Grapevine Archive for International Wine Challenge

Tue 26 Jul 2016

Online Merchant of the Year, and What’s Next!

Posted by: | Comments (2)

Last month, as well as being named overall Wine Merchant of the Year by the International Wine Challenge, we had the pleasure of receiving the IWC’s Online Retailer of the Year award.

The judges said:
‘The Wine Society is building for future growth and has the building blocks to start. It covers everything from en primeur to some of the best wines available for under £10. Its great personalisation means that it targets its customers with very effective tailored offers. Its website works brilliantly, whether being accessed using a PC, a tablet or a smartphone.’

It therefore felt like a good time to let people know a little about the recent developments to The Society’s digital offering, as well as what’s in the pipeline for the coming year.

Online Retailer of the Year

As a result of improvements made in the past year or so, members can now

Follow the buyers in Travels in Wine, a new area of our site devoted to sharing the latest insights from our intrepid team’s trips around the wine world unearthing gems for Society members.

Use our site across a range of different devices after the launch of responsive design.

Travels In Wine

View more product information than ever before, including much more about individual wines’ regions and vintages, and the ability to let fellow members, and us, know what you think of wines you’ve tried with star ratings and recommendations.

Use personal wine notes to jot your thoughts about wines purchased from us for your own reference.

Browse the first of our interactive digital maps, namely Italy

…and have a bit of fun in the form of The Society’s Poll on our homepage and improved social media sharing options.

We hope you enjoy using these features! Whilst we’re delighted to have been recognised by the IWC, the success of these projects depends entirely on the quality of members’ experience, and we welcome your feedback.

However, creating a successful, sustainable and fun digital offering is about looking forwards, not backwards!

Over the next year, we have a lot more planned, including:

A homepage redesign to make the site easier to navigate.
Search and filtering improvements to help users find what they’re looking for quickly and simply.
More interactive maps
A new community area of the site for members to share the love of wine and much more.

Watch this space…

Categories : Miscellaneous
Comments (2)

Buyer Marcel Orford-Williams celebrates our all-too-easily-overlooked Specialist Merchant Award for Regional France won at the IWC this month…

Charles Metcalfe of the IWC presenting the Regional France award to The Society's head of buying, Tim Sykes

Charles Metcalfe of the IWC presenting the Regional France award to The Society’s head of buying, Tim Sykes

The late Edmund Penning-Rowsell, chairman of The Wine Society from 1964 to 1987, was always keen that the buyers should look beyond the ‘classic’ regions and source wines from off the beaten path for members to enjoy. And so, as long as I have been at The Society, the Committee of Management has afforded buyers the freedom to roam the backwoods of France and elsewhere to source exciting wines for our range.

In all the excitement and rightful pride in winning Overall Merchant and Online Merchant of the Year at the IWC (International Wine Challenge), it was easy to overlook that we had also won prizes for our South American and Regional France ranges.

We were naturally thrilled to have received this last award. It is the result of a good deal of work over many years. While France’s classic regions of Bordeaux, Burgundy and the Rhône are historical passions for The Society, our range also makes plenty of room for other French wines which much of the trade has barely discovered.


We have long championed the wines of Alsace and our range was recognised as the country’s finest by the International Wine Challenge for eight consecutive years to 2015.

During the last 12 months, we have visited Auvergne, Beaujolais, Alsace, Lorraine, the south-west, Provence and Corsica. A trip to the Jura will feature later in the year. There have been dedicated offers covering the wines of Alsace and Beaujolais and one for the south-west is also on the drawing board for release in the autumn.

It is not so long ago that many of these wines were for local consumption only. But globalism has changed all that. Growers from Savoie, Beaujolais or Corsica are as well travelled and skilled as any and keen to share the secrets of their terroirs with the rest of us.

We never forget though that it is thanks to members’ support that we can explore the wine world in this way. Members play a vital role in all of this by always being receptive to new ideas and new tastes. We hope that you enjoy the wines as much as we enjoy discovering and sharing them.

We salute you!

Marcel Orford-Williams
Society Buyer

Explore our range of French wines at

The Society exists solely for members’ benefit, and your kind feedback confirms our satisfaction with our wine range. It is, however, always heartening to see wines we stock recognised by the industry as being ‘best in class’.

The results of the 2015 IWC (International Wine Challenge) and Decanter World Wine Awards have been announced, with a raft of gold medals to celebrate, topped off with some coveted regional and international trophies. Some are available now (hyperlinked below), others later in the year.

International Wine Challenge Trophies

International Wine Challenge TrophyViña Undurraga T.H. Cabernet Sauvignon, Maipo 2012 (£11.50)
Maipo Cabernet Sauvignon Trophy – International Cabernet Sauvignon Trophy
We have been following Chilean winemaker Rafael Urrejola’s elegant wines since his time at Viña Leyda. He is perhaps the most talented winemaker of his generation. At Undurraga he has been given free rein to go out and search for wines made from the best combinations of grape variety, soil and climate in a project called ‘TH’ or ‘Terroir Hunter’. His wines are always beautifully balanced, and this exciting red is formed more by its terroir than a caricature of its grape variety, producing a wine which is the opposite of the soft and squidgy new world ‘fruit bomb’ style.

The Society’s Exhibition Crozes-Hermitage 2012 (£11.95)
Crozes-Hermitage Trophy
We were delighted to see this wine rated so highly in only its second vintage. Nicolas Jaboulet was tasked with using his extensive contacts in the northern Rhône to come up with a blend, all coming from well-known growers, before being bottled by the Perrin family. This is a fragrant, full and refined Crozes, with blackberry fruit and a hint of peppery spice.

Framingham Classic Riesling 2012 (£11.95)
Marlborough Riesling Trophy
Andrew Hedley has a marksman’s touch with the riesling grape, and this wine, utilising the oldest riesling vines in New Zealand, has been well received by members and the press since its introduction last year. Like an aristocratic German riesling, albeit not too dry, electrocuted with Marlborough freshness.

Pieropan La Rocca 2012 (£22.50)
Soave Trophy
Sons Andrea and Dario run this exceptional estate, although still under the watchful eye of father Nino, whose relationship with The Society goes back for decades. Not the first time that this wine has won the Soave Trophy, and doubtless not the last!

Verdicchio di Matelica Riserva Mirum La Monacesca 2012 and Matetic Vineyards EQ Syrah 2012, which will arrive shortly, also won the San Antonio Valley Syrah and Marche White Trophies respectively. The Society’s Exhibition New Zealand Chardonnay 2013, now sadly out of stock, also won the Kumeu Chardonnay Trophy, Auckland Chardonnay Trophy and overall New Zealand Chardonnay Trophy.

Decanter Trophies

Decanter World Wine Awards TrophyRiesling Grand Cru Kirchberg, Domaine Louis Sipp 2013 (£23)
Dry White Alsace over £15 Trophy
We were delighted to see this bone-dry, mineral, richly flavoured and very long Alsace riesling being recognised. This comes from a top grand cru vineyard, one of the region’s finest, overlooking Ribeauvillé, and a vintage perfectly suited to the riesling grape.

La Rioja Alta 890 Seleccion Especial Gran Reserva 2001 (£75)
Red Rioja Gran Reserva over £15 Trophy
We are delighted to have secured more stock of this expensive but simply remarkable Rioja, described by buyer Pierre Mansour as ‘a uniquely brilliant wine.’ 2001 is a highly acclaimed Rioja vintage, and winemaker Julio Sáenz describes it ambitiously as ‘the best 890 in our history.’ Such is the quality of this 2001 gran reserva that it has been deemed the highest distinction of ‘Selección Especial’ (the first time in La Rioja Alta’s history).

Paul Ginglinger Gewurztraminer Grand Cru Pfersigberg 2013 (International Trophy: Off-Dry over £15), Terrunyo Carménère Lot N°1 2013 (Chilean Red Single-Varietal over £15) and Soalheiro Alvarinho Vinho Verde Monção e Melgaço, 2014 (White Northern Portugal over £15) are all en route.

Gold-Medal Winners

At the IWC, sparkling success came in the form of a gold for Champagne Charles Heidsieck Brut Reserve NV (£43). Lustau Botaina Amontillado (£11.50) and Cayetano del Pino Palo Cortado Solera (£14.50) flew the flag for sherry, whilst the stylish and now-ready Taylor’s 1985 port (£75) also won.

Look out also for an Antipodean trio of winners coming soon in the form of Pask Declaration Syrah 2013 (New Zealand) and Penfolds Bin 707 Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 and Bin 389 Cabernet Shiraz 2012.

Fortified wines also performed well at Decanter, and golds were awarded to Hidalgo Pastrana Manzanilla Pasada (£10.50) and Osborne Capuchino Palo Cortado, 30 years old 50cl (£21), continuing sherry’s rich vein of form this year, and Henriques & Henriques Bual, 15 years old 50cl (£25) from Madeira.

Forthcoming Decanter gold-medal winners include Paul Ginglinger Riesling Grand Cru Pfersigberg 2013 from Alsace, Muga Selección Especial Rioja Reserva 2010, Frog’s Leap Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 from California and Penfolds Yattarna Chardonnay 2012.

Categories : Wine Competitions
Comments (5)

International Wine Challenge 2014 Wine Club of the YearLast night the ‘Oscars of the wine trade’, the International Wine Challenge awards, were held at London’s Grosvenor Hotel.

Ten members of Society staff from around the business were there to see The Wine Society awarded

• Wine Club of the Year for the fourth consecutive year
• Specialist Merchant Award for Chile for the eighth time in nine years
• Specialist Merchant Award for Alsace for the seventh consecutive year

In addition, The Society was shortlisted for Direct Merchant of the Year and Specialist Merchant for Portugal.

Head of buying Tim Sykes, campaign manager Yvonne Blandford and chief executive Robin McMillan with the award for 'Wine Club of the Year'

Head of buying Tim Sykes, campaign manager Yvonne Blandford and chief executive Robin McMillan with the award for ‘Wine Club of the Year’

The judges called it ‘a testament to The Society’s extensive range of wines and events, as well as excellent customer service.’

A number of individual Society wines also received awards earlier in the year.

Such recognition is always a pleasure and we would like to thank the IWC. Above all, however, we would like to thank our members for their continued loyalty and support for their Society. We exist purely for members’ benefit and look forward to further enhancing our services in the coming year while continuing to provide the best of the world’s vineyards at the best possible prices.

Fri 19 Jul 2013

‘The Pinnacle of Wine Retailing’

Posted by: | Comments (1)

Tracy and NaomiThe Society triumphs on a night of celebration of wine

Pictured here are Tracy Richardson (left) of Member Services and Naomi Norwood of The Cellar Showroom surrounded by The Society’s record haul of awards at last night’s IWC (International Wine Challenge) Awards Ceremony and 30th Anniversary Summer Ball at the Grosvenor House Hotel on London’s Park Lane.

The highlight of the evening was when the judges named The Society their Wine Merchant of the Year, the second time in the last three years we have scooped their top award.

The IWC also awarded The Society Wine Club of the Year, for the third year, and Specialist Merchant of the Year awards for our Alsace range, for the sixth time in a row, Chile for the seventh year in eight, and we retained the Portugal award we picked up for the first time last year.

Presenting the award, judge Charles Metcalfe congratulated the team saying that The Society represented ‘the pinnacle of wine retailing’.

On a sweltering evening the great and the good of the wine trade were in attendance and kept entertained by the energetic double act of Tim Atkin MW and Charles Metcalfe, co-chairmen of the judges.

A particularly moving part of the evening was seeing veteran wine writer Hugh Johnson OBE pick up a Lifetime Achievement Award. All wine writers owe Hugh a huge debt of gratitude for leading the way. As scribe Malcolm Gluck put it on ‘Johnson often writes so limpidly about his love I can taste the liquid in my mouth, though this is not as a result of crude fruit metaphors, the resort of hobbledehoys like myself, but by pinning down his feeling in such finely wrought aesthetic terms that one feels the experience as a personal encounter. This is, surely, the apotheosis of wine writing and we wine writers are, as expressionists in English, all in the giant shadow of this Monet of the craft.’

I think it is testament to Hugh’s high standing that most people’s reaction was amazement that he hadn’t already won such an honour.

Paul Trelford
Head Of Copy

Categories : Wine Competitions
Comments (1)

I am delighted to have won this award again. Critical acclaim is always well received. However, I am even happier that Chile is number two in terms of sales at The Wine Society (only sixth nationally). It shows how wise Wine Society members are. You all have a good eye for quality and value for money, which Chile continues to offer across a wide range of grape varieties and price points.

New and better vineyards
Chile has always been good at matching grape variety to climate, and the newish coastal vineyards in Leyda and Limarí have shown their excellence for sauvignon blanc, chardonnay, pinot noir and cool-climate syrah. A whole new generation of vineyards are now being planted taking account of the further variable of soil. These have been soil mapped before planting, using newly available rootstocks ideally adapted to the characteristics of certain soils, and varying planting density according to soil fertility, together with drip irrigation allowing lower vigour hillside vineyards to be planted. Many are now starting to come into bearing. These will further improve quality.

New wines
Chile continues to surprise and innovate. The Itata valley (between Maule and Bío-Bío), the home of unirrigated old bush vine vineyards planted on rolling hills, is exciting interest. We listed a lovely cinsault from De Martino last year. Some new pais wines are appearing too, often made in a maceration carbonique style and tasting like a light, strawberry-fruit pinot noir.

Chile?s only constant is change!

Toby Morrhall
Society Buyer

Tue 18 Sep 2012

The UK’s Best Range of Alsace Wines

Posted by: | Comments (8)

The affection for Alsace at The Wine Society goes back several generations of buyers and it would be nice to think that somehow they realise that all their efforts have paid off, and that for a fifth year in succession the International Wine Challenge has awarded us with the title of Specialist Wine Merchant of the Year for Alsace.

This has been a big Alsace year for us as unusually I found myself visiting twice in twelve months. First it was to taste the 2010s intensely and in depth, and then in June, just before the Jubilee, it was to show members of The Wine Society Dining Club around.

It was on this occasion that I met up with this new equine face of Alsace, Nikita, here pulling a plough on the Grand Cru Brand above the village of Turkheim.

So much has changed in Alsace from the days of industrial production to the artisan approach adopted by a growing number of estates. A generation ago, brilliant minds included Leonard Humbrecht, Léon Beyer, Jean Meyer, Bernard Trimbach and of course Johnny Hugel. The best Alsace estates are close family businesses where the generations follow seamlessly, each time bringing something new but always with the same aim of making excellent wines.

And so to the horse, not for show but preferred to a tractor on certain slopes as the use of a horse avoids compacting the earth. Just one of many little details which on its own might have little meaning but taken with lots of other details can help create greatness. Like using biodynamic composts, which more and more growers are using.

Alsace is both a victim and a result of history. It has known greatness, especially during middle ages but also disaster: there is a saying that says that Alsace is good at two things: making war and making wine.

I believe the seemingly endless list of wars, invasions and campaigns is behind us. Now is the time to discover what made Alsace such a jewel that was worth fighting for.

More members are drinking Alsace wines than ever and our list continues to grow with new additions including Albert Boxler from Niedermorschwihr, the Ribeauvillé co-op and Kientzler (also from Ribeauvillé).

Marcel Orford-Williams
Society Buyer

Fri 14 Sep 2012

2012: Portugal’s Year

Posted by: | Comments (6)

At last week’s International Wine Challenge Awards, The Wine Society won the Specialist Merchant of the Year award for Portugal for the first time.

We are absolutely delighted that our ? and your ? support for Portugal over the last few years has been recognised in this way, and also delighted for Portugal, and for all our producers whose wines have been over-delivering (whichever way you look at it, on quality, interest and value) for years.

This is a mark of just how far Portuguese wines have come, especially since joining the European Union in 1986. (I remember in my early years as a wine student, Portuguese wines were among the easiest to spot in blind tastings, along with Italian wines at the time, for their often rude tannins and oxidised fruit. They are now long gone).

Over the years many retailers have made admirable attempts to support Portugal’s traditional and emerging wine industry, but our unique status as a co-operative populated by wine enthusiasts has allowed us to make steady progress and establish Portugal as a small but increasingly important part of our range and tastings programme.

Earlier this year (and arguably long overdue) Decanter Magazine made Paul Symington, MD of the Symington group responsible for many of the best Port houses as well as the Altano, Chryseia, and Vesuvio wines in the Douro its Decanter Man of the Year, and Paul is our guest at The Society’s Festive Dinner in December.

At the start of this year’s harvest, it is too early to say whether 2012 will turn out to be a “vintage” year for Portugal, thereby creating a celebratory hat trick. In the meantime, for members who have followed our exploration into Portugal’s wonderfully varied wine regions to date, and to others who might now feel more tempted to do so, there is plenty more to come, including our next offer and tasting dedicated to Portuguese wines in November.

Jo Locke MW
Society Buyer

Last night we were proud to pick up more gongs at the International Wine Challenge awards ceremony at the Hilton, Park Lane.

The evening was hosted by Charles Metcalfe and Tim Atkin MW, two members of the distinguished judging panel which also includes Oz Clarke, Sam Harrop MW, Peter McCombie MW and Derek Smedley MW.

Our 'Wine Club of the Year' gong sitting in reception today.

The IWC (?the original Oscars of the wine trade?, some would say) has been going since 1984 and involves several weeks of blind tastings by numerous panels of wine judges, made up of an international band of trade experts.

To have your wines identified as trophy winners by your peers is highly gratifying and reinforces what our members already know, that we have some of the best wine buyers in the business!

Society buyer Marcel Orford-Williams was present to collect his trophy for Alsace Specialist Wine Merchant of the Year (for the fifth time in a row). Spain buyer Pierre Mansour collected his prize for The Society?s Exhibition Rioja Gran Reserva, 2001 from CVNE, which was awarded The Rioja Trophy. (Sadly this wine is already out of stock, but it will return in magnum format in time for Christmas!).

Chief buyer Tim Sykes picked up the specialist merchant award for Chile on behalf of buyer Toby Morrhall (an award given to us for the sixth time in seven years) and, a first for The Society, the Portuguese specialist award ? a terrific recognition of buyer Joanna Locke MW?s determination to bring these wines to a wider audience and members? continued appetite to try new things.

Finally, we were delighted to retain our title of IWC Wine Club of the Year, with the judges saying:

?The Wine Society continues to offer great value for their members from an impressive range which has been expertly selected by a great team of buyers. Their remarkable storage facilities at a fair price and the broad range of events throughout the year are everything you would want from a wine club.?

And though some of us present may have been a little disappointed not to have had our award presented by Mick Hucknall of Simply Red fame (he was there, not just in his capacity as a winemaker, but to present the Lifetime Achievement Award), we could not have been more pleased or privileged to have been there.

Joanna Goodman
News Editor

Tue 01 May 2012

As sober as a judge …

Posted by: | Comments (3)

Members will be aware of the Decanter World Wine Awards (DWWA) and the International Wine Challenge (IWC) ? two major wine competitions that take place in the UK and that The Society regularly does well in as a merchant.

Before the great days in May when the results are announced and September when the results are celebrated, there is a lot of hard work that goes on behind the scenes to ensure wines are blind tasted, retasted and judged on their merits. Several of The Society?s team are judges at these prestigious competitions. I am lucky enough to be counted among the judges for the IWC and this year have judged for six days out of the eleven that it takes.

This annual competition is co-chaired by 6 members of the Who?s Who of the wine world: Tim Atkin MW, Oz Clarke, Sam Harrop MW, Peter McCombie MW, Charles Metcalfe and Derek Smedley MW. This year the venue was the Nursery Pavilion at Lord?s Cricket Ground. Our time there was so wet that only 2 hours of cricket were possible, including Andrew Strauss dismissed for a second-ball duck batting for Middlesex against Durham. So other than the persistent precipitation hammering on the Pavilion roof, there were no distractions from the job in hand.

Just a few of the 100 judges in the Nursery Pavilion on the first day of judging

With over 12,000 wines tasted by 23 panels of 5 judges, the logistics pose significant problems. All of these were admirably overcome by Chris Ashton and his excellent, hard-working team from the IWC, delivering flight after flight of wine. In total I personally blind-tasted 585 wines from 21 countries: Argentina, Australia, Austria, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, France, India, Italy, Japan, Mexico, New Zealand, Portugal, Russia, South Africa, Spain, Thailand, Turkey, United States and Uruguay. My tasting panel leaders included ex-Tesco buyer Helen McGinn, ex-Sainsbury?s winemaker Clem Yates MW, Oregonian wine writer Lisa Shara Hall, Aussie wine critic and winemaker Nick Stock and wine author/blogger Jamie Goode.

Fellow judge Tamara Stanfill (left) & panel chair Helen McGinn evaluating Portuguese reds

The first 5 days are spent tasting and deciding simply if the wine should go forward to the medal tasting, be commended or rejected. The next four days see the medal-worthy wines re-tasted and bronze, silver or gold medals awarded, with the final two days set aside for re-tasting the gold medal winners and deciding which should be awarded the prestigious trophies.

Each day ended with a refreshing beer or two in the Mound Stand bar. The last thing you want after tasting 100 wines is ? wine!

It?s a meticulous, challenging and tiring process, but worthwhile for the tasting experience, the educational side of things (I can now perceive and identify more degrees of reduction, oxidation, cork taint, brettanomyces and geosmin than I ever thought possible) and the networking with the great and the good of the industry (winemakers, estate owners, communicators, competitors).

And before you ask, I promise that I spat everything out (well, maybe a little vintage Champagne and Bual Madeira remained in my system at the end of one or two of the judging days); here was one sober judge!