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AMA with Toby Morrhall, Society Buyer



Welcome to the second community ‘AMA’ – ‘Ask Me Anything’ event.

Today we are joined by Toby Morrhall (aka @Toby.Morrhall) , Buyer for The Wine Society. Toby has been buying wine for The Society since 1992, and looks after Burgundy as well as Chile, Argentina and Uruguay.

One topic has dominated the questions in preparation for this session, which is the 2016 Burgundy en-primeur campaign. You can read the details and see the wines on offer here. However, the AMA format also means that you can ask those questions you’ve always wanted to ask, so prepare for some variety!

This promises to be an exciting session that puts YOU in the interview chair.

Please note that, unfortunately, Toby and the rest of the buying team cannot guarantee to be able to answer all questions posted in the community every day, so having key members of the team available ‘live’ is a great opportunity for those who aren’t able to pop along to the tastings to meet them in person. Of course, if you have any important questions or issues to raise, you can always send these via Member Services at any point.

Do feel free to respond to questions or topics raised here, and if these conversations develop we can always turn them into conversations for the community to reply to.
We will start with those questions you’ve already sent in, but do feel free to ask any follow-up questions or to post new questions below for Toby, and anyone who joins us.

Invitation to AMA: New Zealand wines with Sarah Knowles MW [20th July]
Invitation to AMA: wedding and party wines with The Showroom's Marjorie Cropp
AMA/Ask Me Anything Guide - plus: who do you want to hear from?

Ready and waiting! :slightly_smiling_face:


The short answer is as follows

My advice is to buy the best you can afford from a good grower because in my view as you ascend the hierarchy from bourgogne to village and then premier cru you are getting wines with better ripeness making better balanced wines. The classification is well done and reliable, although growers vary greatly in style and quality. Burgundy is really quite a cool region and in most years the best situated vines, which are better classified, make the best wines. I think prestige affects mainly the grands crus where you pay a premium. Some growers are very popular and attract a big premium which is more or less deserved depending on the grower.

Growers’ quality and style varies a lot. Our advice is to find a grower you like and follow them.

My specific recommendations this year would be well priced appellations with good growers are Marsannay , Pataille and Jadot, and Santenay, Vincent.

Producers making quite open or rich styles would be Pataille, Vincent, Mortet, Burguet, Tollot-Beaut, Tawse. Chanson made very approachable and attractive 2016s at attractive value for money which I recommend.

If you want to know why red Burgundy is relatively expensive read on.

The reasons why red Burgundy is relatively expensive compared to red Bordeaux or Rhône

I have tried to treat this subject at length in the How to Buy Burgundy article

If you don’t know already, Burgundy is a complicated region, but that’s part of the appeal if you get the Burgundy bug!

The one very important fact about pinot noir, the grape from which red Burgundy is made from, is that it produces poor quality at high yields. That is why there is very little good Burgundy at cheap prices, unlike white Burgundy or red Bordeaux and red Rhône. Pinot noir’s quality drops off a cliff over yields 55hl/ha, and it’s much better between 30-40hl/ha. This is very different from most other grape varieties including chardonnay, cabernet sauvignon, syrah. These wines make good wine at 55hl/ha, and up to 100hl/ha. There is good relative quality/price ratio here and so you can buy attractive wines from these varieties at high yields where the price can be as low as £7 a bottle.

That has obvious consequences for pricing and it makes red Burgundy an expensive wine. You can either accept that or fight it. But my advice is not to buy Burgundy because it’s cheap. Furthermore, the lower priced wines have relatively more tannin and acidity and less fruit than more expensive ones because they grow in cooler soils and are cultivated at higher yields so they are less ripe in flavour and can taste quite austere wines. If you like austere wines you will enjoy Burgundy at the lower end, if not you will probably be disappointed. As you go up the hierarchy you get more concentrated wines. Premiers crus are regularly the best wines as they are very well situated mid slope, so ripen to attractive levels of grape maturity, and are not as expensive as grands crus.

There is also a great variety in the style of wine a grower makes. I suggest perhaps trying those who make richer wines first as richness is easier to appreciate to start with than elegance. Also some appellations make softer friendlier wines.


I would do:

No 90 BU66801 Grivot Vosne PC Brulees £375
No 93 Jadot Pernand Vergelesess Clos de la Croix de Pierre Blanc £125


It’s very difficult to generalise. We are one of the few companies who give drinking dates for every wine we sell so please take advantage of this.

Red Burgundy 2016

Generally 2016 red Burgundy has ripe fruit and sweet tannins so in theory should be approachable young. However like many very good vintages it may close up a couple of years after bottling. It will doubtless improve and last well in bottle.

Discussing the quality is tricky because 2016 is a particular style and how you rate it depends on your preferences for perfume, elegance, concentration and power. I think it’s a superb vintage of very high quality and its unusual characteristics of ripe tannins and intense aromas is rare. 2015 is a great vintage, one of the best in the last 20 years, in a very ripe and concentrated style, with a powerful, dense palate of very high quality tannins although it lacks 2016’s aromatic complexity. Burgundians often prefer the more classic vintages with the most pronounced aromas to the very ripe ones like 2015. Forced to commit I would put 2015 ahead as a great vintage. 2016 is close behind and then 2012 (there are some similarities). A little further back in concentration are the fresh 2013 and attractive 2014, which hasn’t closed up and has sweet tannins.

White Burgundy 2016

Most white Burgundy is drinkable a couple of years after bottling. Cork quality has a big effect on keeping ability and I am giving longer drinking dates to wines bottle with Diam corks. 2016 had quite good acidity and should keep better than 2015

Regarding quality, 2016 is a little less even and a little less good in quality terms than the 2016 red. But it has both ripeness and freshness. 2016 is better than 2015, not quite as good as the superb 2014, the best for 20 years, probably similar to 2012, and better than 2011.


We have quite a few wines in the current Vintage Cellar Plan. However finding enough good quality wine is a problem so I would say we will not develop a red Burgundy cellar plan. But please ring me and I can advise you what to buy and lay down for your own personal cellar!


I love them too! They have so much individuality and character, don’t they?

We have good stocks of this and the price is excellent. Weinert are quite unusual in that they have many wines of different vintages and varieties maturing in their cellars and each year they select what they think is ready and bottle them. So it’s a bit of a (nice) mystery to see what they have chosen to bottle. Each year I visit Weinert and taste what they have available and buy what I think is best. So I don’t know until I visit in July!


There are a few old fashioned wineries who still do long ageing in large barrels, a bit like Rioja producers, who come out with old vintages. Most of these aren’t very good and the wines smell of old wood, faults sometimes, and have lost fruit and dried out and not gained complexity. That was the old model. The new one is more extraction in the winery, deeper colours and wines matured in French oak barriques, and released earlier. The old one is at present is dying out because of the cost of keeping stock.

In Chile there has been a small move by some like De Martino to keep wine longer in larger casks. The evolution is slower in the larger wood and not all have been a success. They might need to reintroduce a year in 228l barriques, before two in large foudres.


Yes I think the best Burgundy has a complexity and quality not matched elsewhere, so far!

It’s not just a question of price. I believe, like Sebastian Payne always said before me, that premiers crus are where you get the best relative value for money. Lesser Burgundies, as mentioned above, can have more structure (tannin and acidity) than New World wines which are often “sweeter” and fruitier. But the best Burgundies often have a remarkable perfume and intensity of flavour that sets them apart. Sorry, not an easy question to answer and I hope that helps but I may not have done it justice.


The oldest white wine under Diam 5 (it’s relatively new) we have is a Fèvre Chablis Premier Cru Vaulorent 2007 which is still very young tasting, with no honey or nuts yet. I reckon this could age for a further 5-8 years.

2014 is a great vintage so a Premier Cru Meursault/Puligny/Chassagne correctly bottled with a Diam 10 could drink well between 5-15 years, perhaps more. It would be worth tasting after 5 or 6 years to see the evolution, which will be in relationship with the cellar temperature and decide when to open the next one.

My estimate does depend on some important caveats. It would depend on the wine being properly bottled (i.e. with the right amount of sulphur and dissolved oxygen as well as a Diam cork). It also depends what temperature it’s cellared at. Roughly a wine cellared at 10C will mature half as fast as a wine cellared at 20C. It also depends on if you enjoy the nutty and toasty aromas of mature white burgundy, I suspect you do as you are interested in mature wines. Even so it’s a personal choice as to what constitutes maturity and what is oxidised.

Diam is now available in varying porosities (Diam 2,3,5,10,30) and they guarantee the mechanical properties of the cork for the number of years after which the Diam is named. A Diam 10 lets in half the oxygen of a Diam 5. Diam 30 is similar to a 10, but slightly less porous.


Glad you liked it. I thought it was excellent too. Sadly the last few vintages have not been as good so we haven’t bought it. Let’s hope 2018 brings better luck.


Its difficult to interpret as it depends on yield. I added a rider to the harvest dates for that reason as it can be a trap. Potel has old vines and I think had small yields so it’s logical that he harvested early. His wines are ripe and delicious, typical of the vintage. I recommend them.


So how can the Society’s red Burgundy be sold sub £10 if the quality is right?


Not to the extent of 2015 which was very warm so village and bourgognes were exceptionally good, but as you say, because of lowish yields and a warm year village and bourgognes are better than in cooler years. I still would not get your hopes up too much. I still advise to spend the most you can afford!

My How to Buy Burgundy Guide in the Buying guide lists growers by village in increasing order of richness. If you drink the wines in the drinking windows they should be ready for drinking then which should help you know which are forward wines and which are backward ones. We are one of the rare companies that gives a drinking date for all wines we sell.


I don’t know much about Peru but the wines I have tasted have not yet achieved the quality of Chile but I will keep tasting.

Patagonia is a fascinating place full of possibility but also problems. The climate is interesting. On the Argentine side, in the rain shadow of the Andes, it’s cool but dry. Weinert have a winery near El Bolson, one of the most southerly wineries in South America, I have visited a couple of times. Wines are still a work in progress, but it looks promising for sauvignon blanc, riesling, chardonnay and pinot noir for still and sparkling wines. One year the birds ate much of the crop, another year it was difficult to find harvesters. The human problem is a big one to solve. There is little in the form of education and hospitals in some places so not everyone wants to work in a remote area. Life revolves around the family and if much of the family is in distant Mendoza or Santiago it’s a less attractive proposition to work there.

So far the human problem means there has not been a lot of investment yet. Many large companies are risk averse. But with water shortages possible in the future as well as global warming, Patagonia is a good long term bet.


I agree with your sources. There was a decent harvest of reds in 2017 in volume and quality too. Some good whites although I think white volume is normal or below normal. It’s all hearsay until we get the figures !!

It is difficult to predict future price movements but although I would love some price decreases I think it would need two or more harvests with 2017-like volumes to reduce pricing. There is virtually no stock in Burgundy because 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2016 were all severely down in quantity.


That’s very helpful Toby, thank you!


That is super helpful, thanks. And to the red question, with the previous answers you’ve done it justice for me.

Loving the detail so far, thank you for taking the time


thank you - will there be some wines from De Martino on the list soon? How about a new vintage of the Viejas Tinajas Cinsault?


Its at the limit of what is possible. It divides opinion, some like this wine some hate it. At this level there is more structure and less fruit than an equivalent New World wine so its more austere. In 2016 I could not make a blend I liked so there is no Society’s Red Burgundy in this vintage.

I blended the 2015 vintage of this wine and bought it because I think it is a good example of what is possible at this price. In my view this appeals to seasoned Burgundy lovers who know the wine will be quite austere at this level. For me value for money increases as you go up the price scale and I would recommend spending more if you are new to Burgundy. But if you can’t or don’t want to I stand by this wine as a good example of what is possible at this price.

This wine comes from the excellent Cave de Buxy co-operative. They pay their members more for better grapes and separate the qualities and each year I go and try to make an attractive blend with the cellar master. Buxy’s relative scale of operations helps with the cost and the care they take in separating the qualities helps maintain good quality. The worst co-ops lump everything together and make a poor average quality

Weekend drinking thread [9-11 November 2018]