Grapevine Archive for Cellar Showroom
As you may already be aware, 2015 marks the 50th anniversary of The Wine Society’s move from London to Stevenage.
To mark this occasion, The Society is hosting an anniversary fair on the 13th June, displaying 50 of the wines which best represent the Society of 2015.
However, the following Saturday, on June 20th, something much more gruelling will be undertaken by seven members of staff.
It all began with a casual off the cuff remark – ‘why don’t we cycle to Montreuil to mark the occasion?’ – between a couple of members of The Society’s newly formed cycling club in the summer of 2014.
This spawned into a handful of eager, and some not so eager, cyclists from throughout The Society to rise to the challenge of cycling from The Society’s UK Showroom in Hertfordshire, to The Society’s French Showroom in Montreuil.
The team consists of a handful of experienced, and some not so experienced, cyclists from throughout the ranks of The Society’s staff. The Tastings Team is represented by Simon Mason, Matthew Horsley and Jon Granger; Member Services by Freddy Bulmer, Ben Briffett and me; and the warehouse by Thom Cleary.
The true nature of the ride only really hit home when the route was mapped out, totalling a staggering 145 miles. The idea to complete the distance in a day naturally shook a few of the group who are a little newer to cycling; however, with a few training rides, the wheels are in motion for the longest bicycle ride that any of us have undertaken in a day.
Although some long distance knowledge is on our side, the route through rural Hertfordshire, Essex, Kent and northern France will be a challenge for even the mentally and physically strongest among us!
So with tyres pumped solid, training plans plotted, and weekends lost to peddling through rain and shine, we’ll be ready to go on the day of the ride.
All of that said, the hardest part of preparation is getting seven oenophiles to agree on what to drink in celebration at the end!
The ride itself is a celebration of 50 years of The Society’s home in Stevenage, but we will be also raising money for Macmillan Cancer Support. Should you wish to donate, you can do so via this link.
We had some great news last week when we received a letter from the Multiple Sclerosis Trust confirming that to date we have raised £13,898.35 from donations for empty wooden wine boxes at the door of The Cellar Showroom.
This fantastic achievement has been achieved over the last few years and will certainly continue for many years to come.
The MS Trust is a UK charity, providing information for anyone affected by multiple sclerosis, education programmes for health professionals, funding for practical research and campaigning for specialist multiple sclerosis services. They have been in operation for over 20 years and today reach over 40,000 people across the UK. I think you’ll all agree they are a hugely important charity and we in the showroom are proud to be supporting them. For more information please visit their website here.
So, we estimate that members give around £1 per box so that means we have shifted close to 14,000 wooden boxes. So what do members do with all these boxes? Well I’ve only been here 6 months and so far the most popular uses are as plant pots and storing DVDs. However, more unusual and inventive uses include:
• Creating an insect farm in the garden
• Presentation boxes for a wedding events company
• One member took 50 boxes to break down and use as panelling for a wall of his kitchen
• A manger for baby Jesus in a Nativity play
• Varnishing them and selling them on for £5 at car boot sales (cheeky!)
• A hedgehog house
• Decorative table tops
• As the border for some outside decking
• Bedside tables
…and I’m sure many other great uses that have passed me by.
Well done to everyone involved and many thanks to the warehouse team who get the boxes together for us and bring them round to The Showroom.
The Cellar Showroom
The deadline for Christmas delivery is now past, but our Cellar Showroom in Stevenage will be open up until Christmas Eve for those nearby or able to make a last-minute trip. We look forward to seeing you. You can view our opening times here.
Recently I recommended a rather higher-alcohol option for members seeking a little Christmas spirit; however, whilst it is certainly the season to be jolly, watching one’s intake of everything indulgent is always something to be aware of. And of course we need not overlook those who have to drive or choose not to drink.
For those not drinking alcohol, the James White Suffolk Bramley Apple Juice and Cox Apple Juice (both £2.25 per bottle) are great non-alcoholic drinks and can easily be spiced up with the addition of mulling spices and/or even warmed up a little. The Thorncroft Elderflower Cordial (£2.50 per half) brings a slice of summer and lifts a fruit trifle with its floral notes. An effervescent offering can also be found in Gratien & Meyer Festillant Sparkling Sans Alcool (£4.25 per bottle), a sparkling wine has the alcohol quite literally spun out it by a centrifuge, but still retaining a lovely off-dry quality.
Green Ridge Chardonnay Spring (£2.50 per bottle), a blend of spring water, chardonnay and grape juice, delivers a modest 0.5% with a lovely lemony tinge.
However, lowering one’s alcohol intake need not involve adding lemonade or soda to our drinks, and there’s an array of bottles that not only provide palate-pleasing moments but also offer an alternative to dilution at this time of year.
Our frothy and off-dry Moscato d’Asti, Elio Perrone 2013 (£7.50) will charm you with its sweet-fruited effervescence, and at a conveniently low 5% ABV.
If seeking out lighter reds, 12%-alcohol options include the easy-drinking Pinot Noir, Vin de France, Jacques Dépagneux 2011 (£5.95) from France’s upper Aude Valley and the ripe Beaujolais-Villages, Château de Lacarelle 2013 (£7.95). These would both make great lunch options in the winter months.
For whites, The Society’s Côtes de Gascogne (£6.25) and the aromatic Bruwer’s Dry Mountain Muscat, Robertson 2014 (£5.95) from South Africa both offer lots of pleasure at under 11%. A quartet of dry favourites which weigh in at 11.5% can be found in the form of Piemonte Cortese 2013 (the Gavi grape in a lighter, easy-sipping style; £5.75), Val de Loire Sauvignon Blanc, Bougrier 2013 (a party sauvignon from the Loire; £5.95), The Society’s Vinho Verde (a smoked-fish-friendly delight; £6.25) and the gewurztraminer-esque Hilltop Estates Cserszegi 2013 (£5.95) from Hungary.
Lastly and definitely not least, the lower-alcoholic nature of many German wines is well documented and the delicate flavours make them, for me, perfect aperitif. I recommend The Society’s Saar Riesling (9.5%, £9.50) or Ruppertsberger Hoheburg Riesling Kabinett 2013 (10.5%, £6.95). I have personally stocked up on Ockfen Bockstein Riesling Kabinett von Kesselstatt 2013 (8%, £12.95), which I’ll enjoy while peeling my parsnips and blanching my brussels in preparation for the main event!
I hope this demonstrates that lowering alcohol need not mean lowering enjoyment.
Whatever you’re drinking, I hope you have a fun, safe and Merry Christmas.
The Cellar Showroom
Fine wine manager Shaun Kiernan was the original manager of The Society’s Cellar Showroom in Stevenage when it opened 25 years ago. We asked him to share some of his memories following a celebration of its anniversary last week
It is truly amazing to think that it is now 25 years since Lisa Fletcher and I opened The Wine Society showroom in November of 1989. It was, as you can imagine, a full-on couple of months in the lead up to our first Christmas serving members and getting used to our new environment; something that had been in the planning for a full 12 months prior to this.
Members embraced their new facility enthusiastically, I recall, and we were busy from the off with systems not quite bedded in and our warehouse not used to having to supply a new shop with a just- in-time stock feed as well as double the number of members’ daily orders.
With only the two of us to start with we quickly realised we had underestimated just how popular the new Showroom would be and we immediately had to call for back up in the form of Samantha Vooght, who along with Lisa has been there ever since.Because we hadn’t had a facility like this before there had been no outlet for selling the small quantities of wines that necessarily collect over the years. One of the things that gave me enormous pleasure was trawling through the hundreds of pallets (named ‘RB’ pallets after Ron Bracey who headed the warehouse at the time) of wines we had at our fingertips for sale in the Showroom. Small stocks of hundreds of different wines which had been untouched for years and that I had to log, price and make available for sale to delighted members. Some of these were very old and very fine indeed.
Another of my abiding memories in the first year was in the lead up to Christmas when our lift broke down and so we were no longer able to get stock or members’ orders from the warehouse. I could barely watch while staff members hauled tottering pallet after pallet down Norton Green Road while queues of members formed very quickly in the Showroom waiting for their Christmas cases.
It was very nice the other night, when we celebrated the first 25 years, to see so many familiar faces from when I first opened the Showroom with Lisa and to know that they still continue to visit – testament in no small part to Lisa and her team who have succeeded in improving and developing the Showroom over the years and welcome the members just as enthusiastically today as they did then.
It was Lisa’s idea to contact growers that have had a long relationship with The Society to contribute wines for a special tasting. Along with the wines, many chose to send their good wishes and messages of support for The Society which we thought members would like to read. There’s a selection below and more on our website here.
Here’s to the next 25 years and beyond!
Fine Wine Manager
- Alister Purbrick, Tahbilk Wines
• ‘I love to work with The Wine Society – a very honourable company with wonderful people sharing the passion for wine.’
- Annegret Reh Gartner, von Kesselstatt
• ‘There are few companies I would describe as a jewel in the crown of distribution. The Wine Society is certainly one that stands out. The professionalism and knowledge of the teams at all levels is second to none.’
- Charlie Sichel, Maison Sichel
• ‘We are immensely proud of our century-long association with The Wine Society. We have always found kindred spirits in the people who work at The Society; people who love wine and the regions from where they come from and who really understand what goes into making great wines, and we appreciate their profound knowledge of what we do.’
- Paul Symington, Symington Family Estates
• ‘Nowadays, Marcel Orford-Williams and The Wine Society are probably the best Alsace ambassadors in the English speaking world. I have also to insist on the quality of our relationship, which is much more than just business, it includes comprehension, respect, loyalty and much pleasure.’
- Marc Beyer, Maison Léon Beyer
• ‘The Wine Society have supported me and my wines with faithful regularity and I can honestly say that I have been a grateful and convinced promoter of The Society. I am frequently asked by friends and even chance acquaintances ‘where can we buy your wines?’ and I have no hesitation in suggesting the The Wine Society.’
- Anthony Barton, Langoa and Léoville Barton
Not merely a trifle, nor indeed merely a wine for the trifle, sherry is a wine I seldom need an excuse to enthuse about. I feel that it is one of the most underrated wines in the world, and so leapt on the chance to celebrate International Sherry Week.
During this week, therefore, we have laid out a wide selection of sherry in our Cellar Showroom for members to try, offering a veritable palette of sensations.
If you’re in or near Stevenage, I thoroughly recommend you come and indulge. A range of styles are on offer, from tangy salty manzanilla and the appley freshness of The Society’s Fino (a perfect match for almonds at the start of a good evening) to warming hazelnutty amontillado and fragrant nutty oloroso, which is robust and sweet enough to take on chocolate puddings. Those with a sweet tooth will also be wowed by the velvety, treacly Pedro Ximenez – arguably a dessert in itself!
All of which, I hope, will demonstrate that sherry offers wine for every palate and indeed for every meal. We hope to see you in the Showroom!
The Cellar Showroom
We have now added three fantastic sherry-friendly recipes to our website. Enjoy!
The deadline for UK Christmas orders has passed, but members living in the vicinity of Stevenage can still stock up at The Cellar Showroom until 4pm on Christmas Eve.
I have just popped down to see Lisa and the team, who have decked the halls in some style (pictured). Over 800 wines, spirits and accessories are available to buy on the spot, but if you want something in particular you can pre-order wines for collection in store (via the website or by telephone) until noon on Monday.
Lisa had just taken delivery of a fresh selection of fizz, including magnums of our own cava, which struck me as a particularly good option for festive celebrations, and the wine range has been supplemented with some tempting food gifts and nibbles. This year’s selection has particularly rich pickings (in more ways than one) for the sweet of tooth; look out in particular for the giant cupcakes!
Both the Showroom’s Enomatic wine-dispensing machines are currently free of charge, and will be until New Year’s Eve, and are filled with the team’s choices for Christmas drinking. Feel free to pop in for a taste.
Conrad Braganza, The Cellar Showroom’s fine wine adviser, says it’s time that sherry stepped out from behind the trifle and got the recognition it deserves. He’ll be opening up some of his favourite bottles in the Showroom over the rest of the week.
Sherry never ceases to excite my vinous passion. A wine of such diversity, versatility and quality should not be confined to an occasional festive appearance. So when the Sherry Institute promoted its inaugural Great Sherry Festival this month I was only too happy to lend it my full support.
So, for the rest of the week, in addition to the wines available to taste via the Showroom’s Enomatic machines, there will also a selection of sherries to try that we feel epitomise the amazing range of styles, and breath-taking quality, the wines of Jerez offer wine lovers.
Members will be able to taste a true gamut of styles, from the excellent-value Society’s Fino, the perfect aperitif, to Manzanilla Pasada, an aged sherry with the concentration to handle a shellfish stew or seared tuna steak. Discover The Society’s Exhibition Viejo Oloroso, a dry aromatic wine that complements hard cheeses, or unctuous fig-infused Pedro Ximénez, a wine to turn simply fried chicken livers into a midweek treat or can contrast beautifully when poured over vanilla ice-cream.
The affinity that sherry has with food, coupled with the plethora of palate pleasures it offers, makes it a perfect wine regardless of your occasion. It’s has long been time for sherry to step out from behind the trifle and declare itself one of the world’s great wines.
We hope you can join me in fighting the good fight.
Our free monthly tastings in the Showroom have always proved popular with members coming to Stevenage, irrespective of the theme. The most recent took on an added theme when a power cut plunged us into darkness five minutes before the start of the tasting.
With The Cellar Showroom resembling, well, a cellar, quick thinking was needed and to avoid making a drama out of a crisis, not to mention disappointing members, we attempted some improvisation. With tasting tables and wine moved outside to the car park, those attending were treated to an impromptu alfresco wine tasting.
Mercifully, the sun was shining, and as such, the delicate refreshing nature of our new Prosecco and the lower-alcohol charms of The Society’s Vinho Verde were well received; likewise the thirst-quenching minerality of the Gaba do Xil Godello.
Our new chillable Chilean red, Miguel Torres Reserva de Pueblo Cepa País, proved popular – though keeping it chilled proved a challenge! The rich, smooth, blackberry-infused Ravenswood Lodi Old-Vine Zinfandel was a barbecue-friendly favourite.
Thankfully, power returned shortly after this tasting ended. It was almost as if it realised an earlier arrival would have ruined a truly unique experience. We are as confident as we can be that we have seen the back of the recent power outages, with mobile generators currently on site in the event of any further problems. Thanks to our members for your understanding and patience.
The Cellar Showroom
Working in The Society’s Cellar Showroom, our team’s vinous matchmaking skills are tested daily, not only on what wine may suit a particular occasion but also – more often these days – a wine that will complement a particular meal.It’s often wise to remember local pairings and the natural affinity several regions’ foods have with their wines: the crisp minerality of Sancerre, for instance, is perfect with goat’s cheese, the spice-infused berry and smoke of a pinotage with a Braai (barbecue), the reds and whites of the Rhône with pâté and so on.
However, when studying for the WSET Diploma, a fellow student offered up a useful principle which I have been putting into practice recently: view wine as a sauce to enhance the meal.
Never one to shy away from a challenge that involves gratification of the tastebuds, I have spent several hours experimenting since hearing this principle phrased so eloquently, and it has been upheld:
For example, think of a haunch of venison, served with a blackberry sauce or redcurrant jelly. Northern Rhône syrah or something red from Burgundy’s Côte de Nuits would provide a suitable replacement, and enhancement, with aplomb.
With a salmon steak the squeeze of lime would more than be replaced by the addition of the citrusy precision of a riesling; or a creamy buttery sauce is admirably replaced or indeed complemented by an oaked chardonnay.
It’s an interesting way to think about matching food and wine, and I’ve learned from experience that it works well.
In summary, next time a wine is required, get saucy!
From today until Christmas, our dedicated Member Services team is ready to take your call on Sundays, from 10am-5pm.
Whether you would like to place an order or you need help or advice, the team is here to help. The number to phone is 01438 740222.
These photos show some of the displays now up in our Cellar Showroom in Stevenage (which will be open on Sundays from the 2nd–23rd December between 11am and 4pm).
As well as the usual selection of over 800 wines, spirits and accessories, this year the Showroom is offering its biggest ever selection of food gifts.
For a full list of Christmas opening hours, please refer to our website.