Grapevine Archive for 2013

I am part of a group, originally formed by Clive Coates, now retired, that meets twice a year to taste Burgundy blind from bottle.

The group comprises journalists Neal Martin (e-Robert Parker) and Neil Beckett (World of Fine Wine), and wine merchants Roy Richards (formerly Richards Walford), Jasper Morris (BBR), Zubair Mohamed (Raeburn Fine Wines), Lindsay Hamilton (ex Farr Vintners), Giles Burke-Gaffney (J&B), Julie Richards (own company), Jason Haynes (Flint Wines), Christopher Moestue (own company in Norway) and Adam Bruntlett (BBR).

burgundy-tasting-goup

The process, its challenges and rewards:
We last met in September to taste 244 red premiers and grands crus Burgundies from the 2013 vintage, arranged in 38 flights, where the identity of flight is known, perhaps Pommard Rugiens, but not the producer.

It is probably the most useful, informative and challenging tasting of the year. It is very difficult to line up a comprehensive selection of Burgundy because the wines are so rare and in such demand they disappear into wine lovers’ cellars as soon as they are sold. We mark out of 20 and then discuss the wines before revealing who made them. Everyone shares their knowledge and views and I learn much from my peers during this tasting.

Burgundy is very challenging to assess. Marks may vary considerably between scorers as Burgundy is one of the most diverse wines in terms of style. Partly because the owner is usually winemaker and viticulturist, rather than a hired hand as is more usual in, say, Bordeaux, you get risk-taking owners each with their own view about how to make wine. This is why we recommend you choose producer before appellation.

As a taster you are confronted with a wide range of styles and you have to judge a wine’s quality, how it will develop and its character (ie. whether the wine is typical of its appellation).

How do you mark a rich, dark, oaky and powerful wine in an appellation like Chambolle, which one expects elegance and grace? It often comes down to a philosophical view of what one expects from a particular appellation and a judgement of how it measures up.

Just looking at the colours in a single flight they can range from black, usually a sign of over-extraction of colour and tannin, or oxidation, to very pale and light, often a sign the wine was made with whole bunches. Wines made with whole bunches absorb the colour in the stems, hence the pale colour, and are usually softer and less acid as potassium in the stems precipitates some of the acidity. But if done badly with underripe stems one can get a load of green, harsh tannins on the palate. Whole-bunch wines may smell a little vegetal in youth, but can develop a remarkable aromatic complexity with age.

One can see how an enormous variation in opinion can develop if one considers just the aspect of wines made with whole bunches compared to destemmed wines. There are those who like wines with whole bunches as they believe they are capable of a type of aromatic complexity with bottle age that destemmed wines are not. Others are not so keen, and see any green, herbaceous aroma as detrimental. A very light wine can be divisive as some admire the purity and delicacy while others may judge it as a good wine now yet perhaps without the ability to mature and develop further complexity.

Conversely, a dark wine, perhaps with significant presence of new oak can split the group, some looking to the future and betting it will come round while others decide the contrary. In one’s mind ‘demons’ can encourage second guessing! Is this one of those superb producers whose wines show their ugly side in their youth, but develop into graceful swans later, or is it just badly made?

Whilst the marking is of interest, the great benefit of tasting as a group are the discussions we have about these wines after marking and before we reveal who made them. The group contains some brilliant Burgundy experts who generously share their knowledge and experience. Listening to how members of the group judge and reason can be very instructive and revealing. It is a wonderful learning environment.

Blind tasting:
Seen by some as the best way to taste, blind tasting has its advantages and disadvantages. It is at is most useful where one is comparing like with like, which is how our tasting is arranged with wines from the same vintage and cru or a small mix of similar crus. However, even with 6-9 wines, the usual size of the flights, one must beware of how the order of the wines can influence your tasting. If you taste a big and powerful wine followed by a lighter wine, unless you have ‘perfect pitch’ (ie the ability to re-gauge your palate after tasting each wine), you may perceive the light wine as much lighter than it in in reality as you may be making a ‘relative’ rather than ‘absolute’ judgement by comparing it to an unusually powerful wine.

The French call the big wine that succeeds in blind tastings la bête du concours, the beast of the tasting competition. Particularly during a long tasting, when one may become a little tired, and tannin build-up can affect one’s tasting where red wines are involved, one is less well able to judge the more delicate and elegant wines. I have been to celebratory competition dinners where the prize winners are served and while one sip can be impressive, occasionally one doesn’t want to have a second glass of the crowned champion! Sometimes less is more and too much is too much! I usually taste in one order, and then again in a different one. Finally, after marking them, I go through the flight again in ascending order of points awarded.

The results: what came out well?
2013 was a cool year with significant hail in the Côte de Beaune, so generally is was the richer, fuller appellations that did best. Nuits-St-Georges, Gevrey-Chambertin and Vosne-Romanée stood out. Global warming has really benefited Nuits-St-Georges, especially the southern premiers crus which are more tannic. The extra heat is softening and sweetening the tannins. Vosne-Romanée was very successful, both at premier and grand cru level. As a group Echezeaux, not always our favourite appellation, showed very well.

The top 20 red Burgundy 2013s as marked by the group were as follows, in descending order:

• La Romanée, Comte Liger Belair
• Romanée St Vivant, Follin Arbelet
• Richebourg, Domaine Jean Grivot
• La Grande Rue, Domaine François Lamarche
• Musigny, Domaine JF Mugnier
• Richebourg, A-F Gros
• Chambertin, Domaine Armand Rousseau
• Chambertin, Camille Giroud
• Echezeaux, Domaine Jean Grivot
• Chambolle Musigny Les Amoureuses, Robert Groffier
• Musigny, Domaine de la Vougeraie
• Gevrey Chambertin Clos St Jacques, Domaine Armand Rousseau
• Latricières-Chambertin, Domaine Duroché
• Grands Echezeaux, Domaine du Clos Frantin, Bichot
• Chambolle Musigny Les Amoureuses, Domaine JF Mugnier
• Chambolle Musigny Les Amoureuses, Domaine Georges Roumier
• Chambertin, Domaine du Clos Frantin, Bichot
• Echezeaux, Comte Liger Belair
• Mazis-Chambertin, Domaine Maume-Tawse
• Gevrey Chambertin Clos St Jacques Vieilles Vignes, Domaine Fourrier

Toby Morrhall
Society Buyer

Visit our website for a selection of red Burgundy for drinking now, selected from a tasting conducted by Toby and spanning vintages between 1995–2012.

• For more information on the region, we highly recommend Toby’s comprehensive How To Buy Burgundy Guide.

Categories : Burgundy, France
Comments (5)

Think of Burgundy and, for most, whites and reds share equal interest.

Think of the Rhône, however, and invariably it’s the region’s generous spicy reds that tend to spring to mind.

I’ve been singing the praises of white Rhône for many years, particularly when asked by Society members for a white wine to serve with food. It seems my interest is shared as in recent years there has been a growth in plantings of white varieties in the region.

Condrieu is well-known, and the white wines of Saint-Péray continue to garner deserved recognition. White Hermitage and Châteauneuf-du-Pape can take on a sherry-like nuttiness with age. The white wines of these four crus provide a rich palette of options for food.

However, perhaps the most exciting of my own recent finds have been younger white Rhônes, which offer more accessible appeal, freshness and fragrance, alongside that same generosity you get from their red cousins.

Viognier vineyards in CondrieuViognier vineyards in Condrieu

There really is no such thing as a typical white Rhône, due in no small part to the fact that so many grape varieties can be used. For me, this just adds to their charm: with such diversity available, there is a wine to suit nearly every occasion.

Furthermore, recent vintages have been very impressive, including the remarkable 2014s.

Some white Rhônes (and food matches) to try:

Grignan-les-Adhémar Blanc Cuvée Gourmandise, Domaine de Montine 2015 (£7.50) offers a very respectable introduction. The perfumed viognier grape stands proud in the blend, providing a fruit-driven framework that would suit a multitude of salad options; my favourite would be a chargrilled chicken breast salad with a touch of Caesar salad sauce.

Vacqueyras Blanc Les Clefs d’Or, Clos des Cazaux 2013 (£11.95) is a bone-dry white but with a touch of roundness and fruit from grenache blanc and roussanne. A tried and tested pan-fried prawn favourite!

Lirac Blanc La Fermade, Domaine Maby 2014 (£8.95) shows off the charms of this underrated southern village. The base is grenache blanc, but the ingenious addition of some early-picked picpoul introduces a vivacious, almost Burgundian feel, which works beautifully with smoked salmon.

Laudun Blanc, Domaine Pélaquié 2014 (£9.50) is a full-flavoured herb-infused gem with a delicate sweet nuttiness to the flavour. Great with roasted squash.

Côtes-du-Rhône Blanc, Guigal 2014 (£9.95) is a fragrant generous gastronomic delight, the viognier grape lending its aromatic qualities to the blend and making it a good partner with mild curry.

Viognier, Grignan-les-Adhémar, Domaine de Montine 2015 (£9.50) employs oak subtly, creating a creamy-textured background for the characteristic apricot notes of viognier. Try with fish pie.

So whether it’s salad, seafood, squash, curry or pie on the menu, the Rhône’s white wines offer a multitude of matches. I do hope you’ll give one a go.

Conrad Braganza
The Cellar Showroom

Categories : France, Rhône
Comments (1)

And to finish my piece on the ‘Alsace spring’, events relating to visits by the Hugel family…

Hugel is The Society’s oldest supplier for Alsace. We are not sure when the romance started; suffice to say that The Society is Hugel’s second-oldest customer in the UK after The Savoy!

Our first purchase was likely to have been a modest chasselas-sylvaner blend. This has now evolved over the years and today The Society’s Vin d’Alsace (£7.95) is a very smart dry white indeed. Sylvaner remains the base but nearly all the region’s grape varieties are included in the blend. Currently we are on the 2013 vintage which is the best made for a while. 2014 promises also to be pretty special.

This year Hugel et Fils changes its name to Famille Hugel: recognition that three generations now work for the business and that at least one of them is not a man! Times are a-changing.

The brand new Hugel wine: Schoelhammer Riesling 2007The brand new Hugel wine: Schoelhammer Riesling 2007
Not to be outdone by their cousins, the Trimbachs, Hugel are also releasing something grand and mature for the first time. And what is really exciting is that it’s a completely new wine made from riesling.

This will be a riesling, from the great 2007 vintage and it will come from a single vineyard called Schoelhammer, a small plot of old vines on the grand cru Schoenenbourg above the town of Riquewihr.

Such an event had to be marked by a grand occasion and so journalists, buyers and sommeliers were invited to taste the new baby on a wonderfully sunny spring day in London. The event was not disappointing. Riesling Schoelhammer is unquestionably a great dry riesling and I can’t wait to have it here in Stevenage for members to buy.

Three generations from the Hugel family came to London that day. Etienne Hugel was there together with his son Jean-Frederic. Better still, André came to represent the senior generation at the unveiling of Schoelhammer Riesling. Etienne’s father is 86 years old and hasn’t really retired. (The senior Trimbach, Bernard, 83, is much the same.)

Three generations of the Hugel family: (l-r) Jean-Frederic, Etienne and AndréThree generations of the Hugel family: (l-r) Jean-Frederic, Etienne and André
Born in 1929, André Hugel is the survivor of three extraordinary brothers whose lives encompassed the tragedies of the war years. Alsace did not just suffer occupation as with the rest of France: it was officially annexed by Germany which meant that Alsace men could be called up. Georges, the eldest was called and was wounded on the Eastern Front. Johnny fared better, serving mostly in Italy and avoiding any fighting, acquiring fluency in Italian instead.

Johnny would come to occupy a central place in Alsace not just for Hugel but as a veritable ambassador for Alsace wines in general. André was 15 when on 5th December 1944, Riquewihr was liberated by a Texan regiment. Andre Hugel ensures that the flag of the lone star state is hoisted above the town hall every year to mark the anniversary.

For André Hugel this was his first ever visit to the UK. As Riquewihr’s residential archivist and historian, a visit to London seemed long overdue and thanks to Ray Bowden, one time chairman of The Society, visits to the Cabinet War Rooms were duly arranged. That was in the morning before all three Hugels travelled up to Stevenage. They were greeted by both past and present Chairmen of the Society and by our Chief Executive for a guided tour of the premises followed by lunch.

A Note on Trimbach

Jean TrimbachJean Trimbach enjoying his own recent visit to Stevenage!
In my last post, I mentioned that Alsace wines often need time to come round. Many produces hold their best wine back until they feel they’re quite ready. Pierre Gassmann or Domaine Rolly Gassmann is soon to release a top gewurztraminer from the 1994 vintage and he still has some 1990 riesling to put on the market. Trimbach, undoubtedly one of the great names in Alsace also release top wines late. We have some stock of their top wine, Clos Sainte Hune, from the 2009 vintage, released earlier this year (£109).

Trimbach have also been busy buying up vineyards, never too far away from Ribeauvillé, but these will allow them to improve quality and launch new wines. Indeed, a new Trimbach riesling will be launched this year and it promises to be something very special. Watch this space.

Also exciting from Trimbach is the new bottling machine, an expensive investment, but one which will have a positive effect on quality and even allow for bottling under screwcap. We’ve just taken delivery of the 2013 Pinot Blanc (£8.95) under screwcap, and the wine is quite delicious.

Marcel Orford-Williams
Society Buyer

Find wines from Hugel and Trimbach in our current offer of the 2013 Alsace vintage.

Thu 18 Jun 2015

An Alsace Spring: Visiting and Tasting

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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.

Josmeyer, whose wines are an integral part of our Alsace range and my springtime itineraryJosmeyer, whose wines are an integral part of our Alsace range and my springtime itinerary
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.

Springtime vinesSpringtime vines
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.

Marcel Orford-Williams
Society Buyer

Tue 10 Mar 2015

Blending The Society’s Claret

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Not long ago I was lucky enough to be able to watch as The Society’s Claret blend was put together by buyers Tim Sykes and Jo Locke while on a short trip to Bordeaux. It was a fascinating insight into the care taken to create a wine that is so much a part of The Society’s fabric that it is sometimes easy to take for granted.

Blending The Society's ClaretThe Society’s Claret is one of those wines which defines the Society range and represents more than just supremely drinkable Bordeaux wine at an excellent price. After The Society’s White Burgundy it is our bestselling wine (and consequently our bestselling red wine), and as such it is an important introduction for many members to the joys of claret drinking.

It has to represent the Bordeaux style, as well as The Society, with aplomb while remaining good value and that is quite a responsibility. So how is it made and who makes it?

At the Quai de Bacalan, on the banks of the River Garonne in Bordeaux itself, sits the HQ of Maison Sichel: growers, négociants and long-time suppliers of The Society’s Claret, as well as a number of other fine Bordeaux wines. It is an unflashy façade that opens up, Tardis-like, onto a network of rooms and corridors that stretches way back from the river.

In a simple, white and bright tasting room in the heart of the complex, we found 12 bottles labelled from 1 to 12, each containing a blend already put together by the Sichel’s vastly experienced technical director Yvan Meyer from properties all over the Bordeaux appellation. The bottles contained varying ratios of merlot, cabernet sauvignon, and cabernet franc with three of the samples coming from the 2013 vintage and the rest from 2014.

Beside them stood a bottle of the current Society version, on sale as we speak, acting as a control and reference point. A sheet listed the samples and the proportions of each grape variety in each sample for Jo and Tim to refer to. Charlie Sichel, who had generously hosted us for dinner the night before, and Leigh Claridge, head of their UK sales team, looked on as the process got under way.

Under the watchful eye of Yvan, Jo and Tim tasted the current bottling followed by each sample individually, assessing merits and weaknesses and making many notes, occasionally revisiting the current bottling to confirm an impression. I followed in their wake, noting the clear difference between the current bottling and the younger samples. The extra time in bottle of the current edition showed clearly against the more primary fruit aromas and flavours and youthful tannins of the samples. The current claret was mellow, rounded and sweet fruited with flavours that were integrated and developed but without losing freshness. I enjoyed the youngsters but could see that they were still a little angular in comparison to the current example.

Jo Locke MW tasting the winesJo Locke MW tasting the wines

Having tasted each sample individually, noted their characteristics and considered their merits, Jo and Tim watched as Yvan took up a graduated cylinder and carefully began pouring different amounts of selected samples in to it. These he poured for us and again Tim and Jo weighed it up and made their notes.

This regimen was followed over the next two hours: each time a different amalgam of sample measures was tasted and assessed according to Tim and Jo’s requests and towards the end it came down to tweaks of samples that seemed the obviously best candidates.

Blending The Society's ClaretOne thing that made me stop and think was that it never appeared to be as simple as saying, for example, that it needed a little more acidity and then adding a drop of a sample that exhibited what seemed to be the right amount of acidity when assessed alone. It often seemed, for example, that the acidity displayed by a sample did not necessarily show as expected in the suggested blend and was lost in the mix after all, or stood out like a sore thumb. Therein lay the skill of Jo and Tim, judging the nuances, subtleties and potential of the blends, trying to accurately gauge how these youthful samples might evolve together as they were reassessed time and again until agreement on the final selection was reached after many blends, slurps, swirls, sniffs and scribbles.

There was a quiet satisfaction when the job had been done but no ceremony or celebration and we moved swiftly on to a tasting of a range of petit châteaux represented by Sichel, so there was no time to reflect any more deeply on the new Society’s Claret.

It was a job quietly and well done. Having tasted the final blend in its salad days I am very much looking forward to trying it when it reaches The Society’s list in a slightly more mature form.

Steve Farrow
Wine Information Editor

Comments (1)
Thu 22 Jan 2015

Postcards from the Rhône

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Whilst I am the kind of person for whom viewing another’s holiday snaps is a punishment both cruel and unusual, I hope that members will forgive my sharing a few photographs of a recent buying trip to the Rhône.

I explain my hypocrisy thus: firstly, a buying trip is, as I am discovering, about as far removed from a relaxing holiday as one can imagine. Secondly, the region is a stunning one, and I hope my amateur photography can in some way communicate its stark beauty. Finally, I managed to snap a photograph of Society buyer Marcel Orford-Williams handling a vintage rifle, which does not happen every day. At least not as far as I am aware.

Some of the fruits of this recent buying trip can be explored in The Society’s opening offer of Rhône and Languedoc 2013, which is available now.

Joe Mandrell
Society Buyer

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Louis Barruol of Chateau Saint-CosmeThe Society’s Exhibition Gigondas is a firm favourite in my household, and so it was a great pleasure to take part in blending the 2013 vintage on a recent trip to the Rhône with buyer Marcel Orford-Williams.

Louis Barruol, pictured, is the enthusiastic and highly talented winemaker at Château Saint Cosme, the source of the Exhibition Gigondas. His family has been making wine at Saint Cosme for 14 generations, and the beautiful, labyrinthine old cellars attest to this. But Louis has also modernised the winery and this, along with his passion and capability, is obvious in the quality of his wines.

The 2013 Exhibition Gigondas is a blend of different parcels and foudres, resulting in a full, well-structured wine with concentrated dark-fruit flavours, hints of sweet spice and wonderful length. It will need a year or two before it’s quite ready to drink, but once there it will be delicious.

In the meantime, our extensive opening offer of other 2013 Rhône and Languedoc wines will be released very soon indeed.

Joe Mandrell
Trainee Buyer

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Wed 03 Sep 2014

A Buying Trip to Marlborough

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I am currently on my first buying trip Down Under with The Wine Society.

Traffic in MarlboroughTraffic in Marlborough

Marlborough lived up to its great reputation, with added sheep! I had two full days here, seeing 12 producers spanning long-term Society favourites to new suppliers.

Brent Marris with his Three Terraces Sauvignon Blanc, produced exclusively for The Society.Brent Marris with his Three Terraces Sauvignon Blanc, produced exclusively for The Society.
All in all I managed to taste the new 2014 sauvignons from Greywacke, Seresin, Villa Maria, Brent Marris‘s Three Terraces, te Pa, Dog Point, Framinghams, Isabel, Lawsons, Wither Hills, Mahi and last, but by no means least, Hunter’s.

Everyone is describing 2014 as the vintage of two halves: those who picked before the rains (harvesting healthy concentrated grapes) and those who didn’t (who got left with dilute swollen fruit). I am delighted to assure you that all of our producers worked hard this vintage to pick early and carefully craft some wonderful 2014s. What’s more, I hope the photos from our travels – a menagerie of farm animals and talented winemakers – dispel any ideas of very large corporate wineries. We really are working with the cream of the crop.

The 2014 sauvignons that I tried had great purity, typical concentration, and fresh acidity. I also had the opportunity to work with a number of winemakers to blend our own unique wines which I hope you will enjoy next year!

Cows...Cows…
...and working horses, at Seresin.…and working horses, at Seresin.

I can’t write this blog post without quickly mentioning the unsung heroes of the tastings though: chardonnay and pinot noir. Without a doubt these made up some of the best wines I tried over the two days.

The 2013 and 2014 Marlborough chardonnays were tasting wonderfully, rich in apple and citrus flavours, integrated and balanced oak notes, and plenty of cut lemon acidity. We’ll definitely be stocking a few more in 2015.

Dog Point's Ivan and Matt SutherlandDog Point’s Ivan and Matt Sutherland
Dixie, the winery dog at GreywackeDixie, the winery dog at Greywacke

The pinots also really shone. Elegant, tightly grained with opulent red berry fruit perfume, the 2013s were showing well.

Head of buying Tim Sykes (left) with the team at Hunter'sHead of buying Tim Sykes (left) with the team at Hunter’s

Roll on Central Otago and then on to Oz!

Sarah Knowles
Society Buyer for New Zealand

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My first Society buying trip was to the picturesque vineyards of Three Choirs, outside the town of Newent near Gloucester. Travelling with The Society’s Buyer for English wine, Mark Buckenham, our mission for the day was to blend two exclusive wines that Three Choirs produce for us: Midsummer Hill and Stone Brook. Following the tricky 2012 English harvest, we were keen to taste the 2013 vintage.

For any members who have not been to Three Choirs Vineyard, I would thoroughly recommend a visit. Situated on gently undulating south-facing slopes at the convergence of Herefordshire, Gloucestershire and Worcestershire, it is a very pretty spot indeed. Growing conditions here are defined by the unique microclimate: sheltered by the Malverns and the Brecon Beacons, the grapes are kept cool and clean by the breezes coming up the valley from the River Severn. A lone wind turbine in the middle distance somehow adds to the bucolic scene, rather than detracts.

Three Choirs

Three Choirs grow a miscellany of different grape varieties, many of which go into our Midsummer Hill blend. The 2013 vintage here is characterised by its relative lightness and by a good balance of acidity – vital for freshness and crispness in a white wine.

This was my first experience of blending – something at which Society buyers are particularly skilled. The tasting room at Three Choirs resembles a science laboratory, with clean white surfaces, pipettes and measuring jugs. The process begins with a taste of the previous vintage so as to re-familiarise ourselves with the style. Incidentally, I was impressed at how well the Midsummer Hill 2012 was showing: still fresh and lifted, with lovely citrus and pear fruit. Next came the tricky part. With samples of various varieties in front of us, Mark and I, along with Martin Fowke and Liam Tinston of Three Choirs, began to blend different proportions to try to reach a wine that we think members will enjoy. We then repeated this painstaking, fascinating process for the Stone Brook.

When finally satisfied with the white blends, we turned our attention to rosé. Three Choirs have a number of dark-skinned grape varieties under vine, and the rosé blend will change from vintage to vintage. The 2013 blend is crisp, refreshing and vibrant, with a palate full of ripe cherry and red berry fruit.

One of the benefits of having such a wide variety of grapes under vine is that one can tweak the blends to maintain consistency of style and, more importantly, quality. Whilst the varieties themselves may not sound familiar (madeleine angevine , reichensteiner, seyval blanc, phoenix, siegerrebe, schönberger to name a few), I think that these 2013 Three Choirs blends are exceptional, and will make for perfect summer drinking.

Joe Mandrell
Trainee Buyer

Fri 16 May 2014

Sauvignon Blanc Day: Any Excuse…

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Today is officially Sauvignon Blanc Day.

Sauvignon Blanc grapesNational and international days seem to be popping up all over the place, but if the shoe fits…

What’s more, as The Society’s newly appointed buyer for New Zealand I feel this would be an opportunity missed not to highlight the wonderful options you have available to you with which to celebrate.

As it happens, New Zealand has just finished the 2014 harvest. Harvest reports are suggesting that the Marlborough sauvignon blanc crop this year is at all-time high levels. This is great on the one hand, as there should be plentiful volumes of sauvignon produced; however, on the other, much of this may be a little light, as rain at harvest and overloaded vines could lead to a dilution of the wonderful intensity associated with these wines.

This is why I have been tracking our favourite suppliers carefully over the last few weeks, and I am delighted that all have taken extra care this vintage to reduce their potential crop levels to ensure the delicious concentration we are used to.

Horses at work in the vineyard at SeresinHorses at work in the vineyard at Seresin

Sauvignon ready for picking at HuntersSauvignon ready for picking at Hunters
Whilst we wait for them to arrive, we still have a great selection from the excellent 2013 vintage, which I humbly suggest would be just the thing for the current weather.

Hopefully you will join me this evening in having a glass or two of well-chilled sauvignon – it is, after all, ‘the day’!

Sarah Knowles
Society Buyer for New Zealand

If you would like to find out more about the 2013 Marlborough sauvignons, New Zealand-based wine writer Rebecca Gibb’s overview from earlier this year may be of interest.

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