Grapevine Archive for Red Wine

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).


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
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Fri 12 Feb 2016

Wirra Wirra & The Battle Of The Bells

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It is some years now since McLaren Vale producer Wirra Wirra was forced to rename its flagship cabernet sauvignon when the ‘international naming police’ ruled that it was too similar to that of a leading Bordeaux château.

The 3/4-tonne Angelus bell that sits atop Wirra Wirra’s cellars had been retrieved from a wreckers’ yard after its former life calling the faithful to prayer at the Jesuit church in Norwood, South Australia. Traditionally rung at the start and end of each vintage and to mark special occasions, it seemed fitting that its name be used for the property’s top cuvée of cabernet.

The Angelus Bell at Wirra Wirra

The Angelus Bell at Wirra Wirra

When forced to change the label, the late Greg Trott, with typical wry humour, chose to call the wine ‘Dead Ringer’. In case there was any doubt, the back label of the first wine to be sold under the new nomenclature read:

Dead Ringer: Colloquial for “resemble exactly.”

…the wine formerly known as The Angelus is now The Dead Ringer. It is indeed a dead ringer for The Angelus – being a blend of 80% McLaren Vale and 20% Coonawarra cabernet, and matured in French oak barriques for 20 months. Whatever the name, this wine is quite simply the best cabernet sauvignon we can make from each vintage.

Members can now try the wine for themselves in the form of the 2013 and 2012 vintages, and a mixed case including the 2005, 2009 and 2012, in the ‘Wirra Wirra: The Name Rings A Bell’ section of our current Fine Wine List.

Joanna Goodman
Communications Editor

Categories : Australia
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This is the second part of my blog about a three-day trip to the Rhône Valley in June when I acted as guide to a small party of members. These lucky (or not so lucky!) few had earned their place on the tour having signed up new members to The Society earlier in the year. Here we head south…
Part I can be read here.

Heading south into Gigondas
The Rhône has become known as the third of the great red wine regions of France after Bordeaux and Burgundy. Yet this has come about quite recently, helped by a combination of improved communications and the appellation system. It seems odd to us today that so many of these great wines were shipped to Bordeaux or Beaune to be used as blending wines.

The second chapel in our tale

The second chapel in our tale

A little bit of history
The best thing to have happened to the Rhône was when the Papacy movied to Avignon in 1309. Even before that event, much of the surrounding country, then known as the Comtat Venaissin, was in Papal hands. It gave the region a Patron on a par with the Dukes of Aquitaine and Burgundy.

Yet when all this happened, Gigondas and its wines had seen over a thousand vintages. The first to plant vines were probably veterans of the Second Legion and the name of the settlement probably comes from the Latin jucundus or villa jucundatis. The joy in the name speculated to have come from the abundance of spring water here.

People make wine and people of course create entities such as Bordeaux or Chianti. It is the same for Gigondas. One of the most significant names was Raspail. This family of noted Republicans, politicians, scientists included among their number, Eugene Raspail who while in Gigondas did much to improve the quality of the wines. His great nephew, François Ay, was president of the growers’ syndicate and it was he who, after a long and fierce struggle, obtained appellation status for Gigondas in 1971.

The granting of the appellation was a big step forward as it gave impetus to growers to do more, either for themselves or through the co-operative. The grenache grape had for a long time been what Gigondas was about and new status reinforced this and did away with many other varieties that had cropped for one reason or another over the years. Out went carignan, alicante and aramon to be replaced by syrah and mourvèdre, and the white clairette.

For a while the merchants became chief beneficiaries of the better wines that gradually were being made here. But there were a good number of estates too, with many growers having the desire to extend vineyard into the less hospitable mountain areas behind the village.

My first memory of Gigondas was a 1967 from Jaboulet, a great wine from a great vintage. It is a wine that combined two, often contradictory elements: power and freshness. I was hooked and have followed Gigondas ever since.

Those veteran legionnaires who settled here were not daft. A more beautiful spot is hard to imagine with the jagged Dentelles de Montmirail providing a stunning backdrop and with no lack of water.

The Romans also knew about planting on hillsides. What they did not possibly appreciate was the intensely complex geology which, as in Hermitage, is a key reason why the wines are so interesting. Unlike Hermitage though, or even Châteauneuf, Gigondas is far less well known, its secret is still largely hidden.

It was this that prompted me to make Gigondas the final destination for this trip. And of course also the fact that there are some great wines being made here! To test this out, we had organised a veritable gala dinner with four key producers joining us with wines and not all from the best vintages. Indeed I shan’t forget Moulin de la Gardette 2002 and 1968 in a hurry.

Jean-Baptiste Meunier of Moulin de la Gardette explaining Gigondas

Jean-Baptiste Meunier of Moulin de la Gardette explaining Gigondas

If Hermitage derives some of its uniqueness from its complex geology, the same can be true of Gigondas. The terroir here is the result of the same tectonic convulsions that created the Alps and Pyrenees. Except here, the layers of rock, limestone and marls were tilted to end up looking like a Mille-feuille on its side, an analogy favoured by Louis Barruol, the genie of Saint-Cosme. In this vertical landscape, the hardest limestone has weathered the least to create the jagged, tooth-like Dentelles de Montmirail with further shaping from wind, rain and ice. This verticality means that soil changes almost continuously – plainly visible as one goes round the vineyard seeing how the colour and composition of soils changes every few yards.

And yet despite everything, Gigondas still lives in the shadow of better-known Rhônes. The problem for Gigondas is it took longer to recover from the various disasters that befell viticulture towards the end of the XIXth century, ending with the Great War and depression. Before the appellation system was created, there was nothing to define what Gigondas really was.

Jean-Michel Vache, whose father literally carved out his vineyard from the rock, by hand, said that when it came to planting grape varieties in the early days, one did what one could. So people planted whatever was available, choosing some varieties because they produced good yields with plenty of juice or others for alcohol. And no doubt, some growers planted hybrids that were resistant to phylloxera.

Gigondas as we know it starts to take shape
The appellation gave hope and a structure for growers to follow, even if for the first 35 years, it was just Côtes du Rhône. The co-op also tends to pay more for higher alcohol as well as yield. And so gradually the grenache grape was to become dominant in Gigondas and a reputation for strong, full-bodied wines was duly formed.

Louis Barruol's turn to explain his terroir

Louis Barruol’s turn to explain his terroir

The addition of other grapes brings greater finesse
Strong alcohol does not mean great wine of course and the next challenge was to go from coarseness back to finesse. And that is a journey that has been going on for at least half a century and is continuing. Other grape varieties have been brought in to add something else. Syrah adds colour, fragrance and structure. Structure too comes from mourvèdre which adds a spicy edge. The white clairette, often planted together with grenache, can add elegance.

But the real work is in the vineyard. It isn’t just about planting grape varieties, it is also about matching variety and soil and exposition. The landscape offers so many possibilities with north-facing slopes and slopes planted at high altitude. Some of Amadieu’s most interesting wines are coming from vines planted at over 400m. These include a sensational white which for now remains Côtes du Rhône; for some reason white Gigondas had never been part of the deal, unlike in next door Vacqueyras.

Still plenty of joy in Gigondas
There remains plenty to do but luckily the ambiance in Gigondas is good. There is both rivalry and camaraderie among the growers and even the co-op is a force for good. The future is bright. So much so that there isn’t that much bulk wine around for the merchants to buy. Though in fairness, many of these merchants have always played the quality card; both Jaboulet and Guigal for example, make fine examples of Gigondas.

The Dentelles de Montmirail

The Dentelles de Montmirail

But leading the way of course are the growers and there are many of them, some big like Amadieu and some very small but all making exceedingly exciting wines. And the good news has been spreading, attracting outside investors. The Brunier brothers of Vieux Télégraphe in Châteauneuf teamed up with their excellent American importer, Kermit Lynch to buy one of the historic estates, Les Pallières. More recently the Perrin family, owners of Beaucastel, also in Châteauneuf also bought a fine estate in Gigondas called Les Tourrelles. All have been welcomed and are actively involved in raising the image of Gigondas.

So I had good reasons to choose Gigondas as a final destination for this members’ trip. After the gala dinner with its succession of venerable wines and a good if somewhat shortened night, it was up for an early start to meet our transport for the morning. Jean-Michel Vache was in charge here, aided by Jean-Baptiste Meunier of Moulin de la Gardette. The Beaumes de Venise co-op unwittingly lent us their large Land Rover for half our number. This would be driven by Jean-Baptiste. Jean-Michel had his own, bought second hand from the United Nations and still in its all- white livery. There was a Sarajevo sticker in the window, indicating where this had been. And we were off on a two-hour excursion, exploring the Dentelles and the terroirs of Gigondas. This was exhilarating driving on the roughest tracks or no tracks at all, hair-pin bends, impossible gradients and views to savour for a lifetime. Water is the giver of life and was not forgotten as we stopped to drink from a spring.

Henri-Claude and Jean-Marie Amadieu explaining Gigondas

Henri-Claude and Jean-Marie Amadieu explaining Gigondas

L'apéro with Barruol in charge. Jean-Michel Vache in discussion with Henri-Claude Amadieu in the background

L’apéro with Barruol in charge. Jean-Michel Vache in discussion with Henri-Claude Amadieu in the background

As for Louis Barruol and the Amadieu brothers, they made themselves busy organising a perfect casse-croûte at a perfect location, the Chapelle de Saint-Cosme.

There used to be many chapels in Gigondas but time and the Revolution have diminished their number. Its full name is Chapelle de Saint Côsme et Damien and was named after two Christians noted for their powers of healing.

The chapel is just off the road as it goes past Louis Barruol’s estate and on its way to the Col du Cayron. Some of the tiny church dates back to the XIth century though the foundations are older still. Its history is obviously complicated. It is part in ruin, maybe as a result of land slips or war. It is undoubtedly a place of beauty and serenity and a perfect place to ponder and marvel.

Safari by Land Rover: one of the highlights of the trip

Safari by Land Rover: one of the highlights of the trip

And so came the party of Land Rovers, up a short, twisty and very steep drive, to the foot of the chapel. Everything was ready for a pre-prandial picnic, otherwise known as the apéro. There were cheeses, saucisson and of course olives, washed down by some delicious whites from Amadieu and Saint-Cosme.

Gigondas produces rosé and that is how we finished this trip, drinking these full-bodied pinks, well chilled to cope with the intense heat of the summer of 2015.

Dining in Gigondas
The farewell lunch was at the Florets, a very well-established house with good food, an impressive wine list and after a long dinner, the necessary rooms! The Hôtel de Montmirail, above Vacqueyras is similar and as good. Better still though is the restaurant l’Oustalet. This is in the middle of the village opposite the Mairie. It’s always been there but was never that good. And then it was bought by the Perrin family who put one of their youngsters in, Charles Perrin, to run. And they just happened to have a resident chef at Beaucastel. Laurent used to while away his time dreaming up dishes to go with Beaucastel. He came to The Wine Society once to cook a festive dinner for members at Merchant Taylor’s Hall. He knows cooks in Gigondas, in charge of one of the most creative kitchens in the southern Rhône. The Perrins do nothing by half; the amazing food is matched by a brilliant wine list. Sipping Pol Roger on a balmy Provençal evening has got to be one of the highlights of the year!

And so it was adieu to what was a memorable week for all. Though I knew that I would be back soon with the 2014 vintage to taste in depth and the first soundings of the new 2015 harvest to take. And hopefully more discoveries to make!


Marcel Orford-Williams
Society Buyer

If this blog post has whetted your appetite for Rhône wines you may wish to browse our current Vintage Rhône offer 

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Sat 19 Sep 2015

Bordeaux 2015: The Right Bank

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Head of Buying, Tim Sykes, continues his whistle-stop tour of Bordeaux to assess the 2015 vintage. After the Médoc yesterday, he heads for the right bank.

A damp start to Thursday in central Bordeaux, and noticeably cooler than yesterday.

Chateau de Pitray

Grape test at Chateau de Pitray

First stop is Château de Pitray in the Côtes de Castillon (an hour’s drive east of Bordeaux, beyond Saint-Emilion), which is owned and run by the very able Jean de Boigne. Pulling up in front of the imposing château I notice that the temperature gauge on the car reads just 13?C. Such low temperatures would be worrying if the grapes were a long way from reaching full ripeness. However, Pitray’s grapes are almost ready to pick, and the cool weather wards off the possible onset of rot which can attack the grapes in damp conditions.

On the dining room table Jean has lined up three plates, each bearing a bunch of healthy looking grapes. He invites me to guess which variety is lying on each plate.

I didn’t exactly cover myself in glory, managing to identify the cabernet franc (the right-hand bunch), but getting the merlot (middle) and malbec (left) the wrong way round.

All three bunches were picked first thing this morning by Jean, and they all tasted delicious.

Next stop Pomerol, and a first tasting from the 2015 harvest with Edouard Moueix at Château La Fleur Pétrus. The wine (or more accurately young-vine merlot grape juice) had deep colour and tasted lush and vibrant.

As we sat down to the traditional Moueix pickers’ lunch (thankfully indoors) the heavens opened and an unscheduled 15-minute deluge ensued. Christian Moueix, attending his 45th consecutive harvest lunch, immediately got up and announced to a euphoric group of 75 pickers not only that there would be no harvesting this afternoon, but also that the entire team was invited to attend today’s matinée performance of Marguerite at the local cinema.

Harvest lunch at Le Fleur Petrus

Harvest lunch at Le Fleur Petrus

I made my excuses and then headed off to Saint-Emilion to drop in on François Despagne at Château Grand Corbin Despagne. François, much like his neighbours in Pomerol, could barely contain his excitement at the quality of merlot grapes arriving in his cellar. The grape sorters (human not mechanical) were having to discard just a tiny fraction of the grapes, so healthy were the berries, picked just a few minutes earlier.

Having never had an opportunity to look around the cellars at Grand Corbin Despagne, François gave me a quick guided tour, including a peek inside the ‘Réserve de la famille’ – dusty bottles of vintages such as 1929, 1949 and 1961 lay enticingly in the wine bins.

1929 Grand Corbin Despagne

So tempting…the 1929 Grand Corbin Despagne

My last visit of the trip before heading back to the UK was to Domaine de Chevalier in Pessac-Léognan, where ever-lively winemaker Rémi Edange updated me on the latest news from the Château. ‘Le potentiel est incroyable’ were his exact words – I don’t believe that I need to include a translation!

Categories : Bordeaux
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Fri 18 Sep 2015

2015 Bordeaux – Early Impressions

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Every year The Society’s Bordeaux buyers make one or two whistle-stop visits to the region during harvest time to gain a first impression of the nascent vintage. Bordeaux is notorious for putting out (at best) confusing or (at worst) misleading messages about the vintage, and so there is no substitute for actually witnessing what’s going on with one’s own eyes, and talking to château owners and winemakers that you know will give you an honest assessment of the state of the harvest.

Beaumont 2015

Rainbow over Chateau Beaumont

Having made it to Bordeaux on Tuesday night, somewhat later than anticipated, I headed out to the Médoc first thing Wednesday. The drive to Pauillac, where I had my first appointment, was slow (the traffic in Bordeaux is worse than London), but I made it to Château Batailley by 9 o’clock. Owner Frédéric Castéja and winemaker Arnaud Durand were there to meet me, and were happy to update me on the state of the vineyards and the anticipated harvest. Their vineyards are in good shape, with the vines in excellent health. Flowering in spring was good and there has been no disease, hail, rot or other nefarious interruptions in the vines’ vegetative cycle. Early summer was very dry, and there were fears that the vines would shut down due to lack of moisture, but some well-timed light showers in early August alleviated the situation.

The weather today was warm (26C) and humid but despite some distant rumbles of thunder, very little of the forecast rain actually fell on the Médoc. Batailley will start picking their merlot vines on Thursday and, if the decent weather holds, they expect to have harvested all their merlot by the middle of next week. The cabernets (sauvignon and franc) are likely to be ready to pick towards the end of September.

Next visit was to Château Beaumont, a member favourite for many years. Head Winemaker Etienne Priou had a smile on his face, always a good sign at this crucial time of the year. His relaxed demeanour was in part due to the fact that Beaumont’s grapes look to be in good shape, but also because there was a gleaming new optical grape sorter sitting in his winery for the first time. Optical sorters are a recent, but welcome, innovation that discards sub-standard grapes before they find their way into the fermenting tanks. The entire production from Beaumont’s 98 hectares of vines will pass through Etienne’s new toy, ensuring that only perfect berries are processed in 2015.

South to Margaux and Château Angludet
Picking of the early ripening merlots started on Monday this week and so approximately half of Angludet’s merlot crop was safely in the winery by the time I visited. I tasted some merlot berries coming off the vibrating table de trie (sorting table) and was impressed by the sweetness of the fruit.

Angludet sorting table

Angludet sorting table

Ben Sichel, winemaker at Angludet, seemed quietly confident about the 2015 vintage, whilst rightly pointing out that until the cabernets, which are due to be picked in around a fortnight, are safely harvested, the vintage still lies in the balance.

I was lucky enough to join the Angludet team for their daily ‘harvest lunch’, a convivial affair on a long trestle table by the sorting table in the winery. Hearty food washed down with a bottle each of 1986 and 1988 Angludet (both fully mature but delicious) made the lunch a particularly memorable occasion.

Lunch at Angludet

Lunch at Angludet

My last visit in the Médoc was to Château Rauzan Ségla, a second growth Margaux property that we have been buying consistently for many years. John Kolasa, chief winemaker and manager of Rauzan Ségla and sister Saint-Emilion property Château Canon, retired at the end of July and his successor Nicolas Audebert was on hand to update me on the state of the harvest. The remarkably youthful Audebert was at one time chief winemaker at Krug in Champagne, and more recently the winemaker for Cheval des Andes in Argentina. He seemed genuinely excited by the prospect of a good harvest, taking me into the vineyard in front of Rauzan Ségla and showing me row after row of perfectly ripe and healthy merlot grapes.

Nicolas Audebert, Rauzan Segla

Nicolas Audebert, winemaker at Rauzan Segla

The weather forecast for the region for the coming week looks decent, if somewhat changeable, so whilst a fine vintage is by no means a fait accompli, with fingers and toes crossed we can all hope that the Mother Nature will deliver something wine lovers can get excited about.

Next stop the Right Bank….

… seems to be the lot of this underrated grape.

But I have had a long-time love affair with wines made from this underrated grape: Rioja, Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Minervois, Banyuls, Gigondas, Priorat, all contain grenache (garnacha in Spain) and therein lies the reason, I feel, for the lack of due deference paid to this most versatile grape.  An important player in the assemblage of these well-known wines, its name rarely appears on the label, leading to its position of relative obscurity and under-appreciated status.

Grenache - always the bridesmaid, never the bride

Grenache – always the bridesmaid, never the bride

Other grapes that can command the spotlight, chardonnay, syrah to name two, are practically brands in themselves. But poor old grenache remains under the radar.

But this is a grape that can produce rosés, reds at all levels, and even sweet wines that can take on chocolate; not to mention the white mutations of grenache blanc and gris that produce a range of full-bodied whites which are now becoming more widely appreciated.

Well it’s time to put things right and this Friday 18th September, grenache gets to have its share of the limelight as it is International Grenache Day – a day where the grape can be celebrated by showcasing wines where grenache not only dominates but rules. My kind of wines!

If you’re looking for a place to start your love affair or reacquaint yourself with the glories of grenache then these would be my recommendations:

From Navarra in northern Spain, there’s Señorio de Sarria Rosado, Navarra 2014, a smooth and fruity rosado to try with marinated anchovies. A good insight into the grape in its white form would be the round and refreshing Grenache Blanc from Domaine du BoscDomaine Jones in Tuchan, close to the border with Roussillon, produces a full and herby grenache gris perfect for aperitifs or robust fish stews. Her ample red (Domaine Jones, Côtes Catalanes Grenache 2013)

Mrs, and now Mr Jones, in Katie's old-vine vineyard below Queribus

Mrs, and now Mr Jones, in Katie’s old-vine vineyard below Quéribus

from old grenache vines in the shadow of Cathar stronghold, Château de Quéribus, is overflowing with luscious fruit; a winter warmer to delay the central heating switch on as the nights close in.

For a lighter fragrant style which demonstrates grenache or garnacha’s versatility why not give Salvaje del Moncayo Garnacha 2014 a try? It’s made by self-confessed garnacha nut, Raul Acha whose parents’ ancient garnacha vines in Rioja inspired him to seek out interesting parcels to vinify across Spain. Both reds would suit hearty fare and serving the latter cellar cool introduces an appealing freshness, one of the hallmarks of good grenache or garnacha which also deserves to be better understood.So whatever you choose, let’s afford grenache the acclaim it deserves as the headliner and not just a support act.

Conrad Braganza
The Cellar Showroom

The wines mentioned above will all be open to taste in The Cellar Showroom on International Grenache Day this Friday 18th September. If you are in the area, do call in and try them.

Read more about the grenache grape in our online guide here.

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Tue 04 Aug 2015

On Chilling Red Wines

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A warmer temperature – which some of us in the UK are enjoying at least! – is conducive to a chilled glass of white or rosé, but don’t overlook red wine when the mercury modestly rises either.

Serving Beaujolais and red Burgundies at ‘cellar temperature’ is oft encouraged, and many local house reds come chilled when drunk on holiday.

But why not other reds?

Chilling red wine

Recent experiments in The Showroom (which is, essentially, a large cellar) have proved to me that, beyond gamay and pinot noir, many reds prove quite delicious at a lower temperature.

Though I feel I cannot dictate which wines you choose to chill, the ones that work best are those that are lighter in body, good acidity, prevalent in primary fruit and of a lower tannic structure.

Putting many reds through a fleeting stint in the fridge for around 30 minutes to an hour can add a vibrancy to their fruit and a lightness that I feel reveals a refreshingly different side to the wines.

This was certainly true of two cinsaults I tried: the members’ favourite Percheron Old Vine Cinsault, Western Cape 2014 (£5.75) and the Chilean De Martino Gallardía del Itata Cinsault 2013 (£8.75). Chilling brought out the young and lively sides of both of these wines.

The lower tannin of 3C, Cariñena 2014 (£5.25) and Fronton, Chateau Bouissel 2012 (£8.25) also lend themselves to cooler drinking.

For al fresco dining, try Ollieux Romanis Capucine, Pays de l’Aude 2014 (6.75) and Frappato di Sicilia, Nicosia 2014 (£7.95), which offer an abundance of fruit; not to mention the cherry freshness of Avaniel, Ribera del Duero 2013 (£6.95) and Valpolicella, Allegrini 2014 (£9.75), or indeed The Society’s California Old-Vine Zinfandel 2013 (£7.50).

Loire reds also work well at lower temperatures, as do the Greek Thymiopoulos Naoussa Jeunes Vignes 2013 (£10.50) and Kalecik Karasi, Vinkara 2012 (£9.50), which would both work well with Meze dishes.

Even outside of hot weather the freshness and vitality chilling some red wines, for me, introduces brightness that lifts a meal or the drink itself.

It’s all about personal preference and what wine and what temperature works for you. Do try it for yourself if you’ve yet to: the above ideas are only the tip of the ice bucket…

Conrad Braganza
The Cellar Showroom

Categories : Miscellaneous
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Thu 10 Apr 2014

A Real Privilege: The Birth of a Wine

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Fine wine manager, Shaun Kiernan, helped blend the exclusive Contino 930 Reserva Rioja 2010, The Society’s first Rioja to be offered en primeur. Here he describes the process.

I’ve worked for The Wine Society for many more years than I care to remember, but fortunately opportunities regularly arise to remind me why I continue to do so.

207759 (283)Last February, I had the privilege to visit Spain with Pierre Mansour, our Spanish buyer, to taste through a large number of old Riojas, which we subsequently listed in an offer. At the same time we visited the cellars of Contino, a long-term Society supplier, and their charming winemaker, Jésus Madrazo, to blend what has become our first Rioja Reserva to be offered en primeur.

Over the years, I’ve been involved in blending new wines before in Stevenage and, on occasion, helped with the mix for The Society’s Claret out in Bordeaux, but this was special as I was witnessing the birth of, and helping to shape, a wine which I think will give members enormous drinking pleasure over a number of years.

It was a fascinating process and I have to admit to feeling quite daunted as we entered the cellars where we were confronted with numerous bottles all containing wines with different attributes from different vineyards and different grape varieties.

Our job was to come up with a blend which was in keeping with the Contino style and one that Society members would enjoy over the next decade.

After about an hour and half of extreme pipette action, tasting and blending and re-tasting and re-blending, we finally felt that we had found a wine which achieved what we set out to do. It is Contino 930 Reserva Rioja 2010, a blend of tempranillo, graciano, garnacha and mazuelo aged in French and American oak for nearly two years, including fruit from Contino’s most famous ‘Olivo’ vineyard.

It is offered now in bond (until 9pm, Tuesday 29th April), while still ageing in Contino’s cellars, and is due for release in early 2015. We think it will be ready to drink on arrival but will start peaking from 2019 until 2025.

Witnessing, and playing a part in, the birth of something so special was one of the very memorable moments of my career here at The Wine Society. I hope that you enjoy the fruits of our labours.

Categories : En Primeur, Spain
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Fri 08 Nov 2013

Absolutely Cracking Wines From France

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image45Every autumn, the French food and wine marketing organisation Sopexa, on behalf of French Wines With Style, hosts the Absolutely Cracking Wines From France tasting where they ask key wine writers, bloggers and sommeliers to put forward the best French wines they have tasted in the last year.

While you’d expect The Society to feature, given the strength and depth in our French offering, this year we had more wines represented in the tasting than any other merchant – more than double the second most mentioned! Testament indeed to the combined talents of buyers Marcel Orford-Williams (Alsace, Beaujolais, Champagne, Rhône, South of France), Jo Locke MW (Bordeaux, Loire) and Toby Morrhall (Burgundy).

156 wines featured in the tasting from 75 UK merchants, and 23 came from The Society. We’ve put together a 12-bottle mixed case of 2 x 6.

FC23751My personal favourites are all from off the beaten track:

Red: Domaine du Cros, Lo Sang del Pais, Marcillac 2012
Writer, blogger & the Sunday Express‘s wine expert Jamie Goode says of this wine: “It’s bloody, ferrous, meaty and fresh, with minerality and bright fruit. It’s drinakable. It’s food friendly. And I like to drink it.” It’s one of the most versatile wines we have on our list, and while you may have never heard of the fer servadou grape, it’s very worth getting to know, and offers such excellent value for money.

FC24151White: Domaine Cauhapé,Chant des Vignes Sec, Jurancon 2012
Award-winning wine writer and regular Decanter columnist Andrew Jefford sums up this wine in his inimitable style, to which there really is nothing to add: “Gros manseng is blended with 40% of the rare camaralet de Lasseube to make this bracing, complex dry Jurançon. Aromas almost jump from the glass – pineapple, hay, pounded almonds, hawthorn blossom, a little banana, somne fresh apricot. On the palate the wine is rousing, vivid, saline and incisive, yet every bit as perfumed, and as singular, as its aromas – deverting yet palate-cleansing. I don’t think you’ll find a more intriguing aperitif from France than this, and few to match it for concentration and character.”SG1651

Sparkling: Domaine du Montbourgeau, Crémant du Jura NV
The UK’s acknowledged Jura expert, Wink Lorch, says: “This Crémant from 100% chardonnay has purity, finesse and a lightness from start to finish. Yet it remains distinctly Jura in its flavours.” She is so right – there is something so crisp, clean and … well, ‘mountain air’ about this wine. The most refreshing fizz you’ll drink this year, and cerrtainly the one the family and I will be seeing in Christmas with.

FC24461Sweet: Maydie, Tannat Vintage, Madiran 2010
Expert wine buyer Christine Parkinson, from London’s Hakkasan restaurants, says: “This is a vin doux naturel from a grape usually better known for tannic, dry wines. The wine has flavours of blackberry and damson which mesh well with the sappy sweetness and a structure reather like a young vintage Port.” Delicious, and has the added bonus of going very well with chocolate!

We regularly feature strongly at this annual tasting, but we don’t rest on our laurels. Marcel, Jo and Toby are already combing the vines of France to ensure we stay on top of our game.

Ewan Murray
PR Manager

Categories : France, South of France
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Tue 25 Jun 2013

An evening of Kiwi delight

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For Stephanie Searle of the Tastings and Events Team, the New Zealand tasting is the highlight of her year. She wasn’t disappointed

Matt Sutherland of Dog Point pouring his wine

Matt Sutherland of Dog Point pouring his wine

Every year The Society’s Tastings team hosts approximately 114 wine-centred events both within the UK and close to our French operation in Montreuil. From wine dinners, tutored tastings and informal walk-around tastings through to lunches, masterclasses and workshops, the opportunity to try wonderful wine is always there. Just like our members, we all have our favourite wine regions and styles so through the year there is always somebody within the team who is looking forward in anticipation to particular events taking place.

Last week my own delight knew no bounds when the team, along with Society buyer Pierre Mansour, hosted two informal, walk-around tastings that showcased the delicious, unusual and often truly exquisite wines from New Zealand.

With 27 wines to try, a tasting booklet and a glass in hand, and a host of winery representatives there to answer our questions as we tasted, our senses took the lead as we were able to glide the room experiencing, enjoying, comparing and contrasting the wines.

Choosing to start to with pinot gris, I headed for the Kumeu River table where their just off-dry, aromatic, succulent and well-balanced Kumeu River Pinot Gris, 2011 showed both richness and length. It was good to try it alongside the Prophet’s Rock Pinot Gris, 2010 which was more floral on the nose. One member described the aroma as ‘rich lilac hand cream’. I could taste cream soda and Cornish ice cream!

In total there were six chardonnays to try – the Kiwi style is broadly flavoured, round with a touch of oak for creaminess and lemon bursting through. The Wither Hills Chardonnay 2011 was a good example and at only £7.95 a bottle, it is excellent value for money.

Two chardonnays stood out for me as they revealed multiple layers of complexity and depth. Dog Point Chardonnay, 2010 had hints of spicy biscuit that in no way overpowered the fresh lemon notes. The Neudorf Chardonnay, 2011 was also delightful, unleashing the freshness of lemon sorbet with vanilla pod and cream.

Greywacke Wild Sauvignon

Greywacke Wild Sauvignon

The seven featured sauvignon blancs all had something slightly different to offer. Some were in the style that made New Zealand so famous: heady aromas of grass, gooseberry and nettle. Slightly more restrained was the Craggy Range Te Muna Road Vineyard, Sauvignon Blanc, 2012 which revealed peach and apple fruitiness, and the Greywacke Wild Sauvignon, 2011 was a true revelation for me. By skilfully using indigenous yeasts and old oak barrels, winemaker Kevin Judd has created a delightfully distinctive and complex Sauvignon which is perfumed, smooth and enticingly rich. At £23 a bottle it isn’t cheap but in my view, it is definitely worth it!

Two very different rieslings were also available for tasting. The Hunter’s Riesling, 2011 was lively and dry yet crisp. It showed the first notes of emerging petrol aromas and will continue to age well for another few years yet.

Tim and Judy Finn from Neudorf

Tim and Judy Finn from Neudorf

Winery owners, Tim and Judy Finn received many positive comments about their Neudorf Brightwater Riesling, 2010. With lots of flora on the nose and palate, this wine was dry with great length and richness. A lovely wine – this one will definitely be going in my rack!

The pinot noir wines that I tried were ALL delicious and it was a joy to be able to glide from table to table tasting so many of them. Seresin Estate’s Momo Pinot Noir, 2011, made using organically grown grapes, is keenly priced at just £12.50 a bottle and Prophet’s Rock Pinot Noir, 2009 offers such depth and sophistication that it really is a ‘must try’ wine. Dog Point Pinot Noir, 2010 was gloriously fragrant, pure and plummy – Pierre Mansour’s description, not mine, but one with which I heartily agree.

Holding its own on the Te Mata table was the Te Mata Woodthorpe Cabernet-Merlot, 2009. Fragrant yet clear, it was a thoroughly enjoyable blend with cedary aromas and suppleness. It was exceptionally easy to drink with good length.

My final wine of the evening was Craggy Range Gimblett Gravels Syrah, 2010. Closer in style to the Rhône than to other new world examples of the grape, this syrah would perfectly partner sizzling red meats on the barbeque.

Of course, having tried all of the wines, the great temptation was to do a second tour of the tables but like a good wine, I showed restraint!

Categories : Miscellaneous
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