Wine Champions 2016

Mon 20 Jun 2016

Wine Champions 2016: The Big Reveal!

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Finally the time has come that we are able to reveal the 2016 Wine Champions!

Time to remove the bottle bags!

Time to remove the bottle bags!

This has been my first Wine Champions campaign, and The Society’s biggest one yet. To be that satisfied with the final result and excited to share them with you all, but to have to keep it zipped for many weeks before we were able to do so hasn’t been easy!

With the offer online now, and landing on doormats this week, I wanted to share a few highlights with you – whether they be outstanding wines which really took their tasting by storm or whether it be a collection of wines which show just how good a particular region is looking.

Viva the Vintage
We knew that the 2015 vintage in the Mediterranean was a success, but we were still surprised to see just how many made the cut, especially with the high calibre competition; showing that the quality of the vintage really does speak for itself.

Totting up the scores at the 2016 tastings

Totting up the scores at the 2016 tastings

In the red corner, it was Italy that really took the tasters by storm, with no fewer than three under-£10 reds bowling us over. Our very own Society’s Montepulciano d’Abruzzo 2015 (£6.25) is the first wine in the offer brochure and kicks it all off as we mean to go on with its vibrant, ripe fruit. Close behind is the Valpolicella Valpantena, Torre del Falasco 2015 (£7.25) with its charming cherry fruit, and Valpolicella, Allegrini 2015 (£9.50) tops off the trio, with sweet berry flavours and classic Valpolicella style.

2015 has kept on giving in the white corner too, with six Mediterranean whites featured at under £10. Anselmo Mendes ‘Contacto’ Alvarinho, Vinho Verde 2015 (£10.95) makes the cut for the third year running, thanks to its beautiful and pure lime and apricot flavours; it’s not hard to see why it was a double trophy winner in this year’s International Wine Challenge too.

Grape Expectations
While Burgundy doesn’t feature in the offer, it is there in spirit, with some excellent pinot noir and chardonnay, each of which provided two of the best blind tastings of the entire campaign.

Four superb pinots made the final offer, making it our most popular red grape varietal of the year. This included our first ever red German Wine Champion, in the form of Martin Wassmer Spätburgunder 2013 (£11.95), which held its own against a number of red Burgundies, and indeed ascended above them on account of it being so delicious now, with red-cherry perfume and lovely food-friendly ‘grip’ on the palate.

Pierre Mansour, Toby Morrhall and Mark Buckenham

Pierre Mansour, Toby Morrhall and Mark Buckenham

Chardonnay was just as much of a delight this year, also with four wines featured, showing just how fantastic the variety can be. Our Society’s Exhibition Limari Chardonnay 2014 (£9.95) did exactly what it was meant to do; be the best example of its kind.

As a result of this success, a six-bottle mixed case of three chardonnay and three pinot noir victors has been made to give you a taste of Burgundy abroad.

The Producers
Some wines are just born to be Champions and it would seem that a small few wine stables are regularly producing real thoroughbreds. As mentioned above, Anselmo Mendes has now featured for three years running, and three wines from Château Sainte Eulalie from the Languedoc were crowned as 2016 Wine Champions: their rosé (£7.25) took one of the two pink podium spaces, and two reds, Minervois, Château Sainte Eulalie 2014 (£6.95) and Minervois La Livinière Cuvée Cantilène, Château Sainte Eulalie 2013 (£11.95) also feature.

Another producer worthy of a mention due to their success is Wither Hills, who feature in the offering twice with their 2012 Pinot Noir (£10.50) and their 2013 Chardonnay (£8.50) – given the extraordinary competition for places with both of these grapes this year, this is an extraordinary showing.

Head of Buying Tim Sykes assessing the candidates

Head of Buying Tim Sykes assessing the candidates

Finally, I must give a special mention for those wines in the offer bearing our very own Society labels. Four wines from our Society & Exhibition ranges take pride of place in the 2016 offering, making up 10% of the overall selection! It is always nice to see a Society label when you pull off the blind bag of a winning wine and to have four of our own in there is very nice indeed. The Society’s Exhibition Pauillac 2009 (£25) impressed, with its traditional claret style and bags of finesse, all enhanced by some time in bottle in our cellars.

I hope you enjoy exploring this year’s Wine Champions. I’m off to celebrate with a nice glass of The Society’s Champagne, which features too…!

Freddy Bulmer
Trainee Buyer

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Fri 10 Jun 2016

Wine Champions 2016: Blood, Sweat and Scores!

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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

Naturally, when you taste a range of wines completely blind, as we do for our forthcoming Wine Champions offer, you open yourself up to an element of risk.

The various offers put together at The Society are carefully planned so as to ensure a balanced selection of wines that cater to the various colours, flavours and prices the theme demands.

Wine Champions, however, is a very different beast.

Rather than trying to drive this offer and steer it in a direction that we decide it should go, we simply put a saddle on it and ride it to wherever it takes us.

Wine Champions 2016 - the wines

Tasting through a vast number of wines blind, picking out only the ones which are judged to be perfect for drinking now, regardless of whether they are red, white, rosé, fortified, sparkling etc. means that we put ourselves at risk of sending out an offer without the usual planned balance between styles, prices and so on.

This year, we have an offer which has fewer wines in it than the last and is slightly heavier on red wines. (You can read a little more about that in my previous dispatch from the tasting room). This is not to say that there were not as many good white wines. Quite the contrary, in fact: we had a superb chardonnay tasting and both of our Aromatic Whites tastings unearthed some real stars.

Quite simply, the variability of the line-up is the only way that we can guarantee that first and foremost, Wine Champions remains a genuine round-up of those wines that our expert buyers voted for by consensus to share with you all.

Wine Champions 2016 - the buyers taste the wines

784 blind wines and three months of tasting later, we have an offering for you that we are proud to present. Every bit as unique as the previous Wine Champions offerings, which never fail to harbour new surprises and tell their own stories.

This year’s stories are many, and without giving too much away before the wines are revealed next month, pinot noir is certainly one of them, as is our first ever Champion red from Germany.

We hope you enjoy the results – they will be unveiled soon!

Freddy Bulmer
Trainee Buyer

It’s nearly time for us to reveal this year’s Wine Champions, selected from a course of blind tastings that ran over three months to find the best of our best for drinking now.

Wine Champions 2016 - Freddy Bulmer

As with every year our team of buyers tastes all of the contenders blind, with nothing but price brackets (under £10, £10-£15, £15-£25 and £25+) and an overall theme of the tasting (Mediterranean Reds or Aromatic Whites, for example) as guidance.

Each buyer scores what they think the wines deserve and at the end of the tasting, we may, or may not, have a Champion or two!


Slightly mad.

Very effective.

Our final 40 wines in the offer have been picked out of 784 candidates, throughout the course of 18 tasting sessions. This year was a record number of contenders a sign that our range is always growing as we search for new and exciting wines, but having more wines means that it was harder than ever for a wine to be crowned a Champion.

Champs panorama

That isn’t to say that there weren’t some noticeable trends this year: pinot noir, for instance, performed extremely well and there is also a superb showing from Italy which we are all very excited about indeed.

When you have fewer wines, the chances are that because of the more limited selection it is more likely that buyers will land on more of the same wines but, thanks to the size of some tastings this time around, only the unquestionable best of the best make it through.

As a result, this year there are fewer Champions in the offer than last year, but because of that we are able to present you with a truly elite selection.

The winners will be unveiled in June, but in the meantime, keep an eye on this blog, where we will be able to provide sneak peaks as to what you can expect from this year’s offering.

Although how much we can give away is very limited, we can reveal that:

One outstanding producer has not one, not two but three of their wines in the Wine Champions offer!
The Mediterranean 2015 wines are singing
And your lunchtimes may soon become a lot fizzier thanks to a delicious, lower-alcohol bottle of bubbly (and not the one you might expect either!).

Freddy Bulmer
Trainee Buyer