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I occasionally wonder whether we, as a Society, make enough of a fuss about our range of spirits and liqueurs. One supposes that the telltale ‘wine’ in our name precludes too much of a focus on other beverages.

Still, when there are bottles as delicious as Windholz’s Eau de Vie de Mirabelle on offer to members, I feel that some amount of fanfare is in order.

Eau de Vie de Mirabelle, Réserve Particulière, Distillerie WindholzIt was purely by chance that I tasted this particular Eau de Vie. A bottle had been opened in the tasting room and, as it always seems to me a great shame to miss any opportunity to taste, I poured a little into a glass and gave it a swirl.

I was immediately struck by the bright, fragrant nose. The scent was delightful: hints of pears, plums and a slight floral twist – I jotted down ‘violets’ in my notes. The palate is fresh and clean and dry with lovely fruit flavours: plum and pear again, but also a lick of cherry.

What struck me most, however, was the length of flavour. I remember sitting back at my desk some time later, letting my coffee turn cold because I was still enjoying the taste of the Mirabelle. Concentration, balance and freshness are all here in abundance.

This would make for a wonderful digestif, or perhaps to accompany some Turkish delight: I have a notion that the floral notes of each would complement each other perfectly.

Joe Mandrell
Trainee Buyer

Eau de Vie de Mirabelle, Réserve Particulière, Distillerie Windholz is currently available for the bin-end price of £34.50 per bottle (was £39).

Thu 22 Jan 2015

Postcards from the Rhône

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Whilst I am the kind of person for whom viewing another’s holiday snaps is a punishment both cruel and unusual, I hope that members will forgive my sharing a few photographs of a recent buying trip to the Rhône.

I explain my hypocrisy thus: firstly, a buying trip is, as I am discovering, about as far removed from a relaxing holiday as one can imagine. Secondly, the region is a stunning one, and I hope my amateur photography can in some way communicate its stark beauty. Finally, I managed to snap a photograph of Society buyer Marcel Orford-Williams handling a vintage rifle, which does not happen every day. At least not as far as I am aware.

Some of the fruits of this recent buying trip can be explored in The Society’s opening offer of Rhône and Languedoc 2013, which is available now.

Joe Mandrell
Society Buyer

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Louis Barruol of Chateau Saint-CosmeThe Society’s Exhibition Gigondas is a firm favourite in my household, and so it was a great pleasure to take part in blending the 2013 vintage on a recent trip to the Rhône with buyer Marcel Orford-Williams.

Louis Barruol, pictured, is the enthusiastic and highly talented winemaker at Château Saint Cosme, the source of the Exhibition Gigondas. His family has been making wine at Saint Cosme for 14 generations, and the beautiful, labyrinthine old cellars attest to this. But Louis has also modernised the winery and this, along with his passion and capability, is obvious in the quality of his wines.

The 2013 Exhibition Gigondas is a blend of different parcels and foudres, resulting in a full, well-structured wine with concentrated dark-fruit flavours, hints of sweet spice and wonderful length. It will need a year or two before it’s quite ready to drink, but once there it will be delicious.

In the meantime, our extensive opening offer of other 2013 Rhône and Languedoc wines will be released very soon indeed.

Joe Mandrell
Trainee Buyer

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Fri 09 Jan 2015

A Tour of Tempier: Bandol’s Ship of State

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During a recent trip to the Rhône with Society buyer Marcel Orford-Williams, we were given the opportunity to taste with Daniel Ravier of Domaine Tempier, and were treated to some remarkable mature bottles. But this region remains a well-kept wine secret.

Domaine TempierDomaine Tempier lies at the heart of the Bandol region, cushioned between Marseille to the west and Toulon to the east. The area is a kind of natural amphitheatre, with sloping, terraced vineyards running almost to the Mediterranean shore. The story of Domaine Tempier is a fascinating one, and worth recounting.

First established in 1834, the Tempier family’s estate was initially a house just outside of the village of Bandol. For one hundred years the estate weathered various crises – from phylloxera to the Great Depression – until, in 1936, the young Lucie Tempier married one Lucien Peyraud. Lucien was as in love with the idea of winemaking as he was with Lucie and, following completion of his wine studies, began replanting Tempier’s 38 hectares of vineyards with grenache, cinsault and – vitally – mourvèdre.

Tempier barrelIt is this variety for which Bandol and Tempier are now, justifiably, most highly regarded. Mourvèdre is not an easy variety to grow well. It buds and ripens late, requiring milder winters and a long and hot period of ripening. It also likes water, but not so much that its leaves become so vigorous as to leave the berries in the shade. Susceptibility to downy and powdery mildew completes the picture of a rather fussy and capricious variety.

Tempier’s vineyards, however, are perfectly placed to accommodate all of mourvèdre’s needs: the Mediterranean climate provides the long, hot growing season but with the added bonus of proximity to the sea. The vines can have their heat and also just enough humidity to keep them happy. The Mistral is also still an influence here, providing cooling breezes that help to prevent against rot and mildew. But each vineyard is its own world, and three of Tempier’s stand out so well that the estate bottles them separately: La Migoua, La Tourtine and Cabassaou.

Tempier barrelsEach vineyard’s terroir and aspect contribute to the individuality of the wines there produced. La Migoua is perched on the south-facing slope of Le Beasset-Vieux, a hill of clay soils with some chalk and ancient veins of muschelkalk. The mourvèdre here is complimented by cinsault and also a little grenache, and the wines have a slightly wild, animal note to them. Still, the 2012 we tasted with Daniel was concentrated and complex, with a surprising elegance.

La Tourtine vineyard lies at the top of a hillside near the village of Le Castellet and, as such, is well exposed to both sunshine and wind. The resulting wines (usually made with around 80% mourvèdre) are concentrated and fine, with structure and spice and an obvious propensity to age well.

The Cabassaou vineyard is the most mourvèdre-heavy of Tempier’s three vineyard parcels – it accounts for 95% of the blend. The terroir is perfect for the variety: sheltered from the worst ravages of the Mistral by the hill at Le Castellet, the vineyard receives instead a constant, gentle breeze to temper the summer sun’s heat. The wines are powerful and dense, and are capable of ageing phenomenally well.

After a fascinating tasting from barrel (and Tempier has a wide variety of different barrels!), Daniel treated us to three very special bottles.

Domaine Tempier Bandol Blanc 2005: Honeyed, round with hints of orange peel and nuts, this was absolutely delightful. The texture was creamy yet light and bright with lovely fresh acidity. The finish was long and clean and redolent of butterscotch.

Tempier tastingDomaine Tempier Cuvée Migoua 1987: Spicy, leathery nose with a dried red fruit and currants. There is clove and dried herbs on the palate, with a little sweet fruit and fine tannins remaining. A mature wine, so be sure, but still with plenty of freshness and lift.

Domaine Tempier Cuvée Speciale 1974: The nose is full of gentle spice and tobacco and dried mint. Silky, sweet tannins and wonderful freshness combine to make harmonious, complete wine. Some of the richness and generosity has faded here, but what remains is complex and ethereal.

Joe Mandrell
Trainee Buyer

Categories : France, South of France
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A good knowledge of wine is an important part of working at The Society, particularly for those who are in constant contact with our members.

For, just as it is inadvisable to buy an umbrella from a wet man, one should hesitate before buying wine from someone who knows nothing about it.

Fortunately, this is not something members are likely to encounter from The Society, and the reason for this is training.

All members of Society staff are encouraged to learn about wine. It is the lifeblood of our co-operative, and infinitely interesting to boot! To support in this endeavour, we hold regular training sessions to keep staff up to date on our wines and, vitally, how they taste.

Last week, fine wine adviser Freddy Bulmer hosted a series of training sessions dedicated to our Exhibition range.

Exhibition range - Copy

The Society’s Exhibition wines represent fine expressions of the vineyards, terroir or regions from which they originate, and we work with some of the world’s best winemakers to source and blend them.

Below are a handful of comments on three of the wines featured.

The Society’s Exhibition Pouilly-Fuissé 2012 (£17.50)
• ‘So enjoyable on its own but a real candidate for a gift bottle and a Christmas treat, with ageing potential to boot.’
• ‘Like a mini-Meursault, at a third of the price!’

The Society’s Exhibition Crozes-Hermitage 2012 (£12.95)
• ‘Has everything great Crozes should have.’

The Society’s Exhibition Rioja Reserva 2007 (£13.95)
• ‘This wine is a stunner.’
• ‘So elegant, refined and balanced.’

You can view all wines featured in the current Exhibition offer.

Joe Mandrell
Trainee Buyer

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Wed 11 Jun 2014

Alsace 2012: Assessing The Wines

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Society buyers spend a lot of time travelling. There is no substitute for visiting a vineyard – speaking with a producer, tasting, seeing the vines and soil and aspect – to get a true feel for the quality of a wine. That notwithstanding, Society buyers are also very thorough. A wine that impresses in the vigneron’s cellar may not do so quite as much in the cold light of day, and so invariably samples will be collected for a second appraisal in The Society’s tasting room here in Stevenage.

From Alsace...

From Alsace…

...to Stevenage!

…to Stevenage!

It was such a tasting that I was fortunate enough to take part in recently with Marcel Orford-Williams, freshly returned from a whistle-stop tour of Alsace, and newly appointed Society buyer Sarah Knowles.

The Society has a superb, award-winning range of Alsace wines, and this is largely a result of Marcel’s skill and eye for quality. It is also testament to the rigorous selection process through which each wine is put before listing.

And so, over the course of three days, I joined Marcel in the tasting room along with around 150 Alsace wines, mostly from the 2012 vintage.

Our first day covered the workhorses of Alsace: a selection of blends, along with some single-varietal sylvaner, pinot blanc and chesselas. Our second day took in riesling, from bone dry to a glorious Sélection de Grains Noble. We then tasted through a range of pinot gris – rounded, generous and, for the most part, reassuringly dry. Gewurztraminer brought the proceedings to a close on the third day, an aromatic rear guard action covering the full spectrum of sweetness.

Some of the gewurztraminers

Some of the gewurztraminers

Aside from the sheer quality of the vintage, the one thing that struck me the most about these tastings was the different ‘house styles’ that one begins to appreciate when tasting through such a varied offering: Beyer’s full-flavoured wines of complexity that cry out for food; Josmeyer’s charming, elegant wines that feel as though they just want to be drunk; Rolly Gassman’s highly aromatic wines with a characteristic richness that comes from picking very ripe; Weinbach’s purity and easy charm; Trimbach, the embodiment of class and precision in every sniff and sip…

…and these are just a few of the producers featured in our current Alsace 2012 offer.

In short, Alsace is a region of contrasts and has a wine to suit almost every palate, pocket and occasion. I wholeheartedly recommend that members explore the fruits of this excellent vintage.

Joe Mandrell
Trainee Buyer

The Society’s 2012 Alsace offer is available now.

My first Society buying trip was to the picturesque vineyards of Three Choirs, outside the town of Newent near Gloucester. Travelling with The Society’s Buyer for English wine, Mark Buckenham, our mission for the day was to blend two exclusive wines that Three Choirs produce for us: Midsummer Hill and Stone Brook. Following the tricky 2012 English harvest, we were keen to taste the 2013 vintage.

For any members who have not been to Three Choirs Vineyard, I would thoroughly recommend a visit. Situated on gently undulating south-facing slopes at the convergence of Herefordshire, Gloucestershire and Worcestershire, it is a very pretty spot indeed. Growing conditions here are defined by the unique microclimate: sheltered by the Malverns and the Brecon Beacons, the grapes are kept cool and clean by the breezes coming up the valley from the River Severn. A lone wind turbine in the middle distance somehow adds to the bucolic scene, rather than detracts.

Three Choirs

Three Choirs grow a miscellany of different grape varieties, many of which go into our Midsummer Hill blend. The 2013 vintage here is characterised by its relative lightness and by a good balance of acidity – vital for freshness and crispness in a white wine.

This was my first experience of blending – something at which Society buyers are particularly skilled. The tasting room at Three Choirs resembles a science laboratory, with clean white surfaces, pipettes and measuring jugs. The process begins with a taste of the previous vintage so as to re-familiarise ourselves with the style. Incidentally, I was impressed at how well the Midsummer Hill 2012 was showing: still fresh and lifted, with lovely citrus and pear fruit. Next came the tricky part. With samples of various varieties in front of us, Mark and I, along with Martin Fowke and Liam Tinston of Three Choirs, began to blend different proportions to try to reach a wine that we think members will enjoy. We then repeated this painstaking, fascinating process for the Stone Brook.

When finally satisfied with the white blends, we turned our attention to rosé. Three Choirs have a number of dark-skinned grape varieties under vine, and the rosé blend will change from vintage to vintage. The 2013 blend is crisp, refreshing and vibrant, with a palate full of ripe cherry and red berry fruit.

One of the benefits of having such a wide variety of grapes under vine is that one can tweak the blends to maintain consistency of style and, more importantly, quality. Whilst the varieties themselves may not sound familiar (madeleine angevine , reichensteiner, seyval blanc, phoenix, siegerrebe, schönberger to name a few), I think that these 2013 Three Choirs blends are exceptional, and will make for perfect summer drinking.

Joe Mandrell
Trainee Buyer

Tue 15 Apr 2014

Wine Champions 2014: My First Impressions

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Starting a new job can be a stressful experience. When I was a young wine débutant, freshly graduated from university box wine, I dreamed of joining such a respected and knowledgeable buying team as The Society’s. Having spent three years working in Member Services as a fine wine adviser and part of the Quality Assurance team, I took up my new role as trainee buyer in February 2014. If I had any trepidation about this new job, I certainly did not have time to notice it, such was the pace and intensity of my first few weeks. I thought members might be interested in the most formative of my experiences so far.

joe champsAs many members will know, each year The Society makes an offer of ‘Wine Champions’: wines that are perfect for drinking right now. Known affectionately in house as ‘Champs’, this offer involves a vast number of wines and a lot of tasting. Perhaps ‘a lot’ could use some clarification: the 2014 ‘Champs’ campaign saw us taste over 600 wines across 17 different sessions, ranging from sparkling to fortified and everything in between.

My very first morning involved a modest tasting of rosé wines – perhaps around 40. That afternoon was devoted to Champagne and sparkling rosé wines. The second day heralded an extensive examination of chardonnay – both old world and new. Wednesday’s task was to taste through around 50 new world Bordeaux-style blends, ranging from £5.50 per bottle to over £30. By this point, I was becoming increasingly clear that this exciting, fascinating job about which I had dreamed was also incredibly challenging. I’m no stranger to tasting wine, but the concentration and resilience required to do so accurately and quickly for such an extended period of time is phenomenal. I had a great deal of respect for The Society’s buyers before I joined the department. By the end of my third day I was in awe.

The second and third weeks followed very much the same pattern as the first, and as my nose and palate got used to the vinous assault, so my appreciation of the process grew. ‘Champs’ is essentially a range tasting – every wine The Society sells can be included (though some pre-selection obviously occurs). Tastings are blind – the corks, screwcaps and capsules are removed and the bottles placed in numbered bags. Some buyers taste more quickly than others, and all are free to revisit particular wines at any point. Once each buyer has tasted every wine, we reconvene in the tasting room and give our scores for the wines.

There inevitably follows a certain amount of lively debate, and not a small number of retastes. Eventually, agreement is reached, and a ‘champ’ is elected. Or two ‘champs’. Or none. Sometimes, a tasting will be chock full of very, very good wines (it is a Society tasting, after all!) but despite the quality, one will hear the repeated refrain ‘good, but not a champ’. The wine might need a little more time in bottle before it is ready to be classed a ‘champ’ or it might just lack that hint of class or complexity that turns a great wine into a champion. Whatever the reason, if a wine is not a champ, it simply does not make the offer. After all the tasting sessions are complete, we assemble all the ‘champs’ and one or two runners-up and re-taste them – just to confirm our original assessment. The process is as rigorous as it is exhausting and rewarding.

I am tremendously fortunate to be involved in such an exciting and interesting offer, and I am confident that members will be bowled over by this year’s Wine Champions selection, which will be released in June.

Joe Mandrell
Trainee Buyer

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