Grapevine Archive for September, 2016
Earlier this year I was contacted by an old friend in the trade who buys for one of the top wine shops in London.
He had been trawling through a cellar in the bowels of a castle in Scotland and had come across a few old bottles of Wine Society labelled red Burgundy. He wondered whether we would be interested to acquire the bottles.
Seeing that they were 1961s I tried not to appear too excited and managed, after a bit of horse-trading, to purchase the wines. So we now have 2 bottles each of 1961 Pommard Premier Cru and 1961 Chambolle-Musigny.
The wines are now lying securely in our cellars in Stevenage, and will probably be used in future tastings. As you can see from the photograph, the levels of the wine are quite good, so there is a reasonable chance that they will still be drinkable.
Within five minutes of me showing the bottles to my colleague Tom Wain, who has been working for The Society for over 40 years, he presented me with the original ledger which indicates that in June 1964 we shipped 12 hogsheads of the 1961 Chambolle-Musigny and six hogsheads of the 1961 Pommard Premier Cru.
A hogshead would have contained the equivalent of around 400 bottles. Tom reckons that the wine would have been bottled by The Society in Hills Place, behind the London Palladium. The wines were made for us by the négociant Remoissenet, who had very good contacts with domaines across the Côte d’Or. He used to buy up and blend wines from top estates before Domaine bottling was commonplace
This discovery of old bottles made me wonder what else is out there in members’ cellars with Wine Society labels…
Head of Buying
Never work with children or animals, they say, but Joanna Locke MW and colleague Steve Farrow were obviously quite taken with the latest addition to the Paul Cluver clan and almost as much by Niels Verburg’s inquisitive four-legged friends.
And that’s to say nothing of the wines!
The below is just an extract from the fascinating write-up in our online Travels in Wine™ feature. There is much more to read about in Steve Farrow’s report on his and buyer Jo Locke’s recent trip to the Cape, with insights into our growers, tempting tales of wines tasted and stories by the barrel-load.
Paul Cluver Wines
‘…we met celebrated winemaker Catherine Marshall to taste her wine. It was a very happy meeting. Quite apart from the warm welcome and the cheery banter between the ebullient Paul Cluver IV, his brother-in-law and winemaker Andries Burger, Catherine and Jo Locke, there was the presence of Paul’s baby son Maximilian (so not Paul then?) who won the hearts of everybody. What a smiler! No wonder doting daddy Paul, clearly and beautifully besotted with his son, was cooing and baby-talking with the littl’un throughout, and up and down to check on him when he was put to bed in another room. It seems inconceivable that he won’t find his own niche in this most familial of family-owned companies.
…Sadly it was time to take our leave, but not before Jo got to hold the baby. Her beaming smile as she held young Maximilian was a highlight of the trip.’
‘Niels Verburg farms close to the Bot River, just outside the town of the same name, where prized grazing land has also shown itself a prime site for vineyards too.
As we pulled up at Niels’ house we were met by several inquisitive dogs, including the irrepressible Doris, a welcoming Jack Russell who we were warned against accidentally taking away with us as she loves to climb into visitor’ cars. Apparently, she will follow anyone who passes by on the road too, and knowing this Niels was well prepared when a fun run was to pass by the gates. He took a washable marker pen and wrote his mobile phone number on Doris’ flank and was unsurprised to find that she was gone at the first sight of runners going by. Sometime later he received a phone call from someone at a stadium several miles away saying that Doris had finished the race and was safe with them. Apparently she made the local news. I got her autograph.’
At The Society, we are putting our wines in front of the press, including earlier this week at London’s One Great George Street, just off Parliament Square. This preview of wines in our forthcoming Christmas List (out on 30th September), as well as the next Fine Wine List (8th November) and offers later in the autumn, was well attended by many of the nation’s wine writers, including Jancis Robinson MW, Tim Atkin MW, Victoria Moore, Fiona Beckett, Jane MacQuitty, Sarah Jane Evans MW, Malcolm Gluck, Christelle Guibert and others.
Ten days before the event, the Buying Team and I got together to taste through over 120 wines that had been proposed for the tasting and whittle them down to the final 67. (It may sound a lot, but writers frequently complain about having 150+ wines to go through at some competitor tastings.) We always seek feedback from the writers after our tastings, and among the many positive comments regularly received is the fact that our selection is just the right size – big enough to make a detour, but not so big that they have to decide what to miss out.
You will be able to see the reviews of the wines in various publications over the coming weeks and months, and can check them out as they are periodically uploaded to our Society in the press page.
In the meantime, first impressions can be spot on, and below are just a few of the comments made during and just after the tasting.
— christos ioannou (@christoswineman) September 20, 2016
— Roger Jones (@littlebedwyn) September 20, 2016
Once the List is out, you too can post your own reviews, as well as post your star-ratings against the wines you have bought. Just click on any wine you’ve tried, visit the ‘Reviews tab’ and click ‘Leave a Review’ (Please note: you will need to be logged in). Then rate the wine in question from 1–5 stars. We look forward to hearing from you.
They say that every dog has its day.
Well, a quick browse of the web will quickly reveal that not just every dog but pretty much everything else has its day also!
For instance, did you know that September alone plays host to International One-Hit Wonder Day, Teddy Bear Day, Love Note Day (aww) and – my personal favourite – International Red Panda day (it’s the 21st for those who were wondering)?
So why should we even bat an eyelid at International Grenache Day?
International Grenache Day, or IGD, is on the third Friday in September (presumably it lost out on the first and second Friday slots to International Bring Your Manners To Work Day and those troublesome teddy bears I mentioned earlier). Why should we care?
Well, here’s what the team behind IGD have to say:
Why should you care about grenache, one of the most widely planted and least known red grapes in the world? Because you love wine; because you are bored with merlots and pinot noirs; because you are fascinated with pairing just the right wine with your foods; because you have an insatiable curiosity for the finer things in life; because your mother always said you should learn something new every day.
Maybe they have a point! It does offer the opportunity (or should that be excuse?) to try a whole load of different wines made from grenache. This is certainly something not to be sniffed at – if you’ll excuse the pun: given that grenache is so widely planted it’s still relatively low key compared to the cabernets and pinots of the wine world.
Pretty much all the major wine regions produce some decent single-varietal or grenache-blended wines. If trying to stick a pin in its spiritual home, most would aim for France’s southern Rhône valley, where it plays a big part in the wines of Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Spain would likely be another popular choice: here garnacha, as it is known here, can produce exceptional everyday wines and provide an important ingredient in Rioja wines.
But there’s plenty of choice globally when looking for grenache. Its popularity with winemakers looks set to grow, mainly due to global warming, as it has an ability to thrive in dry, hot climates and is fairly drought resistant.
Its ability to work well in blends is simultaneously its strong suite and its Achilles heel, sometimes suffering from sharing the limelight with better-known varieties.
That’s not to say that there aren’t some cracking single-varietal wines available (check out this beauty made from old vines by specialist Domaines Lupier in Spain, for instance); but grenache’s ability to contribute to a blend is where, for many, its true genius lies.
So what does grenache add to a blend? I asked our Buying Team for their thoughts and the recurring themes were juiciness and generosity of fruit, strawberry and raspberry flavours, and a sweet, ripe character. On its own, grenache can deliver quite high levels of alcohol, so blending it with other lower-alcohol varieties can be useful in providing balance in a wine. As Rhône buyer Marcel Orford-Williams put it:
‘At its simplest grenache makes round, heartwarming wines. At its best it has real majesty.’
Whether in a blend or pure and unadulterated, we therefore feel that grenache is a grape worth exploring. So if you’re not in the mood for International Teddy Bear Day, do consider raising a glass of grenache on Friday!
We guarantee it will provide more pleasure than International One Hit Wonder Day!
Marketing Campaign Manager
Ideas for celebrating International Grenache Day:
• Indulge in some vinotherapy by covering yourself in crushed grenache grapes and honey. Very good for the skin apparently.
• The International Grenache Case features six delicious under-£10 grenache wines selected by our buyers, and is available for £48 (including UK delivery).
• Go to The Society’s Cellar Showroom in Stevenage where all the wines featured in this case will be available to taste free of charge on Friday 16th September.
• Join in the conversation on social media: use the #GrenacheDay hashtag to share any grenache highlights and see what others are enjoying.
• Enjoy some delicious grenache wines!
I was thrilled to be asked to accompany Sebastian Payne MW on his trip to Italy earlier this year.
In the early days of my career at The Wine Society I used to travel abroad with our buyers quite often, sharing driving, taking photos, note taking and gathering information which may be of use later… recipes from the region, maps, leaflets printed by our growers.
I always felt there was such a wealth of information and rich experience to share with members that it was a shame we didn’t have more outlets in which to do this. Sure, such trips helped build up information for tasting notes, Newsletter articles, our printed offers, and later, this blog, but I have always been passionate about being able to bring our growers closer to our members; something I have endeavoured to do through Societynews and in the Wine World & News pages of our website and occasional blog posts.
So when we launched Travels in Wine, I thought this was an inspired way to bring members closer to the coal face of wine buying.
So, given the green light to go out and get the most out of five days in the field with Sebastian to come back and share the experience with members, set me thinking.
What do members want to know? What will they find interesting? There’s so much to take in – which aspects should I focus on to tell people about?
To a certain extent, you can’t predict what will emerge from these visits and it’s often the unexpected stories that you stumble across that have the most value. But for me, the interest has always been the people behind the wines. So that had to be my starting point.
Though I have visited Italy a couple of times under my own steam, I calculated that it had been almost 20 years since I had last been with Sebastian in a professional capacity. A lot has changed in the interim period. Indeed, one of the main purposes of this trip was to taste the new 2015 vintage and put together the blends of several of our Society and Exhibition wines – many of which either didn’t exist 20 years ago or came from different sources.
We would be calling in on some of the same people I had visited with Sebastian 20 years ago, but now it would be the next generation we would be seeing; the same kids who were at college or just leaving school are now at the helm of their family businesses. It is important to find out what makes them tick and build relationships with them.
Something that certainly hadn’t featured at all in any of our lives 20 or so years ago was Prosecco. Who would have predicted back then what a global success story it would be today? So this was certainly something I was keen to find out more about.
How had the Prosecco phenomenon come about? What are the key factors behind producing good-quality Prosecco, as opposed to the vast quantities of indifferent and insipid bubbles that the market is awash with?
As well as visiting our Society’s Prosecco producers, the Adami family, we were also going to see producers of some of the region’s top-quality Prosecco, Nino Franco, so I was very interested to find out what differences there were between the two.
We would be going to the beautiful walled town of Soave, somewhere that had featured on the last tour when we had visited the Pieropans. This time we would be visiting their neighbours, the Coffele family, the other star turns of the denominazione. I was interested to understand the differences in style of these two houses and meet the family, of course.
Soave, like Prosecco, is another wine which is rather a victim of its own success. Cheap wines from the plains having done nothing for its image and are a world away from those made in the Classico district. While it is obvious to state that ‘the good wines come from the good vineyards’ I wanted to find out more about the key factors that influence the top-quality wines.
I have always had a soft spot for The Society’s Verdicchio but confess that I know little about its provenance. Perhaps this is because, unlike many of the wines under our label, this comes from a large (admittedly family-owned) outfit who are part of a global olive oil press manufacturing company.
In this kind of situation it’s just as important to keep up with those in charge. People come and go, winemakers change, priorities may shift. Happily for us, our man, David Orru has been in situ for many years now and is a great fan of The Wine Society. We had heard though that there was a new winemaker in post and that a consultant was involved in things, so we were keen to find out more about this.
I don’t quite remember when we first listed The Society’s Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, but I do remember we were ahead of the curve of popularity with this wine and that members were quick to spot a good thing when they tasted it too. Way before the pizza chains started listing rather pale imitations of the style!
There’s a human tale behind this wine, too – perhaps not what you’d expect from a wine sourced from a cantina sociable – so, with my inquisitive hat on, I wanted to get to the bottom of this story which involves one of Italy’s best winemakers along with the fortunes of current star of the Abruzzo, Rocco Pasetti.
Do visit our Travels in Wine pages to read about the first leg of our Giro d’Italia, and let us know what you think.
This recipe, while hopefully of use and interest to all, was written with the autumn 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.
Risotto is stirring, in every sense of the word. And, at my advancing age, there are times when I have to be shaken first, to confront the hob-watching, ladling and wooden-spooning vital to the creamy, nutty, silky-smooth perfection one hopes to achieve. Once you get going of course, helpful adrenalin kicks in. The difficulty is the getting-going.
The other short-grain classic, paella is no pushover either. It’s not about stirring, but catching’, that is to say catching the rice before it catches on the bottom of the pan. Being a bad workman of the worst order, I blame my tools, from the authentically shallow pan to a ferocious hob that doesn’t do ‘gentle’. I have spent many a weary midnight hour scraping burnt residues off both of these and it’s enough to make you leave the remaining half of your hessian sackful of prime calasparra gathering dust at the back of the cupboard. Next to the half-full box of arborio, once hot, and now not, from the Po Valley carb belt.
As far as I know, the first influential mainstream cooker writer to ‘fess up to risotto fatigue in print was – how could it not be? – the eminently practical and consumer-friendly Delia Smith. Rather than pitching a glossy world of elegant worktops, unlimited brio and hand-picked guests who park bums on seats the minute dinner is ready and enthuse obligingly into Camera Four, Delia felt that if you could bake a rice pudding, why on earth could you not apply the same principle to a risotto, and put your feet up while it cooked? Her Oven-Baked Wild Mushroom Risotto, lubricated with Madeira, is one of the stars of her Winter Collection (BBC Books 1995).
This was by no means the first of Delia’s tips on how not to get in a paddy. Her Summer Collection (BBC Books 1993) came up trumps with Pesto Rice Salad, a delicious and effortless buffet bowlful wherein good risotto rice is boiled in a light vegetable stock for 20 minutes and tossed with pesto sauce. Both these recipes can be found on deliaonline.com.
What Delia did for risotto fatigue, Bob Andrew, chef at Riverford Organic Farmers has done for paella. Many members will already be familiar with Riverford’s thoughtful meat and vegetable box schemes and the innovative recipes that often accompany them.
His Seville Duck is a glorious baked rice dish with an authentic Andalucian vibe, made salty by olives, smoky by chorizo and sweet by the surprise addition of a soupcon of Seville orange marmalade. I’m on record, and a cracked one at that, as recoiling in horror at the vinicidal potential of duck à l’orange, but this works and it’s pretty fabulous even without the duck: swap the chorizo for a good pinch of smoked paprika, it’s a vegetarian feast. Once the ingredients are combined, it goes into the oven for 40 minutes while you have a well-earned 40 winks, or at least a relaxing copita of chilled manzanilla.
It’s neither risotto nor paella but the combination of soft grains and really bold flavours is irresistible. As is the fact that there is no catch, and you won’t go stir-crazy making it.
Janet Wynne Evans
Fine Wine Editor
BOB ANDREW’S SEVILLE DUCK
Recipe by Bob Andrew, chef at Riverford Organic Farmers
• 2 duck legs
• salt and black pepper
• 2 tbsp light olive oil
• 1 large onion, finely diced
• 1 celery stalk, finely diced
• 1 cooking chorizo, 100g approx
• 3 tomatoes, roughly chopped
• 2 garlic cloves, finely sliced
• 1 sprig thyme, leaves only
• a pinch of saffron
• 1 bay leaf
• a pinch of cayenne pepper
• 150g calasparra rice
• 125ml fino sherry
• 2 tbsp marmalade
• 30g black olives
• 500ml hot chicken or duck stock
• a handful of flat-leaf parsley, chopped
• Lightly score the fat on the duck legs. Season with salt and pepper. Put a casserole pan on a medium heat and warm the olive oil. Fry the duck until golden brown on both sides, remove and keep to one side.
• Add the onions and celery to the pan and fry in the duck fat over a gentle heat for ten minutes until soft. Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/gas mark 4.
• Skin the chorizo and break into 1cm chunks. Fry in the pan for 2-3 minutes. Add tomatoes, garlic, thyme saffron, bay and cayenne. Cook for a further 2 minutes before adding the rice. Turn everything gently to mix. Add the sherry and cook until mostly absorbed.
• Gently stir in the marmalade and olives, Pour in the hot stock and bring to a simmer. Tuck the duck into the rice, skin side up. Pop the lid on and bake in the oven until the rice and duck are tender – about 40 minutes. Check the seasoning and garnish with the parsley.
This is a dish of many possibilities, easily adapted to suit just about any bottle that tickles your fancy in the autumn ‘Fuss’ collection.
Served as it is, it’s perfect with Zorzal Garnacha (£6.50) in the Buyers’ Everyday Reds or our other hispanic hero Koyle Carmenère (£7.95) in Premium Reds. It also works with the resolutely foodie Navajas Blanco Crianca (£7.50) in the Premium Whites selection.
But then again, it could come over all Italian, with pancetta, sun-dried tomatoes and basil, topped with grilled bream fillets (Pieralisi’s £7.95 Verdicchio in Premium Whites), seasonally mushroomy like Delia’s (De Morgenzon Chardonnay, £8.95, in Buyers’ Everyday Whites) or even a bit exotic with coconut milk, lemongrass and coriander (The Winery of Good Hope Chardonnay, £6.75, Buyers’ Everyday Whites).
Sebastian Payne MW has been buying Italian wines for Society members for 30 years. A piece published on this blog last year looking back over his career describes his first visit to Sicily in 1992, where international grapes were in vogue, often at the expense of local 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.’
How times change.
This month’s Staff Choice is in many ways a testament to this confidence in individuality. The Society’s Sicilian Reserve Red, made from the island’s indigenous nero d’Avola grape, has been one of the most popular additions to our range in recent years.
This soft but generous red has quickly become a wine-rack staple in our home because it works equally well on its own or with a variety of food (pizza, lasagne, barbecues). You always need a dependable, crowd-pleasing red that’s versatile, and this fits the bill perfectly.
£7.50 – Bottle
£90 – Case of 12
View Wine Details