Wine Society’s explorers who discover wonderful tastes

Côte Roannaise, Vieilles Vignes Wine Society review

There’s a group of  explorers scouring the world, Wine Society buyers tracking down the best on offer from every continent, bringing wonderful tastes back to you and me in Blighty.

I think you’d be hard pushed to find anyone that does it better than the Wine Society. Terrific wines at  pocket-happy prices.

A co-operative, founded in 1874, it is owned by its members, sells only to them. But it is far from exclusive. Just £40 brings life membership, opening some wonderful doors.

Take the Blind Spot range from vineyards across Australia.

The name Blind Spot  refers to how the society’s Mac Forbes saw the potential in   grapes which could have been blended into anonymity –  but instead were  made into  terrific wines. Blind Spot Grenache-Shiraz-Mataro, 2011, Rutherglen (£7.50,  14%) is a  Rhone blend, with spicy layers and  unashamedly fruit driven.

Blind Spot Riesling, 2012, Clare Valley (£7.50, 12%) is delicate, dry, fresh, grapey and lapping in lime cordial.  Clare Valley riesling can be a wonderful thing and this is a wonderful example, at a wonderful price.

Côte Roannaise, Vieilles Vignes wine review
Côte Roannaise, Vieilles Vignes wine review

Here are some  other  society selections:  Côte Roannaise, Vieilles Vignes, 2012 Sérol (£8.50, 14%). Côte Roannaise is  an  appellation of the southern Loire. Gamay  grapes, normally associated with beaujolais,  thrive on  sandy-granite soils.  It is packed, packed, packed with red fruit. My notes said this wine reminded me of the delicious fruit running through the summer  pud Eton Mess  – but without the mess.  I actually wrote that down.

The Foundry Roussanne, Stellenbosch, 2011 (£11.50,  13.5%).  Think of the roussanne grape as a shy young lady, meek alongside her bolder, more confident friends. She is usually blended in the Rhône where she adds lift and perfume. In  this wine from South Africa she is  the solo feminine star.  A lovely wine, with refreshing acidity, green fruits and tongue-tip dry green apple skins.

Prince Stirbey Tamâioasa Româneasca Sec, 2012 (£9.50, 13.5%) I can write it, I can’t pronounce it, though I certainly enjoyed it. This white from the foothills of  Romania abounds with  tantalising tangerines, is very citrussy to taste with a dry, pithy, grapefruit bite.

Faldeos Nevados Torrontés, 2012 (£7.50,  14%) is a  blend of grapes from across three Argentine valleys. On the nose, peach and citrus whisper and in the mouth their gentleness mingles with a richness similar to viognier. Think luxurious sherbert dip.

Finally, Curto Barbera D’alba la Foia, 2011 , (£.8.50,  14%). Violets, spicy fruit, a pot pourri of rose petals and red liquorice – you know, the childhood shoelace ones.

You can find out more about the society at or call 01438 741177.

First published in the saturday magazine, May 18, 2013

Liverpool Echo – South Wales Echo – Daily Post Wales – Huddersfield Examiner – The Chronicle, Newcastle – Teesside Evening Gazette – Birmingham  Mail – Coventry Telegraph – Paisley Daily Express

Step forward M&S in the search for 50cl wine bottles

Le Froglet Rose wine review

I AM very pleased  to announce that my wine column has  a reader – and one prepared to put pen to paper for me.

He writes: “My wife and I like to share a bottle of wine. We  like to stick to the   combined daily healthy limit of around six units. This corresponds almost exactly to a 50cl wine bottle, whilst 75cl contains nine units or more. I am sure you understand how difficult it is to leave that final third untouched.”

Indeed I do, Mr Reader. The point is, he’s challenging more retailers to supply 50cl wine.

There are various reasons why you may want to buy 50cl wine –  either midweek  to avoid the temptation of a full bottle, or for fewer alcohol units.

I asked some questions – and discovered that Marks & Spencer appears to offer the best range.

Andrew Bird, M&S Head of Trading, Drink, explains: “The range came from customer research showing that for many couples a full 75cl bottle was a little too much to drink in one go, yet they were unwilling to re-stopper the wine in case they didn’t come back to it for several days (not to mention that the wine might have lost freshness).

“We also liked the fact that the 50cl size allowed us to sell really good wines from quality producers at a lower price than the 75cl equivalent – such as a good claret for under £5 or a great Sancerre for under £8 – and we thought it might be an innovative way to introduce customers to higher quality wines.

Le Froglet Rose wine review
Le Froglet Rose

“The one inescapable fact is that a 50cl wine bottle, the stopper, the label and the cost of putting it down the bottling line all cost the same as the 75cl equivalent. Even though the bottle uses less glass, it is a relatively unusual size so the glass manufacturers do charge more.

“It can be difficult to sell the product at exactly two-thirds of the price of a 75cl bottle, which is perhaps why other retailers don’t really try. At M&S we think it’s worth investing a little to allow customers to have the extra choice – after all we’ve sold small 25cl bottles very successfully for many years.”

Here are some 50cl wine options

Châteauneuf-du-Pape les Closiers  2009 (£11.99). A famous blend from  southern Rhône. This one has  grenache, syrah, mourvèdre and cinsault  at its heart.  It has ripe fruits  on the nose with a fleck of white pepper and  soft, rounded  red berry, herby fruits to taste. Add a touch of class to supper.

Fleurie 2010 (£6.99) is from one of the 10 crus villages, which produce the  top notch wines from Beaujolais.  This  is an avalanche of fresh red fruits, typical of the gamay grape, but with an added refined elegance.

Sancerre Les Ruettes, Marks & Spencer 50cl
Sancerre Les Ruettes, Marks & Spencer 50cl

Sancerre Les Ruettes  2010 (£7.99) is fresh with subtle citrus and hints of Loire Valley minerals. I had a glass with a  bowl of  herby, lemony,   musssels and (I’m proud to say)  pasta made with my own fair hands. It was a delightful match.

My culinary ego moved over to make room on the table for Southern Winds Sauvignon Blanc 2012 (£5.99). A zingtastic New Zealand SB with typical  gooseberry, grass and lemon flavour flashes.

Finally, a  pink to match my Bank Holiday sun-shocked nose.

Le Froglet Rosé 2011 (£4.19) combines syrah and merlot  from Languedoc and has a wispy rose perfume with crisp red cherries to taste which say “we won an award you know” and indeed they did –  a silver at the 2012 International Wine Challenge.

Other 50cl wine choices? At Asda, First Cape lines are on offer until June 20, at £3 from £3.98 and 50cl Blossom Hill bottles are available at £3.98. At Waitrose, Cave de Lugny Chardonnay 2011 Macon – Villages is £5.99.

Also in my glass

In my search for good 50cls I came across a terrific selection of half bottles (35cl) from Tanners Wine Merchants including Tanners Douro Red 2011 (£4.45). It’s a  deep red packed with the punchy grapes which in another life are the base of port.