Grapevine Archive for March, 2016

When offered a ‘pinot’, I suspect most would expect either a glass of red pinot noir or white pinot grigio/gris to be poured.

But hold fire! I feel their oft-forgotten cousin, pinot blanc, offers an opportunity to try something deliciously different.

Pinot Blanc grapesThis white mutation of pinot noir was first identified in Burgundy in the 18th century. Its lowly status in the pinot family seemed to be compounded by several cases of mistaken identity: for many years some vines were thought to be chardonnay. The grape is still grown in this part of the world, permitted but rarely used in Burgundy and Champagne, but it is now planted in many areas.

It can be found in Germany and Austria under the name weißburgunder, and in Italy as pinot bianco. It also features in Hungary and a number of Balkan vineyards. We used to list a Canadian example, and homegrown English examples can also be found. The slightly off-dry Chapel Down Pinot Blanc (£12.50) is worth a try, and the grape also appears in the blend of Sussex’s Albourne Estate Selection (£12.95).

Lovely as these English examples are, my place to start would be Alsace, where this near-neglected grape is capable of remarkable complexity and elegance.

Alsace is rightly hailed for its consumer-friendly labelling, with grape varieties being displayed on the label long before others caught on, but the ever-unfortunate pinot blanc is the exception that proves the rule here. A ‘pinot blanc’ from Alsace can by law contain pinot gris, auxerrois or even white-vinified pinot noir!

Nevertheless, the whole can often be greater than the sum of its parts, and I feel that the three pinot blancs currently available from The Society reveal the appeal of this unsung grape.

Three Alsace pinot blancs to try

1. At just £6.50, Cave de Turckheim’s 2014 Pinot Blanc overdelivers: I’ve recommended this to members in The Cellar Showroom a great deal, particularly for weddings and buffets. It’s a real crowd-pleaser, whose soft subtle melon fruit and fresh tempered acidity combine in an easy-drinking wine which suits a variety of foods and palates.

2. For a fuller feel, Trimbach’s 2014 Pinot Blanc (£8.95) shows how well the grape can complement auxerrois in an Alsace blend: it has a slight smoky and spicy character with fresh acidity, and the result is very stylish. Surprisingly it can be acquired for under £10 and is also available in a handy-sized half bottle for £5.50.

3. Finally, but still under £10 a bottle, Domaine Ginglinger’s 2013 Pinot Blanc (£9.95) is wonderfully aromatic and delivers ripe roundness that lingers. This is a great option for food matching, working especially well with egg-based dishes and with spicy food.


Conrad Braganza
The Cellar Showroom

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Wed 23 Mar 2016

Behind The Scenes: The Society’s List

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The Society’s List has been the backbone of The Society’s communications since the founding days in the 1870s; consistently produced over 140 years, through two World Wars and times of economic triumph and tragedy.

The Wine Society List covers

Technology hasn’t made the List obsolete but instead has complemented it rather nicely. We quite often receive a little flurry of tweets from members showing photos of their new List arriving with all the anticipation of the various delights lying within just waiting to be discovered.

I’m told some members even read it in bed but I’ve yet to verify this personally.

The production of each List follows a relatively similar pattern, though some editions are typically more challenging than others – often due to Bank Holidays (good luck trying to find sober proof readers between Christmas and the New Year!). The plans start about four months before the List is due to be mailed, which means that – a bit like painting the Forth Bridge or cleaning skyscraper windows – the wider List process never truly stops.

After initial briefing meetings and setting up various bits of software, the first major step is when the buyers select the wines and write all the tasting notes. It’s very important to the quality of the List and integrity of The Society that the wine notes are written by those who buy the wine. It wouldn’t be a huge stretch to employ someone who had never been out of the office let alone having actively sought out these wines to cobble together a bunch of formulaic tasting notes. This does not and will never happen.

Wine Society list covers

Some buyers are masters of the short note, an art form in itself, while others could take up pages for just a few wines. The buyers all have their own personalities which often come through in their choice of adjectives and rhetorical flourishes. ‘Ethereal’ and ‘beguiling’ are two of my particular favourite adjectives used, but over the years we’ve had mention of everything from tractors to members of the clergy included within the notes.

There are three proofing circulations of the List. A paperless office is still a far and distant dream when it comes to doing this, but I hasten to add that The Society operates a variety of recycling schemes and takes its environmental responsibilities very seriously. However, I can say from experience that reading a 160-page document on a screen several times a day over the course of a week ends up in a state akin to having a lemon-juice eyebath. Sometimes the old ways really are the best!

Circulations one and two go to 16 people each, with the final authors’ corrections stage only going to four proof readers. This means that over the whole process I have to amalgamate a total of 36 copies’ worth of corrections. With each List containing c.880 wine notes, this means that by the time it goes to print I will have read somewhere in the region of 31,680 tasting notes.

Sometimes people ask me what I drink at home after the List has gone to print. Well, the answer’s beer!

Sometimes people ask me what I drink at home after the List has gone to print. Well, the answer’s beer!

One common denominator throughout the five years in which I’ve been managing the List is that we will always have too many wines to fit in the number of pages. This sounds like a negative thing but, for me, it’s the opposite: every wine in the List is permanently up against competition from new wines trying to push their way in, so for this very reason each wine has justify its space on the page.

This doesn’t mean we judge everything from a purely commercial perspective. Indeed, one of the benefits of being a non-profit maximising mutual is that we can consider interest, diversity and overall quality on an equal footing with sales figures. But quite often the end result is more wines than can fit in the pages available. This situation is otherwise known as a headache.

Not being particularly large in stature, arm wrestling as a form of problem resolution is not an option for me, so this is where our Merchandising Team comes into play. After a period of negotiation / horse trading, we usually arrive a suitable number of wines with minimal conflict!

Whilst all this has been going on, my colleague Alex Chrysostomou has been quietly getting on with the process of commissioning an artist for the List cover and internal illustrations. This can be logistically challenging, and at times more than a little surreal (he was once asked to make a fish smile). Alex also does the clever bit of taking the List and forming into something that works in our publishing / content management system so that it can be set and printed.

'Can you make it smile?' The (comparatively) infamous April 2013 artwork

‘Can you make it smile?’ The (comparatively) infamous April 2013 artwork

Then there are the logistics of segmenting over 140k active members, ensuring that the printers deliver in time to the mailing house, making sure the mailing house sends out the Lists according to schedule and a 101 other things that have to happen involving six external companies and just about every department within The Wine society before it drops through your letterbox.

So on behalf of all my colleagues who are vital in producing this Wine Society staple, we hope that you continue to enjoy using The Wine Society List and of course welcome your feedback.

Gareth Park
Marketing Campaign Manager

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Thu 17 Mar 2016

Looking East at the Prowein Fair

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Prowein, the three-day wine fair, held in Düsseldorf annually in March, has become an invaluable meeting place of wine producers and buyers from all over the world.

This year Marcel Orford-Williams takes back the Society’s German wine buying, but I could not resist spending a morning with him and producers I had introduced in the last five years and looking at the wonderfully promising 2015 vintage wines with several growers we have both known over many years.

Where else can one meet in one well-organised place so many producers from every German wine-producing region, catch up with their news and taste so many of their wines to make a selection?

I was there principally, however, to talk to growers from further east: Greece, Turkey, Bulgaria, Croatia, Hungary, Moldova, Romania and beyond.

Beautiful vineyards on the Greek island of Samos

Beautiful vineyards on the Greek island of Samos

While there is no substitute for visiting producers on their home patch (my first visit to Georgia last year was an education) this fair is a fantastic way to narrow the field and find growers whose wines will appeal to Wine Society members, while saving money on travel expenses.

The Turks have been hard hit by a massive drop in tourism, following bombs in Istanbul and hostility with Russia but, in spite of unhelpful politics and a predominantly teetotal population, people are making inspiring wines of character and high quality. Vinkara’s Öküzgözü (£7.75) is just one example. My wife and I visited New York and Washington shortly after 9/11 in a half-empty plane to a warm welcome from American friends. This is surely an excellent time to visit Turkey.

Our Greek suppliers, a dynamic motivated group, mostly youthful, who export most of what they make are similarly inspiring making great, original wines.

We began last year to import from Moldova. Château Vartely makes some lovely wines, wants and needs to sell to us, so offers good prices.

What is not to like?

Let us give these movers and shakers, who rise above difficult times, our support.

Sebastian Payne MW
Society Buyer

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Tue 15 Mar 2016

The Society’s Three Peaks Challenge

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They blame me! I was leading a group of colleagues around the vineyards of Tuscany last autumn. At the back of the bus Sadie and Simon hatched a plan for a team of walkers to attempt the Three Peaks Challenge. They say that if I hadn’t sat them down next to each other neither the conversation nor the event would have happened, so apparently this madcap idea is all my fault.

For those who may not know, the Three Peaks Challenge is an attempt to climb and descend Ben Nevis, Scafell Pike and Snowdon within 24 hours, including the driving in between! Quite a challenge, but the team is up for it and already in training in order to support three very worthy causes dear to our hearts, namely The Eve Appeal, The Benevolent and Stevenage Community Trust.


The walkers work in different departments across the business: from left to right – back row: Dave Collins (analyst programmer), Peter Harris (delivery driver), Lesley Clark (marketing campaign analyst), Ben Briffett (Member Services co-ordinator) – front row: Nicky Glennon (head of digital marketing), Mahesh Bharwaney (regional merchandiser), Mike Green (systems service desk), Sadie Calderon (membership administration clerk), Simon Gatley (assistant merchandiser) and Carl Andrew (warehouse co-ordinator),

The drivers/support crew are: Tom Wain (regional merchandiser) and Ewan Murray (PR manager), who will don their boots and join the team for the walk up and down Snowdon.

We have already received a generous offer from Virgin Trains East Coast to transport the team up to Scotland from Stevenage, which has been gratefully received, and other ‘in kind’ offers are being sought to cover aspects of logistics.

Ben Nevis, Scafell Pike, Snowdon,

For those who may wish to donate to any or all of our causes, the details are as follows:

Eve logoThe Eve Appeal – a dear colleague of ours, Louise, has been fighting cancer for the past four years. Go to  or text TWSE84 £x to 70070 (where x is the amount you donate)

‘The Eve Appeal was launched in 2002 and is the only national UK charity dedicated to funding world-class research and raising awareness of all five gynaecological cancers (womb, ovarian, cervical, vulval and vaginal). In the UK, 55 women are diagnosed and 21 die each and every day from a gynaecological cancer – yet funding and awareness of these diseases remains low. We are determined to change this and fight women’s cancers by funding research focused on developing effective methods of risk prediction, earlier detection, and improved treatment and care that will ultimately save women’s lives not only in the UK but around the world.’

June 2016 – update: we are very sad to report that on Saturday 11th June our colleague Louise lost her battle with peritoneal cancer. We’ll be thinking of her all the way.


benevolent_id_jpegThe Benevolent – the daughter of one of the team has benefited greatly from the charity’s financial assistance towards treatment in her long struggle against mental illness. Go to  or text TWSB77 £x to 70070

‘Founded in 1886, The Benevolent’s mission is to help colleagues from the drinks trade facing serious medical or financial hardship or any other workplace or home difficulties. Today The Benevolent continues to be at the heart of the UK drinks industry and is the only charity supporting employees from every sector of the drinks trade, no matter where they were employed or what their personal situation. Here at The Benevolent we are passionate about our industry, our community and our work and firmly believe that everyone deserves a helping hand when they need it most. From our Board of Trustees and Corporate Partners, to our staff and Benevolent Ambassadors, we are all committed to improving the quality of life for vulnerable people from the UK drinks industry.’

Steve logoStevenage Community Trust – Staff at The Society support this local charity which serves the most needy in our home community. Our CEO Robin McMillan is a trustee. Go to  or text TWSS657 £x to 70070

‘Stevenage Community Trust is an independent charitable trust, which raises funds and promotes charitable giving in order to enhance the quality of life of people living in the Borough of Stevenage and its surrounding villages.’

We’ll post updates nearer the time, and you will be able to follow our exploits over the weekend itself on social media.

Ewan Murray
PR Manager

Categories : Miscellaneous
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Wed 09 Mar 2016

Staff Choice: A Chief Executive Red

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It’s that time again! March’s Staff Choice comes from our chief executive, Robin McMillan.

You can find a full archive of Staff Choices on our website here.

Robin McMillanThe Society’s Corbières 2014

This was one of the first wines I purchased after joining The Wine Society in 2012 and has been a firm favourite ever since. A classic blend of carignan and grenache, it has a deep, intense colour, a lovely nose of sweet fruit and a rich, intense and spicy palate.

So often, our preference for a wine is rooted in an experience or occasion well beyond the taste or enjoyment of the wine itself. In 2013, the same year this wine won a Gold medal at the International Wine Challenge awards, I along with buyer Marcel Orford-Williams and members of the Executive Team, was fortunate enough to visit the producer, Pierre Bories of Château Ollieux Romanis, who has been making this wine for The Society since the 2007 vintage. And what a revelation it was: the warmth and intensity of the wine clearly emanates from the passion and skill of Pierre – this is such a dependable wine that will never disappoint, whatever the occasion.

Robin McMillan
Chief Executive

£7.25 – Bottle
£87.00 – Case of 12
View Wine Details

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Head of Buying Tim Sykes has recently taken on the buying of Bordeaux wines for The Society. I caught up with him recently to ask him about how it has been going so far, and about his love of this great region’s wines.

Tim Sykes

Tim Sykes

Why Bordeaux?
Because I love the wines! It’s a vast area with real diversity of styles, and is less straightforward to buy from than you might think. It regularly throws up some really, really interesting wines.

Bordeaux’s reputation was forged by a small number of the top châteaux and as a consequence, much gets overlooked. If you get under the skin there are some terrific wines lower down the price ladder. In terms of value for money Bordeaux holds its own against any other region. In the sub-£10 category, I struggle to think of many places outside of Bordeaux that offer the same consistency of quality and value for money year in year out.

Is Bordeaux a region you buy from for your own personal enjoyment?
Since coming to work at The Wine Society [in 2012] I have been drinking a lot more Bordeaux than I had done previously. Bordeaux wasn’t such an important region in my previous job because the restaurant trade sadly doesn’t have such a demand these days

Why do you think Bordeaux offers such value and variety?
There are thousands of châteaux and people making different styles of wine. This is not news to Wine Society members: we have been following many of the leading lights – people like the Dubourdieus and Despagnes – whose wines have stood the test of time. We have been working with them for a long time now. There’s a lot of history there: Jo Locke MW and Sebastian Payne MW did a fantastic job building up relationships with the people that matter.

Will you want to put your own stamp on the region?
Yes, of course, that is my job, and it’s also the challenge and what makes it enjoyable. It will involve lots of prospecting to find the new exciting producers.

What interests me most is the smaller family-owned properties – many of whom actually struggle to make a go of it – contrary to the image most people have of Bordeaux. Growers in some of the ‘satellite’ appellations, and those producing generic claret have often struggled in recent years – prices haven’t changed much for these wines in the last 10 years! Take The Society’s Claret – we buy at pretty much the same cost price as 10 years ago and the wine is getting better and better in quality terms.

Château Canada is an example of a good petit château that we buy from in most years. Good properties like this, the ones we deal with, are generally doing ok, but those that rely on selling in bulk struggle to make ends meet.

On the ground in Bordeaux: Tim with Château Branaire-Ducru's Jean-Dominique Videau

On the ground in Bordeaux: Tim with Château Branaire-Ducru’s Jean-Dominique Videau

You have been involved in sourcing wines for our en primeur offer since you started at The Society; do you cellar Bordeaux for your own enjoyment?
Yes, I like to cellar and drink the grander names too, of course. But in some ways the well-known names are less satisfying to buy as a professional buyer – they’re widely available on the ‘Bordeaux Place’ through local merchants – it’s not like buying from individual properties and finding things for yourself.

Where is the excitement then?
It’s the ‘truffle-snuffling’ element that gets us going as buyers. That’s the exciting thing. We read up on properties and regions… talk to people… prospect.

What have been your impressions as you take over responsibility for Bordeaux?
Of all the regions that I have visited since joining the Society, and in Bordeaux especially, there is enormous respect for The Wine Society. It’s a question of trust, something that has been built up over many, many years. Château owners often comment on how delighted they are to work with us and how much they enjoy meeting our members when they attend tastings.

Why do you think this is?
I think it has to do with loyalty and integrity. The Wine Society is a reliable organisation with a rich tradition. They respect the fact that there are no sharp practices when it comes to dealing with us. We make a point of showing our faces and visit a lot more than most merchants.

Are you getting the impression that there’s a new generation coming to the fore now in Bordeaux?
Yes, to a certain extent…we are seeing the likes of Fabrice and Jean-Jacques Dubourdieu stepping up to take more of a leading role within their family estates, then there’s Edouard Moueix whose father Christian is taking more of a back-seat role, for example.

Are families important in Bordeaux?
When it’s a family concern it is usually a lot more interesting. When you visit the big châteaux for example, you’re rarely shown around by the owner, even if it is family-owned property. It’s usually the director or manager – not the people who make the wine. That’s what’s so nice about the satellite appellations of Bordeaux – Bourg, Blaye, Fronsac – it’s generally more about family properties, much more like the rest of France in that respect.

There are exceptions, of course, people like the Bartons of Châteaux Léoville and Langoa Barton and the Borie family who own Ducru-Beaucaillou and Grand-Puy-Lacoste who are always charming and still retain the family feel.

What are your favourite clarets?
Impossible question to answer! Like many of our members, if I’m looking for everyday drinking wines in the sub-£10 bracket, I would head to somewhere like the Côtes de Bordeaux. Right bank wines based on the merlot grape are more supple and easier to drink younger.

At the more senior level I’d tend to towards the left bank more I love Château Batailley and Grand-Puy-Lacoste – both Pauillacs – on the left bank for example, as well as Domaine de Chevalier in Pessac-Léognan.

Fri 04 Mar 2016

Food Without Fuss: Lamb For All Seasons

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These recipes, while hopefully of use and interest to all, were written with the Easter selections of The Society’s Wine Without Fuss subscription scheme particularly in mind. 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

What’s to be done about a non-fixed festival at a meteorologically capricious time of year? Among the annual dilemmas between thermals and shirtsleeves, fireside and alfresco, slow-cooker and barbecue, the only constants, at Easter, apart from spiritual ones, are chocolate and good wine.

But what wine? The viscous reds evoked by the fireside option instantly become unsuitable in bright sunshine, just as the fuller whites suddenly need to be crisp and verdant.

Here’s where a Wine Without Fuss subscription proves its worth. Our buyers’ selections are not, primarily, seasonally led – the aim, as ever, is to provide a mix of styles and a balance between the comfortingly familiar and the thought-provoking. A useful side-effect is that every case, be it Everyday, Premium or French Classic, should manage the meteorology.

Inspired by that, and this Paschal selection, I’m thinking semi-seasonal. Plenty of fresh ingredients are shining at the moment, to be sure, but a blast of hail, late cold snap or gales fit to wipe the welcoming smile off the face of your friendly fishmonger can easily derail the best of schemes. This is a good time for the butcher and the greengrocer, along with a few store-cupboard and freezer standbys.

Neck fillet of lamb

Neck fillet of lamb

A star ingredient for my money, and not much is needed to buy it, is neck fillet of lamb. A compatriot and fellow-member recently asked me to recommend a wine for cawl, our Welsh take on Irish stew. We made do with the scrag end of the neck in Carmarthenshire, so I was intrigued to learn that they enjoyed the best end next door in Ceredigion, despite that county’s well-documented reputation for thrift. In either case, cawl is classically a thin but flavoursome broth, packed with very tender, sweet meat on the bone, leeks and root vegetables, showered with fresh parsley and best consumed with a chunk of bread and a wedge of cheese. Whether it’s my chapel upbringing or the soupy consistency (too wet!), It is one of the few things that don’t make me crave a glass of wine.

However, it did remind me what a very versatile cut the neck can be. It has just enough marbling of fat to make up for the removal of the bone. It will sizzle merrily on the hob or turns to unctuous tenderness in the oven. Most of all, it actually tastes of something, even before the endless pimping we feel obliged to indulge in these days. It’s available in useful packs of two, ready trimmed, and freezer-friendly. I like to know they are on standby, like the jars of roasted vegetables in the cupboard.

Here are two Easter ways with the same ingredients which may be assembled in advance and deployed nearer the time. A char-grill pan and a roasting pan or casserole with a lid will equip you for whatever the weather has in store, even up to the night before the occasion. If things are too changeable even for that, just shorten any marinating time. Good ingredients will never let you down and there is a great deal of scope between what’s ideal and what’s not worth doing.

What could be more fuss-free than that? Well, the wine of course – as any subscribing members will, we trust, confirm!

Wine recommendations

Both recipes involve a fair bit of spice, but neither is wine-threateningly fiery. In this Easter Fuss selection, I’m drawn to bold reds made from Mediterranean grapes in the Cape and South America. Gutsy Rhônes will work while restrained ones may not.

Spain is a happy hunting ground, Finca Antigua Tempranillo 2012 giving a blast of authenticity (Buyers’ Everyday Reds). Also primed for the job in this selection is De Martino 347 Vineyards Carmenère 2014 and the same producer’s ramped-up Legado Maipo Carmenère 2013 in Buyers’ Premium Reds works a treat too.

Another Premium red, A Fistful of Schist Shiraz-Cinsault-Mourvèdre 2013 (£6.50) is a champion heat-absorber and of the Buyer’s French Classics, I’d opt for the all-enveloping brambly charm of Corbières Champs des Murailles, Château Ollieux Romanis 2012 and save the understated syrah-driven Rhône-villages, Saint-Maurice 2012 (the 2013 is currently available to non-subscribers for £9.95) for a quieter recipe.

THE SHOPPING LIST (for four, with seconds)
• 900g lamb neck fillets, trimmed
• 3 medium-sized red onions
• A large bag of salad-quality spinach leaves
• A couple of vines of baby plum or cherry tomatoes
• A juicy lemon
• garlic
• 2 bayleaves
• A small bunch each of fresh rosemary and coriander
• 2 or 3 large baking potatoes, ready-washed to save time or thoroughly scrubbed.
• 450g (undrained weight) grilled red and yellow peppers in oil (6 whole peppers)
• 200g (undrained weight) grilled aubergines or courgettes
• Regular olive oil (or reserve the oil from the vegetable jars)
• Extra-virgin olive oil for dressing
• A small pot of stoned black olives
• 2-3 heaped teaspoons of roasted spice rub (see below)
• A pinch of smoked paprika, sweet or hot, to taste

Let it be said that I’ve made both these dishes on impulse, including the spice rub and the vegetable timbales, and it didn’t kill me or them. But a bit of advance prep is always better for flavour, not to mention sociability on the day.

The spice rub can be made up to a month ahead. Many, if not all of the ingredients may well be sitting in your spice rack or kitchen cupboard, but if in any doubt about their age/freshness, replenish them.

The vegetable timbales (see below) will be all the firmer and less unwieldy for a night in the fridge, under their weights. They will be easier to turn out and likelier to stay put once they are on the plate.

PreparationIf you can start the lamb the night before, it will have the benefit of a leisurely bath in its aromatic marinade. Pat the fillets dry. Season with a little salt and black pepper and rub well with the roast spice mix and the smoked paprika before placing them in a large glass or ceramic bowl Add a clove of garlic, peeled and thinly sliced. Cut the lemon in half, and squeeze the juice from one half over the lamb. Put the spent shell into the marinade too. Add two tablespoons of oil from the roast pepper jar. Finally, select a few sprigs of rosemary and a generous handful of coriander, wash, dry and chop the leaves finely. Add half of these to the marinade, combine well (hands are best), cover and leave to infuse in a cool place, ideally overnight. Turn the meat once or twice if you can. Remember to give it an hour to regain room temperature before cooking.

It takes the potatoes a while to dry thoroughly after being rinsed, so if you can, prepare them a couple of hours in advance. Wash them thoroughly, unless they are already washed. There is no need to peel them. Slice them to about the thickness of a £1 coin, and put them into a colander. A mandoline is a useful gadget for that. Rinse well under cold running water to remove excess starch and maximise crispness. Shake dry and wrap in a clean tea-towel. Leave until all moisture has been absorbed.


This is a welding of three favourite recipes I’ve shared with members over the years. Credit to Alastair Little (Keep it Simple by Alastair Little and Richard Whittington, Conran Octopus, 1993) for the basic lamb idea, Skye Gingell for the roast spice mix used in both recipes and our own Wine Society cook Etta Ware for the timbale inspiration. That they work beautifully together is something for which I’d like to take credit, if you don’t mind.

Marinate the lamb and potatoes as described above in Work In Hand. Make the timbales according to the recipe below.


When you’re ready to roll, preheat the oven to 200C/400F/Gas 6. Shake the potatoes from their towel into a large bowl. Add a couple of tablespoons of oil, a clove of garlic, crushed, and the reserved herbs. With your hands, make sure every slice is coated. Arrange the slices in slightly overlapping layers on a large sheet pan. Slip them into the oven and give them about 25-30 minutes. They may well be done before the lamb, so once they are ready, switch off the oven, prise them loose with a spatula as above, and keep warm in the residual oven heat.

Meanwhile, bring a large char-grilled pan or two smaller ones to a brisk heat on the hob. Using tongs, lift the whole fillets out of their marinade and shake off the excess oil. Place carefully in the pan, along with the spent lemon half from the marinade, and sear on all sides before lowering the heat to medium and cooking for 15-20 minutes, turning frequently. This gives a tender pink result, which is as should be. If you prefer your lamb less rare, finish them in the oven as the potatoes complete their cooking, rather than scorching them at this high and fiery contact temperature.

When the fillets are attractively striped, use your tongs to squeeze the last knockings of the charred half-lemon over them – not compulsory, but adds a bit of zing – and let them sizzle briefly before removing from the heat. Wrap them in foil and rest for at least ten minutes, alongside the potatoes. This will make them easier to carve. At the same time put your plates in the oven to warm.

Put the watercress leaves in a bowl and dress lightly with your best extra-virgin olive-oil and a little juice from the reserved half-lemon from the marinating stage.

Remove the timbales from the fridge and take off the weights. Peel the clingfilm away from the surface. The best way to turn them out is to don some oven gloves, put a warmed plate upside-down over a mould and invert the whole arrangement. Before lifting off the mould, move it to one side of the plate to make room for the potatoes and lamb. Once it’s in position, carefully remove the clingfilm. Repeat three times.

The finished article

The finished article

Slice the lamb into thick noisettes. Put a circle of overlapping potato slices on each the plate and top each with three or four noisettes. Spoon over a decorous amount of the juice that will have been released during the resting. Finish with a sprig of rosemary.

Garnish with a neat pile of dressed watercress leaves and serve.

A warmer approach that works very well with chops too. Allow two loin or chump chops, or one Barnsley chop per person. In this recipe the Mediterranean vegetables go in with the meat, adding sweetness to the spice while the spinach is added the last minute to wilt in the steam.

Preheat the oven to 200C/400F/Gas 6. You’ll need two shelves, one in the upper middle and a lower one with enough space to take the roasting pan.

Rub and marinate the lamb fillets and prepare the potatoes as directed above, to the drying stage.

Remove the fillets from the marinade and cut each in half. Arrange them in a shallow but roomy roasting tray that can take everything – onions, peppers, and tomatoes – in one layer. One that comes with a lid is handy but a couple of layers of aluminium foil will do.

Wash and dry 4-6 sprigs each of the rosemary and coriander. Strip the leaves and chop finely. Drain the peppers and aubergines, reserving the oil. Peel and wedge two onions through the root in quarters that will hold their shape and brush them well with the reserved oil before adding them to the roasting tin, jigsaw fashion between and around the lamb pieces. Add the peppers and aubergines, torn into wide strips and tuck them in with the bay leaves. Plug gaps with 8-12 tomatoes (leave them whole) and a few black olives. Scatter half the chopped herbs on top, season with a little black pepper.

Ready for the oven

Ready for the oven

Cover tightly and put in the oven on the upper shelf. Set your timer for 30 minutes. Meanwhile, unwrap the potatoes and prepare exactly as above.

When the lamb has had its 30 minutes, remove the foil and check progress. It should be almost cooked but may be slightly pallid, so turn the pieces over and distribute the cooking juices among the vegetables to keep them moist. Return to the oven uncovered, on the lower shelf this time. Put the potatoes on the higher one. They should take about 25-30 minutes, but keep an eagle eye on them and the lamb.

When it looks elegantly bronzed, transfer the casserole dish from the oven to the hob on a gentle heat. Throw in the spinach and leave to wilt gently while the potatoes finish cooking. If little too much liquid remains, let it boil away, but not dry.

When the potatoes are golden and crisp, prise them loose with a spatula and arrange in an overlapping circle on each of four warmed dinner-plates. Top with a mixture of the pleasantly collapsed and wilted vegetables and finish with the lamb.

The finished article

The finished article

For the roast spice mix
From A Year in My Kitchen by Skye Gingell (Quadrille, 2006)
I’ve rarely found a more intriguing ‘garam masala’ than this one. It makes a good quantity, which will keep well for a month or so, after which it loses its mojo slightly. I store mine in the fridge for an easy, instant and exquisitely spicy lift. It works best, says the author, in combination with heat, sweetness, sourness and saltiness, provided in these recipes by smoked paprika, lemon juice and olives.

Make sure your whole spices are fresh and use a pestle and mortar for best results. To save time, try a spare coffee-grinder – not the one you use for your coffee beans, obviously, unless you want a rude awakening with your morning brew!

• 1-2 cinnamon sticks, snapped in half
• 50g coriander seeds
• 50g cumin seeds
• 50g fennel seeds
• 50g mustard seeds
• 50g fenugreek seeds
• 5 cardamom pods
• 2-3 star anise or cloves (I use both)

Place a dry, heavy-based frying pan (preferably non-stick) over a low heat. Once a clear smoke begins to rise from your pan, add all the spices and cook, stirring frequently, to toast them. Be careful not to burn them. Once the seeds begin to pop, they are ready. Remove from the heat and grind to a fine powder. Store in an airtight container until ready to use.

For the vegetable timbales


We often serve these versatile little treasures as starters, interleaved with slices of avocado and mozzarella cheese. They always go down well in summer with a good rosé or a fruity, southern French white, but I think they also do a sterling job a vegetable side dish. The most cost-effective approach is to do your own veg roasting, but the bottled variety give a stunning result and save time. Peppers form the basis of the dish here, but any combination of other Mediterranean vegetables of your choosing will work beautifully, as summer herbs like basil.

Drain the peppers and aubergines well, reserving the pepper oil for marinating the lamb, brushing onions and all kinds of other uses. Trim them into short, wide strips that can be easily layered in a small space. Cut 8-10 of the baby tomatoes into 4-5 slices. Line four dariole moulds or small ramekins with clingfilm, letting the excess hang over the sides.

This is a no-cook layering job, done upside-down. The bottom layer will end up on top and needs to be photogenic. Begin with a coriander leaf, and place it vein side down in the base of the mould. Cut the olives in half and arrange three halves around it, again curved side down. This will be the first thing on display when the moulds are turned out. so make sure it looks the part.

Now start layering the peppers, aubergines and tomatoes in the mould, seasoning with a little pepper (there wil be enough salt in the bottled veggies) and finely chopped coriander as you go. When the moulds are reasonably full, draw over the excess clingfilm to cover the top. Place on a roasting tray and weight each down with an unopened 400g tin, bottle of oil or vinegar or any heavy object with a base that fits he the mould. Refrigerate overnight, if possible to firm up.

Turn out as advised above.

Categories : Wine Without Fuss
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Tue 01 Mar 2016

Craggy Range: Where Would You Plant a Vineyard?

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If you could choose to plant a vineyard, build the perfect winery and make wine anywhere in the world, where would you do it?

Terry Peabody of Craggy Range was faced with that exact dilemma and it came about in a most unusual way.

Terry Peabody, Chairman of Craggy Range, on his recent visit to The Society

Terry Peabody, Chairman of Craggy Range, on his recent visit to The Society

The majority of winemakers and property owners have a history with wine, be it via family businesses passed down through generations or growing up surrounded by the vine, more often than not it’s in their blood, it’s an intangible connection to the soil, grape and barrel. Terry Peabody was born on the island of Guam in Micronesia, not exactly renowned for its viticultural heritage.

It was actually Terry’s wife and daughter who convinced him that while his considerable business interests in the construction and trucking industries across Asia and North America were all well and good (and profitable), it wasn’t something that they felt they could be part of.

Wine however was a different story, and so in 1993 over a long leisurely dinner they set about convincing Terry that the legacy he should build for his family (and what a family – he has 11 grandchildren!) should be in wine. And so began the search for the perfect location to literally put down roots.

As a fan of the wines of Bordeaux it seemed like a good a place as any to start. Land prices of a million euros per hectare and upwards, combined with as Terry puts it, ‘a wine industry that has regulations for regulations’ diminished the attraction somewhat.

Born an American and now with Australian citizenship, it’s not surprising that Terry looked to these countries next. California’s Napa Valley was a candidate for a while as was Western Australia, whose wines were much closer the Bordeaux style Terry admired. But California had much the same issues as Bordeaux and Western Australia would still mean a six-hour trip from his home, so these were rejected too.

As is often the case with these things, just when you are about to give up on a project, fate steps in.

The Craggy Range winery

The Craggy Range winery

It was one of his other businesses, trucking, that took him to New Zealand and when word got around that Terry was interested in starting a winery, it wasn’t long before he was taken on a tour of the country’s winelands and was introduced to local winemaker and Kiwi Master of Wine Steve Smith.

A meeting of minds ensued; based on the principle that a wine should be a true reflection of the terroir it was born from, and Steve Smith was ahead of the pack in having his nose to the ground for where the best new terroirs might be. And so, the land of the long white cloud was settled upon to be home to Craggy Range.

Today New Zealand sauvignon blanc is established as a modern classic but even back in the mid-nineties, way before its omnipresence on the world’s wine lists, it was already a hot ticket. Craggy Range certainly didn’t have any problems selling all the sauvignon blanc they could make back then, but it was never their sole focus, despite its obvious commercial success. Their aim was to tell the story of New Zealand’s red wines. The natural starting point for this venture was in warmer Hawke’s Bay and in the Gimblett Gravels, specifically. Here Craggy Range started its first vineyard and built a state-of-the-art winery.

Craggy Range vines

160 years ago the Gimblett Gravels region of Hawke’s Bay looked quite different, mainly because it was underwater! Earthquake activity had caused the Ngaruroro river to flood, covering the surrounding plains, when the waters subsided, the river had changed its course leaving behind the gravel.

In fact it was a bit of a head scratcher for those in the region. The soil was poor and unproductive with it apparently taking about three acres of land just to feed one sheep, its only foreseeable future was to be mined by a concrete company who had bought 150ha to dig for gravel.

Hardly the stuff of legends. But with the gravel the waters had left rich mineral deposits, and slowly from the mid-1970s onwards, and after a few legal battles between local farmers and the concrete company, the idea of planting vines, particularly red grape varieties, in the area began to take hold. Steve Smith MW was quick to notice the similarity between the terroir here and those of Bordeaux’s illustrious vineyards.

Perfect for merlot, he rightly deduced. In fact, Hawke’s Bay has become the home of Bordeaux-style blends in New Zealand and the syrah grape does particularly well here too.

As an area under vine, the Gimblet Gravels is still in its infancy. Craggy Range planted their first vines here in 1996 and if wines tried at a recent tasting can exhibit the class sophistication and elegance, balanced with structure and fruit from vines that are only just 20 years then a very bright future lies ahead. To paraphrase a heavily used marketing slogan in the 90s, ‘the future’s bright, the future’s red!’

The Society's Exhibition Hawke's Bay Red

We have championed the wines of Craggy Range for a long time and were delighted to work with them on our first Exhibition-label Hawke’s Bay Red, especially as it comes from the 2013 vintage – their best yet.

It’s made from majority merlot with cabernet sauvignon and malbec in support, plus a little cabernet franc. Having spent a year and a half in French oak barrels plus a further year in bottle to polish the rich, ripe fruit, it is showing great class. ‘The idea with this wine,’ Terry says, ‘is to make a bottle that you can crack open straight away or cellar for 10 years if you wish.’

Having tried the wine recently, when Terry came into to talk to staff at Stevenage, I think you’d be hard pushed to keep your hands off it for 10 years!

Gareth Park
Marketing Campaign Manager

The new Exhibition Hawke’s Bay Red 2013 is available now at the introductory price of £11.95 (instead of £12.95) until Sunday 10th April.

Categories : New Zealand
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