Grapevine Archive for 2008

A couple of weeks ago two of the Rhône’ iconic figures came to London.

In the evening Philippe Guigal made his first appearance at a Society event, showing his wines over dinner to a hundred members assembled at the Bleeding Heart restaurant near Farringdon.

Famille Guigal

Famille Guigal

When The Society first began buying from Guigal, that company was most clearly associated with Côte-Rôtie and Condrieu, and little else. But the intervening years has seen the business expand hugely.

There were corporate acquisitions that brought in valuable new vineyards, not only on Côte-Rôtie and Condrieu but also on Hermitage and Saint-Joseph. Fabulous new cellars were built in Ampuis allowing for further expansion. Guigal Côtes-du-Rhône (£9.95), for example has become an important wine and The Society is very pleased indeed to be among the many stockists of this impeccable wine.

Head of Tastings Simon Mason busy opening the wines at Bleeding Heart.

Head of Tastings Simon Mason busy opening the wines at Bleeding Heart

For the dinner, Guigal opened the evening with the viognier-based 2013 white which we will welcome to our range very shortly. That was before a lovely bottle of 2012 Saint-Joseph Blanc and their exceptional 2011 Saint-Joseph Rouge (£19). At the heart of the tasting, the 2008 vintage was tasted across the Côte-Rôtie range. The vintage is now fully ready and a joy to sip, perfect with dishes on show (we still have some stock of the 2008 La Turque at £134). Philippe was engaging and eloquent and this will not be his last visit to The Wine Society.

Earlier in day, I attended a masterclass in London: a tasting of the 2014 vintage with Michel Chapoutier in the chair. This was my first real chance to taste some top wines from this vintage. Not the easiest of vintages, 2014 had started with a warm, dry spring but then suffered a cool summer which delayed ripening before fine weather returned in September.

The whites, picked in early September were brilliant and it is clear that 2014 will be a great vintage for white Rhônes. This was really the result of the cool summer which meant that acidities were preserved rather than burnt away. Harvesting the reds later in September and through to October was trickier as the warm September was not without rain. The steep slopes of Hermitage and Saint-Joseph are of course well placed to cope with sudden heavy rains as the water naturally drains away easily.

The Chapoutier wines are brilliant: very dark in colour, fragrant and very fine with elegant tannins and nicely etched fruit flavours. I shall now look forward to my next trip to the Rhône in November.

Marcel Orford-Williams
Society Buyer

Categories : France, Rhône
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Wed 06 Apr 2011

A chance to taste Bordeaux in Bordeaux

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This first week in April, every year, is the time when the great and the good of the wine trade head out to Bordeaux to taste the latest vintage before heading back home to prepare the famous en primeur offer.  The Society’s Sebastian Payne MW & Joanna Locke MW are out there as I type, tasting their way around the Right & Left Banks.

Members will recall that October saw the first ever UK consumer tasting for the Union des Grands Crus de Bordeaux (UGCB) in partnership with The Wine Society. It was a very successful event showing the 2008 vintage from over 100 Bordeaux properties.

In May the event is being repeated on an even grander scale in Bordeaux. Hangar 14 on the Quai des Chartrons overlooking the river is the venue for a tasting of the 2008s together with another vintage from the past decade from each of the member châteaux of the UGCB. Le Week-end des Grands Crus takes place on 7th & 8th May, offering the chance to have a foretaste of what you might have ordered from the 2008 en primeur campaign, as well as to get closer to the wines of Bordeaux by tasting them in the city and talking in detail with the people that grow the grapes and make the wine.

Following the tasting there are a number of Wine Passion dinners taking place in the properties, the perfect occasions to discover, or rediscover, French cuisine and the excellent food & wine matching opportunities that lie there.

Click here for all required information about le Week-end des Grands Crus.

We have five pairs of tickets for the tasting to give away, courtesy of the UGCB, to the first five members drawn at random who give the correct answer to the following question:

What is being tasted at Le Week-end des Grands Crus in May 2011?
A. Solely wines from 2008.
B. Wines from 2008 and another vintage from this decade.
C. Solely wines from another vintage from this decade.

Answers should be received via e-mail at tastings@thewinesociety.com before 5pm on Tuesday12th April 2011. Bonne chance!

Thu 21 Oct 2010

Wish you were there

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A great evening on Tuesday night, when we welcomed owners and representatives of 111 Bordeaux châteaux from the Union des Grands Crus for a fascinating overview of the 2008 vintage.

This is the first time they have participated together in an event for wine drinkers rather than the wine trade.  2008 clarets are still babies, bottled between March and September this year, but already show the fruit and finesse and balance of a classic year that will age well and cost rather less than 2009.  The dry whites of Pessac-Léognan are particularly aromatic. We were able to compare no fewer than 12 classed growth Sauternes, made in tiny quantity in 2008, but delicious. 

Union des Grands Crus Tasting

Growers were delighted with Society members’  interest and knowledge, and only worried that French strikes might delay their journey back to finish the 2010 vintage which is unusually late.  Christian Seely of Pichon Longueville took the easiest option returning to Hampshire to oversee the the harvest at his English vineyard.

Categories : Bordeaux, Wine Tastings
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Fri 08 Oct 2010

Jancis’s wine of the week

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Jancis Robinson’s wine of the week was St-Véran En Crêches 2008, Domaine Jacques & Natalie Saumaize

One long-standing over-performing Mâconnais name is Saumaize, a domaine split in the 1990s between the brothers Roger, who, with his wife Christine, continues to run Saumaize-Michelin with aplomb, and Jacques, who, with his wife Nathalie, has made this great-value St-Véran from vines on slopes with a good proportion of Chardonnay-loving limestone to the north of the robustly priced Pouilly-Fuissé appellation. The Vieilles Vignes bottling is fermented in barrel but this unoaked version is wonderfully sunny, open and attractive already. I loved its almost ethereal perfume, its energy and its creamy texture. According to the label it is only 13% alcohol and I would drink it, with or without food, any time over the next two years. It’s available from The Wine Society (who have a particularly well-chosen selection of Mâconnais whites, as outlined in Young white burgundies – some great buys) for £11.50 a bottle or £138 a dozen

Just back from an early harvest visit to the Pays Nantais where I was struck by the many contradictions in this rather sleepy vinous corner of France. 2007 and 2008 were both short harvests, with damaging frost the culprit, which meant growers put prices up last year despite the economic climate and the negative impact on pricing of the euro/sterling exchange rate. The market for Muscadet fell through the floor and nowhere more so than in the UK, where we are spoiled for choice and, despite the rebuilding of the last few years, Muscadet is not the must have wine it once was. It was only producers of high quality wines with a loyal following who were able to maintain their customer base or find new customers to fill the gap. Many others were forced to sell up or, worse still, give up vines they had probably farmed for generations. More will go this year.

Muscadet LadybirdAnd yet there is much to be positive about, with a fine 2009 vintage in the cellar and a promising 2010 harvest in train, with temperatures cool enough to maintain freshness and enough sunshine to further ripen those grapes that still need to.

I was moved by the positive attitude of one young grower who was already showing the signs of fatigue resulting from working 5am to 10pm days, brought on because the fruit on his recently expanded handful of properties was all ripening at once. Then by another who recounted how many more small growers he believes will throw in the towel this year but only after delivering their well-tended crop, such is the pride of the vigneron. 2010 will not be remembered as an easy year, which 2009 was by comparison, but the early season was favourable enough to allow growers to use fewer vineyard treatments – and happily so, as many would not have been able to afford a more challenging growing season this year.

The complexion of this region has changed dramatically over the last twenty years, tragically so for some, but, for the most part for the good. There has been considerable consolidation among the bigger, corporate producers, but in recent years a resurgence of small, quality-oriented négociants too, with both love and respect for this lately unfashionable region. Maison Bougrier is one such, recently investing in the area by taking over a former co-operative cellar otherwise doomed for closure. Successful family producers have grown their vineyard holdings for the economies of scale and the more stable life this brings, not least to maximise the value of each of their machine harvesters, which I am told are now responsible for picking 95% of the region’s grapes. Vineyard quality has been under major review and much will be declassified, though admittedly with a generous final deadline of 2025. Plans for the new Cru appellation are well under way, and this should simply need the rubber stamp of the INAO (Institut National des Appellations d’Origine) by the time the proposal reaches them. I even ate in an excellent new restaurant, Auberge La Gaillotière in the heart of the vineyards in the commune of Château-Thébaud.

Perhaps most importantly the quality of the wines has never been better. When I was studying for my MW exam in the 1980s Muscadet was easier to spot for its dull, bitter, mean character than for any regional or varietal typicity. Last week I smelled and tasted deliciously sweet juice from this year’s harvest and enjoyed a mouthwatering range of Muscadets, mostly the excellent 2009s, but also a number of older wines including a remarkable 1996 magnum of Chéreau-Carré’s 100-year-old vine cuvée from the Château de Chasseloir (one of the remaining few to be picked by hand, incidentally, as is their Château de L’Oiselinière).

Muscadet should be mouthwatering. When it’s good it makes for one of the most appetising glasses you can find. The good news is that the 2009s are very, very good; fresh and racy enough to satisfy committed enthusiasts, and ripe enough to please the new recruits that Muscadet deserves and needs.

Categories : France
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Fri 07 May 2010

150 years of Tahbilk – a family affair

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Established in 1860,  Tahbilk is located in the Nagambie Lakes (Goulburn Valley) region of central Victoria (120kms north of Melbourne). This year the Purbrick family, owners since 1927, celebrate 150 years of the winery’s existence, as well as 50 years of supplying The Society.

This premium, cooler-climate vineyard comprises 200 hectares of vines majoring on Rhône varieties such as marsanne, viognier and shiraz. Their marsanne plantings are the largest single holding of this variety in the world, and their marsanne and shiraz are amongst the oldest plantings anywhere.

4th generation winemaker Alister Purbrick visited The Society this week to talk to and taste with Society staff.  The fragrant, stainless steel fermented Tahbilk Viognier 2009 was a refreshing, dried apricot flavoured revelation; the comparison of the 2008 and 2002 Tahbilk Marsanne was fascinating – buying a case of the 2008 now, putting it into Members’ Reserves for 10 years and then enjoying it would be a very worthwhile thing to do. The smooth, spicy and brambly Tahbilk Shiraz 2004 caressed the palate and the mint-and-cassis driven Tahbilk Cabernet Sauvignon 2006 was a real delight. For details of Tahbilk wines offered by The Society, click here.

Alister (on the right) and his daughter Hayley, pictured here with the Chairman (Alister’s father John) are at RIBA, London, on Monday 10th May with 11 of their compatriots as The Society presents Australia’s First Families of Wine to 300 members.

As regionality becomes more in vogue with drinkers of Australian wines, what is your preferred Aussie wine growing area?

Categories : Australia, Miscellaneous
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Fri 05 Mar 2010

Joanna Simon Wines of the Week

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From Joanna Simon’s wine and food blog:

SA6051 2009 The Foundry Grenache Blanc
The white wines coming out of South Africa just keep getting more and more exciting. Chris Williams makes a terrific Viognier, but this is the first time I’ve tasted his Grenache Blanc. It’s fairly full-bodied and has a smidgen of Viognier, which gives a perfumed apricot edge to the apple, pepper and mineral flavours, but it’s a less showy wine than the Viognier, as you’d expect. There’s a little bit of oak to round it out and round it off and the finish is clean and dry. 13.5% abv £7.95, The Wine Society

SP5531 2008 Cruz de Piedra Garnacha
Ebullient, young Spanish red made from 60-100 year old garnacha growing high up in the Calatayud mountains southeast of Rioja. Juicy, sweet-tomato and red-berry fruit spiced up with lots of earthy white-pepper flavours; medium-full, dry and fresh. 13.5% abv. £5.25, The Wine Society; £5.99, Adnams Cellar & Kitchen

The Guardian
Victoria Moore writes:

Membership of The Wine Society may cost £40, but for the wines it has on offer that’s something of a bargain.

“Can’t speak,” I texted my brother. “I’m about to be picked up by ­someone from The Wine Society.”

“That’s an alcoholic line if ever I heard one,” he texted back.

Fair point. The WS’s 90,000 active members don’t just like to drink, though. They like to drink well, as a rummage through the warehouse at its Stevenage HQ demonstrates. There are several un-surprises: a slew of The Society’s own labels, including its CE3291 Chilean Sauvignon Blanc, made by Viña Leyda, and AR1301 Argentine Malbec, made by Susana Balbo – nothing but the best for the WS. There are loads of boxes of Alfred Gratien champagne (reassuring that some are still able to count this as an essential); crates of d’Arry’s Original shiraz-grenache, which sells at £10 a bottle and “flies out”, says the WS’s Ewan Murray. But what’s this? SH421 The Society’s ­Exhibition Viejo Oloroso Dulce (£10.95; 20% abv)? Surely he’s not telling me an aged sweet sherry is fast-moving? “It was at Christmas,” he says, blinking with satisfaction.

Here are the Wine Society basics. It was founded in 1874 to introduce “its members to the best of the world’s vineyards at a fair price”. Being owned by the members, it still aims to sell the best it can for the lowest price, rather than to buy whatever it can at the lowest price to sell for as much as it can get. Anyone can join. Lifetime membership costs £40 and your share can be ­bequeathed to a friend or relative on your death.

So what’s good? Quite a lot, as it happens, starting with the rich, ­raisiny, aforementioned oloroso, which was superb with a slice of ­Lincolnshire Poacher. AU12411 Plantagenet Riesling 2008 (£10.95; 11.5% abv), from Australia, is so rousing it ought to be prescribed as medicine for ­anyone who struggles to get up in the morning. Dry, succulent, striated with the taste of lime cordial and mandarin, and, with its ferocious acidity, beautifully mouthwatering, more realistically this makes a fine pre-dinner drink. The new vintage of CE5291 De Martino Legado Limari Valley Chardonnay 2008 (£7.50; 14% abv) is looking every bit as elegant as the last – you can almost see the crayfish swimming towards it, ready to go on a plate with some mayo. SP3501 The ­Society’s ­Rioja Crianza 2006 (£7.50; 13% abv), made by Bodegas Palacio, is a ­triumph of savour, fruit brightness and structure: with gentle ageing in American oak, it’s an easy drink for paella or pork chops. And last, IT12981 Poderi Colla Barbera d’Alba 2007 (£8.50; 14% abv) is very stylish and adult for the price, as smart as an Armani suit, with a light fragrance of petals and a twist of sour cherries.

Mon 23 Nov 2009

Armistice Day 2009

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Armistice Day fell midweek. There was a time when this National Holiday was keenly observed in France. It might have been so elsewhere but not in the little town of Ampuis by the river Rhone, 20 miles or so downstream from Lyon. Here it felt just like a Sunday, very quiet. Some growers were busy in their cellars, racking off the promising wines of the 2009 vintage. Some people were out mushroom picking while others were at an annual apple festival in a village in the hills behind Condrieu.

There were flags at the war memorial and at some point during the morning, maybe when I was tasting Stephanne Ogier’s 2008’s, two cellophane wrapped bouquets of flowers been laid on the plinth. There were twenty or so names engraved in the concrete and arranged by year of death from 1914 to 1918 with a few additions to cover the Second World War, Indochina and North Africa. Many of the names were familiar, names of well known producers of Cote-Rotie and in some cases families had lost more than one son. There were two Garon, one for each of the world wars and two Dervieux.

Appropriately, my last appointment of the day was with Rene Rostaing who is married to a Dervieux. I mentioned the war memorial. “Well, he said, one of them was gassed and came home to die. The other went over the top and was never seen again.”

With so many men gone, the vineyards naturally suffered and many of the steep slopes that so characterise the northern Rhone were abandoned and even today many of these slopes remain overgrown. Rostaing’s 2008 Cote Rotie is a deliciously soft and fruity red but the tasting ended on a 1995 single vineyard Cote Rotie called la Viaillere which was at the heart of the Dervieux estate and from where many memorable wines were made.

Categories : Miscellaneous, Rhône
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Wed 23 Sep 2009

2009 Bordeaux Harvest

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I’m keeping my opinions to myself for the time being about how the 2009 vintage in Bordeaux is going to shape up, but according to my Bordelais sources, “…the buzz has it that 2009 is going to be a spectacular year … True or not true?  The climate will still decide in the couple of weeks to come for the reds, as it did in 2008 to create one of Bordeaux’s winegrowing miracles.

Categories : Bordeaux, En Primeur
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