There is something rather enjoyable about a Wine Society tasting. For a start the reasonable number of wines put up for tasting means that the whole lot can be done and dusted in a couple of hours. This contrasts with at least one major supermarket where it is not unusual to have to taste the reds on one day and the whites on the second day, just to avoid palate-fatigue.
The second reason why the Wine Society tastings are enjoyable is because the wines are good and so are the prices. At many supermarket tastings I’ll scribble the note “good on offer”, which means that the wine isn’t actually worth its full price, but will hit its comfort zone when the marketing people slice a couple of pounds off or they make you buy two bottles just to get the deal. This doesn’t happen at Wine Society tastings. Last week I scrawled “value” against several wines, while a couple earned the “cracking value” accolade, complete with a star against them, just so I don’t forget to mention them.
And then there is the excitement factor. The Wine Society has been in existence since 1874, ever since some left-over wines from The Great Exhibition were put up for sale and so it has the feeling of establishment and tradition, but last week’s tasting included wines from Switzerland, Canada, Uruguay and Washington State. They brought new styles and new flavours that probably can’t be found in local wine shops and supermarkets.
The Wine Society is essentially a mail-order operation, although there is a shop in Stevenage and another in France close to Calais so you can pick up wine at duty-free prices on the way home from your holidays. They also hold regular tastings around the country to showcase some of their wines. I have attended many of these in Leeds, York, Harrogate and even Castle Howard and they are always over-subscribed and rather jolly affairs.
The Wine Society is one of the few wine clubs that you actually have to pay to join and this may put newcomers off the whole experience. It costs £40 but it is probably the best £40 you will ever spend. This buys you a lifetime share in the company and not only do you get access to a fine range of wines, but when you retire to the great vineyard in the sky you can pass on your share to your nearest and dearest. By charging to join, it focuses the society’s attention and the cost of mailshots on the people most likely to buy, which keeps the expenses down, and since the Wine Society is a co-operative, owned by its members, it doesn’t make huge profits. That’s how it manages to score so well on value for money.
If you want to join, the Wine Society requires you to be proposed by an existing member and as such I would be happy to propose any reader of this column. Just put my name in the proposer space on the form, and add “Yorkshire Post” for good measure. Contact the Wine Society on 01438 740222, wwwthewinesociety.com
Here is my choice of a mixed dozen from the new April list.
• Duo des Deux Mers 2014, Sauvignon-Viognier, Vin de France, £6.25: With Sauvignon from Gascony and Viognier from the Languedoc, this makes an unusual blend, but it actually works. Crisp and fresh with clean citrus flavours and a lift of apricot fruit on the finish.
• Juanicó Benteveo Chardonnay 2014, Uruguay, £6.95: A crisp, unoaked Chardonnay from just north of Montevideo, with bright, clear, crunchy apples and pear fruit. Cracking flavour for money.
• Ermita del Conde Albillo 2011, Vino De la Tierra de Castilla y León, Spain, £11.50: An unusual grape from a 100-year old vineyard gives flavours of quince, ripe pears and lightly toasted cobnuts. Try it alongside a creamy fish dish.
• Pouilly-Fumé “Les Princes Ermites” 2013, France, £13.95: Classic, minerally-fresh Pouilly-Fumé with clean-cut, herbaceous Sauvignon flavours, lime and a fresh, sea-salt and beach-pebble aroma.
• Von Kesselstatt Graacher Domprobst Riesling Spätlese 2001, Mosel, Germany, £14.95: A sensationally good Riesling, vibrant and lively, edged with sweetness and perfectly balanced. At 14 years old it has developed complexity and depth, and shows just what this grape can do on the classic steep slate slopes of the Mosel. Forget food, just wait for a sunny day.
• Norman Hardie Niagara Peninsular Unfiltered Chardonnay 2012, Canada, £23: A small-production winery in the beautiful Niagara area making wines in a distinctly European, clean, elegant way. Forget big and blousy New World Chardy and think precise, crisp, concentrated with a hint of spice on the finish.
• Grignan Les Adhémar, Delas, 2013, France, £6.95: This is the appellation that used to be called Côteaux du Tricastin and it still hasn’t regained its popular appeal since the name-change. But the flavours are still there, with broad, plummy fruit and just a sprinkle of spice. Saturday night drinking at Wednesday night prices.
• Wine Society’s Corbières 2013, France, £7.50: This is the kind of wine that the Wine Society is famous for. On the list it may look like a simple, Languedoc appellation, but because it is sourced from a family estate where organic principles are used to care for their old Carignan and Grenache vines it manages more concentration and finesse. Clear, classic, herb-sprinkled, bramble fruit at a great-value price.
• Pisano Progreso Tannat 2014, Uruguay, £7.95: Another great value wine from Uruguay, full of bramble fruit with a soft, rounded finish. Unlike many Tannats, the tannin in this one is ripe, supple and structured. Perfect with a peppered steak.
• Silvano Bolmida Barbera d’Alba Superiore 2011, Conca del Grillo, Piedmont, Italy, £10.95: This is a seriously, classy Piedmont wine, full of deep, dark cherry fruit laced with truffle-scented misty mornings. Made from grapes grown on seriously steep slopes and cultivated organically, although not certificated. Team it with a mushroom-rich game casserole.
• Ch. De Pitray, Cuvée Cabernet Franc, Castillon Côtes de Bordeaux, France, £11.95: What a delight to taste a 100 per cent Cabernet Franc wine from Bordeaux. Green-edged cassis fruit, with a fresh, lively lift and a long smooth, elegant style.
• Domaine Gilles Robin, Crozes-Hermitage Les Papillons 2013, France, £11.95: Some Crozes can be a real disappointment but not this one. With damson and mulberry fruit, a sprinkle of pepper and a fresh, lively finish this has all the character you need to accompany a Sunday roast.