Our Cellar Showroom opening hours (10am-6pm Monday – Friday, 9am to 5pm Saturday, plus late opening to 7pm on Thursday) are not convenient to all, and we don’t open on a Sunday, except in the run-up to Christmas.
Thankfully though, we now have the solution for those members who wish to purchase a bottle of wine after 6pm or indeed before 10am, should the need arise.
The Society’s Exhibition Vending Machine™, accessible via tongue-recognition software **, will provide a vital ‘out of hours’ service to those members who live near Stevenage, but can’t be doing with grabbing an inferior bottle off an inferior shelf. It will certainly assist the author in no longer having to plan the occasional humiliating raid on his local supermarket whilst wearing a heavy disguise.
Members who do not live within travelling distance to Stevenage will be pleased to know that we will shortly be rolling out similar machines in major cities across the UK. Keep your eyes peeled and your tongues ready…
** The Society will shortly be adding a new layer of biometric security for members logging onto its website, which has been extended to this machine. Members will soon be asked for the tongue-prints using new software that will scan tongues from a user’s own smartphone. A simple lick will suffice for identifying that a user is indeed who they claim to be and that they are in need of more wine.
Craft beer is among the most adaptive, interesting and fast-moving sectors of the drinks industry today, with a new brewery popping up in the UK every two days at the start of 2016 and with sales continuing to grow year on year. The choice is so vast for beer drinkers now that there’s almost no need to go to the major international breweries for your beer.
The question still remains, though: what exactly is craft beer?
There is no real, hard and fast definition of craft beer, but much like the movement itself, this means things are able to constantly evolve and adapt. This is a large part of what makes it all so exciting.
So in order to make it clear, we have to be vague!
Since there are no rules, here is my personal view on how to explain it.
• True craft beer is independent. Craft breweries are in complete control over the way they run their company and what they brew. They don’t answer to a bigger company and are therefore freer to experiment.
• If it says ‘craft’ on the label, it’s probably not craft. Now this is by no means definite, BUT be wary of any beer which is a little too eager to push the fact it’s craft, because if it relies too heavily on this, it probably isn’t! This is a common trick used by some of the world’s biggest beer companies in order to elbow their way into this quickly growing yet small industry, in order to cash in on its success.
• Production is small. In comparison to the Carlsbergs and Heinekens of this world, craft beers are nothing more than a drop in the ocean. This is why, in a market saturated by big lager brands, it can be harder to find good craft beers in the shops. Craft beer is the little man, who walks alone.
• Commerciality isn’t a priority. Short best-before dates, ridiculous packaging, silly prices – these aren’t the things that concern a true craft producer. All they care about is making the most delicious beer that they can. If they have a vision for a new beer but it may cost the punter £8 for a can due to the organic, locally sourced, hand-picked ingredients and the best-before date is only 3 months long and it’s packaged in a brown paper bag, they will still go for it, because it may be the most delicious thing anyone has ever brewed!
• Personality! Craft has now become an expression of the personality of the brewer, not simply a generic and consistent product. It is an art form and a journey of discovery. It is about passion, quality and experimentation, and how the brewer approaches that will come across in a good craft beer.
• While you absolutely can knock it back if you want, there’s more to it than that! The main thing is that nobody tells you how you should drink craft: throw away your ‘chalice’ and put the ice back in the freezer. Should you wish, you can enjoy it in the same way as a good glass of wine; it has the complexity to be thought about and picked apart however you can just enjoy a nice cold beer if you wish. Your tastebuds will thank you either way.
• An accessible tastebud expander: it will alter the way you see beer by opening eyes to the fact that there is so much out there. The first time you sit down to enjoy an 11% smoked stout, you may be somewhat taken aback; but after that, you won’t see beer in the same way.
These are beers to sup and savour, to match with food, to talk about, or simply to sit and enjoy.
There are no rules, no fuss and no limits…
…except for the times there are some rules, loads of fuss and some sorts of limits. Understood?!
The most important thing is that you enjoy it.
Gin’s shiny new image may have been cultivated by luxuriously bearded Hoxton dwellers with slightly-too-short trousers, but British gin has a history that goes much deeper than stylish blends and chrome-embellished bars!
From much-debated beginnings (was it a Dutch medicine, invented to treat stomach pains, or does its invention go way back to the medieval times? No one can be exactly sure), gin is a spirit that has become as synonymous with Britain as tea, fish and chips and the Chuckle Brothers.
As we celebrate the launch of The Society’s Gin Club with two delicious London gins, we’ll be exploring the seedy, decadent and more practical side of Britain’s relationship with Mother Gin.
Mother’s Ruin and the Victorian Gin Crisis
While it’s almost unthinkable in today’s age of public health warnings, 10-a-day fruit and veg recommendations and chia seed puddings, gin consumption was readily encouraged by the UK government in the mid-18th century. The burgeoning industry was good for trade relationships within Britain’s colonies (imports of French wine and spirits had been banned due to various European conflicts) and supported British grain prices by allowing the distillation of grain that was too poor to use in beer production.
However, the availability of homemade gins known as ‘Old Tom’ (often mixed with cheap filler ingredients such as sulphuric acid and turpentine) and the lack of licensing led to a crisis in the capital. The popularity of the spirit as a ‘pauper’s drink’, and the use of it to make up wages in some areas, led to widespread cases of civil disobedience.
Hogarth’s depiction of the gin crisis, ‘Gin Lane’, is etched in the nation’s collective memory as a picture of the spirit’s insalubrious heyday. Glassy-eyed drunks fight with dogs for bones to gnaw on, a mother covered in sores carelessly drops her squalling infant down a stairwell and rambunctious mobs brawl drunkenly in the street (if you’re having trouble picturing it, imagine the scene outside any UK high street kebab shop on a Friday night, but with less fabulous teeth).
Eventually, new laws which restricted the bootleg production and sale of the liquor put an end to the worst of the crisis, but not before the spirit had left an indelible mark on British history. You can still see evidence of this today in London’s many gin palaces, often now converted into gastropubs and bars; with their huge mirrored walls and ornate fittings, they are a beautiful evocation of London’s historic love affair with gin.
How do you solve a problem like malaria?
‘The gin and tonic has saved more Englishmen’s lives and minds than all the doctors in the Empire’ Winston Churchill.
While we certainly don’t look back on the Empire with a rosy perspective, it is an (un)sobering truth that gin and tonic played a vital role in establishing British rule in India. In the early days of the Empire parasitic diseases such as malaria had threatened to wipe out British troops, killing soldiers as well as government officials with deadly efficiency.
If Britain was to retain its grip on rule in India – and therefore the Empire itself, so important was India to the crown’s colonial ambition – malaria had to be stopped.
The answer? Quinine, an apparently miraculous cure originally procured from the bark of the cinchona tree, native to South America. Not only could this magic ingredient stop and prevent the spread of parasitic diseases, it also tasted pretty great when mixed with soda, sugar and – you guessed it – gin. An icon was born.
However, the G&T couldn’t save the Empire, and British Imperialism began to crash and burn in the latter part of the 19th century. For the G&T itself it was another story; the popularity of the drink began to spread beyond the confines of the army into the bars and pubs of Britain, and onto the high road of middle-class respectability.
Cocktail culture boomed. James Bond demanded gin as well as vodka in his famous ‘Vesper’ martini. Suddenly, gin was even endorsed by the British aristocracy (including the Queen Mother herself) adding a much-needed lacquer of glamour and gloss to the notion of fixing yourself a G&T.
But gin’s mid-century heyday came to an abrupt end. The late 70s and 80s saw it ousted by vodka on cocktail lists and in mixers, and as wine became more readily available, gin was left languishing at the back of the nation’s drinks cabinets.
Happily, the noughties has seen an incredible renaissance in this most resilient of tipples. Thanks to the influence of Don Draper and his penchant for a gin martini, as well as the resurgence of ‘craft culture’, focusing on traditional British recipes and local artisan products, the number of UK distilleries doubling over the last six years, and nearly 50 opening last year alone.
Here at The Society, we’re celebrating gin’s comeback with the launch of our Gin Club, so keep an eye out for our programme of gin and spirit-related content over the next few weeks.
We’ll be chatting to craft distilleries, musing on what makes the ultimate gin cocktail and more.
Try two of our new craft gins, fresh from London’s most exciting new distilleries.
Made at the site of a renovated former-glue factory in London’s East End (as charmingly illustrated by the ‘dead horse’ label!), Alex Wolpert – who founded the company in 2013 – makes this gin to a classic London Dry recipe. With a vibrant juniper bouquet and pink-grapefruit flavours developing on the palate, this is a very appealing and fresh-tasting gin. Great for a simple, but decadent, G&T. (70cl, 40%)
Jensen’s Bermondsey Gin
London’s dockland has an illustrous gin distilling history, coupled with a less-than-illustrous reputation as a former slum district fuelled by the 18th century gin craze. However, Chris Jensen is putting the area back where it belongs by recreating a traditional London gin at his distillery in the heart of Bermondsey. Juniper, citrus and intense coriander notes make this craft gin wonderful for a classic Martini. (70cl, 43%)
Today is World Book Day, and it was great seeing so many young Harrys, Hermiones, Matildas, Mad Hatters, Megs and Mogs on their way to celebrate at school this morning.
That said, why should they have all the fun? As ‘wine is bottled poetry’ (Robert Louis Stevenson), we turned to our most bookish colleagues to ask for a few of their favourite literary libations.
The results are below for you to curl up with at your leisure. But, like wine, literature is an endless source of new discoveries…
…so if you’ve got a favourite passage or poem, please leave us a comment and let us know!
Accept what life offers you and try to drink from every cup. All wines should be tasted; some should only be sipped, but with others, drink the whole bottle.
Paulo Coelho, Brida
As I ate the oysters with their strong taste of the sea and their faint metallic taste that the cold white wine washed away, leaving only the sea taste and the succulent texture, and as I drank their cold liquid from each shell and washed it down with the crisp taste of the wine, I lost the empty feeling and began to be happy and to make plans.
Ernest Hemingway, A Moveable Feast
Wine initiates us into the volcanic mysteries of the soil, and its hidden mineral riches; a cup of Samos drunk at noon in the heat of the sun or, on the contrary, absorbed of a winter evening when fatigue makes the warm current be felt at once in the hollow of the diaphragm and the sure and burning dispersion spreads along our arteries, such a drink provides a sensation which is almost sacred, and is sometimes too strong for the human head. No feeling so pure comes from the vintage-numbered cellars of Rome; the pedantry of great connoisseurs of wine wearies me.
Marguerite Yourcenar, Memoirs of Hadrian
The fragrant odour of the wine, O how much more dainty, pleasant, laughing (Riant, priant, friant.), celestial and delicious it is, than that smell of oil! And I will glory as much when it is said of me, that I have spent more on wine than oil, as did Demosthenes, when it was told him, that his expense on oil was greater than on wine.
François Rabelais, Gargantua & Pantagruel
I rejoiced in the Burgundy. It seemed a reminder that the world was an older and better place than Rex knew, that mankind in its long passion had learned another wisdom than his.
Evelyn Waugh, Brideshead Revisited
‘A Drinking Song’
Wine comes in at the mouth
And love comes in at the eye;
That’s all we shall know for truth
Before we grow old and die.
I lift the glass to my mouth,
I look at you, and I sigh.
…There’s wisdom in wine, goddam it!’ I yelled. ‘Have a shot!’
Jack Kerouac, The Dharma Bums
For the last Staff Choice of 2016 we wanted to offer members something a little different.
We asked everyone who works at The Society to pick their favourite under-£10 wines, with the most popular to feature in a special Staff Favourites Mixed Case.
The e-mails began flooding in. 90 different wines were suggested in total. ‘How can you choose between so many children?’ was one response that summed up the difficulty especially well.
These 12 wines got the most votes – spanning Italy, Austria, France, Portugal, Chile, Argentina, the USA and Spain – and you can buy them for the equivalent of less than £8 a bottle. We commend them to you highly!
The Staff Favourites Case
A 12-bottle case containing a bottle each of two sparkling, five white and five red wines, voted for by Society staff:
• South of France: Duo Des Mers, Sauvignon-Viognier Vin de France 2015 (£6.25)
• Portugal: Adega de Pegões Colheita Seleccionada, Península de Setúbal 2015 (£6.95)
• Chile: Undurraga Cauquenes Estate Maule Viognier-Roussanne-Marsanne 2015 (£7.50)
• Austria: The Society’s Grüner Veltliner 2015 (£7.95)
• Italy: The Society’s Falanghina 2015 (£8.25)
• Rhône: Ventoux Les Traverses, Paul Jaboulet Aîné 2014 (£7.50)
• Spain: Navajas Crianza Rioja 2012 (£7.75)
• USA: Ravenswood Lodi Old-Vine Zinfandel 2014 (£8.95)
• Argentina: Weinert Carrascal Mendoza 2010 (£9.50)
• Italy: Valpolicella Superiore Ripasso, Torre del Falasco 2014 (£9.95)
Case of 12 bottles
A little while ago, in response to members’ feedback, we added a star ratings option to our website.
There are many ways that people rate wines: 100 points, 20 points, 3 glasses, a thumbs up or down… each system has its pros and cons, and whilst the pleasure of a bottle of wine is intrinsically difficult to express in figures, a rating can be a great way of sharing your opinion with others.
With this in mind, we thought we’d pick just a few recent five-star ratings from Society members: in each instance the member chose to leave a written review too, giving some further context to why they felt it was deserving of a full five out of five…
Rate or review any wine on our website by clicking on the ‘Reviews’ tab on the product’s page and then on ‘Leave a review’
Biferno Rosso Riserva Palladino 2011
£7.50 – new stock coming in on 21st November
‘Quite possibly one of my favourite wines. Period. A perfect Italian balance of grapes that typically aren’t blended like this in many other places. Perfect with any type of pasta, of which my preferred is penne with broccoli, anchovies and a kick of chilli (the aglianico can really handle spice, to point of this being one of the best matches I have found for meaty Indian food – with good thick curry the acid balance really shows its stripes). Fine drinkability also mean that with just 20 minutes of airing, this is a perfect party wine too. A smooth palate and strange grapes will have your guests guessing where it’s from: attempts have ranged from Rhone to Robertson. All in all a fantastic bottle of crushed grapes.’ – Mr Christopher Cannell
‘More people need to know about this grape. It was new to me but now a family favourite. Difficult to compare with anything else as it has a distinctive flavour with a hint of the mustiness of southern Europe. Congratulations to the Wine Society for making this special bottling.’ – Professor Robert Moon
‘I am not a wine buff so cannot tell you about depth of body or complexity of the flavours, damson notes etc. What I can say is that this is a very good Rioja that did not disappoint and I would consider it good value for money. One to add to my future orders’ – Mr Neville Clifford
‘The best Kiwi Sauvignon Blanc I’ve had in a long time. I know it sounds absurd but it appears to blend the traditional feel of a Sancerre with the fruity charms of the best of New Zealand. Give it half an hour in a decanter and it loses its overly taut structure and blossoms into a cracking wine.’ – Mr James Brown
At The Society, we are putting our wines in front of the press, including earlier this week at London’s One Great George Street, just off Parliament Square. This preview of wines in our forthcoming Christmas List (out on 30th September), as well as the next Fine Wine List (8th November) and offers later in the autumn, was well attended by many of the nation’s wine writers, including Jancis Robinson MW, Tim Atkin MW, Victoria Moore, Fiona Beckett, Jane MacQuitty, Sarah Jane Evans MW, Malcolm Gluck, Christelle Guibert and others.
Ten days before the event, the Buying Team and I got together to taste through over 120 wines that had been proposed for the tasting and whittle them down to the final 67. (It may sound a lot, but writers frequently complain about having 150+ wines to go through at some competitor tastings.) We always seek feedback from the writers after our tastings, and among the many positive comments regularly received is the fact that our selection is just the right size – big enough to make a detour, but not so big that they have to decide what to miss out.
You will be able to see the reviews of the wines in various publications over the coming weeks and months, and can check them out as they are periodically uploaded to our Society in the press page.
In the meantime, first impressions can be spot on, and below are just a few of the comments made during and just after the tasting.
— christos ioannou (@christoswineman) September 20, 2016
— Roger Jones (@littlebedwyn) September 20, 2016
Once the List is out, you too can post your own reviews, as well as post your star-ratings against the wines you have bought. Just click on any wine you’ve tried, visit the ‘Reviews tab’ and click ‘Leave a Review’ (Please note: you will need to be logged in). Then rate the wine in question from 1–5 stars. We look forward to hearing from you.
While one part of my job is to get out and about among the great and the good of the wine trade and press (and do a little bit of tasting on the way!), another is monitoring the press and social media for what is being said about The Society and our wines.
‘The Society in the Press’ section of our website is updated at least weekly, and is a great place to go to discover the word on the street about what’s currently hot in our range.
Putting together a summertime Top Ten of wines mentioned in the press is hard, because we have so many mentions as a result of our quarterly press tastings and periodical samplings to the journalists, so perhaps I’ve erred on the side of some of my personal favourites. You could therefore view this as ten Staff Choices in a row for summer, backed up by some of the very best palates in the land.
The Society’s Exhibition English Sparkling Wine 2013: “Sourced from Ridgeview, one of England’s best-known and most reliable producers of bottle-fermented sparkling wine, this fine vintage blend of mainly chardonnay with dollops of pinot noir and pinot meunier shows fresh aromatic complexity and the vivacious apple and hedgerow fruit mousse whose tangy, crisp and refreshing dry bite is one of the hallmarks of good English fizz.” The Wine Gang, 2nd August 2016
Duo Des Mers, Sauvignon-Viognier Vin de France 2015: “‘Must-try’ white – made by LGI, a company set up by Alain Grignon in 1999 to source wines made by co-ops between Roussillon and Gascogne. Its goal is to deliver inexpensive wines for export and this must be the best-value wine in the UK. The sauvignon blanc is sourced from Gascony, the viognier from Languedoc. Refreshing gooseberry, citrus and apricot fruit with great texture. The perfect summer party wine.” Christelle Guibert, Decanter, September 2016
Altano, Douro Branco 2015: “I can’t imagine there are too many other wines at this price that can boast the same quality. This is the only white made by the Symington Family Estate … High altitude helps reveal the freshness in the grapes here and that’s very evident in this wine. Lemon zesty and aromatic, there is also plenty of ripeness in the palate with a slight hint of an almond nuttiness.” Andy Cronshaw, Manchester Evening News, 13th August 2016
Matetic Corralillo San Antonio Gewürztraminer 2015: “Alsatian gewurz tends to be quite rich and oily, but in coastal Chile it’s lighter, fresher and dry. With ginger, pear and peach, zippy acidity and oodles of perfume, it’s a winner with spicy food.” Tim Atkin MW, Jamie Magazine, 1st August 2016
Jurançon Sec ‘Chant des Vignes’, Domaine Cauhapé 2014: Jurançon is known predominantly for its sweet whites, but the local grapes (gros and petit manseng) can also produce dry whites with a citrusy edginess … Fresh and aromatic, as soon as you’ve poured a glass the fruit races off the starting line and its zingy with citrus, grapefruit, spice and a hint of white pepper on the finish. Sam Wylie-Harris, The Press Association, 23rd July 2016
Hatzidakis Santorini 2015: A lemon nestling in a bed of oregano! Dazzlingly the perfect pairing for a Greek salad. Olly Smith, Event Magazine (Mail on Sunday), 24th July 2016
Scala Dei Pla des Àngels Garnacha Rosado 2015: This incredible wine … comes from a legendary Spanish estate famed for making massive reds. The delicate, haunting, rose petal perfume of this rosé is remarkable and this sensual aroma is backed up with a firm, long, masterful palate. It’s worth every penny! Matthew Jukes, matthewjukes.com & Daily Mail, 13th August 2016
Cirò Rosso Gaglioppo, Santa Venere 2014: You don’t often come across wines whose price seems genuinely incredibly low but this is one of them … Another stonkingly good value offering from this small denomination on the sole of Italy … distinctive rose-scented nose as well as massively friendly, fruity palate … Masses of character and charm. Very good value. Jancis Robinson MW, jancisrobinson.com, 12th August 2016
The Society’s Exhibition Mendoza Malbec 2014: Penetrating, cool black fruit, black pepper and bitter chocolate, with softening tannins. Concentrated, sensitively oaked and even better in a couple of years. Joanna Simon, joannasimon.com, 27th July 2016
Fitou, Domaine Jones 2013: Katie Jones has had to deal with quite a bit in her wine-making career, but this doesn’t stop her making an impeccable drop … A classic blend of carignan, grenache and syrah, resulting in an inky dark colour in the glass. The spicy bouquet of the darkest fruits has touches of blackberries and tarter blackcurrants. In the mouth the fruit is held in line with the structured tannins and a smidge of spicy wood tones. The warming black pepper heat continues through to the long earthy finish. An opulent style of Fitou from Katie’s vineyard in the village of Tuchan. Neil Cammies, Western Mail, 6th August 2016
Cheers! Here’s to the rest of summer and – who knows – perhaps an Indian one too.
Last month, as well as being named overall Wine Merchant of the Year by the International Wine Challenge, we had the pleasure of receiving the IWC’s Online Retailer of the Year award.
The judges said:
‘The Wine Society is building for future growth and has the building blocks to start. It covers everything from en primeur to some of the best wines available for under £10. Its great personalisation means that it targets its customers with very effective tailored offers. Its website works brilliantly, whether being accessed using a PC, a tablet or a smartphone.’
It therefore felt like a good time to let people know a little about the recent developments to The Society’s digital offering, as well as what’s in the pipeline for the coming year.
As a result of improvements made in the past year or so, members can now
• Follow the buyers in Travels in Wine, a new area of our site devoted to sharing the latest insights from our intrepid team’s trips around the wine world unearthing gems for Society members.
• Use our site across a range of different devices after the launch of responsive design.
• View more product information than ever before, including much more about individual wines’ regions and vintages, and the ability to let fellow members, and us, know what you think of wines you’ve tried with star ratings and recommendations.
• Use personal wine notes to jot your thoughts about wines purchased from us for your own reference.
• Browse the first of our interactive digital maps, namely Italy…
• …and have a bit of fun in the form of The Society’s Poll on our homepage and improved social media sharing options.
We hope you enjoy using these features! Whilst we’re delighted to have been recognised by the IWC, the success of these projects depends entirely on the quality of members’ experience, and we welcome your feedback.
However, creating a successful, sustainable and fun digital offering is about looking forwards, not backwards!
Over the next year, we have a lot more planned, including:
• A homepage redesign to make the site easier to navigate.
• Search and filtering improvements to help users find what they’re looking for quickly and simply.
• More interactive maps
• A new community area of the site for members to share the love of wine and much more.
Watch this space…
For wine merchants to receive just one of the coveted IWC Merchant Awards is a high point, and having been shortlisted for five awards, a team of seven staff arrived at London’s Hilton on Park Lane Hotel for the 2016 Awards with much anticipation.
We were shortlisted for four Specialist Merchant awards – Italy and Spain, where the competition is always tough, and Regional France (Alsace, Beaujolais, SW France, Provence, Corsica, etc.) and South America where we are generally the tough competition for others. Things panned out as we had thought, with the latter pair bearing fruit for The Society.
Next up was the Online Retailer of the Year award – one that we have often won in the past under its previous guises of Mail-Order Merchant and Direct Merchant. We were delighted to regain this award, the judges recognising that The Society “covers everything from en primeur to some of the best wines available for under £10” and that the “website works brilliantly whether being accessed using a PC, a tablet or a smartphone”.
And so to the last award – the highly sought-after IWC Merchant of the Year Award. Everyone who has won one of the 41 different Merchant awards is eligible for ‘the big one’, and so we were both surprised and delighted when IWC Co-Chair Charles Metcalfe uttered the immortal words: “And the winner is … The Wine Society!”
So 2016 goes down in Society history along with 2005, 2011 and 2013 as the years we have received the IWC’s ultimate accolade. This wine trade laureate is something in which all can share, whether staff, members or suppliers, all of whom have contributed to, and continue to contribute to The Society’s success. So whoever you are and wherever you may be, thank you for your support and for the part you have played in making The Society what it is today.