Grapevine Archive for 2012

Wed 25 Jun 2014

Spring In Alsace

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What a coincidence! The day the 2012 Alsace offer got underway, there I was, on cherished ground in Alsace for a huge trade tasting with nearly 100 growers in attendance.

From the top of Schoenenbourg with Riquewihr below.

From the top of Schoenenbourg with Riquewihr below

This was the second such event and, like the first, the idea was to showcase Alsace riesling in all its various styles and their multiplicity of flavours. About half the wines were riesling and the rest was everything else. Young wines were on show but many brought older wines too, in order to prove the longevity of this extraordinary grape. (Regretfully I missed out on a chance to taste a 1945 riesling from Schlumberger. Too busy trying to sample at least one wine from each table!).

Last year, The Wine Society was fortunate to be rewarded as best Alsace Wine merchant by the IWC (International Wine Challenge) so this was a good opportunity to taste from a large number of producers with a view to deepen the range still further. I wasn’t disappointed and I was able to identify several producers that will warrant a second visit. This year we introduced a grand cru sylvaner; next year there may be a rare klevener de Heiligenstein, a cousin of gewurztraminer found only in the village of Heiligenstein and making a delicately perfumed and spicy white wine.

The view from my south-facing hotel window in Riquewihr

The view from my south-facing hotel window in Riquewihr

Most of the wines on show came from the 2012 vintage which is not surprising as that is very much the current vintage for most producers. I had already tasted a fair few back in February when making the selection for The Society’s current offer. This week I added to my knowledge of this vintage with the best part of 200 more wines. And what a delight they are.

Alsace vintages tend to come in three vintage styles. There are the weighty vintages like 2011, 2009 and 2007, marked by heat and high levels of ripeness that make full-flavoured, generous wines. Rarer are vintages like 2010, 2008 and 2001 that are the result of a very long growing season; these wines are steely, marked by both high levels of ripeness and also acidity, a perfect combination for long keeping. The third group, typified by 2012 and 2004, produces wines that are relatively light with charm and an abundance of fruit.

On a day like last Tuesday, what better way to spend lunch than with a knuckle of pork and a glass of 2012 riesling, generously poured by our friend Jean Trimbach? The restaurant, by the way, for anyone with an idea of visiting this fairytale countryside, was the ‘Pfifferhus’ in Ribeauvillé, on the main street, which I think makes an especially good choucroute that has a little sharpness and clean, refreshing flavours.

In the course of a day I probably tasted a little short of 300 wines from nearly 100 producers. Standards were high, surprisingly so, and of course helped by the excellence of the 2012 vintage.

Exhibition Alsace RieslingAnd the 2013s are looking similarly good. Isabelle and Céline Meyer of Josmeyer, knowing that I was coming, brought a sample of 2013 Exhibition Riesling (pictured right).This is going to be something quite special, though we will have to wait till the autumn to try it. Josmeyer were among the standout producers at the tasting, able to demonstrate depth in their range and also the longevity of their wines. I loved 2000 Riesling Pflanzerreben from Rolly-Gassmann and was bowled over by a 1976 Riesling Grand Cru Kirchberg from Domaine Louis Sipp. And there were equally exceptional wines from Leon Beyer, Trimbach , Schlumberger, Weinbach and Zind Humbrecht among others.

Alsace is an extraordinarily polyglot region of France and there was as much English spoken at the fair as French, with visitors from all over the world. Of note was the contingent of Japanese, no doubt on the quest for the most precise and pure examples of riesling to match their exquisite cooking!

And the 2014 vintage is about 100 days away!

And the 2014 vintage is about 100 days away!

Marcel Orford-Williams
Society Buyer for Alsace

Wed 11 Jun 2014

Alsace 2012: Assessing The Wines

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Society buyers spend a lot of time travelling. There is no substitute for visiting a vineyard – speaking with a producer, tasting, seeing the vines and soil and aspect – to get a true feel for the quality of a wine. That notwithstanding, Society buyers are also very thorough. A wine that impresses in the vigneron’s cellar may not do so quite as much in the cold light of day, and so invariably samples will be collected for a second appraisal in The Society’s tasting room here in Stevenage.

From Alsace...

From Alsace… Stevenage!

…to Stevenage!

It was such a tasting that I was fortunate enough to take part in recently with Marcel Orford-Williams, freshly returned from a whistle-stop tour of Alsace, and newly appointed Society buyer Sarah Knowles.

The Society has a superb, award-winning range of Alsace wines, and this is largely a result of Marcel’s skill and eye for quality. It is also testament to the rigorous selection process through which each wine is put before listing.

And so, over the course of three days, I joined Marcel in the tasting room along with around 150 Alsace wines, mostly from the 2012 vintage.

Our first day covered the workhorses of Alsace: a selection of blends, along with some single-varietal sylvaner, pinot blanc and chesselas. Our second day took in riesling, from bone dry to a glorious Sélection de Grains Noble. We then tasted through a range of pinot gris – rounded, generous and, for the most part, reassuringly dry. Gewurztraminer brought the proceedings to a close on the third day, an aromatic rear guard action covering the full spectrum of sweetness.

Some of the gewurztraminers

Some of the gewurztraminers

Aside from the sheer quality of the vintage, the one thing that struck me the most about these tastings was the different ‘house styles’ that one begins to appreciate when tasting through such a varied offering: Beyer’s full-flavoured wines of complexity that cry out for food; Josmeyer’s charming, elegant wines that feel as though they just want to be drunk; Rolly Gassman’s highly aromatic wines with a characteristic richness that comes from picking very ripe; Weinbach’s purity and easy charm; Trimbach, the embodiment of class and precision in every sniff and sip…

…and these are just a few of the producers featured in our current Alsace 2012 offer.

In short, Alsace is a region of contrasts and has a wine to suit almost every palate, pocket and occasion. I wholeheartedly recommend that members explore the fruits of this excellent vintage.

Joe Mandrell
Trainee Buyer

The Society’s 2012 Alsace offer is available now.

Wed 12 Feb 2014

Burgundian Cellars: Tollot-Beaut

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Tollot-Beaut have very attractive cellars, although quite recent.


Still, the black alcohol-loving fungus has colonised the pillars and wine bins.

Tollot-Beaut bins

We will be selling their lovely 2012s in our opening offer.

Toby Morrhall
Society Buyer for Burgundy

The Society’s opening offer of 2012 red and white Burgundy will be available from 17th February.

Edit (17/2/2014): This offer is now available.

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Tue 21 Jan 2014

Viognier: A Grape Back From The Brink

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The 2012 vintage has been fantastic for white Rhône wines and though quantities are small, we are delighted to be offering a selection in our opening offer from the region.

It is incredible to think that viognier, today a rather trendy white grape variety found in vineyards across the winemaking world, was on the verge of extinction less than 50 years ago.



In the 1960s total plantings barely covered ten hectares and all of these were on the steep-sided terraced vineyards of Condrieu and Château-Grillet in the northern Rhône. The vertiginous slopes are difficult to farm and the viognier vines were old and diseased. Prone to coulure, they were producing pitifully low yields making the wines expensive to produce and had no real market to support them.

That this remarkable grape has survived and gone on to be a variety of global significance is down to the persistence of two northern Rhône growers, E. Guigal and Georges Vernay. Widely regarded as pioneers in the resurrection of the Condrieu appellation, they both saw the beauty and potential of this grape and made it their business to improve the health of the vines, by selecting and propagating those in best shape.

It wasn’t just for its ability to produce exotically perfumed peachy whites that they persevered with the grape. Guigal in particular was passionate about adding in the permitted small amounts of viognier to his syrah to add bloom and fragrance to his Côte-Rôtie wines.

Viognier growing in Guigal's Condrieu vineyards

Viognier growing in Guigal’s Condrieu vineyards

Meanwhile the improvements that Guigal and Vernay brought about in their Condrieu helped bring the grape to a wider audience. Condrieu became highly sought after and the grape the trendy new white grape of the early eighties.

Becoming fashionable isn’t always a great thing, but for viognier it has helped to preserve the grape for future generations as growers throughout the world sought to introduce it to their regions improving the quality of the vine stock as they did so. And while nowhere quite matches the complexity of viognier from Condrieu, there are some great-pretenders from the Cape to California and all (warm) growing regions in between.

If you’d like to find out more about the different styles of Condrieu, read buyer Marcel Orford-William’s post from his visit to the region last year.

You can also read our profile of viognier in our Guide to Grapes in Wine World & News.

Joanna Goodman
News Editor

Categories : France, Rhône
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Rasteau in October, with the Ventoux in the background.

Rasteau in October, with the Ventoux in the background.

While other parts of France had a more problematic year in 2012, the Rhône Valley, and by extension, the Languedoc-Roussillon, was spared a similar fate and has produced some stunning wines.

I have visited the region on several occasions this year and am very excited by the quality of the wines. While quantities are down on previous years due to lower yields, the wines are, to quote Daniel Brunier of Vieux Télégraphe, ‘phenomenal’.

Perfect ripeness has been achieved throughout the valley and wines have lovely integrated tannins and elegant structure. While there are excellent wines across the board, 2012 is the year for Châteauneuf-du-Pape, standing alongside 2010 in terms of quality.

Prices are still coming out and we are finalising our selection to feature in our opening offer in January, but while yields are low and quantities therefore down, we will be adding to the list of estates that we buy from this year and taking more cuvées from growers that we follow year on year.

What can we expect?
As well as Châteauneuf, we can expect to see a greater representation of Cairanne and Rasteau this year, plus, from further south, stunning wines from the Languedoc, including a new cuvée from Society favourite Château Sainte Eulalie in Minervois. The north is equally exciting: Crozes-Hermitages are particularly supple and ripe-tasting and Saint-Josephs have wonderful depth of flavour.

And the whites?
Whites still make up a tiny proportion of the Rhône’s output but should not be forgotten, particularly in a vintage like 2012, where they display wonderful fruity elegance and concentration without a trace of heaviness.

Marcel Orford-Williams
Rhône Buyer

Our opening offer of 2012 Rhône & Languedoc-Roussillon wines will be published in late January. The offer will be published on our website and will be posted to those members who have bought from similar offers in the last two years.

Find out more about buying from opening offers.

STOP PRESS (20th January): The opening offer is now live!

Not quite a year ago, I reported on the calamitous hail storms that blighted so much of Provence. Most of my news came from Domaine de Fontlade in the Varois but many were hit.

The same vineyard at Fontlade on 27th May 2011 (left) and 2012 (right)

The same vineyard at Fontlade on 27th May 2011 (left) and 2012 (right)

One of the worst-affected places was the town of Roquefort, a little inland from the port of Cassis in Provence. The devastation was almost complete as the hailstones ripped through the vines, knocking out in one fell swoop any chance of getting a crop.

But there is a good story which I think goes some way to cancel out the miserable fate that led to Katie Jones losing her production of white wine.

In Roquefort, two neighbouring properties faced real difficulties. It was worse for Château Roquefort but what happened here was remarkable as producer after producer donated the odd ton or so of grapes.

Sophie Cerciello and Didier Simonini of Château Barbanau among their vines with Domaine Tempier's Daniel Ravier

Sophie Cerciello and Didier Simonini of Château Barbanau among their vines with Domaine Tempier’s Daniel Ravier

Donations came from all over the south, from the Rhône to Bandol, including Domaine Tempier. ‘But for the grace of God go I,’ was the response. No harvest is ever guaranteed, not least when it concerns soft fruit but the reaction from so many was no less extraordinary.

Next door to Roquefort is Château Barbanau, owned by Sophie Cerciello and Didier Simonini. They suffered just as badly though didn’t make quite same fuss! Moreover, they insisted that everything that came to them had to be certified organic and only from AOC Cotes de Provence. But apart from that the story was the same with vignerons friends and neighbours donating crop and even help out in the hail-damaged vineyards.

The results are spectacular as members will find when we ship the 2012 white, rosé and red for the summer.

Marcel Orford-Williams
Society Buyer

Tue 16 Apr 2013

2012 Bordeaux – What to Expect

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Against expectations, Society buyers Joanna Locke MW and Tim Sykes find themselves genuinely excited and impressed by 2012 clarets.

The cellars at Ausone

2012 has produced a Bordeaux vintage full of surprises. From properties that did, genuinely, make better wine this year than last, to wonderful cabernet-dominated wines in a generally more merlot-oriented vintage, our first week of tasting the grands crus and much else besides was a fascinating one.

We began with a ‘ok, impress me’ attitude, and found ourselves, well, impressed! As already noted on Grapevine, thus far the vintage has not received a great deal of comment, let alone hype, which is not only refreshing but all to the good for we buyers. Top-end Bordeaux has honestly risen to the 2012 challenge and cleverly kept its counsel on this one, allowing trade and press to make up their own minds. The general mood during UGC week, amongst a turnout of visitors not quite up to the numbers for the celebrated 2009 and 2010 vintages but pretty much in line with last year, seemed to be one of positive surprise sprinkled with genuine enthusiasm. A US buyer whose palate and opinion we respect used the analogy of childbirth to describe the long labour required for success in 2012 but (mostly) joyful end result that is parenthood!

The vineyards at de Fonbel in full bloom

Thu 21 Feb 2013

Must-Try Muscadet

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During a written exercise as part of my job interview for The Society, I was asked to highlight some wines I felt were particularly good value, and why. In what was almost a reflex arc, for it is certainly what they call a ‘no brainer’, I selected Muscadet as the prime candidate.

Yet I then wondered whether explaining the reasons for my choice within the hastened environs of a timed exam would be a risk. ‘Many producers are struggling financially, the wine’s cheap, hurrah!’ did not quite encapsulate the impression I wanted to give of myself, and so I began to become slightly paranoid. What’s more, it is arguably that very attitude that led to many of the problems the region faces today, with bulk prices being driven to a depth that made many give up and left others clinging on by soil-covered fingernails.

Bernard Chéreau of Chéreau Carré

Bernard Chéreau of Chéreau Carré

Two years on from those nervous stopwatched semantics, therefore, I am ambivalent that Muscadet remains my personal top pick for quality:price ratio in the world of wine.

That fashion has had a role to play in the region’s current problems is especially difficult to get one’s head around, particularly given that current white-wine-drinking trends in the UK almost read like a tasting note for classic Muscadet: clean citrus fruit, food-friendly acidity, freshness, versatility, low alcohol…

Grapevine readers might also like to take a look at an excellent article on the subject by Richard Hemming, published last month on and now free for non-subscribers to view: The Muscadet of Reckoning. As well as providing a useful parallel to the Beaujolais region, the piece focuses rightly on the utterly superb quality of the wines available.

Muscadet’s predicament has not been helped either by the low-yielding 2012 vintage, in which quantities are down dramatically. For Society members, this will probably mean some modest price rises. More than ever, therefore, I would argue that now is the time to buy.

To name but three examples currently available from The Society: in our Benchmark Bottles offer, we list Chéreau-Carré’s Château L’Oiselinière de la Ramée, 2010, which offers remarkable sophistication and class for £7.75. Cuvée des Ceps Centenaires, 2009 gives us the verve of the fruit from 100-year-old vines with change from £10. The aged and distinctive Le Clos du Château L’Oiselinière, 2004 (£11.50), eulogised by one Hugh Johnson recently, is a fuller-bodied proposition and a satisfying and complex equal to many a fine white Burgundy sold at more than double the price.

So why not do your own small bit for a classic wine region that does not deserve its present malaise and add a bottle or two to your next order? Your palate will thank you and your wallet won’t regret it either.

Martin Brown
Digital Copywriter

Categories : France, Loire
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Tue 22 Jan 2013

Loire 2012: The Wonders of Nature

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One of the joys of my most recent visit to the Loire was seeing a red squirrel, a deep, rich red brown, scampering across the road. They are smaller than our grey ones and a joy to behold. One of our Loire suppliers has one that does acrobatics in a tree just outside their kitchen window and I always feel disappointed when he does not appear to perform when I am visiting.

The Loire has had its share of disappointments this last year. As already reported on Society Grapevine, the weather threw all it had got at them throughout the 2012 growing season. This time, ironically, they – and the harvest – were saved not by an Indian summer but by rain.

The good, the bad and the ugly: chenin blanc vines, all within a few rows of one another, photographed on a visit to the Loire in August 2012.

Already low yields (due mostly to mildew and poor flowering) were not ripening, when early poor, wet weather was followed by drought in August and September. Alain Cailbourdin (Pouillys Boisfleury and Les Cris) explained that in Pouilly-sur-Loire the rain came too late for his newly planted vineyard, which had not just suffered but had lost many of its leaves, vital to feed the vine.

The more mature vines, however, fared better and were revived by the rain, and the maturation process could begin once more.

There’s no getting away from it being a challenging year: quantities are down, sometimes by as much as 50%, and we fear many more Loire producers will throw in the towel this year. But many of those hanging on in there have made memorable and excellent wines this year. Prices are likely to go up, but in a region where so many have been static in recent years, and where some exceptionally good wines have been made, any increase is a small price to pay.

Against all nature’s odds, there will be some delicious 2012 Loire wines.

Jo Locke MW
Society Buyer for the Loire

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Tue 15 Jan 2013

Sauternes 2012: Some Optimism

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Château d’Yquem has made the news recently, declaring loudly that it will not be releasing a 2012 because the quality is not up to scratch. The growing season and harvest was particularly complicated and stressful for the Sauternais, it’s true, and we have not heard anyone claiming the vintage of the century.

However, Yquem’s typically bold statement does rather queer the pitch for anyone who does plan to release! Château Climens’ Bérénice Lurton, who is President of the Union des Grands Crus de Sauternes et Barsac, offers her take on the vintage:

8 days of harvest over a period of 2 weeks (15 to 31st October) gave us a yield of 10hl/ha and moreover, quality that we could never had hoped for. For such a crazy harvest, frankly the outcome is positive. And more than that, it was great to cock a snoot at all those malicious gossipers who declared Climens to be ‘devastated by mildew’. Mother Nature was not so unkind after all!

As for biodynamics, without which we would almost certainly have lost fewer grapes to mildew, it did on the other hand help the vines to stand up to the drought in September and the unwelcome rains towards the end of the season.

The tastings post-fermentation are amazing: apart from 2 or 3 lots that are simpler but honest, the overall result is excellent. To start, the aromatic purity is perfect from beginning to end. And for most of the lots a long finish, complexity, elegance and panache are all there.

(Bérénice’s full harvest report can be found by visiting Climens’ website and clicking on the post entitled ‘Proud of our 2012 vintage!’.)

After a run of good Sauternes vintages, cellars may not be gasping for more. We’ll take a view after we’ve tasted in the spring. At least we know we don’t have to save our centimes for Yquem 2012!

Jo Locke MW
Society Buyer for Bordeaux

Edit, 29th January:
Château Rieussec
, we now know, is also not releasing a 2012 wine; but our first taste of the Dubourdieus’ Cantegril (The Society’s Exhibition Sauternes) and Doisy Daëne have indeed proved that some delicious Sauternes and Barsac have been made.

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