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Mon 17 Oct 2016

Harvest 2016: Muscadet – Chinks of Light

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One of the Loire regions hardest hit by frost this spring (the worst since 1991, with some growers cropping as little as 5-10 hl/ha, a fraction of an increasingly rare ‘normal’ crop) the Nantais concluded its harvest in fine conditions after a growing season full of challenges to stretch every grower.

Bernard Chéreau overseeing matters at Chéreau-Carré

Bernard Chéreau overseeing matters at Chéreau-Carré


A wet spring and extended cold, damp flowering period compounded the in-some-cases gloomy start to the season. Heat and drought ensued in a summer that even challenged holiday makers with more than one period of exceptionally high temperatures. The only good news in this, other than sun tans all round, was that earlier disease pressure in the vineyards was stopped in its tracks, and there will not be much need to chaptalise this year either.

Smiling faces at Domaine du Grand Mouton

Smiling faces at Domaine du Grand Mouton

Domaine du Grand Mouton

A fine late season, with a little rain at just the right time to revive the vines and restart maturation, and dry, sunny, often windy days and chilly nights allowed growers to bring in a healthy, if often cruelly small crop.

Domaine du Grand Mouton

On my recent visit at the tail end of the harvest I saw – and tasted – healthy fruit, talked with sanguine (mighty relieved) growers and heard some pretty tragic stories that may see more Muscadet vignerons throwing in the towel.

On the last day of the harvest at Vinet

On the last day of the harvest at Vinet

And the wines? There will not be a consistent picture (it was a particularly tricky year for organic producers for example), but the best results will produce a richer style of Muscadet, perhaps somewhere between 2015 and 2003 in style.

Jo Locke MW
Society Buyer

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Thu 18 Aug 2016

Waterkloof: A Stunning & Impressive Cape Newcomer

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…Relative newcomer, anyway, the first bottlings from this model ‘Stellenbosch’ (Somerset West) estate being sold from 2005. The elegant surroundings (already busy with Saturday morning visitors enjoying wine tasting and coffee around a roaring fire) made a delightful setting for a tasting of wines from across their range.

Waterkloof's Nadia Barnard

Waterkloof’s Nadia Barnard

These included:

• The refined white blend Circle of Life (available for £14.95 in our August Fine Wine List).

• Current and new vintages of Circumstance Cape Coral Mourvèdre Rosé (the 2015 is available for £8.95 in my South African Buyer’s Shortlist offer), a wine that is ideally suited to these southerly-facing, windswept vineyards with stunning views out over False Bay (somewhat lost in fog on our visit!).

Our host was talented young winemaker Nadia Barnard (pictured below with my colleague Steve Farrow) who has responsibility for the impressive cellar and works closely with the vineyard team.

Nadia Barnard and Steve Farrow Waterkloof

We missed visiting the homemade compost and (frankly foul-smelling when I was treated to it on my last visit) biodynamic preparations which are par for the course in this environmentally respectful & friendly ‘biosphere’ of the Cape Winelands!

Nadia may have a very big job for one so young but she has a super-well-equipped, high-tech cellar with plenty of fashionable tools of the trade.

Nadia Barnard with the new wine press

Her pride and joy is this new gentle giant of a press. Several tanks had to be removed to get it in, and Nadia confessed it took some getting used to (high tech does not mean physical hard graft is avoided altogether!) but the results are speaking for themselves.

Look out for Waterkloof, and Boutinot’s other wines here and in the Cape. If you do go, treat yourself to a meal at the restaurant (last experienced last year, and not only good, fresh & imaginative food but good wine matching advice too) and try the fruits of their latest venture: an on-site cheesery!

Jo Locke MW
Society Buyer

Waterkloof Circle of Life 2013 is available for £14.95 in our August Fine Wine List, alongside several other South African white blends.

Circumstance Cape Coral Mourvèdre Rosé 2015 is available for £8.95 in the current South African Buyer’s Shortlist offer).

Categories : South Africa
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Tue 21 Jun 2016

A Celebration of Alsace Riesling

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Millésimes Alsace 2016, an international trade event in Colmar, was only the third of its kind – and a first for me. Superbly organised, if discreetly promoted (whilst there was a strong turnout of UK press, members of the UK trade were few and far between), this is certainly one I will aim to attend again in 2018, and with more time to take full advantage of the additional events on the days before and after.

The event showcased Alsace’s premium wines. Most were grand cru or lieu-dit (single-vineyard) wines, many were rieslings, and from the 2014 vintage which was so good for this wonderfully terroir-expressive grape (see for yourself in our new offer of Alsace wines, the fruits of a trip with my colleague & Alsace aficionado Marcel Orford-Williams back in February).

Millesimes Alsace 2016

This was certainly the most democratic wine show I have ever attended. One large room, the same modestly sized tables for all, no posters, banners or other eye candy, with wines poured by the winemakers and vignerons themselves. Where else would you find co-op wines, in this case from the Cave de Turckheim (and very good they were too), sandwiched happily between two of the iconic names of the region: Trimbach and Domaine Weinbach?

The weather was unseasonably wet, but there’s no getting away from the picturesque beauty of this region. Day two of the event was made up of visits to, and tastings of, some of Alsace’s finest grands crus. Other diary commitments meant I could not take full advantage of this opportunity and I had to leave a fascinating presentation on the geology of the region in the Goldert vineyard.


The vineyard lies just outside the village of Gueberschwihr and from above the village we just spotted the local tourist train (known affectionately as the TGV!) which runs along the wine route twice a week from Eguisheim, and generally requires reservation in advance (though few had been brave enough on this wet & misty day). That bit at least is open to non-trade, and with air access to the region so easy via Strasbourg or Basel-Mulhouse, or by car or real TGV of course, it’s no wonder they receive so many visitors from the UK.


And for a break from wine? Colmar’s extended and refurbished Unter Linden Museum comes highly recommended, and Easy Jet’s current in-flight magazine sings the praises of the Vitra Design Museum in Basel.

Jo Locke MW
Society Buyer

Our offer of the 2014 Alsace vintage is available now.

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Wed 01 Jun 2016

Postcards From Stellenbosch

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Kanonkop is an essential stop on any visit to Stellenbosch, even more important now they are supplying our Exhibition Pinotage, which returns this autumn.

Kanonkop’s Paul Sauer – named after the Kriges’ grandfather – is one of the Cape’s best-known Bordeaux-style blends. Look out for the mature 2008 coming in July and impressive 2009 in our August Fine Wine List.

Kanonkop Paul Sauer

This handsome selection appears in the refurbished tasting room on the estate. There is now a small gallery of local art, as well as cheese platters to order & BYO picnic opportunity for summer visitors.

Warwick Estate
The now super-fashionable Land Rover Defender (always iconic, now sadly no longer being produced) has long been the wine farm’s vehicle of choice. Warwick has adapted two for its Wine Safaris which offer a great (if bumpy!) way of visiting the vineyards.

Warwick Estate Safari

Hopefully the experience will not cause you to call on your travel insurance, and I suspect small children would not be allowed, but there’s a play area to cater for them too. Also note these do require booking in advance. Warwick really has thought of everything.

Warwick's Mike Ratcliffe and my colleague Steve Farrow

Warwick’s Mike Ratcliffe and my colleague Steve Farrow

The weather was more autumnal on our visit but we did not miss the opportunity for spectacular views and a brief tutorial on the Simonsberg-Stellenbosch ward (appellation), which is home to some of the Cape’s top producers of Bordeaux grapes.

Look out for more on this buying trip soon on Travels In Wine.

Jo Locke MW
Society Buyer

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Wed 13 Jan 2016

Cellar Surprises: 2003 Muscadet

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The downside of having a small cellar in another country is that it is generally only topped up once a year with Wine Society wines, and similarly audited, with the odd bottle passing its recommended drinking window.

This Christmas’ pleasant surprise was Bernard Chéreau‘s Muscadet Sèvre-et-Maine, Le Clos du Château L’Oiselinière 2003.

Muscadet Sèvre-et-Maine, Le Clos du Château L'OiselinièreWhen I joined The Society as a buyer in 2004, 2003 was the vintage I was confronted with. At the time I struggled to get to grips with it, especially in the Loire, where the ‘norm’ is something quite different.

There have been warm, ripe vintages since (notably 2005 and 2009) and I have come to think of 2003 as atypical, rather than the Hyde to the regular Dr Jekyll.

The biggest fear at the time was that the wines would have insufficient acidity to maintain freshness even over the short to medium term. Unusually, permission was granted to add acid but, with little or no experience of doing so, few growers did.

Thank goodness.

The best wines found their balance and I have enjoyed numerous examples over the last few years.

The Le Clos was still remarkably good AND fresh, and complemented a buttery and flavoursome chicken admirably.

Jo Locke MW
Society Buyer

The 2009 vintage of Muscadet Sèvre-et-Maine, Le Clos du Château L’Oiselinière is currently available for £10.95 per bottle.

Categories : Loire
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Thu 03 Dec 2015

Enoturismo: Porto, Port & Graham’s

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I am reminded on my latest visit in glorious winter sunshine how Porto would make a wonderful destination for a grown-up city break, not least as it is so steeped in the history of port production (with plenty of tasting opportunities too).

The old lodges across the river in Vila Nova de Gaia, where port wines have been stored and matured for generations, have all been spruced up to receive visitors, none more so than Graham’s.

Grahams Port

Grahams Port

Graham's has a long association with boats & shipping, as evidenced by some wonderful records including this menu from The Queen Mary.

Graham’s has a long association with boats & shipping, as evidenced by some wonderful records including this menu from The Queen Mary.

Tawny ports mature in wooden 'pipes', around 30,000 of which are maintained by the Symingtons' coopers, all of whom are now based at the larger Cockburn's lodge.

Tawny ports mature in wooden ‘pipes’, around 30,000 of which are maintained by the Symingtons’ coopers, all of whom are now based at the larger Cockburn’s lodge.

There is a welcoming tasting room, where a selection of wines can be tasted for a modest fee (usually not quite as many as those lined up for my colleague David & myself!).

There is a welcoming tasting room, where a selection of wines can be tasted for a modest fee (usually not quite as many as those lined up for my colleague David & myself!).

Jo Locke MW
Society Buyer

Tue 13 Oct 2015

Bordeaux 2015: Checking In

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A quick update from my recent trip to Bordeaux:

Right bank merlot
At Château Pey La Tour in the Entre-deux-Mers the Dourthe team headed by Frédéric Bonaffous was busy with everything but picking! Some of the merlot grapes are in but the cooler (thus higher-trained) vineyards here are still a healthy verdant green and the grapes still maturing happily on the vine.

Grapes on the vine at Pey La Tour

Grapes on the vine at Pey La Tour

A pause at Château Durfort-Vivens in Margaux
All was quiet on our visit to Durfort-Vivens. With the merlot safely in and the weather set fine, there was ample time to prepare harvest and grape reception equipment for the first of the cabernets. A shower or two was forecast for the weekend but with a healthy crop on the vines, bright warm sunny days, cool dry breezes and markedly cool nights there seemed to be no reason for concern.

Indeed there were smiles all round. Owner Gonzague Lurton, just back from harvest at his property in Sonoma (small in quantity, but good quality), was happy and relaxed. Growers can afford to wait, especially those with the best terroirs, and even if the pressure to pick does come, the grapes are looking good enough to produce a very good harvest at least.

Harvest action at Château Branaire-Ducru in Saint-Julien
Sorting tables were busy when we dropped in to see Jean-Dominique Videau at Branaire-Ducru.

Sorting table at Branaire-Ducru

Even with the remarkably healthy-looking grapes coming in, after destemming there are still a few leaves and small stalks to be picked out, all of which is done by hand here. The grapes were small and sweetly flavoured (they don’t always taste so good at this stage!) and the majority of the cabernets yet to be picked are in great condition.

Jean-Dominique Videau and The Society's head of buying, Tim Sykes, at Branaire-Ducru

Jean-Dominique Videau and The Society’s head of buying, Tim Sykes, at Branaire-Ducru

We finished our visit with a tasting of second wine Duluc and several vintages of the grand vin which only served to underline the consistent high quality being produced here, from great (2005) to more modest (2007 & 2004) vintages. Less well known than many crus classés, Branaire tends to be very fairly priced and deserves a greater following in our view.

Joanna Locke MW
Society Buyer

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Tue 22 Sep 2015

Pest Control in The Cape

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The Cape is going green in more ways than one.

Villiera – producer of The Society’s South African Chenin Blanc amongst numerous, equally reliable Estate wines – uses ducks for pest (specifically snail!) control.

Villiera ducks

Is it a herd, gaggle or brood of ducks? Whatever it is, and in this number, they are a highly effective and natural option, albeit without great common sense in the face of an oncoming 4×4!

Jo Locke MW
Society Buyer

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Tue 15 Sep 2015

Rejuvenation in The Cape

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Springtime in South Africa and the vineyards are at varying stages of bud burst, turning the already beautiful winelands a fresh and vivid green.

Proteus flowers at Eagles' Nest

Proteas flowers at Eagles’ Nest

Peter Stewart at Eagles’ Nest in Constantia, pictured below with head of Buying Tim Sykes, explained the challenges of extreme viticulture in this cooler area, where strong winds are a regular occurrence.

Peter Stewart and Tim Sykes

View from Constantia mountains

The view from the Constantia mountains towards the sea shows the green protective netting which is going up to protect the young shoots, and gives an idea of the steep slope and contour-hugging terraces in this vineyard amphitheatre.

Eagles Nest

Shiraz vines are trained low, with a tall cover crop offering extra protection. Also in view is some charred wood, recalling earlier bushfires which, with the right frequency, regenerate indigenous local plants.

View from Eagles Nest

Jo Locke MW
Society Buyer

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Tue 18 Aug 2015

Bordeaux’s ‘Near Perfect 2015 Harvest’?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jo Locke MW
Society Buyer

Categories : Bordeaux, France
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