Buyer Marcel Orford-Williams celebrates our all-too-easily-overlooked Specialist Merchant Award for Regional France won at the IWC this month…
The late Edmund Penning-Rowsell, chairman of The Wine Society from 1964 to 1987, was always keen that the buyers should look beyond the ‘classic’ regions and source wines from off the beaten path for members to enjoy. And so, as long as I have been at The Society, the Committee of Management has afforded buyers the freedom to roam the backwoods of France and elsewhere to source exciting wines for our range.
In all the excitement and rightful pride in winning Overall Merchant and Online Merchant of the Year at the IWC (International Wine Challenge), it was easy to overlook that we had also won prizes for our South American and Regional France ranges.
We were naturally thrilled to have received this last award. It is the result of a good deal of work over many years. While France’s classic regions of Bordeaux, Burgundy and the Rhône are historical passions for The Society, our range also makes plenty of room for other French wines which much of the trade has barely discovered.
We have long championed the wines of Alsace and our range was recognised as the country’s finest by the International Wine Challenge for eight consecutive years to 2015.
During the last 12 months, we have visited Auvergne, Beaujolais, Alsace, Lorraine, the south-west, Provence and Corsica. A trip to the Jura will feature later in the year. There have been dedicated offers covering the wines of Alsace and Beaujolais and one for the south-west is also on the drawing board for release in the autumn.
It is not so long ago that many of these wines were for local consumption only. But globalism has changed all that. Growers from Savoie, Beaujolais or Corsica are as well travelled and skilled as any and keen to share the secrets of their terroirs with the rest of us.
We never forget though that it is thanks to members’ support that we can explore the wine world in this way. Members play a vital role in all of this by always being receptive to new ideas and new tastes. We hope that you enjoy the wines as much as we enjoy discovering and sharing them.
We salute you!
Explore our range of French wines at thewinesociety.com
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.
This is about a three-day trip to the Rhône Valley in June when I acted as guide to a small party of members. These lucky (or not so lucky!) few had earned their place on the tour having signed up new members to The Society earlier in the year.
For me, this was the second of such trips, the first having been to Champagne, and fun, that certainly was: lunch at Alfred Gratien when Olivier Dupré, sleeves rolled up preparing freshly caught lobsters with a sharp blade came near to doing himself a mischief, is still talked about today!
The Rhône trip had to be just as special as indeed it was. Happily, we were spared any sharp blade incidents, but there was a hair-raising safari by Land Rover in the Dentelles de Montmirail – more of that epic adventure later!
Planning the trip – spoilt for choice
Devising a trip to the Rhône Valley should not be a challenge for The Wine Society. It is a region we know well with certain supplier relationships that go back a very long time indeed. Yet our wealth in this very large region, number two for AOC red wine after Bordeaux, made choices all the more difficult.
The Rhône is strong on landscape and geology, so what better way to explore it than to visit places with a good view, interesting terroir and of course, good wine!
These days, of course, a trip to the Rhône can start at St Pancras International. And that is what we did, travelling in comfort and without needing to change, all the way to the Rhône.
When it comes to wine, it’s people as well as place that matter
Wine is about terroir but it’s also about people and people tend to come and go. Nicolas Jaboulet, scion to a great family name, might have expected a role in what used to be the family firm. But that was not to be and instead he started up afresh in partnership with another great family: Perrin of Beaucastel. Our first tasting was of his wines, including The Society’s Exhibition Crozes-Hermitage which we do in partnership).
Then came Ampuis, or Ampodium to use its Latin name. This is a small town built between the river and its world-famous vineyard called Côte-Rôtie. Time did not allow for an exploration of the roasted slope itself. That was a shame: it would have been such fun to have ridden on Gilles Barge’s monorail up the steep incline of his vineyard called Combard. Maybe next time.
Instead we had our meeting underground at Guigal, met by Philippe Guigal himself in his extraordinary cellars with its row upon row of barrels and a bottling and packaging hall seemingly operated by a platoon of well-disciplined robots (my colleague, Nicky Glennon wrote about this in her Romans and Robots blog post).
Etienne Guigal, Philippe’s grandfather also started from nothing, leaving his old employer, creating a wonderful name and leaving his son Marcel to carry on, eventually even buying up his old employer! There were more acquisitions with vineyards in Saint-Joseph and Hermitage.
Hermitage…lessons in history and geography
Hermitage is one of the great wines. It has as fine a view as any, great geology and of course a fine chapel. And what could be better than to spend a little time with Paul Jaboulet Ainé who, of course, own the chapel which gave its name to one of the greatest wines of the world, Hermitage La Chapelle.
Hermitage is probably the most famous vineyard in the northern Rhône. Though not the oldest, as winemaking further north in Ampuis goes back longer; indeed amphorae and other artefacts are on display at Guigal and most growers feel the need to have something from those days on show as badge of honour, maybe.
The northern Rhône cuts a furrow through two land masses. The eastern side, largely made up of limestone, eventually rises to form the Alps, while the western side, much older, forms the edge of the Massif Central and is dominated by granite. The river flows fast in between. Over the millennia the Rhône has changed its course several times and much of the limestone was a sea bed anyway, eroded and then lifted up as the Alps were formed.
Rock of ages…and wine
The river was a barrier separating two worlds and even today, despite bridges, those two identities persist. Most of the appellations sit on one side or the other. Cornas and Saint-Joseph are both largely on granite. Crozes-Hermitage, for the most part, is planted on an ancient river bed and the land is strewn with stones and pebbles washed down from the mountains.
Hermitage is exceptional because it is both. Its western side, typified by the vineyard called Bessard, is granite and geologically belongs to the Massif Central, while the eastern side is mostly limestone. The changing course of the mighty river, shifting sea levels and mountain building conspired to isolate the granite part of Hermitage, welding it to its limestone other half and creating today’s hill of Hermitage.
Paying homage at Hermitage La Chapelle
We were in good company when we visited the top of the hill with Jean-Luc Chapelle, roving brand ambassador and Jacques Devernois, cellarmaster at Paul Jaboulet. The object of the visit was of course the Chapelle itself. This chapel stands on holy ground, marking the site where the crusading knight Gaspard de Sterimberg, rested and meditated.
We walked around the chapel, admiring Chapoutier’s vineyards that surround it! Jaboulet’s ‘La Chapelle’ doesn’t come from here or indeed from one specific spot on the hill. Jaboulet own roughly 50 acres of Hermitage and the wines are always blends from different plots, the sum being greater than the parts.
Lessons in site-specific wines
I mentioned the granitic Bessards already. When standing at the chapel and looking down, Bessards lay before us. This is where Hermitage gets its structure from. Pure Bessards is powerful but also tight and tannic, almost as if it were armour plated!
Beyond is another plot called l’Hermite which has a complicated geology with granite and limestone, sometimes with a covering of wind-born soil or loess and which I think makes an especially refined wine.
The very top part of the hill, incidentally, is very pure granite as here was always above sea level. But the height of this vineyard makes it less sheltered so that wind is a constant factor.
Le Méal is further on, not really visible from the chapel. It lies in a perfect amphitheatre-shaped bowl of limestone and clay, strewn with small stones. It gets very hot here and so not surprisingly Hermitage from here is rich and full-bodied. It is where Jaboulet have their largest holdings so it is often a key element in their La Chapelle.
Walking up to the chapel is a wonderful life-enhancing experience, especially if time is taken to observe the changing folds in the hill, changing flora and changing composition of the soils. Time was not with us on this trip so a coach was used, there and back.
Dining in Hermitage country
The little town below the hill is called Tain l’Hermitage. There is nothing especially pretty about it. It is built on either side of the N7, that most famous of all trunk roads that starts its life at the Place d’Italie in Paris and ends at a border crossing with Italy (bien entendu!). It’s a dangerous road at any time with large trucks trundling through.
There was a time when eating in Tain was a miserable experience. The grand people went further afield to Valence, Vienne or Lamastre for fine dining. That is now changing, thanks in no small part to the existence of the Valrhona chocolate factory which attracts visitors and students from around the world. Tain is becoming quite famous and there are now some decent places to eat.
Jaboulet’s offices are out of town but they now have a tasting room on the main square and with it a small wine bar with excellent food served at lunchtime, to be washed down with Jaboulet’s wines, of course. Almost next door Nicolas Jaboulet has his office, shop and tasting room, where his wines and those of his associates, the Perrins of Beaucastel can be tasted. Opposite is one fine and idiosyncratic wine shop, held by a father-and-son team of Greek parentage. Everyone goes there if only for gossip and some brilliant Greek olive oil.
The jewel in Tain is one tiny restaurant, right next door to Chapoutier. It is called Mangevins. He is local and does wine and front of house. His wife is Japanese, perfectionist in the infinitesimally small kitchen. The food served is always outstanding, fresh ingredients and often with just a hint of Japan mixed in with local.
The wine list is outstanding. This is one place to go as a teetotal! We had Montlouis from Jacky Blot but it could have been a riesling from Trimbach. The highlight, wine wise was a Cornas from Pierre Clape with a chocolate dessert.
A revelation that was repeated the following evening chez Jaboulet when the chocolate pudding was given added meaning by Hermitage La Chapelle 2003. A further study is surely needed on chocolate and wine!
The Society exists solely for members’ benefit, and your kind feedback confirms our satisfaction with our wine range. It is, however, always heartening to see wines we stock recognised by the industry as being ‘best in class’.
The results of the 2015 IWC (International Wine Challenge) and Decanter World Wine Awards have been announced, with a raft of gold medals to celebrate, topped off with some coveted regional and international trophies. Some are available now (hyperlinked below), others later in the year.
International Wine Challenge Trophies
Viña Undurraga T.H. Cabernet Sauvignon, Maipo 2012 (£11.50)
Maipo Cabernet Sauvignon Trophy – International Cabernet Sauvignon Trophy
We have been following Chilean winemaker Rafael Urrejola’s elegant wines since his time at Viña Leyda. He is perhaps the most talented winemaker of his generation. At Undurraga he has been given free rein to go out and search for wines made from the best combinations of grape variety, soil and climate in a project called ‘TH’ or ‘Terroir Hunter’. His wines are always beautifully balanced, and this exciting red is formed more by its terroir than a caricature of its grape variety, producing a wine which is the opposite of the soft and squidgy new world ‘fruit bomb’ style.
The Society’s Exhibition Crozes-Hermitage 2012 (£11.95)
We were delighted to see this wine rated so highly in only its second vintage. Nicolas Jaboulet was tasked with using his extensive contacts in the northern Rhône to come up with a blend, all coming from well-known growers, before being bottled by the Perrin family. This is a fragrant, full and refined Crozes, with blackberry fruit and a hint of peppery spice.
Framingham Classic Riesling 2012 (£11.95)
Marlborough Riesling Trophy
Andrew Hedley has a marksman’s touch with the riesling grape, and this wine, utilising the oldest riesling vines in New Zealand, has been well received by members and the press since its introduction last year. Like an aristocratic German riesling, albeit not too dry, electrocuted with Marlborough freshness.
Pieropan La Rocca 2012 (£22.50)
Sons Andrea and Dario run this exceptional estate, although still under the watchful eye of father Nino, whose relationship with The Society goes back for decades. Not the first time that this wine has won the Soave Trophy, and doubtless not the last!
Verdicchio di Matelica Riserva Mirum La Monacesca 2012 and Matetic Vineyards EQ Syrah 2012, which will arrive shortly, also won the San Antonio Valley Syrah and Marche White Trophies respectively. The Society’s Exhibition New Zealand Chardonnay 2013, now sadly out of stock, also won the Kumeu Chardonnay Trophy, Auckland Chardonnay Trophy and overall New Zealand Chardonnay Trophy.
Riesling Grand Cru Kirchberg, Domaine Louis Sipp 2013 (£23)
Dry White Alsace over £15 Trophy
We were delighted to see this bone-dry, mineral, richly flavoured and very long Alsace riesling being recognised. This comes from a top grand cru vineyard, one of the region’s finest, overlooking Ribeauvillé, and a vintage perfectly suited to the riesling grape.
La Rioja Alta 890 Seleccion Especial Gran Reserva 2001 (£75)
Red Rioja Gran Reserva over £15 Trophy
We are delighted to have secured more stock of this expensive but simply remarkable Rioja, described by buyer Pierre Mansour as ‘a uniquely brilliant wine.’ 2001 is a highly acclaimed Rioja vintage, and winemaker Julio Sáenz describes it ambitiously as ‘the best 890 in our history.’ Such is the quality of this 2001 gran reserva that it has been deemed the highest distinction of ‘Selección Especial’ (the first time in La Rioja Alta’s history).
Paul Ginglinger Gewurztraminer Grand Cru Pfersigberg 2013 (International Trophy: Off-Dry over £15), Terrunyo Carménère Lot N°1 2013 (Chilean Red Single-Varietal over £15) and Soalheiro Alvarinho Vinho Verde Monção e Melgaço, 2014 (White Northern Portugal over £15) are all en route.
At the IWC, sparkling success came in the form of a gold for Champagne Charles Heidsieck Brut Reserve NV (£43). Lustau Botaina Amontillado (£11.50) and Cayetano del Pino Palo Cortado Solera (£14.50) flew the flag for sherry, whilst the stylish and now-ready Taylor’s 1985 port (£75) also won.
Look out also for an Antipodean trio of winners coming soon in the form of Pask Declaration Syrah 2013 (New Zealand) and Penfolds Bin 707 Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 and Bin 389 Cabernet Shiraz 2012.
Fortified wines also performed well at Decanter, and golds were awarded to Hidalgo Pastrana Manzanilla Pasada (£10.50) and Osborne Capuchino Palo Cortado, 30 years old 50cl (£21), continuing sherry’s rich vein of form this year, and Henriques & Henriques Bual, 15 years old 50cl (£25) from Madeira.
Forthcoming Decanter gold-medal winners include Paul Ginglinger Riesling Grand Cru Pfersigberg 2013 from Alsace, Muga Selección Especial Rioja Reserva 2010, Frog’s Leap Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 from California and Penfolds Yattarna Chardonnay 2012.
Ten members of Society staff from around the business were there to see The Wine Society awarded
• Wine Club of the Year for the fourth consecutive year
• Specialist Merchant Award for Chile for the eighth time in nine years
• Specialist Merchant Award for Alsace for the seventh consecutive year
In addition, The Society was shortlisted for Direct Merchant of the Year and Specialist Merchant for Portugal.The judges called it ‘a testament to The Society’s extensive range of wines and events, as well as excellent customer service.’
A number of individual Society wines also received awards earlier in the year.
Such recognition is always a pleasure and we would like to thank the IWC. Above all, however, we would like to thank our members for their continued loyalty and support for their Society. We exist purely for members’ benefit and look forward to further enhancing our services in the coming year while continuing to provide the best of the world’s vineyards at the best possible prices.
The Society exists solely for members’ benefit, and your kind feedback confirms our satisfaction with our wine range. It is, however, always heartening to see wines we stock recognised by the industry as being ‘best in class’.
The results of the 2014 IWC (International Wine Challenge) have just been announced, and we have a raft of gold medals to celebrate, topped off with two national trophies. Some are available now (hyperlinked below), others later in the year.
The first of the trophies was awarded to that great English sparkling wine Nyetimber Brut Classic Cuvée 2009 from West Chiltington in Sussex. Nyetimber has been a fixture in our list for some time, challenging the very best across the Channel with the traditional chardonnay, pinot noir and pinot meunier blend.
The second trophy has deservedly gone to La Rocca 2011, made by the Pieropan family in Soave. Sons Andrea and Dario run the estate, although still under the watchful eye of father Nino, whose relationship with The Society goes back for decades! Not the first time that this wine has won the Italian White Trophy, and doubtless not the last!
For those who want more sparkle, we were very pleased to see a co-operatively produced Champagne pick up a gold medal – Le Brun de Neuville Chardonnay Brut NV, one of the increasing number of lesser-known Champagnes on our List. And a food-friendly viognier from long-standing Society suppliers Paul Jaboulet Aîné, their Condrieu, Domaine des Grands Amandiers 2012 also made the grade.
Moving to the reds, Paul Jaboulet Aîné have another success with a wine closely followed by Society members over the years, Crozes Hermitage Domaine de Thalabert 2009, while another Italian entry from Veneto, Valpolicella Superiore Ripasso Torre del Falasco 2012 made the grade, proving that it’s not just wines over £10 that can be award-winners. (Being a huge Italian fan, I was particularly pleased to see the ‘ripasso’ style rewarded.)
If you are in need of fortification, then sherry and port make up the remainder of our gold medals. Lustau La Ina is a classic of its type, and the more quirky Cayetano del Pino Solera Palo Cortado, only available from The Wine Society in the UK, is very different. (By the way, while you’re in the mood, why not try Cayetano’s elder diminutive sister, the Palo Cortado Viejisimo, with an estimated age of 30 years.) Taylor’s 2000 Vintage Port brings this golden list to a close.
We were also delighted to discover the following Society wines received silver medals in the same competition: The Society’s Champagne, The Society’s Rosé Champagne, Blind Spot Tasmania Sparkling Brut, The Society’s Exhibition Limarí Chardonnay, The Society’s Exhibition Gewurztraminer, The Society’s Exhibition Rioja Reserva, The Society’s Exhibition Rioja Gran Reserva (soon to be launched), The Society’s Exhibition Sauternes 2010 and The Society’s Exhibition Mature Medium Dry Oloroso Blend – a great endorsement of our buyers’ talents.
Pictured here are Tracy Richardson (left) of Member Services and Naomi Norwood of The Cellar Showroom surrounded by The Society’s record haul of awards at last night’s IWC (International Wine Challenge) Awards Ceremony and 30th Anniversary Summer Ball at the Grosvenor House Hotel on London’s Park Lane.
The highlight of the evening was when the judges named The Society their Wine Merchant of the Year, the second time in the last three years we have scooped their top award.
The IWC also awarded The Society Wine Club of the Year, for the third year, and Specialist Merchant of the Year awards for our Alsace range, for the sixth time in a row, Chile for the seventh year in eight, and we retained the Portugal award we picked up for the first time last year.
Presenting the award, judge Charles Metcalfe congratulated the team saying that The Society represented ‘the pinnacle of wine retailing’.
On a sweltering evening the great and the good of the wine trade were in attendance and kept entertained by the energetic double act of Tim Atkin MW and Charles Metcalfe, co-chairmen of the judges.
A particularly moving part of the evening was seeing veteran wine writer Hugh Johnson OBE pick up a Lifetime Achievement Award. All wine writers owe Hugh a huge debt of gratitude for leading the way. As scribe Malcolm Gluck put it on harpers.co.uk: ‘Johnson often writes so limpidly about his love I can taste the liquid in my mouth, though this is not as a result of crude fruit metaphors, the resort of hobbledehoys like myself, but by pinning down his feeling in such finely wrought aesthetic terms that one feels the experience as a personal encounter. This is, surely, the apotheosis of wine writing and we wine writers are, as expressionists in English, all in the giant shadow of this Monet of the craft.’
I think it is testament to Hugh’s high standing that most people’s reaction was amazement that he hadn’t already won such an honour.
Head Of Copy
Just arrived in sunny, if rather chilly, Cape Town, where I’m told they have had a long winter rather better for the vines than for the locals and visitors.
We normally reserve this time of year for European vineyard visits, but next week sees the first Cape Wine show here since before the World Cup and the industry has moved on at an inspiring pace since then.
I am greatly looking forward to the excellent overview such events provide, whilst desperately trying to protect some time in my schedule to sample ‘off the beaten track’ with exciting new growers, and members’ recommendations.Not long before heading south I bumped into Gary Jordan, winemaker owner of Jordan Estate in Stellenbosch, who was in the UK to, amongst other things, pick up a couple of Decanter Trophies. Gary was an honorary guest at an extraordinary 30 vintage vertical tasting of Loire chenin blanc (more on which anon), where it was fascinating to have a winemaker’s input to the discussion.
I asked Gary about the 2012 harvest which I had heard had been pretty challenging early on. Gary was delighted with how it had progressed, however, with less dramatic heat spikes than the norm and a favorably longer ripening season – or ?hang time? as the Aussies like to call it.
So I am looking forward to tasting the new vintage too, at Jordan and elsewhere.
Joanna Locke MW
South Africa Buyer
I am delighted to have won this award again. Critical acclaim is always well received. However, I am even happier that Chile is number two in terms of sales at The Wine Society (only sixth nationally). It shows how wise Wine Society members are. You all have a good eye for quality and value for money, which Chile continues to offer across a wide range of grape varieties and price points.
New and better vineyards
Chile has always been good at matching grape variety to climate, and the newish coastal vineyards in Leyda and Limarí have shown their excellence for sauvignon blanc, chardonnay, pinot noir and cool-climate syrah. A whole new generation of vineyards are now being planted taking account of the further variable of soil. These have been soil mapped before planting, using newly available rootstocks ideally adapted to the characteristics of certain soils, and varying planting density according to soil fertility, together with drip irrigation allowing lower vigour hillside vineyards to be planted. Many are now starting to come into bearing. These will further improve quality.
Chile continues to surprise and innovate. The Itata valley (between Maule and Bío-Bío), the home of unirrigated old bush vine vineyards planted on rolling hills, is exciting interest. We listed a lovely cinsault from De Martino last year. Some new pais wines are appearing too, often made in a maceration carbonique style and tasting like a light, strawberry-fruit pinot noir.
Chile?s only constant is change!
The affection for Alsace at The Wine Society goes back several generations of buyers and it would be nice to think that somehow they realise that all their efforts have paid off, and that for a fifth year in succession the International Wine Challenge has awarded us with the title of Specialist Wine Merchant of the Year for Alsace.
This has been a big Alsace year for us as unusually I found myself visiting twice in twelve months. First it was to taste the 2010s intensely and in depth, and then in June, just before the Jubilee, it was to show members of The Wine Society Dining Club around.
It was on this occasion that I met up with this new equine face of Alsace, Nikita, here pulling a plough on the Grand Cru Brand above the village of Turkheim.
So much has changed in Alsace from the days of industrial production to the artisan approach adopted by a growing number of estates. A generation ago, brilliant minds included Leonard Humbrecht, Léon Beyer, Jean Meyer, Bernard Trimbach and of course Johnny Hugel. The best Alsace estates are close family businesses where the generations follow seamlessly, each time bringing something new but always with the same aim of making excellent wines.
And so to the horse, not for show but preferred to a tractor on certain slopes as the use of a horse avoids compacting the earth. Just one of many little details which on its own might have little meaning but taken with lots of other details can help create greatness. Like using biodynamic composts, which more and more growers are using.
Alsace is both a victim and a result of history. It has known greatness, especially during middle ages but also disaster: there is a saying that says that Alsace is good at two things: making war and making wine.
I believe the seemingly endless list of wars, invasions and campaigns is behind us. Now is the time to discover what made Alsace such a jewel that was worth fighting for.
More members are drinking Alsace wines than ever and our list continues to grow with new additions including Albert Boxler from Niedermorschwihr, the Ribeauvillé co-op and Kientzler (also from Ribeauvillé).