Recently I was at my village wine club tasting (nothing to do with my job at The Wine Society) in the local parish rooms for a tasting. Our host Simon brought along some wines he’d bought en primeur, some from us and some from another merchant.
He wanted to see how the wines had developed and to see if buying them en primeur had ‘paid its way’ in terms of initial cost (including storage) vs how much the wines would cost now.
The wines were great (with just one that was ever so slightly past its best), and Simon had done his calculations and seen that, for those wines which he could still get, the prices now were much higher on almost all the wines.
It was a fascinating evening for me as I look after our en primeur offers at The Society and it was very reassuring to meet another wine drinker so interested in it and getting such satisfaction from the service; both in terms of value and, more importantly, pleasure from the experience.
I buy en primeur myself mainly for the enjoyment and delayed gratification of having it stored away – sometimes for decades – only to get them out, having long forgotten what I paid for them and slightly smug about being able to drink something so mature that not many others can!
So it was nice that, for the wines we had last night anyway, the numbers also made great sense…
I did come in to work the next morning feeling that what I do gives enormous amounts of pleasure to a lot of our members and it offers good value too. Oh, and none of the wines were the stellar-expensive wines you often hear about – most were in the £15-£40 bracket.
With our 2015 Rhône offer available now, it also felt like a good time to share the experience!
Fine Wine Manager
Here are some quick notes from what we tasted:
1. Three vintages of Clos Floridène Blanc, one of members’ favourite dry whites from Bordeaux.
Clos Floridène Blanc, Graves 2010
Real class here – exactly what you’d hope for from this excellent wine and vintage. The sauvignon blanc and semillon that make up the blend were in perfect balance, and this wine will still keep for some time yet.
Clos Floridène Blanc, Graves 2009
Still very good too with real class and finesse, and a long satisfying finish.
Clos Floridène Blanc, Graves 2007
Sadly this wine was just outside its drink date and should have been drunk already. It was slightly oxidised but still interesting, but its mature flavours may not be for everyone.
2. Four vintages of Vacqueyras Saint Roch from Clos de Cazaux. This family-owned southern Rhône producer is another popular name at The Society, featuring regularly in our regular and en primeur offers – not to mention being the source of our Exhibition Vacqueyras – so I was especially intrigued to taste these.
Vacqueyras Saint Roch, Clos de Cazaux 2010
From a great year, this is still muscular and would benefit from further ageing. You could certainly see its potential though. Keep for two more years: will make a fab bottle.
Vacqueyras Saint Roch, Clos de Cazaux 2009
Similarly young as per the 2010 and would be better kept for longer, although the 2009 was lighter in weight. Still highly enjoyable.
Vacqueyras Saint Roch, Clos de Cazaux 2008
Smoother and more mature, this was just about ready, and backed up by some appealing sweetness of fruit.
Vacqueyras Saint Roch, Clos de Cazaux 2007
Wonderful wine – for me, this is what what en primeur is all about. Totally à point, this is all chocolate and cream, with the freshness that demanded we try a second glass! Best wine of the night for me.
3. Three vintages of Château Dutruch Grand Poujeaux, a bit of a Bordeaux ‘insider’s tip’ gaining an increasingly large following for its excellent claret, which is offered at reasonable prices.
Château Dutruch Grand Poujeaux, Moulis-en-Médoc 2009
Lovely sweetness here, and quite tannic. Not typical of 2009, so without the heaviness I sometimes associate with the vintage. Good wine.
Château Dutruch Grand Poujeaux, Moulis-en-Médoc 2008
Leave a little longer: quite typical of 2008 (not my favourite vintage) in its austerity, but the quality was evident and there is more to come from this wine.
Château Dutruch Grand Poujeaux, Moulis-en-Médoc 2005
From a classic vintage, this is now ready but was drier than I thought. Slightly muscular, and would come into its own with food.
4. Two vintages of Château Suduiraut, Sauternes, one of the grandest sweet wines one can find in Bordeaux, and which still offers excellent value for its quality.
Château Suduiraut, Sauternes 2010
This is rich but also very fine with lovely balancing freshness, and will keep well. Marmalade nose and lemony freshness on the palate but rich too.
Château Suduiraut, Sauternes 1997
A lovely contrast to the 2010 with the aromas and flavours that come with maturity. A barley-sugar nose but rich on the palate, and again with good acidity. Needs drinking now but won’t go over the top for a few years. Very good indeed!
I was recently fortunate enough to pay a flying visit to Bordeaux with Society buyers Tim Sykes, Joanna Locke MW and Sebastian Payne MW to gain some insights into how well the 2014 vintage had turned out in Bordeaux.
Having made similar trips in previous vintages I knew that tasting the ‘primeurs’, as they call them in Bordeaux, is no picnic. Tasting a hundred or so young, tannic reds before breakfast is not unheard of and not for the faint-hearted! But there is really no substitute for tasting and retasting the wines side by side in situ to form a proper judgement before making our selection for members.
On this occasion we had an exceptionally early start leaving at 2am on Sunday to catch the first flight to Bordeaux to make a big négociant tasting of more than 200 wines at 9.30am. Four hours later we had a quick lunch followed by another tasting of a similar number of wines with another négociant; our palates and critical faculties were being put to the test, but this is where the experience and professionalism of our buyers come into their own.
By now I too had gained a feel for the character of the vintage and there were already proving to be some real highlights among the wines. We had heard producers talk optimistically about the 2014 vintage being saved by a late summer and the wines certainly seem better than any of the last three years and have a real freshness about them; very much in a classic mould.
I confess, after such an early start and packed programme with so many wines to taste, I was a little apprehensive about the schedule for any equally long day on the Monday. But one of the visits planned was to prove the highlight of the trip: a visit to the cellars of François Mitjaville, who owns Tertre Rôteboeuf and Roc de Cambes.
Though I have helped to sell both wines to members for more than 20 years I have never had the opportunity to try them. And what a treat it was, not least because François is such a charming host and very generous with his time, most eloquently and patiently explaining the different character of each of his vineyards as he took us round them, huddled under an umbrella against the pouring rain.
Somewhat relieved to get out of the rain, we made our way to his cellar, a short walk from the vineyard, set up on the slope above Saint-Emilion to taste, straight from barrel, what were, I thought, my wines of the vintage. Both Roc de Cambes and Tertre Rôteboeuf have an ethereal quality about them and I was hugely impressed.
His passion and drive for high quality were inspirational and really left a mark on me, as did the wines, whose memory I shall savour. After tasting more than 400 wines from the 2014 vintage I can say that I am extremely optimistic about this vintage.
Fine Wine Manager
• Our first offer of en primeur 2014 clarets is now available. This is an opportunity to pre-order the top red wines of Bordeaux with prices shown as a guide at this stage.
Fine wine manager Shaun Kiernan was the original manager of The Society’s Cellar Showroom in Stevenage when it opened 25 years ago. We asked him to share some of his memories following a celebration of its anniversary last week
It is truly amazing to think that it is now 25 years since Lisa Fletcher and I opened The Wine Society showroom in November of 1989. It was, as you can imagine, a full-on couple of months in the lead up to our first Christmas serving members and getting used to our new environment; something that had been in the planning for a full 12 months prior to this.
Members embraced their new facility enthusiastically, I recall, and we were busy from the off with systems not quite bedded in and our warehouse not used to having to supply a new shop with a just- in-time stock feed as well as double the number of members’ daily orders.
With only the two of us to start with we quickly realised we had underestimated just how popular the new Showroom would be and we immediately had to call for back up in the form of Samantha Vooght, who along with Lisa has been there ever since.Because we hadn’t had a facility like this before there had been no outlet for selling the small quantities of wines that necessarily collect over the years. One of the things that gave me enormous pleasure was trawling through the hundreds of pallets (named ‘RB’ pallets after Ron Bracey who headed the warehouse at the time) of wines we had at our fingertips for sale in the Showroom. Small stocks of hundreds of different wines which had been untouched for years and that I had to log, price and make available for sale to delighted members. Some of these were very old and very fine indeed.
Another of my abiding memories in the first year was in the lead up to Christmas when our lift broke down and so we were no longer able to get stock or members’ orders from the warehouse. I could barely watch while staff members hauled tottering pallet after pallet down Norton Green Road while queues of members formed very quickly in the Showroom waiting for their Christmas cases.
It was very nice the other night, when we celebrated the first 25 years, to see so many familiar faces from when I first opened the Showroom with Lisa and to know that they still continue to visit – testament in no small part to Lisa and her team who have succeeded in improving and developing the Showroom over the years and welcome the members just as enthusiastically today as they did then.
It was Lisa’s idea to contact growers that have had a long relationship with The Society to contribute wines for a special tasting. Along with the wines, many chose to send their good wishes and messages of support for The Society which we thought members would like to read. There’s a selection below and more on our website here.
Here’s to the next 25 years and beyond!
Fine Wine Manager
- Alister Purbrick, Tahbilk Wines
• ‘I love to work with The Wine Society – a very honourable company with wonderful people sharing the passion for wine.’
- Annegret Reh Gartner, von Kesselstatt
• ‘There are few companies I would describe as a jewel in the crown of distribution. The Wine Society is certainly one that stands out. The professionalism and knowledge of the teams at all levels is second to none.’
- Charlie Sichel, Maison Sichel
• ‘We are immensely proud of our century-long association with The Wine Society. We have always found kindred spirits in the people who work at The Society; people who love wine and the regions from where they come from and who really understand what goes into making great wines, and we appreciate their profound knowledge of what we do.’
- Paul Symington, Symington Family Estates
• ‘Nowadays, Marcel Orford-Williams and The Wine Society are probably the best Alsace ambassadors in the English speaking world. I have also to insist on the quality of our relationship, which is much more than just business, it includes comprehension, respect, loyalty and much pleasure.’
- Marc Beyer, Maison Léon Beyer
• ‘The Wine Society have supported me and my wines with faithful regularity and I can honestly say that I have been a grateful and convinced promoter of The Society. I am frequently asked by friends and even chance acquaintances ‘where can we buy your wines?’ and I have no hesitation in suggesting the The Wine Society.’
- Anthony Barton, Langoa and Léoville Barton
Fine wine manager, Shaun Kiernan, helped blend the exclusive Contino 930 Reserva Rioja 2010, The Society’s first Rioja to be offered en primeur. Here he describes the process.
I’ve worked for The Wine Society for many more years than I care to remember, but fortunately opportunities regularly arise to remind me why I continue to do so.
- Last February, I had the privilege to visit Spain with Pierre Mansour, our Spanish buyer, to taste through a large number of old Riojas, which we subsequently listed in an offer. At the same time we visited the cellars of Contino, a long-term Society supplier, and their charming winemaker, Jésus Madrazo, to blend what has become our first Rioja Reserva to be offered en primeur.
Over the years, I’ve been involved in blending new wines before in Stevenage and, on occasion, helped with the mix for The Society’s Claret out in Bordeaux, but this was special as I was witnessing the birth of, and helping to shape, a wine which I think will give members enormous drinking pleasure over a number of years.
It was a fascinating process and I have to admit to feeling quite daunted as we entered the cellars where we were confronted with numerous bottles all containing wines with different attributes from different vineyards and different grape varieties.
Our job was to come up with a blend which was in keeping with the Contino style and one that Society members would enjoy over the next decade.
After about an hour and half of extreme pipette action, tasting and blending and re-tasting and re-blending, we finally felt that we had found a wine which achieved what we set out to do. It is Contino 930 Reserva Rioja 2010, a blend of tempranillo, graciano, garnacha and mazuelo aged in French and American oak for nearly two years, including fruit from Contino’s most famous ‘Olivo’ vineyard.
It is offered now in bond (until 9pm, Tuesday 29th April), while still ageing in Contino’s cellars, and is due for release in early 2015. We think it will be ready to drink on arrival but will start peaking from 2019 until 2025.
Witnessing, and playing a part in, the birth of something so special was one of the very memorable moments of my career here at The Wine Society. I hope that you enjoy the fruits of our labours.
Drinking fine wines at their delicious peak is one of life’s great pleasures – all the more so when the price one paid for it is a distant memory.
In this short video, head of buying Tim Sykes and wine buyer Joanna Locke MW discuss the benefits of laying down fine wines, from the changes that occur in bottle over time to the special moment when the cork is pulled.
Fine Wine Manager
“2009 is an exciting vintage with some wonderful wines at all price levels. It is much more variable than the initial publicity has indicated with some really great successes at all levels but several well-known names which have missed the mark. Jo Locke MW and I have been spending extra time visiting many of the châteaux we regularly buy from ensuring that we only choose those wines which we know represent the best value for drinkers.”
Sebastian Payne MW
Prices are being released, so far, to the timetable we expected. This means that none of the first-growth châteaux have released any details, but we are receiving information on some lovely red wines from petits châteaux and crus bourgeois, where the best value for money can be found. We will be buying the best of these in large quantities. Details of these wines will be mailed, or e-mailed, to members in early to mid-June. As usual, any oversubscribed wines will be allocated by ballot.
The second offer, including the more famous, higher-priced Clarets, will be released later once prices are available; we anticipate late June or early July. We expect prices to be high and supply to be limited but, thanks to The Society’s long relationship with the region’s suppliers, we are in a strong position to source as many of these exciting wines as we can. Further updates will follow.