Grapevine Archive for Tasting
Having joined The Wine Society’s Tastings and Events Team as a relatively fresh faced 24-year-old just over two years ago, it’s become apparent that, at the majority of tastings that I host across the UK , I am more often than not the youngest person there.
Although certainly not the end of the world, it does raise an important question – and one that’s been bouncing around The Society for the last year or so: where is the next generation of Wine Society members going to come from?
There are a number of projects currently in motion at TWS HQ, from the Digital Team through to the Marketing and Buying Teams. All are trying to make sure we offer something for younger wine-drinkers (and female as well as male!).
Generation Wine is my way of trying to shake up The Society through our 150-event-strong calendar which I help put together with the rest of the Tastings Team.
The idea is simple – we’ll be conducting a series of exciting tastings throughout the year that will appeal to younger members.
First up, we’ll be launching our new Generation Wine Walkaround Tastings. My intention for these events is to provide a complete night out as opposed to our more formal ‘standard’ walkaround tastings, which often focus purely on the wine and giving you the perfect environment to taste, smell, observe and discuss.
They’ll take place at a variety of lively venues (such as our May 4th event at Kachette Shoreditch – already sold out, unfortunately – where wood panelling and regal paintings are replaced by bare-brick railway arches and strip lights), and held a bit later in the evening to allow for a more relaxed, party-like atmosphere.
It’s also important to me to showcase the whole range The Society has to offer; not just our fabulous wines but also craft beers and gins sourced by our two newest (and youngest) buyers, Freddy Bulmer and Sarah Knowles MW. Music will play, beer will flow, ties can be removed and we can see how much fun TWS can be. Just don’t be the ones to miss out!
We’ll also be running exciting dining experiences at our Generation Wine Dinners. These will be heldat less formal, quirkier restaurants, with wilder, more esoteric guest speakers, and even a bit of theatre to accompany the meal (we’ll be serving whole suckling pig at Camino and rocking on with Au Bon Climat’s ‘wild man of wine’ himself, Jim Clendenen at the Tramshed, for example).
As always, a selection of wines will be chosen to accompany the meals, but the focus will be on interest and experimentation. Discussion will be encouraged, curiosity demanded and a brilliant night out promised!
Let us know what you think, and indeed any other ideas you have!
Tastings & Events Team
On Saturday 2nd July we welcomed 37 members to The Wine Society to take part in a United States of America tutored tasting hosted by buyer Sarah Knowles MW.
With the sun shining over glorious Stevenage and a list of wines as flashy as Dorothy’s daps we knew we were in for a treat.
The tasting began with a flight of three fascinating chardonnays; firstly the Fess Parker Santa Barbara County Chardonnay 2014 (£13.95), a well-balanced, fruit-forward crowd-pleaser that shows that quality American chardonnay can be found for under £15.
This was followed by the Bergstrom Old Stones Oregon Chardonnay 2013 (£22), a completely different kettle of fish. From cooler-climate Oregon, this is a concentrated style of chardonnay that leaps out of the glass and lingers long on the palate – stylish. The last of the whites was the Ridge Chardonnay 2012 (not currently available), a real haymaker of a wine and the only one of our three to use American oak. Full, rich and intense with a nose reminiscent of caramel and brown sugar this screams out for food but its bodybuilder-esque physique can be easily enjoyed on its own.
I’ve long been preaching the Book of Zin, boasting its vibrant juicy fruit and velvety texture to all who can hear, but it seemed there were some yet to be converted to the dark side on Saturday when confronted with three zinfandels. The first two, The Society’s California Old-Vine Zinfandel (£7.50) and the Ravenswood Lodi Old-Vine Zinfandel (£8.95) are very much in the ‘American mould’ of Zin making – big, bold fruit with alcohol just a shade below 15%.
The third, the Broc Vine Starr Sonoma County Zinfandel 2014 (not currently available), is produced by Chris Brockway in his garage (seriously) but tasted more like it comes from a fancy estate in the northern Rhône with its peppery, syrah-like nose and elegant if slightly funky (due to being fermented with wild yeast) palate which, along with the other two, helped convert many to zinfandel and its varying styles.
Pinot noir was up next – Pedroncelli (£10.50) from the Russian River valley, Lemelson’s Thea’s Selection (£19.50) from the Willamette Valley and the Au Bon Climat from the Sanford and Benedict vineyard, Santa Barbara (not currently available).
This was another extremely interesting flight showing three distinct styles – the first being ripe, round, generous and affordable – another marvellous example of top-quality Californian wine that doesn’t break the bank! The Lemelson on the other hand is elegant and sappy with plenty of cherry and redcurrant flavour, great with food or on its own, and the third an example of Californian pinot at its absolute best. As with all Au Bon Climat pinot it was beautifully balanced with Burgundian leather and truffle savouriness supported by fine tannin and underlying red fruit.
To finish, we were treated to a trio of cabernets – an affordable, Bordeaux-styled blend from Sagemoor Farms Vineyard (£14.50) in the Columbia Valley, alongside a big, sophisticated and juicy Silver Oak Alexander Valley Cabernet (£65) packed with intense cassis, blackcurrant and vanilla oak, a great example of American cabernet that opened up beautifully after a few hours’ breathing.
The final wine, taken from our Tastings Vintage stock, was a Ridge Monte Bello from 1995 – a real treat and one that drew a few gasps from those attending upon it being revealed. Despite being 21 years old it was still youthful and just starting to show the cedar and pencil-shaving charm that top-quality cabernet can give, alongside softened tannins and added ripeness expected from California – a truly stunning wine that was a fitting end to what was a fascinating and well-received workshop.
Tastings & Events Host
Our programme of tastings and events for the rest of 2016 has just been published! View the calendar and book your tickets here
Around a year ago, a small party of lucky members, random winners of our Buyers’ Tour competition, met up one morning in Saint Pancras.
Six hours or so later, we were in the Rhône valley tasting our first wine. The highlight of the trip was a safari-style excursion in Gigondas, aboard two Land Rovers, one coming from Clos de Cazaux, the other generously on loan from the Beaumes de Venise co-op.
Jean-Michel Vache bought the Cazaux land rover ex-United Nations, where it had seen service in Bosnia and Kossovo. But that’s another story!
The trip had been hugely successful and it got me thinking:
Why not bring Gigondas to the UK?
The Land Rovers were left behind.
Instead five Gigondas producers came over, first to London and then the following day to Newcastle, and they gave an hour-long masterclass on Gigondas as part of our annual Rhône event.
There were eight vintages shown, from the youthful fruit of a 2014 to the majesty of 2007.
Gigondas itself was represented by the aforementioned Jean-Michel Vache, showing a mighty 2009, Thierry Faravel of Domaine la Bouïssière, Jean-Baptiste Meunier of Moulin de la Gardette, Louis Barruol of Chateau Saint-Cosme and Henri-Claude Amadieu of Domaine Amadieu.
A reason why it worked so well is that the growers are all mates, some very close, so there was no infighting and no jealousies.
Gigondas is a not an especially large appellation and all of it pulls well together. It is heartening to see members’ enthusiasm for the wines on the rise, and perhaps we’ll do it again sometime!
In the meantime, our current offering of affordable pleasures from the excellent Rhône 2014 vintage features a delicious juicy red from Moulin de Gardette (£13.50), as well as what would be a blueprint for white Gigondas, if such a wine legally existed, from Amadieu (£9.95).
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.
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.
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.
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!
Our third virtual #TWStaste event, where members sit in the comfort of their own homes communing with one another online over a glass of liquid, happened at the end of August. (Details of the next one can be found at the bottom of this post).
This time it involved tasting two wines from our Blind Spot range, Australian wines with a ‘sense of place’, made / selected / bottled for us by Mac Forbes – Blind Spot King Valley Pinot Gris 2014 and Blind Spot McLaren Vale Grenache Shiraz Mataro 2013.
Present in the virtual tasting room (or rather in their respective studies in London and Hitchin) were our buyer for Australia Sarah Knowles MW (@SarahKnowles) with yours truly (@Ewbz) taking charge of The Society’s feed. This time we had singles, couples and even groups taking part from all over the country, juggling glass, bottle and device!
For the hour between 7.30 & 8.30 (as well as before and after) tweets flew around filled with …
… anticipation …
— Lucy CT (@hoogervaaner) August 27, 2015
… congregation …
… information …
— The Wine Society (@TheWineSociety) August 27, 2015
… orientation …
… sensation …
— Lucy CT (@hoogervaaner) August 27, 2015
… imagination …
… evaluation …
Joy says it clears the tubes #twstaste
— Alan Barclay-Devine (@AlanBD) August 27, 2015
… computation …
… satisfaction …
— Burnham Beachcomber (@preachermanpaul) August 27, 2015
… and valediction.
The next #TWStaste will be happening on Thursday 15th October from 7.30pm to 8.30pm. Buyer Marcel Orford Williams (@owmarcel) will be there and he, together with Martin Brown (@iamagrapeman), yours truly (@Ewbz) but chiefly … yourselves, will be tasting two wines from the Languedoc – Bourboulenc Domaine de Simonet 2014 and Syrah-Mourvèdre Côtes de Thongue Domaine Condamine L’Evêque 2014. Both wines are currently available individually and will also be in the Everyday Languedoc Mixed Dozen Case as part of our Languedoc offer which begins on 25th September.
We look forward to seeing you, tasting and tweeting with you then.
The Wine Society’s Tastings & Events programme offers a wide range of events throughout the year across the United Kingdom and also in Montreuil.
Our aim is to bring The Wine Society to our membership and provide a series of both formal and informal tastings where those attending can sample an array of wines in an atmosphere that suits them.
Whether this is a relaxed walk-around tasting at a large venue, an intimate tutored tasting with some of the biggest names in the wine trade or an informative dinner here in Stevenage there will always be something for you to enjoy no matter what your level of wine knowledge.
Check out these videos that give you an insight into both our team and our events. You can find out what’s coming up here - we look forward to welcoming you!
Tastings & Events Team
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.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.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.
Well I had always presumed that you just poured it away and, of course, either contacted Member Services for a credit or reported your misfortune on our website (you can log such incidents by going to My Account and selecting Order History and Report a Problem).
But during a recent visit from David Bird MW, whom we employ as a consultant chemist to help maintain high standards of quality control and act in an advisory capacity, we learned that he uses corked bottles in cooking. David is the author of Understanding Wine Technology (DBQ Publishing), now in its third edition.
All of us at the meeting, including The Society’s buying team, were surprised to hear this. We had all been led to believe that you should always use the best quality wine you can afford to cook with. While I would baulk at using good Burgundy to make boeuf bourguignon, the idea that if wine isn’t good enough to drink, it isn’t good enough for the pot has at least sunk home.
In any case, some cork-tainted wine is so foul-smelling (and it often gets worse on contact with air), it would seem counter-intuitive to think of making something nice to eat with it.
But as David pointed out, the process used to eradicate TCA (trichloroanisole), the compound responsible for cork taint, involves steaming them. He argues therefore that, as long as the dish you are making will involve simmering at some point, there is no reason why you cannot use corked wine. As TCA is volatile in steam it should simply boil off.
An industry that’s cleaned up its act
Happily, the incidents of corked bottles are greatly reduced from levels ten years or so ago (though it is still believed to be affect around 5% of cork-sealed bottles). The cork industry has radically changed and cork production is now an extremely high-spec operation. David Bird said that he had visited the Alentejo region of Portugal in the 1980s as part of a Master of Wine-organised trip and that at time, the cork oaks were stripped and the bark dipped in what he described as ‘boiling mud’. ‘It was still effectively a peasant-style industry in those days.’
But a more recent visit to Amorim, the main supplier of corks to the wine trade, revealed an operation totally changed. No longer is bark piled up and trucked to factories in the north of Portugal but new state-of-the-art factories have been set up within the cork forests themselves. The bark is stored on stainless-steel pallets and then cleaned in boiling water in closed, filtered stainless-steel tanks. Then there’s the (almost secret) steaming process, done in a special way so as not to shrink the cork.
‘There’s also a much higher reject level than in the past too, with only the best-quality cork going into production for wine stoppers,’ explained David. After the corks have been punched out of the bark each batch goes into the lab for testing by gas chromatography. While every effort is made to limit the possibility of undesirable components contaminating corks, to test every single cork is still too costly.
Hopefully your own experience of corked bottles has also diminished of late. Now that we know we don’t have to pour the contents down the sink, though not much of a consolation, particularly on a much-anticipated long-cellared treat, it’s nice to know it’s not completely wasted.
‘I hear and I forget, I see and I remember, I do and I understand.’ (Confucious)Over the years I have attended many Wine Society tastings and events, but a recent visit to the Three Choirs Vineyards in Newent this weekend stands out as one of my more memorable experiences.
I enjoy these events for the wines we taste, for the opportunity to meet other members and share enthusiasms, and for meeting the producers themselves who speak with such an infectious passion about what they do and why, that it is impossible not to be inspired. I also enjoy these events because, like many members, I am curious about the people, the process, and the product; learning about them enhances my enjoyment.
This, however, was a tasting with a difference. As is usual at these events, we were given a fascinating introduction to the vineyard and its wines from Martin Fowke, award-winning winemaker and head of Three Choirs Vineyards (and I am resisting the temptation to tell you what I learned from him about the Geneva Double Curtain, among many other intriguing details of wine production); we also enjoyed a delicious lunch in the Three Choirs restaurant with wines selected from Three Choirs and The Wine Society List. But the highlight for me, and I think a first for a Wine Society event, was the blending workshop that took place among the vats, tanks and barrels of the Three Choirs winery.
Members were organised into teams and challenged to produce a wine blended from three grape varieties produced in the Three Choirs vineyard (madeleine angevine, reichensteiner and phoenix); we were also given a small amount of suss reserve (concentrated grape juice) which is added to adjust the level of sweetness.
In effect we were being given the opportunity to gain a practical insight into the task that Martin Fowke and Mark Buckenham, Wine Society buyer, had recently carried out in blending the next vintage of Midsummer Hill, a wine produced by Three Choirs exclusively for The Wine Society.
To reflect the realities of wine production we were given very specific parameters within which to work: restrictions were place on the relative quantities we were permitted to use of each variety, just as yields and individual characteristics of each single variety affect the choices available to a winemaker in any one vintage. This ‘learning by doing’, with the additional pressures of limited time and collective inexperience, was really hard work! It was a unanimous view of the members present that this was also a great deal of fun.
As our team blends were reproduced in bottle (we were to have the opportunity to try out our wines at lunch) and we made our way to the restaurant, I reflected on something Martin had said at the beginning of the day as he described the development of vine growing and winemaking over his thirty years at the Three Choirs Vineyards: in the process of winemaking we are ‘learning all the time’. Cheers!
The picture displays the riches that were on offer at The Assembly Rooms in Edinburgh recently but cannot begin to convey the whole experience shared by forty members and their guests. A re-run of a tasting held in London four years ago (just 10 wines then, 14 this time in Scotland) this event brought John Kolasa ‘home’ to Scotland to share his observations and passions over his 40+ years in Bordeaux, eight of which at the helm of first growth Château Latour, the last twenty presiding over Châteaux Rauzan-Ségla in Margaux and Canon in St-Emilion on behalf of the Wertheimer family of Chanel.
The tasting spanned a range of vintages from 2011 back to 1998 across these two fine properties, including second wines Clos (now Croix) Canon and Ségla.
Quality, predictably, was high – to be expected from two top classed growth properties in such safe and experienced hands and with the backing of one of the world’s great fashion houses. The wines also displayed a sense of place coupled with clear vintage differences. A fascinating and very special event we wish more could have enjoyed, especially given the positive feedback from John’s fellow Scots on the night.
Jo Locke MW