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02 June 2024

The Wine Society: 150 years.

The Wine Society is the world's oldest cooperative wine merchant, or 'member-owned community of wine lovers' to use their own words, based in Hertfordshire UK. Here are my dozen top picks from their recent Belfast tasting in tantalisingly random order.

Generation Series Cava Gran Reserva Brut 2019 (12% abv): This sumptuous Cava is made by the family wine estate Sumarroca, based in the hills to the northwest of Barcelona, from Macabeu, Xarello and Parellada grape varieties with some Chardonnay. Aged in bottle on the yeast lees for at least two years then another year before release. Toasty and yeasty with baked biscuit notes, tight crisp and nutty mouthfeel, long tasty finish; stylish. £12.50
Cuvée John Agard 2017, Breaky Bottom (12% abv): Made from two-thirds Chardonnay with Pinots Noir and Meunier by Peter Hall from his Sussex vineyards planted in the 1970s, and matured for 'several years' on the lees. Classy English bubbly with toasty mature nose, hints of brioche while floral too, fresh acidity underneath still balanced by subtle biscuity richness. Delicious although it is nearly three times the price of the Cava. £33

Exhibition Alsace Gewurztraminer 2020 (14% abv): Produced by the historic Hugel winery, I'm told this special WS label includes some fruit from one of their Grand Cru vineyards. Very rich and exotic, warming almost, balanced out by an appealing bitter twist; classic Gewurz rose water, lychee and spiced honeysuckle characters, medium dry finish. £16.50
Cassis Clos Val Bruyère 2022, Château Barbanau (12.5% abv): The not well-known but often high quality Clairette variety is at the heart of this Cassis from coastal Provence, where white wines are fashionable and pricey. But this very tasty example is aromatic and yeast-lees-y with a fatter honeyed side then crisp and savoury finish, elegant with lingering flavours. £16

Vinsobres Altitude 420 Domaine Jaume 2020 (14% abv): 60% Grenache, 40% Syrah, small portion aged in large casks. Big ripe juicy Grenache fruit with lashings of cherry and spice, weighty rounded palate with light touch of tannic grip. Very nice indeed. £12.50
Jaume also produced the Society's Generation Series Vinsobres 2021, which is more forward and less 'serious' than the one above (could be a vintage thing).
150th Anniversary Geyserville Zinfandel 2019 (14.5% abv): Sourced from the world-famous Ridge winery's treasured vineyards, this field blend of Zinfandel, Carignan and Petit Sirah is dear but a real wow-wine. Big mouthful with softening maturing mouthfeel, rich and figgy with tobacco and dark cherry tones, and nice textured tannins. An indulgence to share. £39

Château La Garde Pessac-Léognan 2016 (14% abv): Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Petit Verdot; aged in oak for 12 to 14 months. Similarly classy to the other 2016 Bordeaux red below, both wines show what a lovely understated vintage 2016 was. More concentrated and firmer perhaps than the Le Boscq but with supple tannins, lush depth of cassis fruit with cedary oak edges, long and elegant while powerful too. Delicious and still quite young. £26
Château Le Boscq Saint-Estèphe 2016 (13.5% abv): Similar blend to La Garde with half or more Cabernet, Merlot and a splash of Petit Verdot; 12 months in barrel, some of them new. Maturing earthy cassis fruit, quite intense while elegant and concentrated yet subtle, attractive tannin texture. Drinking now but will improve further. Very good. £29.50

150th Anniversary Kumeu Chardonnay 2019 (14% abv): Sourced from two highly rated vineyards in the Auckland region, this oak-aged Chardy is very stylish indeed showing toasty oatmeal and lees notes, tight and fresh style despite its age, developing nicely though with lovely creamy nutty flavours and texture finishing with weight and a refreshing twist. £45 but taste it against Burgundy at that price.
Monbazillac Chateau Pech La Calevie 2021 (12.5% abv): Semillon. Lush and sweet with exotic fruits, dried peaches, candied orange peel and honey all rolling out up your nose and on your tongue, beautiful fresh cut though to finish; delicious. Excellent value too compared with similar quality sweet wines: £14.95.

Exhibition Limarí Pinot Noir 2022 (14% abv): Fruit from two of Concha y Toro's 'best vineyards', and aged for about a year in barrels. Appealing sweet/sour Pinot nose, fairly structured palate although with attractive velvety tannins and subtle length, probably needs a couple of years to mellow. Very good, although relatively more expensive than some of their other lovely and fab value Chilean Pinots. £17.50
Exhibition Margaret River Cabernet Sauvignon 2021 (14% abv): Produced by pioneering winery Vasse Felix, this is concentrated for sure with herby cassis notes, firm while rounded mouthfeel, has impressive depth of fruit and character; really classy Cab Sauv. £17

I thought the wines listed below were all good examples of their type too, although some of them seem overpriced. I was also disappointed with a couple or so of the Society's 'Generation Series' and '150th Anniversary' labels, which have been specially created for this year's celebrations. Such as the 2018 150th Anniversary Amarone, which was all wrong; just a dud bottle hopefully?
Whites: Generation Series Alsace Gentil 2021 and Generation Series Graves Blanc 2021 (both £14.95), 150th Anniversary Hunter Valley Semillon 2014 (£19.50), The Society's White Burgundy 2022 bag-in-box (£35 2.25L), Exhibition Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2023 (£12.50).
Reds: Generation Series South African Red 2023 (£12.95), Exhibition Châteauneuf-du-Pape 2021 (£24 but not worth twice the price as the excellent Vinsobres above), Exhibition Mendoza Malbec 2021 (£12.50). Rosé: Tavel Prima Donna Domaine Maby 2022 (£14.50).

To finish up, here are several of our better-value 'house' favourites bought from the Wine Society over the last few months for under a tenner.

Stift Klosterneuburg Saint-Laurent 2020: Bargain Austrian red, deep coloured and dense yet aromatic and maturing. £7.95
Spätburgunder Winzerverein Ruppertsberg 2022: Lovely German Pinot Noir from this reliable co-op winery (£9.95), which also produces another favourite from one vintage to the next, Grauer Burgunder Trocken.
Ventoux Les Traverses Paul Jaboulet Aîné 2021: Tasty maturing southern Rhone Valley red. Half bottle £5.25.
Soave Classico Castel Cerino, Coffele 2022: Proper Soave, peachy and nutty with fresh finish. £9.50
Chardonnay Pays d'Oc Domaine de Pennautier 2023: A favourite Chardy every vintage, the '23 nicely balances ripe fruit and texture with freshness. £8.95
The Society's Australian Chardonnay 2023: Hard not to like this easy-going unoaked Chardy, especially at £7.50.
Fonte do Ouro Dão 2022: Pretty typical of the quality and character you can find among Portuguese white wines nowadays. £9.75
Cerasuolo d'Abruzzo Contesa 2023: Delicious Italian rosé, deep coloured and fruity. £9.50
Cuvée Villány Heumann 2023: Full-bodied and quite serious Hungarian rosé. £9.95
G & L Rosé, Kintonis 2023: Aromatic and crisp Greek rosé with plenty of fruit. £8.95

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Header image: Château de Flandry, Limoux, Languedoc. Background: Vineyard near Terrats in Les Aspres, Roussillon.