Today’s Australian wine scene boasts an eclectic and even esoteric array of styles; but, when done well, the spot-hitting bargain Aussie red remains an unparalleled joy!
Step forward Joe Barrington from our Member Services Team, whose recommendation here echoes that of many fellow members and staff – not least buyer Sarah Knowles MW, who gives this wine pride of place in her selection of current Australian favourites…
I love wines that that offer great drinking pleasure on their own as well as with a meal; a fridge door white, a fireside red, a quintessential quaffer! The key thing with this style of wine is to be smooth and easy drinking (and not too heavy on the pocket!) but have enough complexity and interest to keep you drinking it with a smile on your face.
This classic cab-shiraz blend ticks all these boxes for me. Upfront, ripe dark fruits entice you in; with a lovely hint of spice and black olives on the nose to keep you swirling and sipping. On the palate the ripe (but not jammy) fruit continues, with a good finish for an under-£7 wine.
The easy-drinking nature of this wine means you can have a glass with any dish that calls for a juicy full-bodied red (bangers and mash is one of my favourites) and then enjoy a glass afterwards whilst winding down.
Member Services Adviser
£6.95 – Bottle
£83 – Case of 12
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Around 11,000 members buy and enjoy our Society-label Rioja every year. One of them is Pete James from our Member Services team. Indeed, Pete wins the title of ‘quickest email reply in Staff Choice history’, so enthusiastic was he to recommend this wine.
Consistency is a virtue when it comes to Society-label wines, but feedback from both members and the press suggests that the current 2012 vintage is singing especially sweetly. We were very pleased to see that it was recently selected by Decanter Magazine as one of their 50 top ‘Best-buy Riojas’ – it was the best value of all 50 too!
Here’s why Pete was so quick on the button to sing its praises.
This is a wine that I have enjoyed for a very long time and is currently the preferred red in our household, which is no mean feat!
With this being such a staple wine I’ve really come to appreciate the consistent level of quality. No matter what quantity I purchase it in, it never lasts long (surely the perfect endorsement). This has led me to recommend it to many a friend and family member and I would urge anyone reading this to give it a try.
Nice and smooth with a little bit of oak, this is keenly priced everyday-drinking Rioja, which for my mind is very hard to beat. Over the years we’ve tried it with many different dishes (as well as on its own plenty of times), the most recent being a delicious rendang curry which worked an absolute treat.
Member Services Team Leader
£7.50 – Bottle
£90 – Case of 12
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Today is World Book Day, and it was great seeing so many young Harrys, Hermiones, Matildas, Mad Hatters, Megs and Mogs on their way to celebrate at school this morning.
That said, why should they have all the fun? As ‘wine is bottled poetry’ (Robert Louis Stevenson), we turned to our most bookish colleagues to ask for a few of their favourite literary libations.
The results are below for you to curl up with at your leisure. But, like wine, literature is an endless source of new discoveries…
…so if you’ve got a favourite passage or poem, please leave us a comment and let us know!
Accept what life offers you and try to drink from every cup. All wines should be tasted; some should only be sipped, but with others, drink the whole bottle.
Paulo Coelho, Brida
As I ate the oysters with their strong taste of the sea and their faint metallic taste that the cold white wine washed away, leaving only the sea taste and the succulent texture, and as I drank their cold liquid from each shell and washed it down with the crisp taste of the wine, I lost the empty feeling and began to be happy and to make plans.
Ernest Hemingway, A Moveable Feast
Wine initiates us into the volcanic mysteries of the soil, and its hidden mineral riches; a cup of Samos drunk at noon in the heat of the sun or, on the contrary, absorbed of a winter evening when fatigue makes the warm current be felt at once in the hollow of the diaphragm and the sure and burning dispersion spreads along our arteries, such a drink provides a sensation which is almost sacred, and is sometimes too strong for the human head. No feeling so pure comes from the vintage-numbered cellars of Rome; the pedantry of great connoisseurs of wine wearies me.
Marguerite Yourcenar, Memoirs of Hadrian
The fragrant odour of the wine, O how much more dainty, pleasant, laughing (Riant, priant, friant.), celestial and delicious it is, than that smell of oil! And I will glory as much when it is said of me, that I have spent more on wine than oil, as did Demosthenes, when it was told him, that his expense on oil was greater than on wine.
François Rabelais, Gargantua & Pantagruel
I rejoiced in the Burgundy. It seemed a reminder that the world was an older and better place than Rex knew, that mankind in its long passion had learned another wisdom than his.
Evelyn Waugh, Brideshead Revisited
‘A Drinking Song’
Wine comes in at the mouth
And love comes in at the eye;
That’s all we shall know for truth
Before we grow old and die.
I lift the glass to my mouth,
I look at you, and I sigh.
…There’s wisdom in wine, goddam it!’ I yelled. ‘Have a shot!’
Jack Kerouac, The Dharma Bums
Whenever I speak to Spain buyer Pierre Mansour about his latest finds, his excitement is obvious. The country really is a hotbed of value right now.
What’s more, the 2015 vintage has been a generous and successful one, resulting in a procession of affordable luxuries reaching our cellars in recent months.
Where to start exploring? David Connor from our Cellar Showroom had little hesitation in recommending this under-£9 garnacha, which has already received plaudits from Decanter Magazine, Tim Atkin MW and, most importantly, many fellow Society members.
I have to say I have real passion for Spanish wines and this grenache – hailing from a small region north of Madrid high in the Gredos mountains – is a great example.
The grapes come from old low-yielding old bush vines grown in the Gredos mountain range near Madrid, and it’s this combination of high altitude and low yields that gives the wine a freshness and vitality that will raise a smile and have you reaching for a second glass. For me it was the perfect antidote to the more esoteric wines we tend to drink over the Christmas period and certainly punches above its weight.
As for what I would drink it with… well, when one of the winemakers was asked the same question at our Spanish tasting last year he simply replied, ‘whatever you like’!
The Cellar Showroom
£8.50 – Bottle
£102 – Case of 12
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Having spent my wine budget rather lustily during the Christmas period, I’m looking for maximum bang for buck from any New Year indulgences.
Thankfully, this under-£7 Portuguese white ticks all the boxes. It was one of the stars of my visit to Portugal with Society buyer Jo Locke MW last year; and it’s a testament to its quality that it can shine every bit as brightly in a grey Hertfordshire January as it did in front of the sun-soaked vista of Esporão’s tasting room!
Esporão Monte Velho, Alentejo 2015
This blend of local grapes (roupeiro, antão vaz and perrum) is the top seller in its price bracket on the Portuguese market, and winemaker David Baverstock hit the nail on the head at our tasting when he said it offers ‘a lot of sophistication for a big-blend wine from a hot climate’.
The ripe 2015 vintage offers a little extra generosity of body, citrus fruit and even some leafy complexity too, making this the perfect opportunity to try it.
This is no one-dimensional summer quaffer, but really quite a refined foodie white that will work well for wintry sipping too, and I hope you like it as much as I do!
£6.95 – Bottle
£41.50 – Case of six
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For the last Staff Choice of 2016 we wanted to offer members something a little different.
We asked everyone who works at The Society to pick their favourite under-£10 wines, with the most popular to feature in a special Staff Favourites Mixed Case.
The e-mails began flooding in. 90 different wines were suggested in total. ‘How can you choose between so many children?’ was one response that summed up the difficulty especially well.
These 12 wines got the most votes – spanning Italy, Austria, France, Portugal, Chile, Argentina, the USA and Spain – and you can buy them for the equivalent of less than £8 a bottle. We commend them to you highly!
The Staff Favourites Case
A 12-bottle case containing a bottle each of two sparkling, five white and five red wines, voted for by Society staff:
• South of France: Duo Des Mers, Sauvignon-Viognier Vin de France 2015 (£6.25)
• Portugal: Adega de Pegões Colheita Seleccionada, Península de Setúbal 2015 (£6.95)
• Chile: Undurraga Cauquenes Estate Maule Viognier-Roussanne-Marsanne 2015 (£7.50)
• Austria: The Society’s Grüner Veltliner 2015 (£7.95)
• Italy: The Society’s Falanghina 2015 (£8.25)
• Rhône: Ventoux Les Traverses, Paul Jaboulet Aîné 2014 (£7.50)
• Spain: Navajas Crianza Rioja 2012 (£7.75)
• USA: Ravenswood Lodi Old-Vine Zinfandel 2014 (£8.95)
• Argentina: Weinert Carrascal Mendoza 2010 (£9.50)
• Italy: Valpolicella Superiore Ripasso, Torre del Falasco 2014 (£9.95)
Case of 12 bottles
A few of us from around The Wine Society sat down with buyer Marcel Orford-Williams the other day to plan the forthcoming en primeur offer of the 2015 Rhône vintage. The wines will be available to order in late January.
The picture Marcel painted for us was of an excellent vintage, and our message to members is to start getting excited.
Weather patterns were complex and it’s a difficult vintage to generalise. Annoying for those of us who enjoy the simplicity of summaries, but stimulating stuff for those of us who enjoy exploring the numerous fascinating differences between wine regions. Being both of those things myself, I was unsure how to feel about it… until the wines were poured.
Each one of them was a joy. Tasting and talking with Marcel, it seems that the principal uniting factors in the 2015s are to do with generosity and pleasure. Even given the Rhône’s impressive run of form over the last few vintages, this is the sort of vintage that will delight aficionados, and would make a great first en primeur buy if you’ve yet to take the plunge. Most will be delicious throughout their drinking windows, with younger wines being gorgeously approachable but complex and fine too.
The northern Rhône’s reds performed superbly overall, with Côte-Rôtie and Crozes-Hermitage looking especially successful. In the south, where the majority of wine is made, the picture is inevitably more complicated, but the successes are quite magnificent, and there are some very special wines indeed. The more mountainous areas tended to perform best: lovers of Vinsobres and Gigondas, for example, are in for a particular treat.
The white wines are rich, powerful yet balanced and rather wonderful. There will be fewer on offer than in 2014, but they will be worth looking out for.
Another exciting announcement is that Marcel has decided to feature some new faces in the forthcoming offer – more news on that very soon. Keep an eye on your letterboxes, inboxes and thewinesociety.com for the end of January!
Digital Content & Comms Editor
Some of us are better at preparing for Christmas than others.
For our colleague Dave Collins, October is the time when the culinary pre-work begins; and this glorious sweet wine from the south of France plays a pivotal role.
The ritual starts in October with a call to visit the in-laws to help stir the Christmas pudding mix and, of course, make a wish. I may be in my fifties but sometimes I have to just do my duty (and anyway, who hasn’t got the odd unfulfilled wish they would like to remind the gods about?).
The next time I see the concoction is just after a seafood Christmas lunch as it is removed from a pot of boiling water where it has just spent the last six hours or so. As this happens our glasses are charged with generous servings of Monbazilliac and our Christmas ritual, which we have followed for more than 20 years, is almost complete.
The observant visitor may notice that the bottle was already open as the first third was consumed with the pâté starter, but to my mind this strongly aromatic sweet wine works so well with Christmas pudding that I cannot imagine Christmas without it.
£12.95 – Bottle
£155 – Case of 12
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As the mercury lowers and the nights draw in, October’s Staff Choice is naturally… a rosé.
Hats off to Cellar Showroom manager Lisa Fletcher for reminding us, quite rightly, that drinking pink needn’t be confined to the summer months; and this well-priced off-dry wine from the exceptionally reliable Bougrier family is as versatile with weather as it is with food. Take a look at Lisa’s recommendation below…
I enjoy this delicious wine all year round. Light, refreshing and only 11% alcohol, it has bags of character for the price with delicious sweet (but never sickly) fruit flavours. Its off-dry palate and lovely delicate flavour makes it all-too-easy to enjoy on its own, but it’s also a surprisingly versatile food wine.
Recently it proved a big hit with salmon and some cold cuts; it goes brilliantly with chicken and even a mild Saturday night curry.
Another reason I always keep some of this in my wine rack is because it’s my ‘mother-in-law wine’: she enjoys off-dry rosés, and this always hits the spot!
£6.50 – Bottle
£78 – Case of 12
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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
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