, Domaine Houchart 2014 (£8.25)
Mas de Romanin, IGP Alpilles 2014 (£8.75)
Côtes de Provence Rosé, Château Riotor 2014 (£8.95)
Côtes de Provence Rosé, Château de Galoupet Cru Classé, 2014 (£9.95)
Coteaux d’Aix en Provence Rosé, Château Vignelaure 2014 (£12.50)
Domaine Richeaume, IGP Méditerranée Rosé 2014 (£14.95)
Côtes de Provence, Miraval Rosé 2014 (£14.95)

3. More weight still
Bandol and Palette, with two wines represented in this offer:

Palette Rosé, Château Henri Bonnaud 2014 (£14.95)
Bandol Château Salettes 2014 (£13.95)

Both will again work even better with food and better still with quite big dishes such as lobster or crab.

I was very fortunate enough to have enjoyed a bouillabaisse prepared by Lulu Peyraud of Bandol’s Domaine Tempier and reputed to have been one of the best interpreters of Provençal cooking. Both white and rosé were served alongside, with the rosé edging it and perhaps coping best with all the flavours of crab, garlic and saffron.

Replicating the dish is not easy. The fish markets in Marseille are hardly next door though these days there is Eurostar service from Saint Pancras. So maybe it can be done…!

Bon appétit

Marcel Orford-Williams
Society Buyer

Categories : France, South of France
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Tue 04 Aug 2015

On Chilling Red Wines

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A warmer temperature – which some of us in the UK are enjoying at least! – is conducive to a chilled glass of white or rosé, but don’t overlook red wine when the mercury modestly rises either.

Serving Beaujolais and red Burgundies at ‘cellar temperature’ is oft encouraged, and many local house reds come chilled when drunk on holiday.

But why not other reds?

Chilling red wine

Recent experiments in The Showroom (which is, essentially, a large cellar) have proved to me that, beyond gamay and pinot noir, many reds prove quite delicious at a lower temperature.

Though I feel I cannot dictate which wines you choose to chill, the ones that work best are those that are lighter in body, good acidity, prevalent in primary fruit and of a lower tannic structure.

Putting many reds through a fleeting stint in the fridge for around 30 minutes to an hour can add a vibrancy to their fruit and a lightness that I feel reveals a refreshingly different side to the wines.

This was certainly true of two cinsaults I tried: the members’ favourite Percheron Old Vine Cinsault, Western Cape 2014 (£5.75) and the Chilean De Martino Gallardía del Itata Cinsault 2013 (£8.75). Chilling brought out the young and lively sides of both of these wines.

The lower tannin of 3C, Cariñena 2014 (£5.25) and Fronton, Chateau Bouissel 2012 (£8.25) also lend themselves to cooler drinking.

For al fresco dining, try Ollieux Romanis Capucine, Pays de l’Aude 2014 (6.75) and Frappato di Sicilia, Nicosia 2014 (£7.95), which offer an abundance of fruit; not to mention the cherry freshness of Avaniel, Ribera del Duero 2013 (£6.95) and Valpolicella, Allegrini 2014 (£9.75), or indeed The Society’s California Old-Vine Zinfandel 2013 (£7.50).

Loire reds also work well at lower temperatures, as do the Greek Thymiopoulos Naoussa Jeunes Vignes 2013 (£10.50) and Kalecik Karasi, Vinkara 2012 (£9.50), which would both work well with Meze dishes.

Even outside of hot weather the freshness and vitality chilling some red wines, for me, introduces brightness that lifts a meal or the drink itself.

It’s all about personal preference and what wine and what temperature works for you. Do try it for yourself if you’ve yet to: the above ideas are only the tip of the ice bucket…

Conrad Braganza
The Cellar Showroom

Categories : Miscellaneous
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Mon 03 Aug 2015

Tasting + Tweeting = #TWStaste

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Our renowned Tastings & Events programme covers the country from Inverness to Truro, and Belfast to Canterbury, but what abut those people who may not be available for the dates near their home town, or  who live too far to be able to make the journey to their nearest event?

TWStaste Ewan

@Ewbz serving up the A Mano Puglia Bianco

Last year we struck upon an idea to bring members together for a tasting without having to leave the comfort of their own home. We trialled it in the summer of 2014, and now intend on rolling it out more frequently in future, and we started last month.

Through the medium of Twitter, Martin Brown (@iamagrapeman) and Ewan Murray (@Ewbz) hosted an hour-long tasting of (and discussion about) two of the most popular bottles from our recent Wine Champions offer – namely Italy’s A Mano Puglia Bianco 2014 and Spain’s 3C Cariñena 2014.

Several members took part fully in the live online discussions, and several others followed along, favouriting and retweeting as they went as well as chipping in occasionally too. At times it did feel like we were in the same room. There are moves afoot to enhance the ‘virtual tasting’ experience over time, so watch this space.

We will be holding our next #TWStaste session on Thursday 27th August, when @iamagrapeman and @Ewbz will be joined by Society buyer @SarahKnowles in Australia (virtually, sadly, rather than actually) checking out two wines from our Blind Spot range, wines exclusive to The Society sourced by Mac Forbes (click on Mac’s name to discover more about Mac and the range). And do keep your Twitter eyes peeled for further news of this over the next few weeks.

In the meantime, here are some of the observations made during the hour (which went exceedingly quickly).

Some folk weren’t drinking alone …

There was the occasional romantic edge …

  The wines were enjoyed for all sorts of reasons …

We toasted absent friends …


We’ll do it all over again …

Ewan Murray
PR Manager

Categories : Miscellaneous
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