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Last week Tim Sykes gave us the latest from the 2016 Bordeaux harvest, and earlier this week Jo Locke MW followed with news of a small but very exciting Muscadet crop.

Today I’d like to share these wonderful photos from Viña Zorzal in Navarra, Spain, which give a flavour of how things are going at this forward-thinking bodega.

The Sanz family has 70 hectares of vines, some of which – including the graciano and garnacha used for the Zorzal range we buy – are over 35 years old. Brothers Xabi and Iñaki, who oversee sales and winemaking respectively, have injected a new lease of life into Zorzal. Xabi was in touch with me this week- he says the 2016 fruit is excellent quality.

I’ll report back once I’ve tasted the wines in 2017.

Pierre Mansour
Society Buyer

Categories : Spain
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You may have noticed that it’s been a number of years since The Wine Society sold any top wines from Austraila’s iconic Penfolds.

Around eight years ago, when I had the pleasure of buying these wines for members, I realised we had a problem: as worldwide demand soared, allocations were being cut, and we risked frustrating more members than we could satisfy. After much thought, we decided to turn this challenge into an advantage.

The results will be live on our website on Monday 5th October: an offering of rare and delicious Penfolds wines from vintages going back to 2000 and spanning Grange, St Henri, RWT, Yattarna and many more.

Penfolds tasting

Find the Penfolds offer here and read tasting notes from Jancis Robinson MW & Anthony Rose.

An accountant’s nightmare; a wine lover’s dream
The Wine Society is unique in the world of wine: we are able to ship wines, store them in our cellars to age, then release them many years later when they are ready to drink. With this in mind, I bought our allocations throughout the past eight years and held them in our cellars until we had enough bottles to put together several mixed cases across a number of styles and vintages.

Penfolds winemaker Peter Gago in Stevenage, tasting the wines from our forthcoming offering.

Penfolds winemaker Peter Gago in Stevenage, tasting the wines from our forthcoming offering.

Taking the long view
By keeping the wines and offering them in this way, we can share them out to a bigger audience, meaning we can be fairer to members an important element of our co-operative ethos.

Tasting notes from Penfolds’s winemaker, Jancis Robinson and more
Such is the quality and rarity of some of these wines that Penfolds’ head winemaker Peter Gago made the trip to Stevenage for our final assessment tasting earlier this year. His comments, as well as those of Jancis Robinson MW and Anthony Rose (who also joined us), and of current Australia buyer Sarah Knowles MW, will be included in the offer.

Jancis Robinson MW tasting the wines.

Jancis Robinson MW tasting the wines.

Our offer of Penfolds’ wines will be published online on Monday 5th October and a printed offer will be mailed to those that have bought fine Australian wines from The Wine Society in the past two years.

If you don’t believe you fall in to this category but wish to receive the printed offer, please contact Member Services on 01438 741177 or by e-mail, remembering to include your share number.

Pierre Mansour
Society Buyer

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Wed 25 Mar 2015

The Society’s Rioja: New Blend, New Vintage

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By far my most important buying job of the year is putting together the blend of The Society’s Rioja (important because around 11,000 members every year buy it).

In the blending room - The mathematics behind The Society's Rioja

In the blending room – The mathematics behind The Society’s Rioja

Last November at Bodegas Palacio in Laguardia, winemaker Roberto Rodriguez and I spent most of a day mixing, tweaking and tasting various components. Quality this year is excellent, thanks to the concentration of the vintage (2011) and the fact that Roberto gave me access to some of his finest barrels of tempranillo normally destined for reserva-level wines.

Looking closer at the components, it’s clear to see why. Firstly, 2011 saw some of the Bodega’s healthiest tempranillo grapes which meant the wines were able to support extensive ageing. This year we selected from barrels where the wines have aged for a staggering 22 months (that’s 7 months more than the previous vintage).

Incidentally that means the wine does legally qualify to be labelled as a reserva. The barrels chosen were 90% American oak, a significant feature in good traditional-style Rioja, and 10% French oak: this combination endows the wine with a round, smooth texture and a hint of vanilla spice.

Our shipment of the new blend has arrived from Rioja and is available now for £7.50 per bottle. I hope you like it.

Pierre Mansour
Society Buyer

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Mon 05 Jan 2015

Remembering Serge Hochar of Chateau Musar

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‘Wines are made to be opened and enjoyed. Tomorrow the wines may not be here or you may not be here.’ – Serge Hochar, November 2014

Serge Hochar Chateau Musar The Wine Society

Serge Hochar pouring Chateau Musar for Society members in June 2014

Lebanon’s great wine luminary Serge Hochar passed away last week whilst on holiday with his family in Mexico. He was 75.

Serge Hochar was the driving force behind Chateau Musar, having taken over the reins as winemaker from his father Gaston in 1959. At this time, the wines were sold exclusively in Lebanon, but under Serge’s stewardship Chateau Musar became one of the great internationally celebrated wines of the world.

However, Serge leaves far more than a monumental winemaking legacy. He will be remembered as much for his charismatic, eccentric personality and sense of fun, which touched everyone who had the chance to meet him.

The Wine Society’s first contact with Serge was during his UK visit in the late 1960s when he met with then Society buyer, Christopher Tatham, to taste the new vintages of Musar. The tasting was a success and The Wine Society became the first wine merchant in the country to ship the wines: the 1967 listed in April 1971.

Chateau Musar Wine Society

The first listing of Chateau Musar by The Society, from our 1971 List

Since then, Musar, especially the red, has always held a special place with members of The Society. It is a wine style like no other: both bewitching and baffling, reflecting Serge’s non-interventionist approach to winemaking, his courage to take risks and his determination to stick with his vision. As he once said, ‘I once produced a wine that was technically perfect but it lacked the charms of imperfection.’

It was family friend Ronald Barton of Château Langoa Barton in Bordeaux who persuaded the Hochars to plant cabernet sauvignon, adding to Musar’s exuberant carignan and cinsault bush vines in the Bekaa Valley. It is why Musar red can resemble claret one year and Châteauneuf the next, depending on which variety or varieties appear to hold the most promise.

In 1984 Serge was chosen as Decanter magazine’s first-ever recipient of the ‘Man of the Year’ award, for continuing production in defiance of Lebanon’s 15-year Civil War. And now, three decades on, the wines of Chateau Musar are exported globally with a fervent following around the world.

Serge Hochar with Wine Society Chairman Sarah Evans in May 2013

Serge Hochar with Wine Society Chairman Sarah Evans in May 2013

Serge said: ‘I make wine on the edge, every vintage is different. There is no one Chateau Musar exactly like the other.’

Likewise, it is fair to say that there is no personality in the wine world like Serge. He will be missed.

Pierre Mansour
Society Buyer

Categories : Rest of the World
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Wed 31 Dec 2014

Pierre Mansour: My Top 10 Wines of 2014

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Pierre MansourIt is a great privilege to be part of the Buying Team here, tasting thousands of samples a year from the world of wine. As a buyer, objectivity is key: it is our job to choose wines that meet members’ high expectations of quality, value and style.

As a drinker though, I choose my wines on my personal taste, and it is with this in mind that I have made this concise selection of Top Wines of 2014. This is the third year I have done this blog and we have had some great feedback from members: not all have agreed with my selection, but isn’t that the point of wine? There is no wrong or right when it comes to personal taste.

So, here it is, in no particular order, a selection of 10 wines that have, quite simply, provided me with the utmost drinking pleasure in 2014, putting aside price and availability.

Pedroncelli Friends Sonoma County Red 2012 (£7.95 per bottle)
A rare example of California offering genuine value for money and a great find by new Society buyer Sarah Knowles. Don’t be put off by the fact that this is a blend of many grapes: the wine is delicious and boldly fruity and would appeal to fans of zinfandel.

• The Society’s Exhibition Old-Vine Zinfandel 2004
I bought this from The Wine Society in 2008 (for £8.95) and held a few bottles back for fun to see how it might age. It has held up particularly well, retaining its richness whilst the flavours have become savoury with age – almost Italian in a way.

• Meerlust Rubicon, Stellenbosch 2009
This lives up to its reputation in 2009- an exceptional vintage from this classic Stellenbosch estate. Elegant, intense and complete. One for the cellar.

Earth and Sky Naoussa Thymiopoulos 2011 (£19.50 per bottle)
A really classy red from Greece which is both individual in flavour and fine in structure.

Salvaje del Moncayo Garnacha 2012 (£7.95 per bottle)
This light, fresh and juicy garnacha is a house favourite. It stands out for its simplicity and moreish fruit: not for those who like their Spanish garnacha with big bruising flavours.

• Château Haut-Brion, Pessac-Léognan 1989
A legendary wine that treads a fine line between harmony and intensity. Understated yet long, tightly woven and remarkably detailed in its flavours. Extraordinary.

La Rioja Alta 890 Seleccion Especial Gran Reserva 2001 (£75 per bottle)
The epitome of traditional-style Rioja from this five-star vintage.

Alfred Gratien Blanc de Blancs 2007 (£35 per bottle)
A gentle, round and exquisite Champagne from Nicolas Jaeger’s first full vintage as Chef de Caves.

• Domaine Henri Boillot, Puligny-Montrachet Prermier Cru Clos de la Mouchère 2010
Outstanding, broad and elegant Puligny which shows why Burgundy is the spiritual home of chardonnay.

• Gonzalez Byass Amontillado Cuatro Palmas 2014 bottling
Over 40 years old, this dry amontillado has a level of complexity that bless just a few wines in the world.

Pierre Mansour
Society Buyer

View Pierre’s top wines of 2013
View Pierre’s top wines of 2012

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Wed 27 Aug 2014

California Earthquake: An Update From Delicato

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Earthquake damage at Saintsbury, Napa.

Earthquake damage at Saintsbury, Napa.

Following the earthquake that struck south-west of the city of Napa, we received some encouraging news today from Delicato (producers of The Society’s California Zinfandel for nearly ten years).

Delicato grows grapes and produce wine across most of California (The Society’s Zinfandel comes from vineyards in the Central Valley and Monterey) and in Napa they have an estate (Black Stallion) and winemaking facilities. Although there has been some damage, fortunately there have been no significant injuries. We wish them well in dealing with the aftermath.

Pierre Mansour
Buying Manager

As I’m sure you are all aware, an earthquake with a magnitude of 6.0 occurred near American Canyon at 3:20 a.m. yesterday, and violently shook the southern Napa area. I am relieved to be able to tell you that all of our employees and their families are safe. While there is a considerable amount of damage done and a good amount of clean-up required in homes, thankfully there were only a few cuts and bruises suffered.

Black Stallion Winery came through the quake with only minor damage. As would be expected with such a significant earthquake, damage was limited to a few broken pipes, some loose stones in the façade and some broken glassware in the tasting room, but fortunately no barrels fell and no tanks fractured. We are beyond fortunate compared to many of our neighbors.

At Delicato Napa Bottling, closest to the epicenter, fire sprinkler lines shifted from their original position, a small amount of flooring buckled, and there was some damage to the sheetrock and ceiling tiles. Damage, however, was not as bad as might have been feared and the line is running this morning bottling Black Stallion Los Carneros Pinot Noir.

The Napa office suffered minimally as well. Most of the loss was limited to wine racks that fell over with some broken bottles, but no structural damage.

Our sincere thanks go to everyone who quickly responded after the earthquake to check the facilities and ensure that all equipment and wine was secure. During times of unexpected crisis, families come together to support and help rebuild and repair — and Delicato is no different. We will work together to clean up and repair what was damaged and remember to offer a helping hand to our colleagues who may need our support.

Chris Indelicato

Categories : Rest of the World
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Mon 07 Jul 2014

Pol Roger: A Taste of History

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Pol Roger bottlesEarlier this month I was privileged to attend a special Pol Roger event held in Epernay. The tasting showcased the new release ‘Sir Winston Churchill’ (Pol’s prestige cuvée, launched in 1975), from the excellent 2002 vintage, which will be available to Society members in August.

Pol Roger’s top wines age superbly, and to illustrate the point in some style, our generous hosts opened a few old – some may even say ancient – bottles for our group to taste. Our hosts, Christian Pol-Roger and Hubert de Billy, had carefully chosen vintages from years that represented some truly era-defining moments in the history of Champagne (and the world):

1921 Pol Roger
The 1920s were tough times for the Champagne trade: the Russian revolution caused the closure of the lucrative Russian market and the declaration of prohibition in the US closed off this important market for the Champenois (though unofficial records show that 40 million bottles made it to the US during this time nonetheless!). The area under vine was just a third (10,000 hectares) of what it is today.
The exquisite 1921, disgorged in the 1950s and undisturbed since then, was a bright pale lemon gold. Nutty, fresh, with an exotic fruit quality, light mousse, wonderful texture, and just off dry.

Pol Roger 1914
1914 Pol Roger
In 1914 second generation Maurice Pol Roger was mayor of Epernay and acted admirably when, on the 4th September, the Germans invaded Epernay, which culminated in the Battle of the Marne and resulted in an Allied victory eight days later (just in time for harvest…).
Although the mousse had all but disappeared, the flavours and structure of the wine literally took my breath away. Salty, sherry-like flavours combined with honey and burnt sugar, flowing beautifully thanks to its fine line of acidity and unctuous, intense palate. Off dry.

1892 Pol Roger
The 1880s and 1890s were boom time for Champagne: it had made its mark and was embedding itself into popular culture. It was the vintages of the 1890s (as well as the 1904 and 1911) that Sir Winston Churchill started buying Pol Roger ‘in quantities’!
1892 was a remarkable vintage in Champagne: spring frosts reduced yield by 25%, concentrating flavours. Our bottle was still very well preserved. Distinctly sweet (consistent with the fashion for higher dosage n the 19th century), delicate and fine. In many ways it reminded me of a fine Loire dessert wine. Liquid gold.

Pol Roger 1892

Pierre Mansour
Society Buyer for Champagne

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I have been privileged to meet Melba Brajkovich on several occasions, usually after tasting through the Kumeu River range with her winemaker son Michael at the family’s beautiful property just north of Auckland. On each occasion it was her energy, vision and direct approach that always made a mark on me, attributes which clearly serve her well in the achievements she has made, and continues to make, for both Kumeu River and the New Zealand wine industry as a whole.

So, I was delighted, though not at all surprised, to hear the news that Melba has been made a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit in the 2014 Queen’s Birthday Honours for services to the wine industry and the community.

Melba Brajkovich

Melba Brajkovich

The winery had the following to say regarding this great news:

Melba has been the backbone and strength behind the Brajkovich Family at Kumeu River Wines since 1957. Originally very much in the background as Mate’s wife and partner in the business, Melba has always kept a watchful eye over the winery, especially when Mate was away on wine industry business in his various roles on the Executive Committee of the Wine Institute of New Zealand, including Chairman from 1982-1985.
Following Mate’s death in 1992, Melba assumed the position of Managing Director of Kumeu River Wines, with all her four children also in positions of responsibility in the company
She continues in that role today. Internationally she is a wonderful ambassador for New Zealand and New Zealand wine. For over 30 years Melba has travelled the world selling wine, initially with Mate, and for the last 20 years on her own. She tells the stories, not only of her own family and Kumeu River , but of the New Zealand wine business and the fantastic country which we live in.

Congratulations to Melba and the Brajkovich family.

Pierre Mansour
Buying Manager

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Tue 11 Mar 2014

Kumeu River’s 2014 Harvest

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Kumeu River in New Zealand have just started harvesting fruit from their vineyards which have supplied members with exquisite chardonnay for many years.

With harvest in full swing, and perfect weather, here are some pictures taken just a few days ago (the red grapes are pinot noir).

Pierre Mansour
Society Buyer

Kumeu River 2014 Harvest

Kumeu River 2014 Harvest

Kumeu River 2014 Harvest

Kumeu River 2014 Harvest

Kumeu River 2014 Harvest

Categories : New Zealand
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We’ve been absolutely delighted with members’ response to the Blind Spot wines so far, and heartened to see several critics praise them too. ‘Blind Spot’ is an exclusive range of Australian wines that aims to provide genuine expressions of authentic Australian regional styles at affordable prices.

Blind SpotJancis Robinson called them ‘outstanding value by any measure’, and we’ve just seen a review of the new range (published yesterday) by Sarah Ahmed, aka thewinedetective which may be of interest to members. (Please note: the Rutherglen Muscat mentioned in this piece will be available very soon).

‘Hats off to Mac Forbes, chief sourcer, or is that sorcerer?’ – Sarah Ahmed
Mac Forbes, one of Australia’s most talented winemakers, acts as our man on the ground for the Blind Spot range, utilising both his impeccable contacts and regional knowledge to source cuvées from throughout Australia.

Blind Spot in Mac Forbes’ own words
You can find out a little more about the range in this interview with Mac:

Pierre Mansour
Society Buyer for Australia

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