All the current excitement about the excellence of the 2015 vintage reminds me of my first year working at The Society back in 2006.
The talk then was of the brilliance of the 2005 vintage, which was similarly hugely successful across much of Europe. My first few tasks were to write about this ‘Vintage of a Generation’ and my capacity for superlatives was being tested to the limit.
This was my first exposure to the concept of buying wines en primeur, ie purchasing wines that not only were nowhere near being ready to drink but not even bottled or shipped.
Persuaded no doubt by the overwhelming pulling power of my purple prose, I decided to put my money where my mouth was and take the plunge.
And all I can think now is why on earth didn’t I buy more?!
Just before Christmas I withdrew one of the mixed cases I had bought from the 2005 Rhône & Languedoc-Roussillon en primeur campaign and had been keeping in The Society’s Members’ Reserves storage facility since.
The case in question was the 2005 Languedoc First Growth Case and includes a roll-call of the great and the good of the South of France. And it provided all the wow factor I needed over the Christmas period.
• The one I was keenest to try was the Coteaux du Languedoc, Prieuré Saint Jean de Bébian and it didn’t disappoint. Deliciously à point, this thrilling blend of syrah, grenache and mourvèdre confidently treads that fine line between power and elegance.
• I may have broached the cabernet sauvignon-dominant Mas de Daumas Gassac, Vin de Pays de l’Hérault a tad early; it was still mature and delicious but I think that I’ll leave the second bottle until next Christmas.
• Conversely, the Domaine de Perdiguier, Cuvée d’en Auger, Vin de Pays des Côteaux d’Ensérune may have been better last Christmas (the initial recommended drink date was indeed for 2015) but it was still a great taste experience.
• Domaine Alquier’s Faugères Les Bastides couldn’t have been better: all velvety richness and concentration.
• Domaine Madeloc Collioure Magenca was very mature and a tad raisiny, but I mean that as a compliment. The primary fruit flavours had all but disappeared to leave a rich, mineral, spicy, earthy complexity.
• The Roc d’Anglade, Vin de Pays du Gard was extraordinarily fine and elegant, and could easily have been mistaken for a very posh northern Rhône costing many times its price.
And let’s talk about the price, as that for me was the real bonus part of the whole experience and one I hadn’t really anticipated. I paid for the wines in 2007 and the duty and VAT in 2008. So long ago that, such is my head-in-the-sand attitude to personal finances, I felt that these fine wines were now, to all intents and purposes, free.
Sure I did have to pay for their storage in the interim but even so a little research online suggests that were I able to find these wines now (no small task in itself) it would have cost me a darn sight more than I had shelled out. Furthermore, if you factor in the pleasure of the anticipation of enjoying your purchases then I’ve had more than a decade of mouthwatering expectation!
That isn’t the point, of course, and it shouldn’t matter, but it does add to the rather smug satisfaction one experiences when you pull the cork.
I did my best to hide my self-satisfaction when sharing these special bottles, but even if I failed to suppress it then I’m not sure that anyone would have noticed. They were too busy enjoying the wines! I’m delighted to see that we’re expanding the range of wines we offer en primeur. In 2016 we offered wines from Ridge in California and the Cape’s Meerlust as well as the usual suspects from the classic French regions, and we have plans to continue to look further afield in 2017.
I for one will be buying as much as I can afford, including a good chunk of our 2015 Rhône and Languedoc-Roussillon allocation and I advise you to do the same. A decade or so down the line I’m certain that you’ll be very glad you did!
Head of Content & Communications
Our en primeur offer of the 2015 Rhône and Languedoc-Roussillon vintage is available until 8pm, Tuesday 28th February.
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!
Head of Buying Tim Sykes has recently taken on the buying of Bordeaux wines for The Society. I caught up with him recently to ask him about how it has been going so far, and about his love of this great region’s wines.Why Bordeaux?
Because I love the wines! It’s a vast area with real diversity of styles, and is less straightforward to buy from than you might think. It regularly throws up some really, really interesting wines.
Bordeaux’s reputation was forged by a small number of the top châteaux and as a consequence, much gets overlooked. If you get under the skin there are some terrific wines lower down the price ladder. In terms of value for money Bordeaux holds its own against any other region. In the sub-£10 category, I struggle to think of many places outside of Bordeaux that offer the same consistency of quality and value for money year in year out.
Is Bordeaux a region you buy from for your own personal enjoyment?
Since coming to work at The Wine Society [in 2012] I have been drinking a lot more Bordeaux than I had done previously. Bordeaux wasn’t such an important region in my previous job because the restaurant trade sadly doesn’t have such a demand these days
Why do you think Bordeaux offers such value and variety?
There are thousands of châteaux and people making different styles of wine. This is not news to Wine Society members: we have been following many of the leading lights – people like the Dubourdieus and Despagnes – whose wines have stood the test of time. We have been working with them for a long time now. There’s a lot of history there: Jo Locke MW and Sebastian Payne MW did a fantastic job building up relationships with the people that matter.
Will you want to put your own stamp on the region?
Yes, of course, that is my job, and it’s also the challenge and what makes it enjoyable. It will involve lots of prospecting to find the new exciting producers.
What interests me most is the smaller family-owned properties – many of whom actually struggle to make a go of it – contrary to the image most people have of Bordeaux. Growers in some of the ‘satellite’ appellations, and those producing generic claret have often struggled in recent years – prices haven’t changed much for these wines in the last 10 years! Take The Society’s Claret – we buy at pretty much the same cost price as 10 years ago and the wine is getting better and better in quality terms.
Château Canada is an example of a good petit château that we buy from in most years. Good properties like this, the ones we deal with, are generally doing ok, but those that rely on selling in bulk struggle to make ends meet.You have been involved in sourcing wines for our en primeur offer since you started at The Society; do you cellar Bordeaux for your own enjoyment?
Yes, I like to cellar and drink the grander names too, of course. But in some ways the well-known names are less satisfying to buy as a professional buyer – they’re widely available on the ‘Bordeaux Place’ through local merchants – it’s not like buying from individual properties and finding things for yourself.
Where is the excitement then?
It’s the ‘truffle-snuffling’ element that gets us going as buyers. That’s the exciting thing. We read up on properties and regions… talk to people… prospect.
What have been your impressions as you take over responsibility for Bordeaux?
Of all the regions that I have visited since joining the Society, and in Bordeaux especially, there is enormous respect for The Wine Society. It’s a question of trust, something that has been built up over many, many years. Château owners often comment on how delighted they are to work with us and how much they enjoy meeting our members when they attend tastings.
Why do you think this is?
I think it has to do with loyalty and integrity. The Wine Society is a reliable organisation with a rich tradition. They respect the fact that there are no sharp practices when it comes to dealing with us. We make a point of showing our faces and visit a lot more than most merchants.
Are you getting the impression that there’s a new generation coming to the fore now in Bordeaux?
Yes, to a certain extent…we are seeing the likes of Fabrice and Jean-Jacques Dubourdieu stepping up to take more of a leading role within their family estates, then there’s Edouard Moueix whose father Christian is taking more of a back-seat role, for example.
Are families important in Bordeaux?
When it’s a family concern it is usually a lot more interesting. When you visit the big châteaux for example, you’re rarely shown around by the owner, even if it is family-owned property. It’s usually the director or manager – not the people who make the wine. That’s what’s so nice about the satellite appellations of Bordeaux – Bourg, Blaye, Fronsac – it’s generally more about family properties, much more like the rest of France in that respect.
There are exceptions, of course, people like the Bartons of Châteaux Léoville and Langoa Barton and the Borie family who own Ducru-Beaucaillou and Grand-Puy-Lacoste who are always charming and still retain the family feel.
What are your favourite clarets?
Impossible question to answer! Like many of our members, if I’m looking for everyday drinking wines in the sub-£10 bracket, I would head to somewhere like the Côtes de Bordeaux. Right bank wines based on the merlot grape are more supple and easier to drink younger.
At the more senior level I’d tend to towards the left bank more I love Château Batailley and Grand-Puy-Lacoste – both Pauillacs – on the left bank for example, as well as Domaine de Chevalier in Pessac-Léognan.
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.
Selecting the wines
In early April, we (Joanna Locke MW, Sebastian Payne MW and I) spent the best part of two weeks in Bordeaux, tasting and retasting several hundred wines from the 2013 vintage. We tasted most of the top wines at the châteaux, and many other wines were on show at the communal tastings organised by the Union des Grands Crus.
Here is an extract from our itinerary on a typical day:
Tuesday 1st April:
8.45 CH. LEOVILLE LAS CASES
9.30 UGC St Julien (CH. LAGRANGE)
10.00 CH. DUCRU BEAUCAILLOU
10.30 CH. LATOUR
11.00 CH. MOUTON ROTHSCHILD
11.30 CH. LAFITE ROTHSCHILD
12.00 CH. PONTET CANET
12.30 CH. LYNCH BAGES
14.15 CH. CALON SEGUR
14.30 CH. MONTROSE
15.00 CH. COS D’ESTOURNEL
15.30 UGC Pauillac/St Estèphe (Lafon Rochet)
16.15 CH. GRAND PUY LACOSTE
16.45 CH. PICHON LALANDE
18.00 CH. MARGAUX
Despite the challenging schedule we were able to come up with a clear view of the most promising wines of the vintage. It is impossible to generalise about which communes fared better than others in 2013, as we found that it was individual châteaux, rather than particular regions or communes that succeeded or failed.
This year, more than any other in recent times, required severe fruit selection by the châteaux, and as buyers our selection process has had to be equally rigorous. In both our pre-order (online) offer and our main (printed) offer, we have reduced considerably the number of wines offered. Those that have made the final cut are the very best, within their price category, that we tasted over the fortnight in Bordeaux.The style of the 2013 vintage
2013 is a Bordeaux vintage for drinkers rather than speculators, and will appeal to those members looking for wines with finesse and poise, rather than power. The red wines have fresh acidity, modest alcohol levels, perfumed fruit flavours and moderate tannin structure, and most will be drinking in the next five to ten years. The châteaux that made the most attractive wines avoided over extraction in the winery, carefully handling the grapes to ensure that the perfume and charm of the vintage were not lost.
The standout wines for me, and the ones which display the most appeal overall, are those from the François-Xavier Borie stable (Grand-Puy-Lacoste, Haut-Batailley and Lacoste Borie), Beau-Site and Batailley from the Castéja family, Angludet in Margaux, and Cantemerle. At the upper end of the scale, Mouton is probably the finest of the first growths, with Haut-Brion a close second. On the right bank, Grand Corbin-Despagne is particularly attractive, and Figeac is exceptional. All these wines will provide a great deal of medium-term drinking pleasure for claret lovers.
Head of Buying
Our main offer, which will include the majority of wines selected by the buyers and most of the more moderately priced wines, will be available from 27th May.
Some wines from our initial offer of the most highly sought-after wines are still available. Please call Member Services on 01438 741177 if you would like to order these wines.
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.
The Society Bordeaux buying team of Sebastian Payne MW, Jo Locke MW and myself has recently spent a second week in Bordeaux, retasting many of the 2011s that we had sampled a fortnight previously during the annual ‘en primeur’ bunfight, and tasting many other 2011s for the first time. It is remarkable how in that short time many of the wines have evolved, and the week proved invaluable in helping us to distil down our selection for the main en primeur offer that we will be sending out next month. Over the course of our two sojourns in Bordeaux we have tasted several wines three, four and occasionally five times, so we feel we are well placed to put together a coherent and considered offer for members.
Week one had been a whirlwind, visiting some of the best-known wine names in the Bordeaux firmament, with one day that involved visits to Châteaux Léoville Las Cases, Lagrange, Pontet Canet, Mouton Rothschild, Lafite Rothschild, Latour and Ducru Beaucaillou ? and that was just in one morning?
Our second week was, with one or two exceptions, more modest in terms of the global renown of châteaux visited and wines tasted, but no less interesting or enlightening. The vast majority of châteaux that we have followed for a number of years have made fresh, attractive and classically proportioned red wines that we have no hesitation in recommending subject, of course, to the wines being sensibly priced. Examples include Château Le Conseiller, Château Bouscaut, Château Belgrave, Château d’Angludet, Château Cantemerle and Château Batailley, to name but a few. 2011 was also an excellent Sauternes and Barsac vintage, with consistently high quality across the board, and we will be offering several of our favourites in our main Bordeaux opening offer.
Week two was also an opportunity to taste at the esteemed premises of JP Moueix in Libourne. Having “extinguished” our mobile phones [see above], we were treated to a procession of delicious merlot-dominant right bank wines in the splendid Moueix tasting room ? a cavernous but tranquil setting for the Society tasters [right]. We also paid a visit to the strikingly Burgundian-looking cellars [below] of François Mitjavile at Château Tertre Roteboeuf in Saint Emilion, our annual opportunity to shoot the breeze with one of the most cerebral winemakers in Bordeaux, and taste the delicious fruits of his labours.
Our week ended with a visit to Château Reynon in the Premières Côtes de Bordeaux to see our old friend Denis Dubourdieu, wine guru, lecturer and oenologist to some of France’s most famous names; and a tasting at Château Climens in Barsac with owner Bérénice Lurton. Bérénice took us through no fewer than nine different barrels of 2011 Barsac, each cask containing the production of a single-day’s picking last autumn ? the later the harvest day the sweeter, more lush and complex the wines tasted. The 2011 Climens is a true labour of love.
All that we are waiting for now is for the châteaux to release their prices, and we are hoping that the owners and decision makers will take a pragmatic view this year and release the wines at sensible prices. We are expecting a flurry of activity from the Bordeaux négociants in the coming days, although the profusion of public holidays in France this month may hamper the process somewhat.
Head of Buying
The Society has put in place new procedures for ordering Bordeaux 2011 this year. The first of our two 2011 Bordeaux Opening Offers, containing 30 of the most sought after wines of the vintage, requires members to pre-order the wines before the prices are confirmed by the chateaux. The remaining, generally less expensive, wines will be offered as normal, in print and online, in June or July.
Primeurs week in Bordeaux is a marathon of tastings of inky young red (and a few dry and sweet white) wines, a whirlwind of meeting and greeting, top and tailed by fine food and wines. You may be thinking that we wine buyers are spoiled – and you’d be right (we’ll spare you the detail, but these experiences re-affirm why Bordeaux remains unrivaled in the world for its potential finesse and keeping potential) but the pleasure is greater, and the debate all the more stimulating in the good company of buyers and sellers from all over the world.
At Château Haut-Bailly this year our tasting group included contingents from the UK, Canada, Switzerland, Germany, Chicago, and Texas (featured). The debate was open, friendly, and lively thanks to General Manager Véronique Sanders’ invitation to all of us to give her our views on the prospects for the Bordeaux Primeurs campaign this year. Irrespective of national and personal preferences, all nationalities were of one voice in asking for Bordeaux to reduce its prices significantly this year.
Generous hospitality is not unusual in Bordeaux, but this relaxed and open discussion was as refreshing as the very fine range of wines we enjoyed. Wines that could not come from anywhere else.
Please remember that we will be offering the 30 or so most sought-after wines from the vintage in a different way this year, requiring members to pre-order them. For more information, please refer to our website.
Joanna Locke MW
It’s the producer – more precisely the vigneron – that counts this year; far more than location, appellation, or classification. It is no surprise that those who walked their vineyards and acted early on the vagaries of the growing season, and who could then afford to wait for ripeness, have made the best wines.
It looks unlikely to be much of an investors? vintage; it could be a good ‘drinkers’ vintage, if – and it remains a big if – prices are correct. Our purchases will be a tight selection this year, and we’ll taste a lot more wines, including several numerous times, in order to finalise our Opening Offer which is due to be published in June.
As mentioned, we will be offering the 30 or so most sought-after wines from this vintage in a different way this year, requiring members to pre-order the wines. For more information, please refer to our website.
Joanna Locke MW
The Mont Ventoux, known locally as the ‘geant de Provence’, dominates the landscape for miles around like a Mount Fuji, and it comes with a white summit that sparkles in the sun. The summit is white all year round but rarely thanks to snow: the Ventoux is a huge pile of limestone and at the summit it is quite bare.
The mountain features much in folklore and there are doubtless plenty of poems by Mistral. There are various stories about the name but one thing is certain and that is that it is seriously windy at the top. It stands at 1912m, making it the highest peak for miles around. An observatory was built on the summit and at the same time a road was built over the top. It’s a fun drive and only a wee bit scary near the summit, above the tree line where the rock is bare and white and when the gradient suddenly becomes interesting. The view from the top is fabulous, except on the day I chose to drive up, when low cloud reduced visibility to a few yards. It is of course one of the great cycling challenges and regularly features on the Tour de France.
The lower slopes are a sea of lavender and where there is shelter from the Mistral other crops are grown. There are fruit orchards and olives, and of course vineyards. The wines used to be called Côtes du Ventoux. Today the name has changed to Ventoux and it is very much a part of Rhône.
The Romans were possibly the first to grow grapes here; they saw the benefit of planting at slightly higher altitude amidst the ever-present cool Alpine breezes. There was a time when co-ops controlled all the production and then quality was not always good and prices always below that of simple Côtes du Rhône.
Things have changed. The climate is warmer and vintages here are more consistent. And the level of winemaking shows more skill and greater confidence.
Suddenly, too, there are a whole load of growers. The Ventoux has become smart. The fashion has brought higher prices (but not for all). A lot of Ventoux is sold to the Negoce – including Jaboulet, who make a very good wine at a very reasonable price. We are now buying from Château de Valcombe, which is excellent and which will feature in the 2010 Rhône opening offer.
The Society’s 2010 Rhône and Languedoc-Roussillon opening offer will be published next week.