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.
Our team of buyers is forever scouring the world of wine in order to come up with the fantastic selections that members have come to discover, know and love. That the wines have passed the buyers’ palate test is recommendation enough, but third-party endorsement is always good to receive, adding objectivity to how The Society goes about things.
From members’ feedback, as well as tracking sales patterns of wines mentioned in the press, we know that there are several influential wine writers whose palates seem to be in harmony with those of members. Part of my role as The Society’s PR Manager is to ensure that those writers get to taste our wines and then ‘spread the love’, meaning more members get to see the wines, and more people become members on the back of this.
A regular click on our ‘Latest Press Reviews’ section of the website, renewed weekly, will keep you up-to-date with latest opinions on our wines, but here are a few recent highlights from the summer selections of just four of our favourite writers:
Superb, serious version of Austria’s signature grape – all white pepper and seltzer with hidden lime and grapefruit zest and a distinct stony undertow. Clean and bracing. One for picpoul drinkers to try. The Daily Telegraph, 4th June 2016
While the idea of drinking a deep-coloured rosé might feel tacky and wrong, like wearing a zigzag mohair jumper (I had one in the Eighties), I did find one I loved: Contesa Cerasuolo d’Abruzzo 2015, from southern Italy … A deep fuchsia-pink wine that is plump and ripe, has a squishy softness, and tastes of fat sweet-sour raspberries: an ample wine that’s good with other creamy-textured foods such as fresh mozzarella. The Daily Telegraph, 2nd July 2016
This gamay from Beaujolais master Jean-Paul Brun smells amazing – it tingles like iron on stones, then the thick smell of redcurrants and other red berries comes through. An extraordinarily good, light-bodied wine, savoury as well as summery. Three ticks on my two-tick scale. Drink slightly chilled. The Daily Telegraph, 4th June 2016
What could be more summery than a refreshing, floral, tongue-tingling, only 11.5 per cent alcohol glass of vinho verde? It is bristling with the alvarinho and trajadura grape’s sparky, spritzy, aromatic, verdant fruit. Fish such as mackerel love this lean but lively zingy white — and it’s perfect for a summer party. The Times, 25th June 2016
This delicious, zingy, deep salmon pink rosé has been one of the top Spanish pinks for years. So tuck into this bone-dry, yet juicy rosé with plenty of zesty, smoky, savoury, peppery punch as a fine barbecue bottle. The Times, 2nd July 2016
Dive into this gorgeous, gamey, dried cranberry, morello cherry and raspberry-charged red, which has that pleasing, classic, bitter Italian twang on the finish. It’s a great barbecue red. The Times, 2nd July 2016
I’ve given this a rare 20/20, a score gained by only two or three wines each year. It’s the best affordable dry Sherry in the world. Daily Mail, matthewjukes.com, 28th May 2016
Made from the same grapes responsible for the mighty Châteauneuf-du-Pape, this is a powerful rosé which acts as a light red when it comes to food. It is sheer heaven with barbecued chicken. Daily Mail, matthewjukes.com, 28th May 2016
Best hidden gem: A blend of merlot, cabernet sauvignon, malbec and cabernet franc, this is sublime – and a steal given it’s from one of the world’s foremost wineries, Craggy Range. Daily Mail, matthewjukes.com, 28th May 2016
An invigorating fizz from Pierre Gimonnet, a specialist in chardonnay (which here makes up 100% of the blend) and one of the best of the region’s grower-producers now making their own wines rather than selling grapes to the region’s big houses. The Observer, 19th June
The Germans have always been associated with [a] less fashionable version of riesling, one which involves leavening the sharpness with a dose of sweetness. This can make for the most beautifully delicate off-dry white wines, which with their markedly low alcohol, are just right for summer daytime drinking: The Wine Society has a good one in the shape of Von Kesselstatt Piesporter Goldtröpfchen Spätlese 2013, a racy, lengthy mouthful in taste as well as nomenclature. The Observer, 25th June 2016
Cinsault has become a surprise favourite of the new wave of South African producers. This is a brilliant place to start an exploration of its many charms: an exuberantly juicy cherry-berry red and one of the UK’s best-value wines. The Observer, 19th June
Following the result of last week’s EU referendum members may be asking what impact the decision may have on The Society.
As we buy the majority of our wine in foreign currencies, particularly euros, any fluctuations in exchange rates have a potential impact although as we operate a hedging policy we are protected from significant volatility in the short term. In the meantime we will monitor the situation and take any necessary action to mitigate further fluctuations.
It is too early to say what impact there might be on The Society, the market in which we operate or our members and we believe there is sufficient agility in the business to cope with changes that might result from this vote.
Any changes will take some time to come into effect; time which we will use to adapt our business and operating plans to cope with the new world order. Experience during the economic crash of 2007/2008 shows that we can act quite quickly when we need to.
Which came first: the wine and the food, or the food and the wine?
A question not quite as old as the chicken or the egg, but one that, in some households, may be even more hotly contested!
Do you cook up your signature dish then look under the stairs to see what’s in the wine rack? Or do you trawl through the latest List to see which bottle gets the palate tingling and salivating, and then find the perfect food to make it shine?
There certainly are strong arguments for both approaches.
When we asked members through a poll on our homepage whether the food or the bottle was the first ingredient for a meal, 59% said they chose the food first, 16% the wine and 25% opted for a noncommittal approach.
What I’d be really interested to know is what the pre-meal-prep thought processes are; and how far in advance does the planning start?
One thing most parties will agree on is that the better the dish, the better the wine to match.
Personally on a week night, whatever dish can be cobbled together from what’s in the fridge (a throwback to Ready Steady Cook?), gets thrown with whatever cork has already been pulled or looks like it will wash down pretty well. For a weekend meal, though, or eating with friends, my wine choice tends to come first.
The great thing about being passionate about either food or wine, it’s going to lead to a more adventurous outlook on the other. Imagine a set of scales with a glass of wine on one side and a plate on the other, and when the flavours balance and work off each other to enhance the sensory experience, it can be a magical moment!
There are of course a few principles to take into consideration, which can be really handy and found in the Tastebud Terrors section of our website.
To add to that, we have our popular Society’s Food & Wine Matcher tool, which can be used to get ideas to match to a dish; and each wine we sell is match on its product page to a number of dishes which will enhance it.
However, these are only guidelines, and half the fun is in the personal experience and the little surprises.
If you enjoy the paring, that’s the right one. I’ve witnessed people drinking youthful claret with delicate fish, and getting more enjoyment out of putting their two favourite things together than any sommelier or expert in the world could (probably) recommend to them!
If there are any weird and wonderful pairing experiences you’ve accidentally come across, please share them in the comments below so we can give them a go!