The Society’s Buyers

Wed 06 Sep 2017

The Society’s List: A Look Back To 1967

Posted by: | Comments (1)

The Wine Society’s Lists of 50 years ago reflect a wine world narrower than it is today.

Bordeaux and Burgundy totally dominated. Port and sherry and sherry look-alikes from Montilla, South Africa and Australia were important and most members would have stocked them. Moselle and Hock were given a good airing though there were no German dry wines. The Italian (five wines) and Spanish (six wines) selections were rudimentary. There were four Portuguese table wines including the hugely popular, now forgotten, Periquita. East Europe was represented by Tokay and ‘Yugoslavia’. ‘Renski Rizling and Rumeni Muscat bottles in Maribor have exceptionally good character.’

The Australian entry was minimalist: malbec and ‘hock style’ Barossa riesling. North America did not feature and South America had only Chilean cabernet, which was bought from the Nitrate Corporation, shipped in bulk and usually delayed in Liverpool docks where it softened in to a very palatable red.

A slip of paper advertising hogsheads at £2.50 each is a clue to one big difference from today. Nearly all the Burgundies and many of the clarets were shipped in cask and bottled in Stevenage. On my first visit to the Society’s cellars a few years later I was amazed to see the whole of one wall filled with racks with dozens of barrels filled with The Society’s White Burgundy, then and now one of the most popular wines on the List.

The bottling hall at Stevenage

The Society was skilled at bottling. Vintage Port pipes were rolled round the cellar to rouse the sediment before bottling. Our bottlings of wines like Fonseca 63 and 66 were legendary and better, in my experience, than those bottled at source. Good use was made of sherry casks, which were sent up to Scotland when empty to house our whisky fillings for The Society’s Highland Blue Whisky. Dry amontillado produces the finest results.

The 1967 range of claret looks mouthwatering with twenty-four 1961 clarets (Lynch Bages 22/6 a bottle, Montrose 25/9) and forty-three 1959s (Lafite 54/-, Palmer 23/-). Christopher Tatham, the gifted wine buyer, chose wonderful red and white Burgundies which stood the test of time for decades. His wine-buying travels were mostly in France. He had begun to develop the Loire list by 1967 but he had not yet explored the potential of the south of France, as Marcel Orford-Williams does successfully today.

The economic climate was not easy. The year ended 31st January 1968 saw a very small surplus after two years of losses following The Society’s move out of London. The previous year there had been a 10% increase in duties, a credit squeeze and a price freeze and Resale Price Maintenance had been abolished. Previously The Society was not bound by this and had been able to sell its whisky and gin at prices below the rest of the market. The Society, however, where reputation for sourcing genuine and authentic wines was well known probably benefitted from the wine trade scandal that had revealed that many wines offered for sale elsewhere were mislabelled and not what they proclaimed to be. In fact as The Society became settled in its new cellars, 1967 was probably a turning point in its history when it took on its new lease of life.

Early days in Stevenage

An apology in the List reminds us never to be complacent:

‘A large consignment of Australian Barossa Flor Fino Sherry was caught in the Suez Canal during the Middle East War and is still on the Bitter Lake. However, fresh consignments were dispatched around the Cape and no doubt will be improved by the extra and at one time traditional sea voyage’.

Sebastian Payne MW
Society Buyer

Take a look through an archive of Society List covers from 1880 to the present day.

Comments (1)

It is with great sadness that we learned of the death of Greek winemaker Haridimos Hatzidakis this weekend. Sebastian Payne MW, buyer for Greek wines, had met Haridimos a number of times and pays tribute below.

Haridimos Hatzidakis, who sadly took his own life on 11th August, was one of the most original, engaging and inspirational winemakers I have had the good fortune to know. Each time we met it seemed he had embarked on a new challenge.

Carving his new cellar from tufa out of a Santorini hillside covered in vines, was one of his more ambitious schemes. Exploring all the possibilities of the island’s marvellous native grapes was his passion.

Originally from Crete, he became, because of his talent, winemaker for the major wine producer Boutari, but from 1996 he set up on his own on the island of Santorini, working originally from a tiny cramped cave winery just outside Pyrgos, the highest village in the island.

He had only a few hectares of his own but was able to lease four hectares of land with some amazing century-old vines from the monks of Patmos and also from vineyards owned by a local nunnery of the prophet Elijah.

All his vines were cultivated sustainably, without pesticides, herbicides or irrigation, the humidity from sea breezes providing just enough moisture for the vines trained close to the ground in unique bird’s nest shape.

He never made his life easy, but the popularity of his main estate white assyrtiko, and the reputation he earned for his old-vine Mylos were truly deserved.

Over the last decade he had been achieving increasingly exciting results from mavrotragano, the native red grape, which had almost become extinct till he championed it. His new cellar was home to an exotic range of wines he worked on such as bullseye (voudomato), aidani, and the late-harvested Nykteri and Vin Santo.

All his wines were memorable and exciting to taste and will ensure he will not be forgotten. I shall particularly remember the twinkle in his eye when he stood in his beloved vineyards talking about wine, grapes and the soil. He was at his happiest connecting with the earth.

Our condolences to Haridimos’ family.

Sebastian Payne MW
Society Buyer

Comments (0)
Fri 23 Jun 2017

Bordeaux 2016: Roll Out The Barrel

Posted by: | Comments (0)

I have been visiting Bordeaux vineyards every year since the early 1980s. Though Tim Sykes, our current Bordeaux buyer, now does all the work, going out there several times a year, I was delighted to join him for the crowded but fascinating week in early April, when all the châteaux first show the new vintage together in organised tastings for the world to judge.

Bordeaux vineyards

We visit all the top châteaux to taste on the spot, and many others too, and double check or triple check samples with merchants at well-organised general tastings.

Because they receive so many visitors, châteaux prepare fresh samples of their final blend so people can taste from sample bottles. I rather miss the opportunity of tasting direct from barrel with maîtres de chai, which was possible when I made several more leisurely visits in the past. So I was delighted to be able to do just that on a couple of occasions during a packed week this year.

Bordeaux

At Château Canon in Saint-Emilion, Nicolas Audebert has recently taken over from John Kolasa, who did such a marvellous job rebuilding the quality of both Canon and Rauzan-Ségla for owners the Wertheimer family, of Chanel fame. Nicolas let us taste Canon 2016 from several barrels (subtle differences because of different barrel makers), before we tasted the final assemblage. The wine looks most promising.

Nicolas Audebert

Tasting with Nicolas Audebert

Next day Tim and I missed a turn (my fault) on the way to Tertre Roteboeuf and stopped to ask a couple of men chatting in a nearby vineyard for directions. One of them turned out to be Nicolas. Another promising sign for the future of Canon. This man does not just sit in an office and tell others what to do. He walks the walk.

Sebastian Payne MW
Society Buyer

Bordeaux has produced an abundance of superb wines in 2016. Our main en primeur offer is available now, including reds, dry whites and sweet whites.

Wed 01 Feb 2017

New Craft Beers For 2017

Posted by: | Comments (166)

Being given the opportunity to take over beer-buying duties for The Society was something that I grabbed with both hands.

In my opinion, the world of beer is every bit as varied as the world of wine, with just as many stories to tell and discoveries to be made. I hope to build a range here that reflects this. Craft beer has skyrocketed over the last few years, providing an exciting platform for so many brilliant small breweries to make their statement to the world.

And as The Wine Society is made up of people who take an interest in what they drink and who care about quality and provenance, it makes perfect sense to shine a light on these delicious artisanal brews.

Jaega Wise, head brewer at Wild Card brewery in Walthamstow

Jaega Wise, head brewer at Wild Card Brewery in Walthamstow

I’ve started expanding our range to make your Society a place to discover exceptional beers as well as wines, and would like to invite our members to join me on a trip of discovery.

Starting this year, we’ll be stocking some of the most interesting, daring and delicious beers from some of the best breweries in the UK and beyond.

Also new for 2017 is the option of being able to purchase bottles of beer individually, rather than just via a mixed case, so you can stock up on more of what you like best.

A truly good beer is something which you can enjoy in a similar way to a glass of wine. It should have layers of flavour, depth and complexity. And the great news is that exploring the world of beer won’t cost the earth. Since beer may cost £2 or £3 a pop (although some are much more and some less), you have the opportunity to taste a number of different styles for a much smaller outlay than it would cost you to sample an equivalent number of wines. You can really leave your comfort zone and try things you never would have thought you would like. What’s the worst that can happen? A £2.75 miss, against the possibility of discovering a thrilling new favourite with every last drop cherished!

Gipsy Hill Brewing Company: (left to right) founders Charlie and Sam, and head brewer Simon

Gipsy Hill Brewing Company: (left to right) founders Charlie and Sam, and head brewer Simon

There are no rules with craft beer, no constraints to what people might try to make. It truly is fascinating and exciting to follow. Like buying the wines of Burgundy, sometimes the best way to explore is to find a producer whose beers you like and keep an eye on them for new releases (but unlike Burgundy, if you decide to branch out, then the financial risk is minimal!).

I’m also fascinated to hear about some of your favourite beers too!

Is there is a brewery you’re a particular fan of? A drop which has stuck with you forever? Do leave a comment and let us know.

2017 is sure to be a crafty vintage at The Wine Society…

Freddy Bulmer
Society Buyer

Browse the latest craft beer arrivals here.

Comments (166)

My Corsican trip is always a bit of an adventure and giving it time is always a bit tricky. It comes at a busy time for any buyer of northern hemisphere wines.

How soon can a buyer taste a new vintage? Of course there is no real answer. After all during the vintage, there is a certain satisfaction from tasting grape juice, or even the grapes themselves. Young wine on the other hand goes through stages when it doesn’t taste that well. That’s often when it’s just been racked or moved around, or indeed when it is still full of solid matter. Early smells and tastes can be misleading; young wines need time to settle a little and become more like the finished article.

So I asked my good friend Etienne: how about early December? Fine came the answer and so it was.

Corsican trip Dec16

I haven’t fully explored all the travel options yet though I’ve tried a few. There are direct flights in the summer but out of season one has to change, at least once. For the time being my favourite option is to start from Saint Pancras which is conveniently close to home. And yes, it allows me to fantasise about some of the great trains of the past: the Mistral and Blue Train.

There’s an early train to Paris and a quick jaunt on the metro and a fast train to Marseille. The journey itself was relatively uneventful. No murders or vanishing ladies. Vanishing power maybe, as the train came to a halt outside Ashford and remained there for half an hour.

I like Marseille station (I quite like Marseille as well). It’s a station that looks different, definitely imbued with a feel of the orient. There are trees within the station, making it look like a rather large orangery. There’s a friendly intimacy about it and people seem remarkably unrushed. There’s a good place for a coffee and a croissant where people have time to talk.

The two women behind the counter may be busy, drawing one coffee after the other but still have time to exchange smiles and small talk with customers. There’s a tramp seated not far away with his coffee and a sandwich. A heavily armed Gendarme greets a passenger with a kiss. This is all such a contrast with Paris which, by comparison seems cold, fearful and furtive.

Marseille airport is like any other airport and in common with all airports, there are building works and road works; yet it too seems a little laid back. People have time for each other. Even at the security gates, there is an air of friendliness. Not that any of this affected security, which was as tight as anywhere.

Corsica by air

Corsica has four airports which is good going for an island with a population of around 350,000.
But Corsica is more than just an island. It is a sort of mini continent with lots of quite different bits and these are separated by mountains making communication on the island slow and difficult.

Politics play a big part here too. City mayors are powerful beasts whose reach has to extend to Paris. Corsica punches well above its weight in most matters. And so there are four airports.

I still have only explored a tiny bit of the island. There is vineyard everywhere, but it is probably true that some of the top and most forward thinking growers are in the north. And so that stretch that separates the towns of Calvi and Bastia, has become Wine Society territory!

Calvi is where Lord Nelson lost an eye in 1794. It amuses people much that Corsica might have ended up a British possession. Indeed for a couple of years George III was king of an Anglo-Corsican kingdom.

Back to wine!

Clos Culombu is not far from Calvi airport, barely 15 minutes’ drive away. It was dark when I got there. The samples of rosé from the new vintage were all lined up on the counter.

Somewhere in all these different hues is the 2016 blend!

Somewhere in all these different hues is the 2016 blend!

Etienne Suzzoni was there, all six-and-a-half feet of him (or more!), and his son Paul-Antoine who as it turned was largely responsible for making the 2016 vintage. Father Etienne is these preoccupied with other ventures; he is after all Mayor of his local town, Lumio.

2016 is a good vintage here. It was explained that it was hot and dry but that crucially that it had rained just enough so that drought was never really a problem. We tasted from a round 20 different tanks, all representing specific parts of the vineyard and different grape varieties, and different ages of vine too. Some of the samples were already blends with two varieties present. For instance, the first tank was of sciaccarrellu with a little syrah, and very good it was too.

Before continuing maybe a few words are needed about varieties. Corsica has a rich and varied ampelography taking in influences from France, Genoa, Tuscany and even Catalonia. Many varieties were lost during the phylloxera epidemic though some have since been rediscovered, growing wild.

In the north, niellucciu is the main red grape variety and is in fact identical to the Tuscan sangiovese. It produces full-flavoured, full-bodied and often tannic wines. Sciaccarellu is a native Corsican variety, grown nowhere else. It tends to make wines that are fragrant, fruity with plenty of grip and is the majority variety further south such as in Ajaccio. Local wisdom says that it is the choice variety for making rosé. Grenache is also indigenous and probably came from Aragon or Sardinia. Syrah and cinsault are more recent imports. Last year, the blend for our Corsican Rosé was mostly niellucciu with a little sciaccarellu and grenache.

Silence tends to reign during these tastings, considerable levels of concentration being required. Each sample is tasted, one after the other. Each could have something to say in a blend. One sample might have low pH which could be a good thing while another might have high pH, less desirable. Likewise excessive alcohol might not be a great idea. And so I write down a comment or two beside each wine, by the time the last wine has been tasted I have an idea which samples to retain for the blend.

And then starts the fun with test tubes and calculators at the ready. The sciaccarellu wines are all very good and yet, on its own, something is missing.

There are several false leads until finally a blend sticks. Jean Dépagneux, for many years in charge of a business in Beaujolais and Mâcon, always used to tell me that three elements in a blend are better than two.

And then I found it. There was a tank of pure cinsault which didn’t seem much and was easily overlooked. Just 10% was enough to bring the niellucciu and sciaccarellu together. And so the 2016 vintage was born.

The following day the three elements, 60% niellucciu, 30% sciaccarellu and 10% cinsault, were blended together.

What happens now?
The wine now rests; it will remain untouched over the winter and will be bottled after a filtration in the spring.

The first shipment to Stevenage will be in April and I for one am looking forward to trying it!

Corsica is a big place and 36 hours doesn’t allow for much exploration. After Calvi, my route took me east to the other fortress town of Nelsonian fame, Bastia. A high point was the entering the forbidding-sounding Désert des Agriates. North of the main road, there is just a startlingly beautiful emptiness.

Vineyards in Corsica

I had to meet Marie-Brigitte Paoli who picked me up in her incredibly large land cruiser. The next four or five miles were not easy driving on a deeply rutted track but eventually we arrived at her estate. Hers is called Clos Teddi while her husband’s, next door is Clos Alivu. One cellar serves both and there is one winemaker, a Parisian who came to Corsica as a student to do a vintage and never left!

There are lovely wines here in all three colours and complemented to perfection the lunch which was brought out on a windswept terrace. There was charcuterie, figatellu sausage, spare ribs, an eyewateringly strong cheese, Fiadone cheese cake and garden-picked clementines, a sole guardian of sensible eating!

The wines of Corsica are fascinating and though I’ve spent much of the time on rosé, the whites and reds are also worth exploring. More Italianate then Gallic, they are at their best at the heart of a meal.

Marcel Orford-Williams
Society Buyer

If you enjoy finding out what goes on behind the scenes on our wine buyers’ visits to our winemakers, visit the Travels in Wine™ pages on our website.

Comments (3)
Mon 17 Oct 2016

Harvest 2016: Muscadet – Chinks of Light

Posted by: | Comments (0)

One of the Loire regions hardest hit by frost this spring (the worst since 1991, with some growers cropping as little as 5-10 hl/ha, a fraction of an increasingly rare ‘normal’ crop) the Nantais concluded its harvest in fine conditions after a growing season full of challenges to stretch every grower.

Bernard Chéreau overseeing matters at Chéreau-Carré

Bernard Chéreau overseeing matters at Chéreau-Carré

Chéreau-Carré

A wet spring and extended cold, damp flowering period compounded the in-some-cases gloomy start to the season. Heat and drought ensued in a summer that even challenged holiday makers with more than one period of exceptionally high temperatures. The only good news in this, other than sun tans all round, was that earlier disease pressure in the vineyards was stopped in its tracks, and there will not be much need to chaptalise this year either.

Smiling faces at Domaine du Grand Mouton

Smiling faces at Domaine du Grand Mouton

Domaine du Grand Mouton

A fine late season, with a little rain at just the right time to revive the vines and restart maturation, and dry, sunny, often windy days and chilly nights allowed growers to bring in a healthy, if often cruelly small crop.

Domaine du Grand Mouton

On my recent visit at the tail end of the harvest I saw – and tasted – healthy fruit, talked with sanguine (mighty relieved) growers and heard some pretty tragic stories that may see more Muscadet vignerons throwing in the towel.

On the last day of the harvest at Vinet

On the last day of the harvest at Vinet

And the wines? There will not be a consistent picture (it was a particularly tricky year for organic producers for example), but the best results will produce a richer style of Muscadet, perhaps somewhere between 2015 and 2003 in style.

Jo Locke MW
Society Buyer

Comments (0)
Thu 08 Sep 2016

Italy: The People, The Places, The Prosecco

Posted by: | Comments (1)

I was thrilled to be asked to accompany Sebastian Payne MW on his trip to Italy earlier this year.

In the early days of my career at The Wine Society I used to travel abroad with our buyers quite often, sharing driving, taking photos, note taking and gathering information which may be of use later… recipes from the region, maps, leaflets printed by our growers.

I always felt there was such a wealth of information and rich experience to share with members that it was a shame we didn’t have more outlets in which to do this. Sure, such trips helped build up information for tasting notes, Newsletter articles, our printed offers, and later, this blog, but I have always been passionate about being able to bring our growers closer to our members; something I have endeavoured to do through Societynews and in the Wine World & News pages of our website and occasional blog posts.

So when we launched Travels in Wine, I thought this was an inspired way to bring members closer to the coal face of wine buying.

Travels In Wine

So, given the green light to go out and get the most out of five days in the field with Sebastian to come back and share the experience with members, set me thinking.

What do members want to know? What will they find interesting? There’s so much to take in – which aspects should I focus on to tell people about?

To a certain extent, you can’t predict what will emerge from these visits and it’s often the unexpected stories that you stumble across that have the most value. But for me, the interest has always been the people behind the wines. So that had to be my starting point.

Though I have visited Italy a couple of times under my own steam, I calculated that it had been almost 20 years since I had last been with Sebastian in a professional capacity. A lot has changed in the interim period. Indeed, one of the main purposes of this trip was to taste the new 2015 vintage and put together the blends of several of our Society and Exhibition wines – many of which either didn’t exist 20 years ago or came from different sources.

We would be calling in on some of the same people I had visited with Sebastian 20 years ago, but now it would be the next generation we would be seeing; the same kids who were at college or just leaving school are now at the helm of their family businesses. It is important to find out what makes them tick and build relationships with them.

Something that certainly hadn’t featured at all in any of our lives 20 or so years ago was Prosecco. Who would have predicted back then what a global success story it would be today? So this was certainly something I was keen to find out more about.

The pointy hills of Valdobbiadene DOCG where the good Prosecco comes from

The pointy hills of Valdobbiadene DOCG where the good Prosecco comes from

How had the Prosecco phenomenon come about? What are the key factors behind producing good-quality Prosecco, as opposed to the vast quantities of indifferent and insipid bubbles that the market is awash with?

As well as visiting our Society’s Prosecco producers, the Adami family, we were also going to see producers of some of the region’s top-quality Prosecco, Nino Franco, so I was very interested to find out what differences there were between the two.

We would be going to the beautiful walled town of Soave, somewhere that had featured on the last tour when we had visited the Pieropans. This time we would be visiting their neighbours, the Coffele family, the other star turns of the denominazione. I was interested to understand the differences in style of these two houses and meet the family, of course.

Alberto Coffele proudly shows us around the family vineyards

Alberto Coffele proudly shows us around the family vineyards

Soave, like Prosecco, is another wine which is rather a victim of its own success. Cheap wines from the plains having done nothing for its image and are a world away from those made in the Classico district. While it is obvious to state that ‘the good wines come from the good vineyards’ I wanted to find out more about the key factors that influence the top-quality wines.

I have always had a soft spot for The Society’s Verdicchio but confess that I know little about its provenance. Perhaps this is because, unlike many of the wines under our label, this comes from a large (admittedly family-owned) outfit who are part of a global olive oil press manufacturing company.

In this kind of situation it’s just as important to keep up with those in charge. People come and go, winemakers change, priorities may shift. Happily for us, our man, David Orru has been in situ for many years now and is a great fan of The Wine Society. We had heard though that there was a new winemaker in post and that a consultant was involved in things, so we were keen to find out more about this.

I don’t quite remember when we first listed The Society’s Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, but I do remember we were ahead of the curve of popularity with this wine and that members were quick to spot a good thing when they tasted it too. Way before the pizza chains started listing rather pale imitations of the style!

Rocco Pasetti was thrilled with the 2015 vintage and experimented with different types of fermentation, particularly for his reds

Rocco Pasetti was thrilled with the 2015 vintage and experimented with different types of fermentation, particularly for his reds

There’s a human tale behind this wine, too – perhaps not what you’d expect from a wine sourced from a cantina sociable – so, with my inquisitive hat on, I wanted to get to the bottom of this story which involves one of Italy’s best winemakers along with the fortunes of current star of the Abruzzo, Rocco Pasetti.

Do visit our Travels in Wine pages to read about the first leg of our Giro d’Italia, and let us know what you think.

Joanna Goodman
Communications Editor

Comments (1)
Thu 11 Aug 2016

Calcaia: Italy’s Sauternes?

Posted by: | Comments (0)
Barberani's Calcaia

Barberani’s Calcaia

One of the real gems of Umbria is Barbarani’s delicious sweet white wine, Calcaia. It is a hard wine to sell, as it falls into its own category in a way, however whenever it is shown at a tasting, it gets a very warm welcome indeed.

Calcaia Orvieto is made with thanks to botrytis cineria aka noble rot, which is brought on by the vineyards’ proximity to Lake Corbara. The fog which develops through the night envelops the vines until the cool morning winds clears it away so the vines can enjoy the sun. This process brings on noble rot, which dries out the grapes, causing them to shrivel on the vine, concentrating the sugars and the flavour.

As sweet wine goes and in comparison to Sauternes, the Calcaia is a beautifully light and elegant style. Alcohol tends to come in around 10-10.5% and the wine is beautifully crisp, fresh, pure and bright – no wonder it is so often a hit with our members when it is tasted.

In order to really get the best idea of how this wine will age, we recently opened a few back-vintages, which Italy buyer Sebastian Payne MW had very handily tucked away over the past few years.

Grechetto grapes in Barberani's vineyards affected by 'muffa nobile'

Grechetto affected by ‘muffa nobile’

Sebastian explained how this wine is painstakingly produced, with individual berries being picked, over sometimes five or six harvests in order to account for the different grapes achieving the same level of noble rot at different times. The varieties used are grechetto and trebbiano procanico, two grapes widely planted in Umbria, although grechetto actually has Greek origins and it tends to be these two grapes which feature in most vintages of this wine, albeit with a few tweaks from one year’s blend to the next.

The first vintage of this wine was made in 1986 and although we didn’t have the opportunity to taste that far back on this occasion, we did have a bottle of 2005, 2006 and 2007 vintages, along with the 2013 and the soon-to-be-released 2014.

2014: Bright, pure beeswax on the nose with a mouthwatering touch of honey and apricot. Light on the palate, very fresh and clean with perfectly poised acidity. Youthful and fine.

2013: Slightly deeper fruit aromas on the nose with a little more botrytis evident. Fresh acidity remains and a nice weight on the palate. Complex, layered and delicious.

2007: Golden in colour. Unctuous palate with more of the beeswax notes and barley sugar. Some of the acidity has now rounded out but is still very well balanced with stunningly vivid caramelised orange-peel notes and a slight hint of burning incense.

2006: A more herbal nose, again with quite a pronounced botrytised character. The acidity is still there but this wine is much more full and viscous. Showing signs of age but wearing it well.

2005: Orange peel and candied fruit but with an intriguing savoury note which adds to the complexity. Lost a touch of the freshness but the charm is still there.

The 2013 is currently available for £22 per 50cl bottle, as part of Sebastian’s ‘The Best Of Italy’ selection.

I’m certainly looking forward to seeing how it tastes in a few years… if I can manage to keep my hands off it before then…

Freddy Bulmer
Trainee Buyer

Comments (0)
Tue 02 Aug 2016

Remembering Denis Dubourdieu

Posted by: | Comments (6)

Raise a glass to the memory of Denis Dubourdieu, who died on 26th July.

Many members of The Wine Society will know him as the owner of Château Reynon in Premières Côtes, Clos Floridene in Graves, Château Cantegril (the excellent source over several vintages of The Society’s Exhibition Sauternes), and, with his father, of Château Doisy-Daëne in Barsac.

The Society has been regularly following his wines for over 30 years, because they have been consistently excellent examples of red, dry and sweet white Bordeaux at prices most can afford.

Denis Dubourdieu at The Wine Society in April 2015

Denis Dubourdieu at The Wine Society in April 2015.

He first made his reputation by revolutionising the quality of white Bordeaux, but a tasting we organised in London recently of ten vintages of Château Reynon Rouge for Jancis Robinson showed the keeping quality and class of his red wines too, with his 2005 and 2010 more delicious than many classed growths.

Not so many may have known of Denis’ immense importance in raising the standards of Bordeaux wines in general and that his influence extended far beyond his home patch. He was a highly valued consultant at châteaux as varied as Haut-Bailly, Batailley, Pichon Comtesse Lalande, Giscours, Cheval Blanc and Yquem, and many others in Bordeaux.

He consulted also in Burgundy, the Rhône, the Loire, Languedoc, Italy, Spain, Greece and in Asia.

Although he first made his reputation by revolutionising the quality of white Bordeaux, Denis Dubourdieu's influence extended far beyond his home patch

Although he first made his reputation by revolutionising the quality of white Bordeaux, Denis Dubourdieu’s influence extended far beyond his home patch.

He believed passionately that a wine should express the terroir it came from, quoting Émile Peynaud: ‘A cru wine is a taste one can recognise.’ He said that a terroir is not only the soil, climate and grape varieties of a place, but the capacity of all these to give a wine a delectable and specific taste recognisable by the customer who cannot find the exact equivalent elsewhere.

Denis, the son of Jean-Pierre Dubourdieu of Doisy-Daëne, was born into wine and married Florence, the daughter of a vigneron owner of Reynon, which they made their home. Together they created, almost from scratch, Clos Floridene, a property whose vines planted on limestone have produced wines that often outperform and outlive many Pessac-Léognan crus classés.

Visits each year in spring to Reynon to taste his newly made wines were an essential pleasure.

Visits each year in spring to Reynon to taste his newly made wines were an essential pleasure.

As Professor, since 1988, at the Oenology faculty of Bordeaux University and, since 2009, director general of the Science of Vines and Wine at the university, he gave countless young vignerons and winemakers the benefits of his scientific knowledge and practical experience.

For me, as wine buyer, visits each year in spring to Reynon to taste his newly made wines were an essential pleasure, because I could not only assess his own wines, but learn from his honest, informed view of the recent vintage all over Bordeaux; both its strengths and its weaknesses.

Denis proved that, if you worked hard in the vineyard, it was always possible to make good wine. He brought an extraordinary attention to detail, needed to make good Sauternes, to the making of red and dry white too, often making several consecutive pickings to catch grapes at their optimum.

The Dubourdieu family. Left-right: Fabrice, Denis, Florence and Jean-Jacques

The Dubourdieu family. From left to right: Fabrice, Denis, Florence and Jean-Jacques.

Florence, his wife, and his trained oenologist sons Fabrice and Jean-Jacques will continue, I am sure, to make excellent wine at the properties they own, but this remarkable, modest man will be very much missed, while his legacy lives on.

Sebastian Payne MW
Society Buyer

Comments (6)
Fri 10 Jun 2016

Wine Champions 2016: Blood, Sweat and Scores!

Posted by: | Comments (0)

Freddy Bulmer gives us an insight into the process behind our biggest Wine Champions blind-tasting sessions yet…

Sadly, the Wine Champions offer doesn’t organise itself and it takes an awful lot of hard work to arrange the programme and the subsequent tastings in a way that ensures a fair competition and a process which runs smoothly.

Jo Locke MW

Jo Locke MW

If the offer is a stage show, featuring a cast of vinous actors, then you must also have a scriptwriter, producer and director behind the scenes in order to provide our members, or audience, with the show. For every charming leading man or woman, there are a handful of stage-hands!

The bulk of preparation for the Wine Champions offer, released later this month, starts the December beforehand but the tastings are put in the diary months in advance to ensure they tie in with the buyers’ busy schedules. Once the dates are set, the pre-selections begin.

Each buyer scrupulously tastes through their own range, in order to eliminate wines that they don’t think are quite at their prime yet. Once this is done, they have a deadline by which they need to enter the list of wines that they would like to be included in the relevant tasting. Depending on the theme of the tasting, the majority of the wines may come from our own cellars or as samples direct from the producers. The lists of wines from each of the buyers must be collated before each of the tastings, allowing enough time for wines to be ordered up from our cellars or to arrive from all corners of the world.

Sebastian Payne MW

Sebastian Payne MW

Next, tasting sheets must be created, along with crib sheets which list the wines, to be given to the judges after each tasting. The sheets have the wines arranged by price, with no other information other than the theme of the tasting and the price bracket.

The day before the tasting, the wines are collected from the Showroom collections area and moved to the tasting room at the other end of our HQ. There they must be checked off against the list, arranged in tasting order and bagged up, numbered and have their foil tops removed. An exercise which can take rather a long time when you have 90+ wines to go through!

Following each tasting the clean-up begins immediately. This is because we often have tastings on consecutive days, so everything must be repeated in time for the next morning.

This year was a record campaign. While this shows that our range is always growing and taking on more and more interesting wines, it also means that a record amount of work had to take place from the team.

18 tastings took place this year, with three in December and then the rest through the second half of January through to March.

This means that the above process had to be carried out 18 times, in order to successfully taste the 784 wines submitted by the buyers.

Was it all worth it? Absolutely! Not only do the wines provide plenty of reward for the hard work (the success of the European 2015 vintage provided us with a huge amount of pleasure) but watching the selection come together after each tasting has also been thoroughly rewarding.

Marcel Orford-Williams

Marcel Orford-Williams

We are all extremely excited to reveal this year’s Wine Champions to you in just a couple of weeks’ time.

Come December, it will be time to start all over again. For now, I am very pleased that this campaign is over and I can have a nice cup of tea…

Freddy Bulmer
Trainee Buyer