Evidently, it is as dangerous to dismiss as it is to assume: over the past few years, a number of wine regions and styles written off by some of us have sprung back into wine lists and affections. Australian chardonnay – the subject of this month’s Staff Choice – is certainly one such example.
As my colleague Stephanie Searle writes below, we know that some members have been turned off trying Aussie chardonnay over the years, feeling that its initial success led to a decline in quality. Wines like Pemberley’s Margaret River Chardonnay, a new addition to our range, make a compelling case for a fresh look. Here Stephanie explains why.
One of the many joys of working in the Tastings & Events Team is the opportunity to try so many different wines: choosing just one was far from easy! I have settled on a real gem that has proved to be simply stunning on every occasion that I have opened a bottle.
From just south of Western Australia’s Margaret River, this rich ripe wine delivers wonderful texture and freshness. It pleases on so many levels as notes of citrus, green apple and ripe fruit blend perfectly with subtle hints of toast and butterscotch.
If you gave up drinking Australian chardonnay back in the day when it was mass-produced, over-oaked and of poor quality, I would urge you to give this a try. It couldn’t be more different. This is new-style Australian chardonnay at its very best.
Tastings & Events Team
£15.50 – Bottle
£186 – Case of 12
View Wine Details
Conrad Braganza invites us to do lunch with his favourite warm-weather white wines from our Cellar Showroom.
There is something decadent and delightful about drinking wine with lunch on a summer’s day. But to negate the necessity for an afternoon nap when chores still demand my attention, I tend to choose a lighter style of white wine with a modest alcohol level.
Here are some of my favourite lunchtime liveners from around the world. Do feel free to suggest your own in the comments!
• Austrian grüner veltliner can offer fruit and spice in a food-friendly package.
The Society’s Grüner Veltliner (£7.50) has been welcomed with open arms by our members and sailed through the 2016 Wine Champions tastings. Pepp Wienviertel Grüner Veltliner 2015 (£7.25) hits the spot well too.
• Australian semillon can work wonders on its own or with food.
The exclusive 88 Growers (£7.25) clocks in at just 11% alcohol and brings a zesty note to the grape’s classic greengage flavours.
• England offers a wealth of lower-alcohol choices thanks to our cooler climate.
For a floral, lychee-infused tipple that’d be perfect with chilli chicken skewers, try Three Choirs Stone Brook 2014 (£7.95). For something a little drier, Chapel Down Bacchus 2014 (11.50) is well worth the extra outlay, offering a flinty, mineral and crisp style with some sauvignon-esque flavours that would stand up very well to a goat’s cheese tart.
• Germany’s lower alcohol levels are well known, and the wines are as versatile as they are delicious.
The off-dry Ruppertsberger Hoheburg Riesling Kabinett 2015 (£6.50) is a great sipper but is also suitable for spicier food. Alternatively there is von Kesselstatt’s charming and appealing Piesporter Goldtröpfchen Spätlese 2013 (£16), which comes from a great producer and a world-class vineyard.
• Greece is a source of delicate, clean and crisp wines that go brilliantly with (dare I say it) Greek salad.
A great-value current favourite is the dry and gentle Ionos (£6.50).
• Vinho Verde is a wine made for lunch!
Fashionable again, and for good reason, these wines are fresh and dry but also aromatic and spot-hitting (and perfect with a bowl of prawns, as I found out on a recent trip to Portugal!). In the 2015 vintage, The Society’s Vinho Verde (£5.95) has never looked better, whilst Muros Antigos (£7.95) from Anselmo Mendes proves why he’s one of the region’s top growers at a friendly price.
The Cellar Showroom
Members know a good thing when they taste it, and judging from the highly enthusiastic response to our current offering of Australian wines (available until Sunday 8th May while stocks last), the Aussie buzz is truly back.
How fitting then that Alex Vooght has chosen to feature a favourite Australian red for his Staff Choice – courtesy of a producer who are no strangers to this blog, Wirra Wirra.
I love reds packed full of fruit with silky tannins and which are punchy enough to hold up to a nice steak meal. It’s also important for me to have a wine where I can enjoy a glass (or two) just as it is.
Church Block from Wirra Wirra fits the bill nicely. I’ve been lucky enough to taste a fair few vintages of it at a vertical tasting and it ages surprisingly well for a wine under £12.
Cabernet sauvignon, shiraz and merlot are blended perfectly giving this wine its jammy black-fruit style with enough peppery spice to keep me coming back for more. The stylish bottle only adds to its appeal. A sure bet with all my friends and family. Enjoy!
£11.50 – Bottle
£69 – Case of six
View Wine Details
I could have sworn I saw a swallow earlier this week; and with the onset of darkness now retreating to past 8 o’clock I feel I can dare to dream of more temperate times to come. Indeed, in The Cellar Showroom this week I have noticed a marked shift towards white wine purchases. Society members appear to share my optimism.
For me, no grape screams spring and summer like sauvignon blanc. Fresh, herbaceous, citric, tropical… the styles from around the world all seem to have an affinity to the time of year when hats and scarves can be mothballed.
Lovely as these wines are, though…
Recently I have been particularly taken with a number of sauvignon blanc blends.
Adding another grape or two to sauvignon blanc can temper the variety’s natural acidity and can complement sauvignon’s flavour profile with a splash of something different.
Four Sauvignons With a Twist• Member favourite Duo Des Mers, Sauvignon-Viognier Vin de France 2015 (£5.95) benefits from the fattening and softening influence of the viognier grape’s texture, whilst also bringing the characteristic apricot and peach aromas to the wine.
•Another popular French choice, Cheverny, Domaine du Salvard 2015 (£7.95), employs 10-15% chardonnay in the blend to give greater breadth and depth, but without masking the herbaceous scents of the sauvignon.
• Bleasdale Langhorne Crossing Verdelho-Sauvignon 2015 (£6.95) combines sauvignon blanc with another spring-and-summer variety: the vibrant verdelho, which introduces pleasant pear-like notes and tropical tones to the blend.
• In Spain, moscatel can add its floral aromatics and bring a more table-grape dimension to the fruit character, as is the case in Saleta Moscatel-Sauvignon Blanc 2015 (£5.95). This wine has excellent balance, with the sauvignon blanc moderating any of moscatel’s sweetness with its crisp acidity and ensuring the wine remains dry.
I don’t want to tempt fate but I shall be putting all of the above in the chiller in anticipation of the appropriate weather.
If not, I may just have to turn the thermostat up.
The Cellar Showroom
Our exclusive Blind Spot range can sound too good to be true. A little like The Wine Society… however, both really are transparent!
How does it work?
Mac Forbes, one of the hottest winemaking talents in Australia at the moment, collects samples of wines from winemaker friends and sends them to me each year to try.
I sample up to 20 wines, and cherry-pick the range.
The wines are usually surplus wines made by sought-after names, who have to limit their own-label production due to demand, and so sell to us at a huge discount, which we pass on to Society members.
This means our members have access to an ever-evolving line-up of delicious, authentic expressions of Australia’s best regions at everyday prices.
Mac took some time to explain the process himself in this short video below:
What’s new for 2016?
The Blind Spot range is dynamic by nature, thanks to the opportunities afforded by each different vintage and Mac’s clever detective work. I only select the very best samples to be bottled, and this year’s selection includes four new additions.
They are available by the bottle or in a 12-bottle mixed case with a saving of £11.70.
• Blind Spot Old-Vine Clare Valley Mataro 2014 (£9.95) is a truly serendipitous find, and Mac was thrilled when he came across this tiny-production gem made in tiny quantities from very old vines. Mataro may be better known to many members under its French name of mourvèdre or Spanish, monastrell, and it’s the archetypal winter warmer for bangers and mash and hearty stews.
• Blind Spot Frankland River Cabernet Franc-Merlot 2013 (£9.95) is a blend whose elegance, we feel, belies its price tag. It’s a perfect Sunday-roast wine. Indicative of the value that can be found in this range, this under-£10 wine will also repay cellaring (though it may prove difficult to resist now!).
• The garganega grape is more commonly associated with the production of Soave in northern Italy, but the King Valley in Victoria is starting to produce some very good examples. Blind Spot King Valley Garganega 2015 (£7.50) is crisp, dry and thoroughly refreshing, with a pleasant mineral quality and plenty of fresh-lemon flavours.
• Australian riesling is capable of world-class quality, and our Clare Valley bottling is joined this year by a new Blind Spot Frankland River Riesling 2015 (£9.50), an area that’s quickly gaining a stunning reputation for its flinty dry interpretation of this noble white grape.
I’m really excited about these wines, and hope members enjoy them.
Sarah Knowles MW
It is some years now since McLaren Vale producer Wirra Wirra was forced to rename its flagship cabernet sauvignon when the ‘international naming police’ ruled that it was too similar to that of a leading Bordeaux château.
The 3/4-tonne Angelus bell that sits atop Wirra Wirra’s cellars had been retrieved from a wreckers’ yard after its former life calling the faithful to prayer at the Jesuit church in Norwood, South Australia. Traditionally rung at the start and end of each vintage and to mark special occasions, it seemed fitting that its name be used for the property’s top cuvée of cabernet.
When forced to change the label, the late Greg Trott, with typical wry humour, chose to call the wine ‘Dead Ringer’. In case there was any doubt, the back label of the first wine to be sold under the new nomenclature read:
Dead Ringer: Colloquial for “resemble exactly.”
…the wine formerly known as The Angelus is now The Dead Ringer. It is indeed a dead ringer for The Angelus – being a blend of 80% McLaren Vale and 20% Coonawarra cabernet, and matured in French oak barriques for 20 months. Whatever the name, this wine is quite simply the best cabernet sauvignon we can make from each vintage.
Members can now try the wine for themselves in the form of the 2013 and 2012 vintages, and a mixed case including the 2005, 2009 and 2012, in the ‘Wirra Wirra: The Name Rings A Bell’ section of our current Fine Wine List.
So my second week as a part of the buying department came to a rather spectacular end the Friday before last, as I was lucky enough to taste the new-vintage Penfolds wines with buyer Sarah Knowles MW.
Penfolds ambassador Sam Stephens brought all of the new releases with him (mostly 2013 reds, and 2014 whites) along with a number of older examples of similar vintages so we could see how ageing changed the wine.A standout for me was the £20-per-bottle Bin 28, which was shown in both the 2013 and 2001 vintages. The opportunity to show the two side by side really highlighted how unbelievably well this wine can age. The 2013 was packed with intense cassis and was as fruit-forward as you would expect a young wine to be. The 2001, however was just stunning, still with incredibly fresh blackberry fruit but now showing hints of leather and a touch of pepper. The ability to age this well at the £20 mark is something so rarely seen in the modern wine world.
A little further on and equally stunning, was the Bin 389 Cabernet-Shiraz, from both 2013 and 1999. The herbaceous, fresh and spicy 2013 was good but the 1999 was better. Still surprisingly fresh for the age, it had the most luscious nose of milk chocolate, spice and red fruit and a super smooth texture to match.
What does this all mean?
Well, for me, it just goes to show how much you can get from these wines if you invest a bit of time. If you aren’t patient enough though, you can browse our Penfolds offer, which is now available online. Here you can find the wines that I have written about (although not quite the same vintages), plus a number of others. This is selling well and some wines have sold out already, but do have a look and see if there are wines which take your fancy.
Perhaps it was a ‘fruit day’ or simply a Friday, but I honestly couldn’t pick a disappointing one out of the bunch.
Sam kindly talked to camera for a minute or two about the wines so please have a look at the video here:
Trainee Wine Buyer
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.
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.
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.
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.
Our third virtual #TWStaste event, where members sit in the comfort of their own homes communing with one another online over a glass of liquid, happened at the end of August. (Details of the next one can be found at the bottom of this post).
This time it involved tasting two wines from our Blind Spot range, Australian wines with a ‘sense of place’, made / selected / bottled for us by Mac Forbes – Blind Spot King Valley Pinot Gris 2014 and Blind Spot McLaren Vale Grenache Shiraz Mataro 2013.
Present in the virtual tasting room (or rather in their respective studies in London and Hitchin) were our buyer for Australia Sarah Knowles MW (@SarahKnowles) with yours truly (@Ewbz) taking charge of The Society’s feed. This time we had singles, couples and even groups taking part from all over the country, juggling glass, bottle and device!
For the hour between 7.30 & 8.30 (as well as before and after) tweets flew around filled with …
… anticipation …
— Lucy CT (@hoogervaaner) August 27, 2015
… congregation …
… information …
— The Wine Society (@TheWineSociety) August 27, 2015
… orientation …
… sensation …
— Lucy CT (@hoogervaaner) August 27, 2015
… imagination …
… evaluation …
Joy says it clears the tubes #twstaste
— Alan Barclay-Devine (@AlanBD) August 27, 2015
… computation …
… satisfaction …
— Burnham Beachcomber (@preachermanpaul) August 27, 2015
… and valediction.
The next #TWStaste will be happening on Thursday 15th October from 7.30pm to 8.30pm. Buyer Marcel Orford Williams (@owmarcel) will be there and he, together with Martin Brown (@iamagrapeman), yours truly (@Ewbz) but chiefly … yourselves, will be tasting two wines from the Languedoc – Bourboulenc Domaine de Simonet 2014 and Syrah-Mourvèdre Côtes de Thongue Domaine Condamine L’Evêque 2014. Both wines are currently available individually and will also be in the Everyday Languedoc Mixed Dozen Case as part of our Languedoc offer which begins on 25th September.
We look forward to seeing you, tasting and tweeting with you then.
We were delighted to read this account by Society member James Tweddle of his visit to Ocean Eight in Victoria, and thought fellow members may like to read it too.
Don’t get me wrong; by neither means nor predilection am I a ’boutique wine’ aficionado.
Over the years I’ve done the The Wine Society ‘in-bond’ bit in the Rhône and in Burgundy (and a few of the spoils still languish in my small cellar). Advancing years produce a greater clarity of thought. I keep being reminded of a very good mate of many years ago, of ample means – and a keen Wine Society member, who had his retirement home built around his new cellar to house his comprehensive stock of port, claret and Rhône treasures – and, bless him, died within four years of moving in.
Not for me – life consists largely of convivial drinking around the bottom/middle levels of The Wine Society’s lists – especially around southern France, Portugal, and South Africa.
And so, faced before Christmas with an exciting and extended stay in Victoria and New South Wales – courtesy of our ‘Oz’ family – and wanting to renew my acquaintance with the treasures of the Mornington Peninsula, I ventured to ask the nice folk at Stevenage where I could experience a ‘real’ winery visit – behind the scenes.
A shortlist duly arrived and from it I chose to contact Mike Aylward at Ocean Eight. As you will hear I couldn’t have chosen better – the timing and the choice led to a really interesting and insightful visit – and a sampling experience second to none.
Despite his busy schedule in the middle of winemaking a date and time was fixed.
Nick – ‘the lad’ – made us most welcome while Mike returned from the far reaches of the property and he introduced us to the winery’s chardonnay. A great grape so often ruined by the corporate blandness of the supermarket ‘brands’ – but not here: the clarity and delicacy of the wine was clear to see, having the distinctive characteristics of freshness and clear flavour Mike later explained as being his ‘mantra’.
Mike, a friendly, enthusiastic winemaker with a long pedigree at the job, then took us on ‘the tour’.
First we saw this year’s chardonnay bubbling merrily away in the open under the shade of wooden frames – in new French oak barrels (with these at c. $AUS 5000 a pop and with a limited ‘front-line’ life it is easy to see how the costs of producing a good wine soon add up!). Different site, different clones produce different results – one clearly lemony and zesty, the next more close and mineral with just a hint of a lemon pithy taste; no doubt all of these will be sampled and watched before the final blending takes place.
And so onward to see the huge underground cellar – at this stage with plenty of room for the new vintage; a peek at the production area for the exclusive small production of Ocean Eight Sparkling Cuvée and back to the ‘shop’ and away with our small booty of wine for our generous hosts back at Black Rock – we hope they will enjoy and appreciate the pleasure of their ‘local’ wine.
Thanks to Mike and the team for a friendly, informative, and flavoursome visit!
Oh! And one more thing – why ‘Ocean Eight’?
Well the whole project was conceived and born out of a conversation around the turn of the millennium between Mike and his father on the green of Hole eight of the Australian National Ocean course nearby!
Well – it’s turned out it seems to me to have been a really good round – and still in progress!