Buyer Marcel Orford-Williams celebrates our all-too-easily-overlooked Specialist Merchant Award for Regional France won at the IWC this month…
The late Edmund Penning-Rowsell, chairman of The Wine Society from 1964 to 1987, was always keen that the buyers should look beyond the ‘classic’ regions and source wines from off the beaten path for members to enjoy. And so, as long as I have been at The Society, the Committee of Management has afforded buyers the freedom to roam the backwoods of France and elsewhere to source exciting wines for our range.
In all the excitement and rightful pride in winning Overall Merchant and Online Merchant of the Year at the IWC (International Wine Challenge), it was easy to overlook that we had also won prizes for our South American and Regional France ranges.
We were naturally thrilled to have received this last award. It is the result of a good deal of work over many years. While France’s classic regions of Bordeaux, Burgundy and the Rhône are historical passions for The Society, our range also makes plenty of room for other French wines which much of the trade has barely discovered.
We have long championed the wines of Alsace and our range was recognised as the country’s finest by the International Wine Challenge for eight consecutive years to 2015.
During the last 12 months, we have visited Auvergne, Beaujolais, Alsace, Lorraine, the south-west, Provence and Corsica. A trip to the Jura will feature later in the year. There have been dedicated offers covering the wines of Alsace and Beaujolais and one for the south-west is also on the drawing board for release in the autumn.
It is not so long ago that many of these wines were for local consumption only. But globalism has changed all that. Growers from Savoie, Beaujolais or Corsica are as well travelled and skilled as any and keen to share the secrets of their terroirs with the rest of us.
We never forget though that it is thanks to members’ support that we can explore the wine world in this way. Members play a vital role in all of this by always being receptive to new ideas and new tastes. We hope that you enjoy the wines as much as we enjoy discovering and sharing them.
We salute you!
Explore our range of French wines at thewinesociety.com
Once upon a time, there were no appellations, let alone the hierarchy of labelling possibilities that exist today, and these have been changing subtly over the years.The term appellation controlée is very gradually being superseded by appellation d’origine protégée or AOP for short. The now obsolete term VDQS has all but disappeared and wines like Saint-Bris, Moselle and Saint-Mont have all been elevated to full appellation status.
At one time, anything not of appellation contrôlée level was merely labelled vin de table, then as a way of improving quality and encouraging innovation a new vin de pays category was created. This allowed for an indication of provenance and at the same time offered producers more flexibility in the grape varieties that could be used and size of yields which were less restrictive than for appellation-level wines.
Vin de pays has been incredibly successful and the model has been copied elsewhere, in Italy and Spain. The same Europe-wide legislation that meant a change of name for AOC wines applies to vin de pays too and from the 2010 vintage this category is officially called IGP, or indication géographique protégée (though the term vin de pays is still permitted and often used on labels).
At the more prosaic level, the term vin de table was never very satisfactory; it gave producers little scope to individualise these wines and carried rather negative connotations for consumers. Now that has changed with the creation of vin de France which with one fell swoop replaces vin de table.
So what is the difference?
Vin de France still cannot give any idea of provenance other than being French but it opens up the potential for some creative cross-border blending and inventive use of unusual varieties. Now grape variety can appear on the label or even grape varieties if more than one is used, and the choice of varieties are now more or less without limit.
Another recently listed wine which takes advantage of this new category and which has already proved popular with members is the Duo Des Deux Mers Sauvignon-Viognier (£6.25). The two seas in question here are the Atlantic and Mediterranean, combining as it does fruity fresh sauvignon from Gascony with ripe soft Languedoc viognier.
Most vin de France wines are priced at entry level, but by no means all. A fine if eccentric example is the so called historical 19th century blend from Château Palmer – 85% Margaux merlot and cabernet and 15% syrah from the Rhône Valley. Though I doubt the grands crus will be rushing to take advantage of the new vin de France category, the possibilities for everyday drinking wines are endless!
We love receiving postcards from our buyers on their travels. This one reads:
Spring in Beaujolais. There’s new growth on old vines on the Côte de Brouilly.
Lovely wines from the 2013 vintage. Am especially thrilled by The Society’s Beaujolais-Villages, not to forget fab Chiroubles from Trenel. Fleurie from Jean-Paul Brun seemed v good. Needs a a little time still. Super Côte de Brouilly from Pavillon de Chavanne. But today belonged to Moulin-à-Vent. Three outstanding properties including Domaine Labruyère and Château de Moulin-à-Vent. All producing wines fully worthy of 1er Cru AOC. Great Moulin à Vent.
Marcel Orford Williams
Last week saw the passing of a ‘Baron’ and a Duke: two luminaries of the wine world, both in their 80s, from opposite ends – in every sense – of the world. Both Peter Lehmann in Australia, affectionately known as the ‘Baron of Barossa’, and the Comte de Lacarelle in Beaujolais can justifiably be regarded as having helped to change the face of their respective wine regions, and the habits of the wine-drinking public. Both men were concerned with producing wines of real quality and authenticity in an era when winemaking techniques were often rudimentary. Their legacies will live on, and we should all raise a glass to their memories.
Head of Buying
Over the course of my buying trips to the region, the enormity of Lehmann’s reputation, his contribution to the wine industry and the affection felt for him by those who worked with him was always obvious. His son Doug would visibly light up whenever his father was mentioned. The fierce loyalty he showed towards his growers and colleagues was as formidable as the remarkably consistent quality of his wines.
During Australia’s ‘wine glut’ in the 1970s, when overproduction and economic constraints conspired to put the industry in a perilous position, Peter was one of a handful of winemakers who promised to continue buying from growers against all economic odds. Indeed, even when his previous employer told him to buy fewer grapes from the network of growers he stood by his word (had he not, the likelihood is that the growers would have taken financial security from the government who were encouraging producers to grub up their vineyards).
In 1979 he established Masterton Barossa Vineyards and in 1982 it was renamed Peter Lehmann wines. Over the years, the portfolio of wines has grown and today represents one of the most consistent ranges in Australia. What marks it out is that the wines, at every price level, reflect the high quality and personality typical of Barossa.
Peter Lehmann leaves behind his wife and collaborator Margaret, their sons David and Philip, and Doug and Libby from his first marriage.
Society Buyer for Australia
Comte Durieu de Lacarelle
This is one of the oldest estates in Beaujolais which in its present form can be traced back to 1750. The Lacarelles had good business sense and at the time had created a Paris based company to sell the wines. The estate is large with about 150ha of vineyard, much of it in the hands of tenants, or in French ‘metayer’.
Durieu de Lacarelle took over the estate in 1969 though he remembers meeting Wine Society buyers long before that. He felt passionately that Beaujolais should be properly made in a way that the wine could be enjoyed young without having to be kept. To this end he applied all his skills as an oenologist at a time when the status of winemaker barely existed. He was in so many ways very much ahead of his time.
The Lacarelles were close to the Dépagneux family and it is that link which provided The Society such an invaluable source of good Beaujolais. The Society often listed Lacarelle wines as such and for many years also shipped in their nouveau. In our opinion, Lacarelle Nouveau was simply the best. And for good reason as the vines here were always among the first to ripen and made a Beaujolais that was by itself always soft and round. Little wonder then that Lacarelle often formed part of the Society Beaujolais Villages blend. The 2012 vintage, his last, was the not the easiest to manage with less than half a crop and was all sold as Nouveau
Comte Durieu de Lacarelle enjoyed meeting Wine Society buyers and never gave too much away in negotiation. He was invariably courteous and hospitable, opening up his immaculate gardens and graceful house to countless visitors. Those from The Wine Society, who sometimes turned up in vintage cars, were especially welcomed.
Society Buyer for Beaujolais
Our recent annual foray into the wines of the Loire and Beaujolais was a huge success, with a great turn-out from both the members and the growers.
On the face of it, this tasting seemed beset by adversity: Bernard and Anne Chéreau managed to make it to the London leg of the tastings with moments to spare, in spite of a cancelled flight out of Nantes; Pascaline Mabillot had to step in at the last moment when her husband Mathieu realised his passport was out of date, whilst Jean-Marc Darbon (of Beaujolais négociant Jacques Depagneux) left his suitcase on the tube – you’ll be pleased to hear they were reunited against all odds the following day!
The focus of the tasting being the Loire and Beaujolais, many members expected the wines to be limited to sauvignon blanc and light red wines, but the reality couldn’t have been more different.Whilst indeed there were some fantastic sauvignon blanc such as Mathieu Mabillot’s pungent Reuilly, La Ferté, 2010 or the soft and delicate Menetou Salon Morogues Pelle 2010 from Anne Pellé, there was also much else besides on offer from the Loire. Evelyne de Pontbriand’s lovely Savennières, Domaine du Closel, 2009 really stood out as did Domaine Huet’s Vouvray, Le Mont, Sec, 2002. Olivier Mouraud of Domaine Bougrier had produced a Rosé d’Anjou 2010, which would be perfect in combination with a patio and some sunshine – both of which were on offer on Monday night at our London venue, RIBA. Christine Laloue’s Sancerre Rouge Domaine Serge Laloue, 2009 was complex and elegant, and would give many a Burgundy a run for its money.
We were delighted to be joined by Jean-Marc Darbon (he of the missing suitcase, mentioned above) and Gilles Meimoun of Maison Trenel, whose wines showcased beautifully what Beaujolais can offer. Here we had the light, fruity styles displayed so well by The Society’s Beaujolais-Villages 2009, through to much denser, more complex reds such as the Beaujolais-Perreon Château du Ringuet, 2010 or Moulin-à-Vent, Domaine de la Tour du Bief, Tirage Limite, 2005. Proof, if it were needed that whilst the wines of the Beaujolais region are never going to be in the Australian “blockbuster” category, they have a concentration and depth that belie their image as light red wines.
To see the wines available for tasting in London and Newcastle please click here.
Tastings & Events Co-ordinator
No, this is not a way to taste wine as you board a ship, but simply a selection of tasting notes from www.thewinegang.com. The Gang comprises five of the UK’s best-known and most respected wine critics, namely (from left to right) Olly Smith, Tom Cannavan, Anthony Rose, Joanna Simon and Tim Atkin. Their website offers (for a small annual subscription) a wealth of tasting notes and commentary on wines available from all sources ranging from the largest supermarket to the tiniest corner shop specialist, on-line and on the street. Click on the link for details of how to join.
www.thewinegang.com recently tasted a selection from The Society’s range. Here are opinions on just 10 of the 40 wines which appeared in their July and August reports.
The Society’s Exhibition Fleurie 2009, (Beaujolais), France, Dry Red (Cork), 13.0% abv. Yum, yum, yum. Juicy, gluggable, quaffable. Whatever adjective you choose, this is lip-smacking gamay from a great vintage, with bags of perfume and plum, cherry stone and raspberry fruit. Fleurie at its best. Picnic heaven. £9.50
Château Les Ormes de Pez 2001, Saint-Estèphe (Bordeaux), France, Dry Red (Cork), 13.0% abv. The 2001 red Bordeaux are starting to look like increasingly good value, given the silly prices of some of the 2009s. This light, elegant wine (for Saint Estèphe) has a touch of the farmyard about it, but it’s fine in context, with fine-grained tannins and supple, grassy fruit as a backdrop. £30.00.
Château de Lacarelle Beaujolais Villages 2009, (Beaujolais), France, Dry Red (Cork), 13.0% abv. If you want to drink something red and well chilled this summer, might we suggest a bottle of 2009 Beaujolais? This one is fresh, crunchy and bright, with lively cherry and raspberry fruit. Make sure you serve this straight from the fridge. £6.95.
Quoin Rock Oculus 2007, Simonsberg (Stellenbosch), South Africa, Dry White (Cork), 13.5% abv. This doesn’t quite hit the heights that the 2005 did, but it’s still one of South Africa’s most interesting whites, made from barrel-fermented Sauvignon Blanc and Viognier. Peach, spice, vanilla and refreshing acidity combine nicely here, even if the oak is a little intrusive. £11.50.
Icarus Gravity Shiraz 2008 McLaren Vale (South Australia), Australia, Dry Red (Screwcap), 14.5% abv. It may be an indication of the crisis affecting the Aussie wine sector if you can source wines as good as this for less than £6. Sweet, smoky and ripe, with plenty of texture, prominent oak and a peppery, faintly raisiny finish. £5.75.
Malumbres Navarra Tinto 2007, Spain, Dry Red (Cork), 13.5% abv. This has to be one of the bargains on the Wine Society’s list: a Garnacha-dominated Navarra blend with no oak to interfere with the fruit. Peppery,refreshing and comparatively restrained. £6.50.
Jaboulet-Perrin Syrah, Vin de Pays des Collines Rhodaniennes 2008 (Rhône), France, Dry Red (Cork), 12.0% abv. Nicholas Jaboulet has used fruit grown close to the slopes of Saint Joseph for this specially-commissioned northern Rhône Syrah. It’s on the firm side, but there’s good underlying blackberry fruit, topped with a dusting of pepper spice. £9.50.
Domaine Vistalba Temporada Malbec 2009, Mendoza, Argentina, Dry Red (Cork), 14.5% abv. Amazing value for money from Mendoza’s Vistalba winery, this violet-scented red is a fantastic base camp for Malbec lovers. Elegant, polished tannins and balancing acidity make this a delicious blend. The kind of thing that no party should be without. £4.95.
The Society’s Rioja Crianza, Rioja, Spain, Dry Red (Cork), 13.0% abv. Unashamedly traditional in style, The Society’s Rioja is light, elegant and nicely developed, with well-judged vanilla oak and sweet red fruits’ flavours. Very mellow and easy to drink. £7.50.
Three Choirs Midsummer Hill 2009, Gloucestershire, England, Dry White (Screwcap), 10.5% abv. A value for money (and you can’t say that about English wine very often) blend of Seyval Blanc, Reichensteiner and Madeleine Angevine, this is a catty, nettley, hedgerow-scented white with a crisp, dry finish. £6.25.
Stella Bella Sauvignon Blanc 2009, Margaret River (Western Australia), Australia, Dry White (Screwcap), 13.0% abv. We found a touch of funky reduction in this when we tasted it, although it did dissipate in the glass. Underneath the wine is crisp and almost minerally with tangy, nettle and gooseberry fruit. £11.50.
Unquestionably a date in your diary must be Monday July 12th in London and the following evening in Manchester when we will be showing wines from the Loire and Beaujolais. A perfect summer treat that will include wines from the amazing 2009 vintage.
Central to the tasting will be wines from Domaine Sérol in the little-known yet outstanding Côte Roannaise. Why central? I hear you ask. It is simply because this Cinderella appellation actually produces excellent reds made from the gamay grape, in other words the same grape as in Beaujolais. Not only that, but the terroir is much the same with the same decomposed grey granite that one finds in Brouilly. Côte Roannaise is a small appellation with only about 20 growers. It is an isolated spot which allows growers to farm with minimal intervention and in some difficult vintages like 2004, Domaine Sérol’s wines are better than practically anything in Beaujolais.
So, where is the Côte Roannaise? Now that is an excellent question and the answer brings to light a perfect administrative conundrum that was created by the French Revolution.
The vines are set on granite slopes a few miles out from the centre of Roanne, a town once noted for textiles and armaments, especially tanks. The town’s existence is due to the Loire River as it is from here that this mighty river was historically navigable. The town’s importance was later confirmed by the coming of the railway, the station café eventually becoming one of the greatest restaurants in France. Today Troisgros is one of the better Michelin rated three star restaurants and which works extremely well. The Troisgros brothers have always been keen to promote local produce, including of course wine. A very special link was forged with the Sérol family and indeed Troisgros and Robert Sérol not only became very close friends but also business partners. They own one small vineyard together which they farm organically. Most of the wine is sold to the restaurant but we’ve secured a few cases which we will show in London and Manchester.
In wine terms, Côte Roannaise belongs to the Loire even though it has precious little in common with the rest of the Loire. Sancerre, the nearest major Loire appellation is nearly three hours drive away and Nantes with its ocean of Muscadet, over an hour away by plane. Beaujeu on the other hand, historic capital of Beaujolais is just under an hour away by car on the other side of the mountain.
Now for the Departemental bit
Roanne is in the Loire Département (number 42, for those of you who like me follow French number plates), 50 miles away from Saint Etienne, the county town and 50 miles away from Lyon, the regional capital. Indeed Roanne on the Loire is part of the region called Rhône-Alpes, which in wine terms includes most of Beaujolais and all of the Rhône up to Vinsobres. The absurdity of France’s administrative divisions is felt even more acutely in the Loire Département itself which reaches out to the Rhône and includes a part of both Saint-Joseph and Condrieu. This delightful quirk has not been lost on the Sérol family who are keen to play on their proximity to the Rhône and to Condrieu and have planted a vineyard of viognier. 2009 is the first vintage and we will show it next month at the Loire and Beaujolais tastings in London and Manchester. Do come and taste.
May sees London’s wine trade fair, which in truth means different things to different people. At its best, it brings together the wine trade from across the world, and for some growers the fair kicks off in style on the Monday with The Wine Society.
The fair itself does not add up to much and this year, it seemed noticably smaller. The Beaujolais region is one of the sponsors and the Beaujolais stand, well positioned in the middle, was very busy with people falling over to taste 2009. There were smiles everywhere and with good reason. This is such a good vintage.
Less frequented but just as pleasurable was the Provence stand and a rare chance to taste the wines of 30-odd producers. For many years I’ve had a gut feeling that Provence would come good, and my word did these 2009s show it!
This must be a good time for weddings with one done and another to go and my advice is being sought. What to drink? The bubbly is easy to do and so really is the white, but what about the reds? This is not as easy as it sounds. A wedding red should give immediate pleasure for all, without being too distracting, and yet able to cope with anything the caterers have to offer.
The answer this year could not be more simple: Beaujolais. Make sure it is 2009 Beaujolais because 2009 is quite simply the best vintage in years, even decades. Growing conditions for the fickle gamay grape had been perfect. The wines are deeply coloured, very ripe, succulent, plump, deliciously fruity and perfectly rounded. And because it is Beaujolais, the wines can even be chilled down a little.
The current list has a selection of 2009’s to choose from and, following a recent trip to the country of Clochemerle, there will be many to come over the next year or two.