Interesting to read, but I think what you say goes to the very heart of what I was getting at.
I think The Wine Society is brilliant - nothing short of brilliant - at what it does. I also think it’s hugely trusted, principally because of three things: a) its expertise, b) its not-for-profit status (as a mutual), and c) its superb quality of service and logistics.
And I think the wine-buying expertise is absolutely central to that. Just look at the Rhone E.P. offer. People (including me) will buy whole cases of wines they’ve never tried on the basis of the buyer’s recommendation. I’m sure I’m not alone in carefully considering his judicious, weighed words. I’m assuming those notes are written by Marcel, or he at least approves them, and I know he has massive experience of buying Rhone. He must be one of the UK authorities on that subject, if not one of the most knowledgeable people in the world. All of this is wonderful.
To give another example, if you look at Toby Moorhall’s thoughts on white Burgundy ageing and premox, on another forum, they are as thoughtful as they are thought-provoking. Again, they come from someone with immense knowledge and experience. I also admire his willingness to give his opinions on a contentious subject. Separately, I know of a wine maker who was seriously p*ssed off when Toby didn’t buy one vintage of his wine, but wanted the next one - but whatever else, that was Toby doing his job in accordance with his principles.
And just look at this: Toby seemingly trained as a chef and has a passion for pinot noir, and a listed hobby is cooking. See: https://www.thewinesociety.com/buyer-profile-toby-morrhall
What I find slightly troubling with the marketing communications, as a member, is that I find myself having to try to distinguish between those where the words come from the Society’s experts using measured language, and those that look like they’re created first and foremost as marketing - as you might get from another large wine merchant or a supermarket.
Let me say right away: I think Felicity Cloake is a genius. The big challenge with food writing is that the market these days is saturated. She saw a brilliant opportunity for a format where she combined a recipe with an exploration of a dishes’s history and the different ways that different chefs cook it. In doing so, she combines reportage and interviewing with the publishing of a menu, she combines modern cooking innovation with an appreciation of history. And what’s so clever is that you go on a journey with her, learning. She is at once expert and curious amateur.
What she produces works so well, seems so effortless, that it’s easy to overlook what it is: journalistic genius. Creating new formats in a saturated market… creating innovation like that… and executing it so well. It’s brilliance at work. I’m full admiration.
But I return to my central point. Is Felicity Cloake a wine matching expert, and does she know much about wine? I mean, maybe she is and does, but not all food experts/writers do actually know lots about wine (and there’s nothing wrong with that - they write about food!). I just don’t know.
What I do see is that the recommended wine has this tasting note: “Juicy red berry-scented pinot, with bright forward fruit flavours, soft integrated tannins and a succulent black cherry finish.”
A bit of me wonders if she thought the dish had to match the description of the wine - it mentions cherries, and the recipe includes cherries. Obviously, I have no idea of the thought process, and I just wonder…
But I’d be amazed if any wine expert, if you asked them to recommend a dish to match pinot noir brilliantly, would recommend meatballs in tomato sauce - if by match, you mean help show the wine at its best.
I’m curious: did anyone at TWS try the cooked recipe with the wine to check it did indeed match? I’d expect so… but I’m just curious? Maybe they did, and maybe this really is a brilliant match, not just a better match for a wine-challenging dish than most other wines?
It just feels a bit as though this was cooked up by a marketing department and a freelance cookery writer, and didn’t draw upon, or reflect, the Society’s remarkable depth of knowledge, expertise and experience. But I hope this isn’t so.
I really think it’s worth reflecting on the value you have within the Society, and what makes it unique and special in the market - and how that is brought to life. I don’t think it’s easy to do that in a way that combines authenticity and near-academic levels of knowledge, and is accessible… but I do think it’s possible.
Hope useful and that my view can be considered alongside others members’.