Until recently, German wine had an image problem.
Not for those in the know of course; savvy drinkers have been stashing their cellars full of fragrant riesling and pinot noir for decades, while many of us had been too busy having new world love affairs to notice.
And that’s the problem; to the average supermarket-buying booze-hound, the region continues to conjure images of weissbeer, pilsner and, less deliciously, Blue Nun. Fruity, full-on New Zealand sauvignons and Italian pinot grigios have been filling our baskets while Germany’s gems have been left languishing on the shelves.
One man who knows this all-too-well is Konstantin Guntrum, owner of legendary winemaking dynasty, Louis Guntrum. His family have been growing grapes on the left bank of the Rhein since 1648, before marauding French catholic occupying forces compelled them to flee to the Left side of the Rhein in 1792. It took nearly a century for the Guntrum family to get back to their homeland, buying up vineyards and wineries in Nierstein and Oppenheim where they remain to this day. Today, and 11 winemaking generations on, the dynasty continues to thrive, making award-winning riesling, pinot noirs and sweet wines. The next challenge? Switching today’s discerning young wine-lovers onto the aromatic delights of Germany’s sweeter wines.
Konstantin dropped by The Society to give us a quick lesson in history, food matching and to share his phenomenal German wines.
1. German sweet wine is great for tough-to-match food Cheese and German sweet wines go together like Bogart and Bacall, the nectar-like qualities of Auslese or Kabinett perfectly offsetting sharp, savoury cheeses. Fiery foods also make a great match. As Konstantin says ‘eat something hot and try to wash it down with a fruity red and…well, have fun with that! It’s like putting fuel on the flames’. Sweet wines however counteract spiciness, in turn knocking any over-sweet edges from the wine. Puddings also apply here, so try a ‘riesling Kabinett’ which is made without additional sugar to perfectly balance the sweetness.
2. Grauburgunder is known as pinot grigio in Italy and pinot gris in France. The 2015 vintage of grauburgunder is especially delicious, a combination of baking summer days which add a tropical fragrance and cool nights which lend refreshing acidity to the fruit. This acidity also acts as a natural preserving agent, so the wine will get even better with age.
3. Weissburgunder is better known as pinot blanc and German examples display lively floral flavours. This slightly sweet style fell out of favour in the latter-half of the 1980s following its 1970s heyday but is gaining in popularity again. Modern examples show perfectly balanced sweetness and freshness, so give it a try if you’re looking for a delicious conversation-starter.
4. Chilled German reds such as dornfelder make great summer barbecue wines. With cherry, cranberry and herbal notes, dornfelder is light and fresh but has enough body to take on boldly savoury flavours of bangers, burgers and other British summertime staples.
Having joined The Wine Society’s Tastings and Events Team as a relatively fresh faced 24-year-old just over two years ago, it’s become apparent that, at the majority of tastings that I host across the UK , I am more often than not the youngest person there.
Although certainly not the end of the world, it does raise an important question – and one that’s been bouncing around The Society for the last year or so: where is the next generation of Wine Society members going to come from?
There are a number of projects currently in motion at TWS HQ, from the Digital Team through to the Marketing and Buying Teams. All are trying to make sure we offer something for younger wine-drinkers (and female as well as male!).
Generation Wine is my way of trying to shake up The Society through our 150-event-strong calendar which I help put together with the rest of the Tastings Team.
The idea is simple – we’ll be conducting a series of exciting tastings throughout the year that will appeal to younger members.
First up, we’ll be launching our new Generation Wine Walkaround Tastings. My intention for these events is to provide a complete night out as opposed to our more formal ‘standard’ walkaround tastings, which often focus purely on the wine and giving you the perfect environment to taste, smell, observe and discuss.
They’ll take place at a variety of lively venues (such as our May 4th event at Kachette Shoreditch – already sold out, unfortunately – where wood panelling and regal paintings are replaced by bare-brick railway arches and strip lights), and held a bit later in the evening to allow for a more relaxed, party-like atmosphere.
It’s also important to me to showcase the whole range The Society has to offer; not just our fabulous wines but also craft beers and gins sourced by our two newest (and youngest) buyers, Freddy Bulmer and Sarah Knowles MW. Music will play, beer will flow, ties can be removed and we can see how much fun TWS can be. Just don’t be the ones to miss out!
We’ll also be running exciting dining experiences at our Generation Wine Dinners. These will be heldat less formal, quirkier restaurants, with wilder, more esoteric guest speakers, and even a bit of theatre to accompany the meal (we’ll be serving whole suckling pig at Camino and rocking on with Au Bon Climat’s ‘wild man of wine’ himself, Jim Clendenen at the Tramshed, for example).
As always, a selection of wines will be chosen to accompany the meals, but the focus will be on interest and experimentation. Discussion will be encouraged, curiosity demanded and a brilliant night out promised!
Let us know what you think, and indeed any other ideas you have!
Tastings & Events Team
Recently I was at my village wine club tasting (nothing to do with my job at The Wine Society) in the local parish rooms for a tasting. Our host Simon brought along some wines he’d bought en primeur, some from us and some from another merchant.
He wanted to see how the wines had developed and to see if buying them en primeur had ‘paid its way’ in terms of initial cost (including storage) vs how much the wines would cost now.
The wines were great (with just one that was ever so slightly past its best), and Simon had done his calculations and seen that, for those wines which he could still get, the prices now were much higher on almost all the wines.
It was a fascinating evening for me as I look after our en primeur offers at The Society and it was very reassuring to meet another wine drinker so interested in it and getting such satisfaction from the service; both in terms of value and, more importantly, pleasure from the experience.
I buy en primeur myself mainly for the enjoyment and delayed gratification of having it stored away – sometimes for decades – only to get them out, having long forgotten what I paid for them and slightly smug about being able to drink something so mature that not many others can!
So it was nice that, for the wines we had last night anyway, the numbers also made great sense…
I did come in to work the next morning feeling that what I do gives enormous amounts of pleasure to a lot of our members and it offers good value too. Oh, and none of the wines were the stellar-expensive wines you often hear about – most were in the £15-£40 bracket.
With our 2015 Rhône offer available now, it also felt like a good time to share the experience!
Fine Wine Manager
Here are some quick notes from what we tasted:
1. Three vintages of Clos Floridène Blanc, one of members’ favourite dry whites from Bordeaux.
Clos Floridène Blanc, Graves 2010
Real class here – exactly what you’d hope for from this excellent wine and vintage. The sauvignon blanc and semillon that make up the blend were in perfect balance, and this wine will still keep for some time yet.
Clos Floridène Blanc, Graves 2009
Still very good too with real class and finesse, and a long satisfying finish.
Clos Floridène Blanc, Graves 2007
Sadly this wine was just outside its drink date and should have been drunk already. It was slightly oxidised but still interesting, but its mature flavours may not be for everyone.
2. Four vintages of Vacqueyras Saint Roch from Clos de Cazaux. This family-owned southern Rhône producer is another popular name at The Society, featuring regularly in our regular and en primeur offers – not to mention being the source of our Exhibition Vacqueyras – so I was especially intrigued to taste these.
Vacqueyras Saint Roch, Clos de Cazaux 2010
From a great year, this is still muscular and would benefit from further ageing. You could certainly see its potential though. Keep for two more years: will make a fab bottle.
Vacqueyras Saint Roch, Clos de Cazaux 2009
Similarly young as per the 2010 and would be better kept for longer, although the 2009 was lighter in weight. Still highly enjoyable.
Vacqueyras Saint Roch, Clos de Cazaux 2008
Smoother and more mature, this was just about ready, and backed up by some appealing sweetness of fruit.
Vacqueyras Saint Roch, Clos de Cazaux 2007
Wonderful wine – for me, this is what what en primeur is all about. Totally à point, this is all chocolate and cream, with the freshness that demanded we try a second glass! Best wine of the night for me.
3. Three vintages of Château Dutruch Grand Poujeaux, a bit of a Bordeaux ‘insider’s tip’ gaining an increasingly large following for its excellent claret, which is offered at reasonable prices.
Château Dutruch Grand Poujeaux, Moulis-en-Médoc 2009
Lovely sweetness here, and quite tannic. Not typical of 2009, so without the heaviness I sometimes associate with the vintage. Good wine.
Château Dutruch Grand Poujeaux, Moulis-en-Médoc 2008
Leave a little longer: quite typical of 2008 (not my favourite vintage) in its austerity, but the quality was evident and there is more to come from this wine.
Château Dutruch Grand Poujeaux, Moulis-en-Médoc 2005
From a classic vintage, this is now ready but was drier than I thought. Slightly muscular, and would come into its own with food.
4. Two vintages of Château Suduiraut, Sauternes, one of the grandest sweet wines one can find in Bordeaux, and which still offers excellent value for its quality.
Château Suduiraut, Sauternes 2010
This is rich but also very fine with lovely balancing freshness, and will keep well. Marmalade nose and lemony freshness on the palate but rich too.
Château Suduiraut, Sauternes 1997
A lovely contrast to the 2010 with the aromas and flavours that come with maturity. A barley-sugar nose but rich on the palate, and again with good acidity. Needs drinking now but won’t go over the top for a few years. Very good indeed!
On Saturday 2nd July we welcomed 37 members to The Wine Society to take part in a United States of America tutored tasting hosted by buyer Sarah Knowles MW.
With the sun shining over glorious Stevenage and a list of wines as flashy as Dorothy’s daps we knew we were in for a treat.
The tasting began with a flight of three fascinating chardonnays; firstly the Fess Parker Santa Barbara County Chardonnay 2014 (£13.95), a well-balanced, fruit-forward crowd-pleaser that shows that quality American chardonnay can be found for under £15.
This was followed by the Bergstrom Old Stones Oregon Chardonnay 2013 (£22), a completely different kettle of fish. From cooler-climate Oregon, this is a concentrated style of chardonnay that leaps out of the glass and lingers long on the palate – stylish. The last of the whites was the Ridge Chardonnay 2012 (not currently available), a real haymaker of a wine and the only one of our three to use American oak. Full, rich and intense with a nose reminiscent of caramel and brown sugar this screams out for food but its bodybuilder-esque physique can be easily enjoyed on its own.
I’ve long been preaching the Book of Zin, boasting its vibrant juicy fruit and velvety texture to all who can hear, but it seemed there were some yet to be converted to the dark side on Saturday when confronted with three zinfandels. The first two, The Society’s California Old-Vine Zinfandel (£7.50) and the Ravenswood Lodi Old-Vine Zinfandel (£8.95) are very much in the ‘American mould’ of Zin making – big, bold fruit with alcohol just a shade below 15%.
The third, the Broc Vine Starr Sonoma County Zinfandel 2014 (not currently available), is produced by Chris Brockway in his garage (seriously) but tasted more like it comes from a fancy estate in the northern Rhône with its peppery, syrah-like nose and elegant if slightly funky (due to being fermented with wild yeast) palate which, along with the other two, helped convert many to zinfandel and its varying styles.
Pinot noir was up next – Pedroncelli (£10.50) from the Russian River valley, Lemelson’s Thea’s Selection (£19.50) from the Willamette Valley and the Au Bon Climat from the Sanford and Benedict vineyard, Santa Barbara (not currently available).
This was another extremely interesting flight showing three distinct styles – the first being ripe, round, generous and affordable – another marvellous example of top-quality Californian wine that doesn’t break the bank! The Lemelson on the other hand is elegant and sappy with plenty of cherry and redcurrant flavour, great with food or on its own, and the third an example of Californian pinot at its absolute best. As with all Au Bon Climat pinot it was beautifully balanced with Burgundian leather and truffle savouriness supported by fine tannin and underlying red fruit.
To finish, we were treated to a trio of cabernets – an affordable, Bordeaux-styled blend from Sagemoor Farms Vineyard (£14.50) in the Columbia Valley, alongside a big, sophisticated and juicy Silver Oak Alexander Valley Cabernet (£65) packed with intense cassis, blackcurrant and vanilla oak, a great example of American cabernet that opened up beautifully after a few hours’ breathing.
The final wine, taken from our Tastings Vintage stock, was a Ridge Monte Bello from 1995 – a real treat and one that drew a few gasps from those attending upon it being revealed. Despite being 21 years old it was still youthful and just starting to show the cedar and pencil-shaving charm that top-quality cabernet can give, alongside softened tannins and added ripeness expected from California – a truly stunning wine that was a fitting end to what was a fascinating and well-received workshop.
Tastings & Events Host
Our programme of tastings and events for the rest of 2016 has just been published! View the calendar and book your tickets here
Around a year ago, a small party of lucky members, random winners of our Buyers’ Tour competition, met up one morning in Saint Pancras.
Six hours or so later, we were in the Rhône valley tasting our first wine. The highlight of the trip was a safari-style excursion in Gigondas, aboard two Land Rovers, one coming from Clos de Cazaux, the other generously on loan from the Beaumes de Venise co-op.
Jean-Michel Vache bought the Cazaux land rover ex-United Nations, where it had seen service in Bosnia and Kossovo. But that’s another story!
The trip had been hugely successful and it got me thinking:
Why not bring Gigondas to the UK?
The Land Rovers were left behind.
Instead five Gigondas producers came over, first to London and then the following day to Newcastle, and they gave an hour-long masterclass on Gigondas as part of our annual Rhône event.
There were eight vintages shown, from the youthful fruit of a 2014 to the majesty of 2007.
Gigondas itself was represented by the aforementioned Jean-Michel Vache, showing a mighty 2009, Thierry Faravel of Domaine la Bouïssière, Jean-Baptiste Meunier of Moulin de la Gardette, Louis Barruol of Chateau Saint-Cosme and Henri-Claude Amadieu of Domaine Amadieu.
A reason why it worked so well is that the growers are all mates, some very close, so there was no infighting and no jealousies.
Gigondas is a not an especially large appellation and all of it pulls well together. It is heartening to see members’ enthusiasm for the wines on the rise, and perhaps we’ll do it again sometime!
In the meantime, our current offering of affordable pleasures from the excellent Rhône 2014 vintage features a delicious juicy red from Moulin de Gardette (£13.50), as well as what would be a blueprint for white Gigondas, if such a wine legally existed, from Amadieu (£9.95).
Wine tastings can be perceived as rather stuffy affairs. While this is far from the truth for Society tastings, we feel that a certain amount of levity would not go amiss from time to time.
To this end it has been decided that tutored tastings, in future, will begin with 15 minutes of optional karaoke. Society staff and our honoured guest presenters will start the ball rolling, but it is hoped that in time members too will be forthcoming in wanting to display their penchant for belting out some chart hits before getting down to the serious matter of tasting.
We had a trial run in February already, with Head of Buying Tim Sykes giving a great rendition of Simon and Garfunkel’s apposite Mrs Robinson just before Jancis Robinson MW introduced her presentation with Robbie Williams’ Let Me Entertain You to a suitably impressed audience.
Our next tutored tasting will begin with excerpts from the Broadway & West End hit show Chicago, with Head of Tastings Simon Mason giving members the old Razzle Dazzle, before Tastings Co-ordinator Emma Briffett will echo members’ reaction to this by singing those legendary lines from Cell Block Tango: “He had it coming!”
Our third virtual #TWStaste event, where members sit in the comfort of their own homes communing with one another online over a glass of liquid, happened at the end of August. (Details of the next one can be found at the bottom of this post).
This time it involved tasting two wines from our Blind Spot range, Australian wines with a ‘sense of place’, made / selected / bottled for us by Mac Forbes – Blind Spot King Valley Pinot Gris 2014 and Blind Spot McLaren Vale Grenache Shiraz Mataro 2013.
Present in the virtual tasting room (or rather in their respective studies in London and Hitchin) were our buyer for Australia Sarah Knowles MW (@SarahKnowles) with yours truly (@Ewbz) taking charge of The Society’s feed. This time we had singles, couples and even groups taking part from all over the country, juggling glass, bottle and device!
For the hour between 7.30 & 8.30 (as well as before and after) tweets flew around filled with …
… anticipation …
— Lucy CT (@hoogervaaner) August 27, 2015
… congregation …
… information …
— The Wine Society (@TheWineSociety) August 27, 2015
… orientation …
… sensation …
— Lucy CT (@hoogervaaner) August 27, 2015
… imagination …
… evaluation …
Joy says it clears the tubes #twstaste
— Alan Barclay-Devine (@AlanBD) August 27, 2015
… computation …
… satisfaction …
— Burnham Beachcomber (@preachermanpaul) August 27, 2015
… and valediction.
The next #TWStaste will be happening on Thursday 15th October from 7.30pm to 8.30pm. Buyer Marcel Orford Williams (@owmarcel) will be there and he, together with Martin Brown (@iamagrapeman), yours truly (@Ewbz) but chiefly … yourselves, will be tasting two wines from the Languedoc – Bourboulenc Domaine de Simonet 2014 and Syrah-Mourvèdre Côtes de Thongue Domaine Condamine L’Evêque 2014. Both wines are currently available individually and will also be in the Everyday Languedoc Mixed Dozen Case as part of our Languedoc offer which begins on 25th September.
We look forward to seeing you, tasting and tweeting with you then.
The Wine Society’s Tastings & Events programme offers a wide range of events throughout the year across the United Kingdom and also in Montreuil.
Our aim is to bring The Wine Society to our membership and provide a series of both formal and informal tastings where those attending can sample an array of wines in an atmosphere that suits them.
Whether this is a relaxed walk-around tasting at a large venue, an intimate tutored tasting with some of the biggest names in the wine trade or an informative dinner here in Stevenage there will always be something for you to enjoy no matter what your level of wine knowledge.
Check out these videos that give you an insight into both our team and our events. You can find out what’s coming up here - we look forward to welcoming you!
Tastings & Events Team
Several Society members already use Twitter to swap their thoughts on wines purchased from The Society. Last year we explored this idea a little further and hosted an online tasting of New Zealand wines, which proved very enjoyable; we hope this edition will be even more so.
Join us for an online guided tasting of two of the 2015 Wine Champions on Thursday 2nd July from 7.30pm-8.30pm UK time.
Members who use Twitter are cordially invited to crack open either or both of these wines – both of which triumphed in our extensive blind-tasting sessions to find the best of our best for drinking now – and taste along with our resident tweeters Ewan Murray and myself. This tasting is an opportunity to add your comments about the wines as we all taste together online from the comfort of our own sofas!
To take part, simply…
1) Order the wines
The two wines we will be tasting (in order), both of which can be found in our 2015 Wine Champions offer, are as follows:
Puglia Bianco, A Mano 2014 (£7.50 per bottle)
This delicious, spot-hitting crisp dry white from Italy shone in the tasting room for its modern, summery style; coupled with its friendly price tag, we therefore thought it the perfect candidate for this tasting.
3C Cariñena 2014 (£5.25 per bottle)
The cheapest of our Champions, this red bowled our tasters over with its succulent, tangy and berry-laden charms. Try for yourself and let us know what you think on the day!
To ensure delivery before we taste, please order by noon on Monday 29th June.
In advance of the tasting we suggest Twitter users follow @TheWineSociety so that you will easily see when the tasting gets going.
During the tasting feel free to add your thoughts and comments, and do let us know if you’re enjoying a particular dish with the wines too – food and wine matching tips are always welcome!
We look forward to talking to you on 2nd July.
Springtime seems to be so much about Alsace, or at least it seems to be the case for me. This year it started with a visit to Alsace at the close of winter, returning home on Saint David’s Day. Not a daffodil in sight until I got home.
This had been a packed trip, lasting a full five days with three or four visits a day. Alsace requires a certain stamina: so many grape varieties, so many wines and so many vintages! Alsace wines need time to come round so one is often at least a vintage behind. Most of what I tasted was from the 2013 vintage, the results of which have just been made available in our Alsace 2013 offer.And what a vintage 2013 has turned out to be. I shall pass over the details suffice to mention a few key points:
• Non-existent spring
• Very late flowering…
• …and then a long wait to a very late harvest.
• Yields were tiny and what little there was of very good quality.
What is clear is that 2013 is very fine for riesling and exceptionally fine for the entire pinot gris family. I don’t often veer towards pinot gris in my tastes but 2013 is a great pinot gris vintage.
There was also a very special week in April when I was one of the judges for the Decanter World Wine Awards: thousands of wines judged by panels of tasters recruited for the occasion from the international wine trade. My job was sorting out Alsace and the Alsace panel of four tasters was made up of Thierry Meyer, a Strasbourg based authority on Alsace, Eric Zwiebel, sommelier at the Summer Lodge Hotel in Dorset and Aristide Spies, a master sommelier based in Belgium. We tasted some 300 wines, awarding medals to the very best.
Spring is also the time of the year when The Society welcomes Alsace through a couple of members’ tastings. We enjoyed triumphant tastings in London at the Merchant Taylor’s Hall where 300 members attended and following that a repeat show in Manchester where a further 200 members tasted 28 wines from seven producers.These were exceptional occasions with some quite extraordinary wines on show. I was especially moved to see Catherine Faller of Domaine Weinbach, still overwhelmed by the double loss of her mother and sister who died within a year of each other. That week was the anniversary of Laurence Faller’s death, such a capable winemaker who left us far too soon.
It was good to meet so many members in London and it was good that they were clearly enjoying their wines. A few told me how struck they were by the marked differences in taste and style and how each of the seven houses present seemed to have a readily identifiable style.
Why should this be so? Of course a lot of it is down to the people who make the wine and in a region which thrives in the spirit of individuality, such divergences are hardly surprising. But there is more.
There is another vital factor that is there to make Alsace so rewarding and fascinating. That extra factor is terroir which in Alsace is particularly complex. Just how geology may affect the taste of a wine is hard to tell and forms part of a much talked about subject. But soil structure in Alsace can change with every few hundred yards and it’s not just about the proportion of limestone to clay though both are present in Alsace. Vines also grow on sandstone, schist, gneiss and basalt, not forgetting alluvial sediments and wine styles differ from producer to producer and vineyard to vineyard.
Vineyard is therefore key to understanding Alsace, at least among the grander wines. Locals of course have known about the best sites for a thousand years or more, though it seems fairly obvious when standing by the sandstone wall that is the grand cru Knipperlé in Guebwiller that this has to be special. And the same must be true for the steep basalt slope of the Rangen at the southern end of Alsace in Thann or the granite of the Schlossberg above Kaysersberg?
Many of these vineyards were recognised long ago; some would have enjoyed the same reputation as any of the iconic sites of the Côtes de Nuits in Burgundy. Yet formal classification has been quite recent. Today there are some 51 grands crus in Alsace and without a doubt these produce the best wines. Soon there will be a secondary classification which will appear as premiers crus. More on that later.
Only four grape varieties, riesling, pinot gris, muscat and gewurztraminer may use the grand cru appellation. There is one exception for the now rare sylvaner grape from the grand cru Zotzenberg; and soon there will be another exception which will be made for the outstanding potential of pinot noir grown on the grands crus Hengst and Vorbourg. Veronique Muré showed two stunning pinot noirs from the grand cru Vorbourg last night at The Society’s tasting in London.
And so, on an emotional note, the Alsace spring comes to an end with the 2013 vintage offer.