The best wines from the Wine Society summer crop
The Wine Society has been one of the winners of lockdown. With its loyal membership and online business model, trading has been strong with new members beating down the virtual doors to Britain’s oldest mutual society, founded in the basement of the Albert Hall in 1874.
“Trading has been as strong as last year,” says head buyer Pierre Mansour, “our biggest challenge has been keeping up with the demand.”
The Wine Society can sometimes seem a bit old-fashioned, but there’s nothing fuddy-duddy about its range; in fact it’s quite the contrary, as you’ll find wines it would be hard to get hold of on the high street. Unlike other online retailers, it doesn’t do “half price introductory case” vouchers, “buy one get one free”, or any other spurious price promotions, preferring to treat its 176,000 active members with a bit of respect. The prices are very fair and if you don’t like a wine, you can have your money back. That said, as a member for more than twenty years, I have never had cause to do so (I visited its HQ back in 2017 and here is my report).
The Society’s primary focus is on good wine, rather than saving the planet, but it is about to launch a sustainability scorecard for its products, as part of a huge revamp of its website, which will be really interesting. I confess that I am looking forward to seeing producers who use ridiculously heavy bottles looking sheepish when they see the impact on their scores.
“The scorecard will be there to help members make informed choices,” says Mansour, who insists it will not lead to wines being de-listed if they don’t measure up. The Society itself intends to be carbon neutral in its operations by 2028 and zero carbon by 2035.
Head buyer, Pierre Mansour
A couple of times a year, there’s a press tasting which, courtesy of coronavirus, has been virtual, of late. I am no great fan of these mini-bottle tastings (see my monthly column for Club Oenologique to see why) but this week’s summer tasting was actually really good, with only one sample out of 48 being in poor condition, an impressive feat.
Trying to select a top 10 from 47 wines is really tricky this time, as it was a stellar line up, but these would be my recommendations (all are currently available, unless indicated otherwise):
My pick of the whites:
Ventoux Blanc, Terrasses, Chateau Pesquie 2020 (£8.95), from Provence, a sumptuous, sunny Rhône blend, led by Viognier, with Roussanne, Clairette and Grenache Blanc in supporting roles. Juicy-fruited, with Galia melon, ripe lemon, pineapple and even a hint of banana, the layered texture is lush and the price is remarkable. A great buy.
Psarades Dafni, Domaine Lyrarakis 2020 (£9.50), though it always makes me think of Scooby Doo, Dafni is actually a lovely, light-skinned white grape from Crete that’s named after the Greek word for laurel. I don’t know whether it’s autosuggestion but there’s definitely some young bay leaf on the nose, with lime zest, yellow apple and fresh ginger. Well balanced, fresh and invigorating, there’s a little bit of skin contact, which adds some fascinating aromatics and lovely texture. There’s also a hint of sea breeze salinity in the finish. This is a wine to impress your guests.
Iona Chardonnay, Elgin 2019 (£16), a lovely cool climate Chardonnay, with serene citrus and stone fruit character, the elegantly-integrated French oak providing subtle toasty spice notes, it is a classy, creamy, polished wine that suggests a price tag north of twenty quid.
Domaine Jacques Saumaize, Saint Véran En Crêches 2019 (£14.50), for fans of unoaked Chardonnay, a fresh, crisp, refreshing wine, fermented on its lees in stainless steel. There’s crunchy yellow apple, lemon zest and a hint of wild honey, with layered texture and a lovely mineral lick in the finish. Perfect with summer roast tarragon chicken.
My favourite rosé:
Viña Zorzal Garnacha Rosado 2020 (£8.25, available from July 13th) is a bit darker than your typical Provence rosé but that’s neither here nor there. Garnacha is the Spanish name for Grenache, one of the grapes you’ll find in most Provence pinks. It’s bone dry, with an elegant floral nose and a lovely, cheeky, juicy, berry-fruited charm that just screams summer. It’s also great value from a producer that’s one of the Navarra region’s finest.
My top reds:
Kompsos Liatiko, Karavitakis 2020 (£9.95), another fascinating find from Crete that suggests that Greek buyer Matthew Horsley is doing a great job. Liatiko is an ancient red variety that usually produces light, relatively soft wines that can take bit of a chill. The colour resembles a Spanish rosado, but that’s where the similarity ends. Pale is interesting and this is absolutely packed with personality, with a lifted cherry, berry nose, sensuous souk spices and a lovely herbal undertow. ‘Kompsos’ means elegant in Greek and this is a wonderful wine that would reward a 30 minute stint in the fridge.
We all need more Beaujolais in our lives, most especially the top wines from the ten ‘Crus’ (the best production zones) such as Morgon. Domaine Jean-Marc Burgaud Morgon Côte de Py 2019, (£15.50, available from July 6th) comes from a plot at the top of a hill, on schist soils. There’s bags of bright red berry charm, but also intensity and depth, with silky tannins and a wonderful granite, savoury note. It’s a decent price for a fine wine with ageing potential.
Sicily offers so much excitement for the wine enthusiast, with its indigenous varieties and often underrated wines. The island offers near perfect conditions for organic viticulture, with a combination of dry heat and cooling Mediterranean breezes. Santa Tresa is a winery run by the brilliant Stefano Girelli (read about him here) and Santa Tresa Cerasuolo di Vittoria 2018 (£11.50 available from 9th August, but worth the wait) is the only wine in Sicily to have Italy’s top DOCG status. It’s a blend of 60 percent Nero D’Avola with the remainder Frappato, the latter being a delicious lighter red grape that brings beautiful freshness and perfume to the party. Intense Morello cherry and foraged blackberry is complemented by subtle spice and a lovely herbal twist. 15% of the fruit was allowed to raisin on the vine, giving the wine an added richness that will appeal to fans of Appassimento wines. The perfect wine for meatballs in tomato sauce.
Pittnauer Pittnauski, Burgenland 2015 (£17), a beguiling blend of Merlot, Zweigelt, Blaufränkisch and St Laurent (the latter 3, Austrian varieties) from a biodynamic pioneer, there’s a lovely savoury nose of chestnut mushroom and forest floor, supported by ripe red plum, cherries and dry herbs. The bright red fruit acidity holds everything in check, the neutral oak adds a lovely textural note, and, given the six years ageing already, it’s actually excellent value.
Finally, if you’re seeking the perfect barbecue red, then look no further. Whistler Wines “Shiver down my spine” Shiraz 2019 (£19.50) is a vibrant, racy Barossa Shiraz, made with great attention to detail. There’s nothing jammy here, just crunchy, pure berry fruit, sun-dried herbs and subtle dark spice. It’s juicy, smooth and delicious. Australia buyer Freddy Bulmer is rightly chuffed with this find, as he told me on this week’s edition of the Drinking Hour, my podcast on Food FM (listen here).