2015 5th December: SWAS AGM, Quiz & Tasting hosted by Sally & Peter in Rustington
"What an Exhibition!"
The 2015 SWAS AGM
Retiring Hon Sec Jill opened the 2015 AGM and swiftly dealt with all the routine business before closing the meeting promptly at 7.30pm so that we could get down to the serious part of the evening. Jill was thanked by everyone for her admirable execution of the Hon Sec's rôle during the past year. It was agreed that Mike would take over as Secretary for at least the next year in close collaboration with Janis who, to her credit, volunteered to look after the Finances as the newly appointed Society's Hon Treasurer. These changes will take place at the start of 2016.
Following unanimous agreement at the AGM, further 'superior' wines suitable for cellaring and keeping will be purchased from SWAS funds at the Bank.
In addition, members were reminded that 2016 sees the 40th Anniversary of the founding of SWAS by Geoffrey Butler with an ad in a 1976 edition of 'Decanter'. It was agreed that this momentous event should be suitably commemorated in October 2016. Jill agreed to look into finding a venue for the event, with help from other members as appropriate.
All Members will receive copies of the 2015 Finance Statement and Minutes of this evening's meeting in due course.
It was a pleasure to welcome new guests Joanne & Roger and Alison & Clifford, hopefully we will see them again at one of our future events!
Peter softened us all up with a glass of The Society's 'Cava Reserva Brut NV' before launching the traditional fiendish Annual Quiz. Despite his best efforts, Mike won again this year and was awarded the prestigeous 'Daphne Hunt Memorial Trophy', which he accepted gracefully.
The Society's Cava Reserva Brut NV
The Society's Cava is made by Sumarroca, a small family estate in Penedès, who use the traditional cava grapes (parellada, macabeo and xarel-lo) plus a touch of chardonnay to add finesse. It is made using the Champagne method whereby the second fermentation, which adds the sparkle to the wine, takes place in the bottle. What makes Sumarocca stand out from other cava producers is that they age the wine on its lees for an extended period of 30 months. This is a fragrant, appley fizz with great brioche richness, a lovely delicate fruit flavour and mouthwatering finish. Voted Best Value Cava at the Wines from Spain Awards.
And so we moved on to tasting Peter's selection of wines for the evening. All the wines for this evening were sourced from The Wine Society's 'Exhibition Range' as featured in their current catalogue:
The White Wines:
1. The Society's Exhibition Grüner Veltliner; 12.5% 2014 £12.50
From mature vines in the Kamptal, this grüner veltliner is made by Willi Bründlmayer. The 2014 has an expressive apple and pear perfume, a crisp mouthfeel and typical white pepper developing on the finish. It is produced from a number of different terraced vineyards which contribute different properties. The result is a wine that is approachable when young but has the balance to mature for a few years in bottle and is hugely adaptable with food.
The treasured Bründlmayer vineyards are situated in Langenlois, in the Kamptal region to the north west of Vienna, where the mostly terraced vines run along the edge of the Danube. The soils vary greatly in type from sandstone-rich to marine clay with different varieties planted accordingly. All vineyards are tended on ecologically sound lines with no herbicides of any kind used and great importance is placed on training the vines according to vineyard site, for example just over ground level to ensure that the grapes benefit from soil heat after the sun has set, assisting the ripening of the fruit.
White varieties dominate here with grüner veltliner and riesling the most planted. There is also chardonnay and pinot blanc, and some red grapes including cabernets and pinot noir.
The range of wines here is extensive and The Society generally lists one or two, particularly those more suitable for immediate drinking. Our Exhibition label Grüner Veltliner also hails from Bründlmayer and is produced from a number of different terraced vineyards which contribute different properties. The result is a wine that is approachable when young but has the balance to mature for a few years in bottle and is hugely adaptable with food.
The Bründlmayer family name has become synonymous with reliable, top-quality Austrian winemaking, quite simply making some of the very best wines the country has to offer. At the turn of the millennium, Decanter magazine cited winemaker Willi Bründlmayer among the 50 most likely people to change the face of the world of wine in the coming decades, demonstrating the esteem in which he is held at home and abroad in wine circles.
2. The Society's Exhibition Tasmanian Chardonnay; 13.5% 2014 £12.95
The 2014 has great elegance typical of Tasmania, lemon and citrus juicy fruit flavours that are refreshing and well balanced. A crisp zesty finish lingers. It is a stylish example which demonstrates the sheer quality of this producer's wines with its peachy fruit, impeccable balance and mouthwatering finish.
In the 1970s, Susan and Geoff Bull bought and replanted some vineyards overlooking the stunning Freycinet Peninsula, and Freycinet Wines was born. Today the estate is run by their daughter Lindy and her husband Claudio Radenti, who between them have several years' winemaking experience across France and New Zealand, as well as at respected Australian estates such as Tyrrell's.
Freycinet's 15 hectares of sloping vineyards are situated just 20km from the east coast of Tasmania where the climate can produce wines that are ripe without being overblown. The vineyards are located in a sort of amphitheatre: they nestle in a valley that both protects them from the winds and acts as a heat trap when the sun shines. At around four hectares, chardonnay makes up the biggest portion of the vines.
Lindy and Claudio aim for medium yields of fully ripened, healthy fruit, which means there is a lot of work to be done in the vineyards: from pruning to thinning out the leaves and positioning the shoots. The grapes are also hand picked to ensure the highest levels of quality control possible.
The estate's winery might appear rustic, but it is packed full of state-of-the-art machinery. As head winemaker, Claudio produces a formidable range including highly sought-after chardonnay and pinot noir of striking minerality. These wines are in high demand Down Under, thanks to their greater restraint and finesse than many examples from the Australian mainland. In 2005, after more than a decade of experimentation, the decision was made to convert the entire Freycinet range to screwcap closures.
The Society's Exhibition Tasmanian Chardonnay is sourced from Freycinet. It is a stylish example which demonstrates the sheer quality of this producer's wines with its peachy fruit, impeccable balance and mouthwatering finish.
In what is now becoming a tradition at the AGM/Quiz, Bryan gave us the opportunity to taste one of SWAS's 'special' wines from the bottles that are carefully stored in Lyn & Dave's cellar.
Le Braci Salento IGT, (Masseria Monaci) from the Puglia region of Southern Italy; 2004 £24.00, bought in 2013 from The Wine Society.
The grape variety is Negroamaro from 40 year old bush trained vines. The Wine Society's description was: "a sumptuous wine, perfume of flowers and ripe, fresh fruit." They suggested drinking it by 2015/16. There was universal agreement that this was a beautifully smooth full flavoured wine at its peak and that all of the harsh edges, sometimes associated with the grape variety, had been smoothed out by time. It would possibly be further improved by being decanted and allowed to breathe and would be fantastic with flavoursome food
Moving on to the Reds selected by Peter:
3. The Society's Exhibition Marlborough Pinot Noir; 13.5% 2013 £13.50
This pinot has plenty of plum and redcurrant aromas on the nose, an intense core of cranberries and blackberries, with silky tannins and a long finish. It is a single-vineyard wine showing the plump succulence and elegance of top-quality Kiwi pinot noir.
Villa Maria is the most awarded winery in New Zealand, so it is not surprising that the estate's benchmark style led to it being selected as the producer of both our Exhibition Marlborough Pinot Noir and our Society's New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. What may come as more of a surprise, however, is the fact that the estate began as a one-man operation in Auckland back in the early 1960s, and that this same man is still at the helm of the company.
The name of that man is George Fistonich, and under his skilful leadership Villa Maria has consistently been a forerunner in New Zealand wine production. It was the first in the country to pay for grapes according to their quality rather than their quantity, as well as the first New Zealand winery to convert to 100% screwcap closures in 2001. The company was also one of the first to dedicate itself to more sustainable viticultural practises back in 1995.
Over the years, the estate has developed a reputation for being one of New Zealand's largest and most consistent producers, to the extent that George was the first in his country to receive a knighthood for services to the wine industry.
Villa Maria has impressive wineries both in Auckland and Marlborough, with many estate-owned vineyards in key sites across both of these regions, as well as in Gisborne and Hawkes Bay. In fact, one of Villa Maria's key features is the fact it owns and buys fruit from almost every major growing region in New Zealand, making the company an unbeatable source for top-quality fruit.
The estate carefully manages yields to ensure the respective vineyards produce fruit that is truly reflective of its location. The grapes for The Society's New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc are hand picked from two prime sites in the Awatere and Wairu Valleys in Villa Maria's Marlborough vineyards, while the Exhibition Marlborough Pinot Noir is a single-vineyard wine showing the plump succulence and elegance of top-quality Kiwi pinot noir.
Although the dynamic George still runs the company, winemaking direction is down to Master of Wine Alistair Maling.
4. The Society's Exhibition Rioja Reserva; 13.5% 2008 £12.95
Made in the traditional style (aged for five years before release) by the famous La Rioja Alta bodega, this is elegant, cedary and silky and shows the vibrancy and charm, typical of this cooler vintage. Two years in cask and then further ageing in bottle results in a complex and mature wine, the concentrated, silky fruit and cedary character of which have won it a great deal of critical acclaim in the Press.
Headquartered alongside Bodegas Muga in the Barrio del Estación, the old railway quarter of Haro - a popular location for wine exporters during the phylloxera crisis in France - La Rioja Alta is one of the most resolutely traditional of the regions's bodegas. It was founded in 1890 by a consortium of five families, including the Aranas, Ardanzas and the Alberdis (names now immortalised as Reservas. See below), and now commands an impressive vineyard portfolio of over 700 ha, comprising 470ha in the Rioja Alta, 65ha in the Alavesa, where Barón de Oña is produced, 63ha in the Baja, 74ha in the Galician denominación of Rías Baixas and 95ha in DO Ribero del Duero.
As the company expanded, it outgrew its premises in Haro, which now house corporate offices, a visitor centre and shop and a wine storage facility. The main business of La Rioja Alta takes place these days at its purpose-built winery in Labastida, a mile down the road, a strikingly handsome stone building completed in 1996. The fermentation tanks are set under the wooden floor of a stunning, light-flooded hall, the sparkling steel lids visible, Beneath them is a huge barrel-ageing cellar. It's reckoned that La Rioja Alta have, at any given time, some 45,000 barrels on the go, and carry around eight years' worth of stock. Sensibly, the company does its own coopering in house. Oak is imported from Ohio and Pennsylvania, but there is little reverse traffic, the company's second biggest export market after the UK being not the USA but Mexico.
La Rioja Alta excels in classically styled reservas and gran reservas which are given considerable cask ageing. What sets this bodega apart from other traditionalists is that the wines succeed in retaining striking vigour and fruit whilst undergoing their lengthy period in cask. They are released for sale only when fully ready to drink and always have an air of graceful maturity about them.
Three wines are produced at reserva level. Viña Alberdi is 100% tempranillo, aged for two years in cask, and two in bottle. Viña Arana is a blend of 95% tempranillo with 5% mazuelo, made in the supple 'Rioja claret' style and has three years in cask and two in bottle. With 80% tempranillo and 20% garnacha, and extra six months in cask, Viña Ardanza is the most traditional-tasting and in exceptional vintages (to date, just 1964, 1973 and 2001) has the additional description of 'especial'. The extended ageing which is winemaking policy here would normally qualify both Arana and Ardanza as gran reserva, but this designation is reserved for the two top-of-the range 904 and 890 bottlings. The former, is 90% tempranillo with 10% graciano, aged 4-5 years in cask and a further 4 in bottle. 890, made only in the best vintages and presented in numbered bottles, is overwhelmingly tempranillo (96%) with a little graciano and mazuelo and has a whopping 6-8 years in cask and 6 in bottle.
Not surprisingly, we source The Society's Exhibition Rioja Reserva from La Rioja Alta. Two years in cask and then further ageing in bottle results in a complex and mature wine, the concentrated, silky fruit and cedary character of which have won it a great deal of critical acclaim in the Press.
La Rioja Alta also has a Galician estate, Lagar de Cervara, run autonomously of the Rioja operation in the village of Fornelos. Here they make, among other things, superb albariño from 75 hectares of vines, the largest holdings of any Rías Baixas winery. They began with five hectares in 1988 and have acquired sites around the area as they became available, and in 2013 opened a new, state of the art winery.
5. The Society's Exhibition Alto Maipo Cabernet Sauvignon; 14.5% 2012 £13.50
Fine, cedary cabernet sauvignon. This comes principally from two of the best communes, Pirque and Tocornal, in the Alto Maipo vineyards. Ageing in barrel has softened the tannins and developed the aromas.
Concha y Toro is the Penfolds of Chile, simultaneously producing some of Chile's greatest wines in limited quantities (Don Melchor, Carmín de Peumo, Amelia, Maycas del Limarí Quebrada Seca Chardonnay, etc.) as well as large volumes of high-quality brands such as Casillero del Diablo.
Based at Pirque in the Santiago region, it is Chile's largest vineyard owner, with over 6000 hectares of vineyards spread throughout the country's many wine-producing regions. The company also buys in grapes of a similar quantity to that produced in its own vineyards. The diversity of soil types, climates, aspect and altitude has enabled the company to develop an impressive repertoire of grape varieties, each of which is sourced from vineyards best suited to its needs.
Concha y Toro has expanded almost beyond recognition from its humble beginnings in 1883, when liberal politician Don Melchor de Concha y Toro and his wife Doña Emiliana cultivated their first vineyards from Bordeaux vine cuttings. After Don Melchor died, his son took over, and the 1930s saw the company's first exports - to the Dutch port of Rotterdam.
In the 1950s, the Guilisasti family came on board, eventually taking over the majority share of the company in 1961. Under its direction, Concha y Toro gradually established its name through value-for-money, well-made varietal wines.
From the end of the 1980s onwards, Concha y Toro led the way in boosting Chile's export profile. A large part of their success was down to the development of a number of big wine brands, including the joint-venture Almaviva winery in collaboration with Mouton-Rothschild, launched in 1997. More recently, the company purchased vineyards in California in 2011, proving that it certainly hasn't lost its thirst for new and exciting projects.
Concha y Toro has continued to develop and modernise over the past few decades and, with vineyard holdings from Limarí in the north to Bío Bío in the south, it is well placed to do so. Winemakers Marcelo Papa (responsible for Casillero del Diablo, Marqués de Casa Concha and Maycas del Limarí) and Ignacio Recabarren (responsible for Trio, Terrunyo, Amelia and Carmín de Peumo) have spearheaded an impressive rise in quality. Their winemaking skills and the great vineyard resources of Concha combine to make some of Chile's best wines.
6. The Society's Exhibition Gigondas; 14.5% 2007 £13.95
2007 was exceptional in the southern Rhône and this Gigondas, bottled by Louis Barruol of Château Saint-Cosme, has everything of a great Rhône vintage. Full-bodied and multi-layered with Christmas spice. A splendidly full-bodied rich fruitcake of a wine with dense fruit and powerful flavour.
The talented Louis Barroul is the 14th generation of his family to make wine at Saint Cosme which is found to the north of the village of Gigondas, in the southern Rhône. Lying on the site of a Gallo-Roman villa, it is the most ancient estate in the region with the remains of a Roman cellar still visible in the property's caves. Barroul's ancestors acquired it in 1570 and built a splendid residence over existing cellars.
Louis Barroul himself took over in 1992 and immediately embarked on an ambitious modernisation programme with very clear ideas about the type of wine he wanted to make. He has since emerged as one of the Rhône's most talented winemakers winning tremendous acclaim for his estate Gigondas wines in particular which are exceptional. For several vintages he has made The Society's Exhibition Gigondas, a splendidly full-bodied rich fruitcake of a wine with dense fruit and powerful flavour.
Barroul also started the tradition in 1997 of buying in grapes from other select growers enabling him to produce a vast and impressive array of wines for the Saint-Cosme portfolio, from entry-level upwards.
These connections give him access to some exceptional parcels in the Northern Rhône, where he makes small volumes of Côte-Rôtie, Saint-Joseph and Condrieu.
After the Tastings, Sally's food was magnificent: Chicken Cacciatore, Roast Potatoes and Peas followed by a wonderful American Apple Pie and Oranges in Caramel with Cheeses (Dolcelatte, Chaource, Brie, Jarlsberg and Mature Cheddar).