Grapevine Archive for Wine Champions 2013

Tue 11 Jun 2013

Wine Champions 2013: The Results!

Posted by: | Comments (1)

The 2013 Wine Champions have now been unveiled; the result of our buyers blind-tasting some 534 wines to find the perfect bottles for drinking now. We hope you enjoy the fruits of 17 painstaking, labour-intensive and thoroughly enjoyable tasting sessions.

And the winners are…
You can browse the winners online here, whilst those wishing to find out more can enjoy the following video interview with The Society’s head of buying, Tim Sykes, on the 2013 Championship, including footage of the tastings:

Jo Locke MW and Mark BuckenhamJo Locke MW and Mark Buckenham assessing the candidates during this year’s tastings.
Last week, I updated Grapevine readers with some of my impressions from the 2013 tastings, including a few trends I was able to reveal (such as the welcome return of sauvignon blanc).

There were also several things I wasn’t able to reveal owing to the embargo on announcing winners until the publication of the offer. I am now delighted to be able to divulge them!

The under-£6 red that became the most successful champion in the entire 13-year history of Wine Champions, winning an unprecedented clean sweep of full marks from every taster.
Take a bow, The Society’s French Full Red!

The under-£8 sherry that stole the Fortified tasting with its remarkable, brain-boggling array of flavours (and for that matter the similarly priced sweet wine that impressed among grand cru classics at 10 times the price).
Romate Maribel Amontillado and Cono Sur Riesling Noble, 2011 respectively.

Janet Wynne EvansJanet Wynne Evans
The cheapest white in the offer that put several seasoned tasters in mind of a far more expensive ‘taste-alike’.
The Society’s Chilean Chardonnay, Limarí Valley was yet again a giant-killing star of the chardonnay tasting. Its combination of richness and refinement reminded a number of us of Burgundy: some testament to the striking quality and value we continue to find in this popular wine and in the Limarí Valley region as a whole.

And the grower that bagged a rare hat-trick of Champions (no mean feat when pitted against some 500+ opponents).
This honour went to three showstopping, crystalline German rieslings from Weingut Von Kesselstatt, available to try in a special six-bottle mixed case put together to celebrate the achievement.

All that remains is to wish you happy drinking – do let us know what you think – and to advise those looking for a special bottle in due course that the 2013 Fine Wine Champions will be unveiled in August’s Fine Wine List.

Martin Brown
Digital Copywriter

Comments (1)
Wed 05 Jun 2013

Wine Champions 2013: News From The Tasting Room

Posted by: | Comments (2)

There is now less than a week to go until the 2013 Wine Champions are unveiled.

Wine Champions candidates are all tasted under strict blind conditions.Wine Champions candidates are all tasted under strict blind conditions.
For 13 years, the annual crop of Wine Champions has provided the inspiration for Society members’ summer wine racks. They are the victors of a huge blind-tasting exercise carried out by The Society’s buyers, showcased in a perennially popular and, dare we say, hotly anticipated selection.

The fundamental aim of the Championship tastings is to find the best of the best from our range for enjoying now. (Or as one taster put it, nose firmly in glass at the time, ‘distinguishing between the competent and the sexy’!)

I was lucky enough to join the buying team and fellow scribe Janet Wynne Evans for this year’s tastings. In 17 sessions, we put no fewer than 534 wines through their paces: 68 Bordeaux blends, 61 pinot noir and gamay wines, 40 dessert and fortified wines, 62 Rhône varieties, 93 Mediterranean reds, 42 sauvignons, semillons and blends of the two, 82 aromatic whites, 43 chardonnays, 21 rosés and 22 sparkling wines.

The rules are the same today as they were in the very first Championship back in the year 2000 and are, quite rightly, rather strict.

Society buyer Sebastian Payne MWSociety buyer Sebastian Payne MW
The wines’ identities must remain secret until their official unveiling, but I have been permitted to divulge a few pieces of news from the tasting room to whet members’ appetites ahead of next week:

As head of buying Tim Sykes mentioned in April, particular successes included pinot noir and chardonnay, both from Burgundy and elsewhere, and, hearteningly, for our Society and Exhibition-label wines.

I am also able to reveal the welcome and triumphant return of sauvignon blanc this year. The lack of sauvignons in last year’s selection was a surprise; ultimately, the 2012 candidates were narrowly overshadowed by the stunning array of Mediterranean and aromatic whites against which they were pitted. This year is a different story though, and fans of the grape that has arguably become the G&T of our time will not be disappointed by the 2013 results.

A couple of eye-catching regional as well as varietal successes were also in evidence, and the Mediterranean Reds tasting was a particularly fruitful session in 2013. Look out for a very strong showing from Italy that reflects the country’s breathtaking regional diversity as much as its winemakers’ dexterity.

'And the winners are...?' Casting the votes at the end of a tasting session‘And the winners are…?’ Pierre Mansour tots up the votes at the end of a tasting session

Tim also mentioned the £9–£15 price bracket as something of a sweet spot for value, but there are several spectacular under-£10 wines whose identities, when revealed, caused a great amount of excitement. On this front, there is much that I am impatient to tell you.

For instance, the identities of

• The under-£6 red that became the most successful champion in the entire 13-year history of Wine Champions, winning an unprecedented clean sweep of full marks from every taster.

• The under-£8 sherry that stole the fortified tasting with its remarkable, brain-boggling array of flavours (and for that matter the similarly priced sweet wine that impressed among grand cru classics at 10 times the price).

• The cheapest white in the offer that put several seasoned tasters in mind of a far more expensive ‘taste-alike’.

• And the grower that bagged a rare hat-trick of Champions (no mean feat when pitted against some 500+ opponents).

All will be revealed next week!

Martin Brown
Digital Copywriter

Comments (2)
Thu 04 Apr 2013

Wine Champs – my first impressions

Posted by: | Comments (0)

Tim Sykes, The Society’s head of buying, reports on this year’s Society Wine Champions taste off

I am delighted to report that the 2013 Wine Champions tastings have taken place, and that this year’s winners will shortly be unveiled.

Tim Sykes putting a potential Champion through its paces

For those members unfamiliar with ‘Champs’, as we refer to it in the Buying department, each year we hold a mammoth series of tastings to pick out the wines that we consider the best of the best from our range. Rather than selecting wines which we consider will develop into stars after a few more years in bottle, Wine Champions is all about pinpointing wines at their very peak, which will provide immediate drinking pleasure for members.

This year’s Champs was my first since joining The Society, and I have to admit to being staggered by the sheer number of wines to be tasted. Several weeks before the scheduled tasting sessions, each buyer is invited to propose wines from their respective areas of buying responsibility for the various categories to be tasted (for example Aromatic Whites, Mediterranean Reds, Rhône varietals under £15 per bottle, New World Pinot Noir, Bordeaux varietals etc), and the nominated wines are assembled in, or perhaps more accurately shoehorned into, the tasting room in Stevenage.

To ensure absolute integrity and to eradicate any potential bias in the process, all 500+ wines entered into Champs are tasted blind. Canvas sleeves are placed over the bottles to be tasted and all capsules are removed to ensure that none of the judges recognise any of the wines being tasted. The wines are then lined up in flights of approximately 20 to 30 wines, normally in ascending order of price.

Anonymous bottles awaiting judgement

Then the fun begins. The buying team assembles in the tasting room and everyone present tastes through the flights at their own pace, earmarking those wines they believe to be candidates for the honour of Wine Champion. We are looking for wines that raise their heads above the parapet, and which we believe offer the character, typicity and sheer drinking pleasure to be worthy of the moniker of Wine Champion. At the end of each tasting session we hold a post mortem; each judge nominates the wines that he or she believes to be a Champion, and where there is no consensus or where there is a dissenting voice we retaste the wine in question, and debate its merits. As one can imagine, in a room full of highly competitive buyers, there is a great deal of pride at stake, so the debates can be become quite animated.

For me the whole tasting and judging process of the Wine Champions neatly encapsulates the culture of fairness and integrity that is at the heart of The Wine Society. We go to great lengths to ensure that the wines will not be recognised by the judges; my colleague Emma Dorahy, who organises the samples and coordinates the tastings, is the only person who knows exactly which wines will appear in the final lineup, and for that reason she graciously declines to be included in the judging process.

This year’s Wine Champs has thrown up a very diverse range of winners, both in terms of wine styles and prices. Whilst the pricing ‘sweet spot’ for winners sits in the £9–£15 price band, there are nevertheless several worthy winners below £9 per bottle. I am also gratified to see that a number of Society and Exhibition wines have been crowned Champs – recognition of the time and effort that the buying team puts into these two standard-bearing ranges. Pinot noir has this year garnered a higher than usual number of Champs gongs, partly the result of good recent vintages both in Burgundy and New Zealand, and the emergence of Chile as a serious producer of this most capricious of varieties. And chardonnay, in its various guises, has made a comeback this year with some stunning wines to excite members’ palates.

Look out for further news in the coming weeks in the run-up to our release of the Wine Champions offer in June.

Comments (0)