It’s an outrage!
With the results including the nearly runs, what are the global trends to watch out for? New regions, grapes, up and coming, and traditional regions making a come back?
Thank you all for your questions! This event will start at 1pm and we’ll be joined by 5 of our Buyers! See you in a few minutes.
The simplest (and probably most boring) answer is that it’s one of our largest and most successful offers of the year. One that has an incredibly high response rate from across the membership, gains a huge amount of member engagement, and one that sells a lot of wine!
But more importantly than the numbers we genuinely believe it’s an offer that reflects The Society’s ethos more than any other. It’s integrity above all else. All the wines are tasted completely blind and only those that score the required points go into the offer – no exceptions. There were (at least) five or six wines that would have been great in the offer but missed out by 1%, for example, and there’s no quota to fill or massaging of the score system to allow for more ‘commercially successful’ wines to boost sales. Last year we had no Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc (which, like it or not, for an offer that went out in August is basically wine retail suicide), this year we have four… Possibly equally suicidal! But that’s just how the offer unfolds. It coughs up great stories and shows where was successful around the world (check out the Chianti 2016 case). Another thing is that every wine we sell has the full endorsement of that respective buyer. With Wine Champs, however, each winner has the collective endorsement of all the buyers – and that’s pretty amazing, especially for Members who need a bit of guidance and rely on buyer recommendations.
But there are also benefits that go beyond the offer – it gives us a great chance to step back and look at The Society’s offering. Where are the gaps in our range? Where are the stories? How are wine styles changing? What do we have too much of? Are there any wines we sell that aren’t up to scratch? I guarantee that no other Wine Merchant do such an extensive tasting of their range every year – it’s a huge expense (both for Buyers’ time and financially) but one that we genuinely believe benefits members, whether directly or indirectly. As the newest Buyer it’s also a great proving ground for potential new wines (I have at least two I’ll be buying off the back of the tastings) which is always good!
That’s a good question, and members have often asked about this, but believe me all those photos over the years have not been staged!
It’s not perfect – we do not decant into uniform containers – but then this is not an MW exam. Our new ‘blind’ bags are a bit bigger, allowing those wrapping the bottles to better cover the capsule (which if it can’t be well covered has to come off, which is not easy, and it’s time-consuming and potentially risky too; a supply of plasters is on hand!). Some bottles have a distinctive shape, and we do include some magnums and half bottles in the tastings (I entered Rustenberg Chardonnay in 75cl this year for this very reason, even though we will only have magnums, and the note on the wine will reflect this), but the point is not to spot a particular wine (which, believe me, can sometimes backfire if you try!), rather to assess as objectively as possible your, or other buyers’ wines as standout examples of their style and at their level. It often happens that a buyer is harder on their own wine as a result. And we are an opinionated lot (which you will see if you watch this year’s video) so fighting for a wine you believe is yours when it is not finding favour with the rest of the panel doesn’t pay off.
We taste by grape variety and/or style, and in price brackets within those sections. Some grapes have their own tasting days – chardonnay, and sauvignon blanc for example – others share a platform, whence our (big!) Rhône and Rhône-style reds day, from the old and new world. We also do our best to take oak and sweetness levels into account in the tasting order, but this is not science, so early tasters will flag to the rest if a particular wine should be tasted before or after another, or if a mental recalibration is needed. The latter is obvious when you jump from expensive red Burgundy to inexpensive new world pinot noir, less so if you have a subtle wine following a blockbuster. But that’s our job, experience comes into play, and it’s why we dedicate so much time to the whole Champs process, trying to be as fair to the wines as we possibly can. And if it’s not sauvignon’s year, then we don’t get any Champs, or if a particular region, producer or grape shines then they are given the limelight they deserve. There is no quota system in play here.
The one exception to this normal pattern is the Rosé tasting, because the day is usually also used to make the selection for our first Rosé offer of the year. Buyers all propose their wines in the normal way, Marcel tastes a huge number of wines sighted, selects for his Rosé offer and comes up with a Champs shortlist which is then tasted blind by the panel.
Sound simple? It’s not, and there is a huge amount of work behind the scenes – currently brilliantly managed by Matthew – that allows the tasting series to carry on swan-like, for three long weeks!
Aww, hello everyone! Lovely to see you all! Is that wine in your mug, @Sarah? I’m hoping you’ve all got a lunchtime glass to accompany this event!
It is indeed - it actually has a rabbit drinking wine on a mug…! It could have been designed for me as I had a rabbit as a childhood pet, buy wine for a living and love coffee and tea! Its from HAM hammade.com and I would highly recommend.
I haven’t really had many earth shattering blind tasting moments. The best bottles I drink I prefer not to taste blind.
I suppose what sticks in my mind was the humiliation of tasting a red wine blind on my first visit to Domain Rollin in Pernand-Vergelesses, in Burgundy. It was in front of two generations of Rollin, another long term UK customer of the domaine, and the UK agent Roy Richards, perhaps the greatest authority on Burgundy. In such public company one wants to impress. We had been through the range. I had preferred the white wines. The red wines here are quite lean and firm, and quite dry. Not really my style. My feeling was better to drink them early as the fruit may be long gone before the tannin softens.
A botttle of red was offered up blind. All eyes turned upon me as I started to elucidate my argument for the vintage and wine.
I got the appellation wrong and was a decade too young on the vintage.
The wine had matured beautifully, the fruit was bright, the tannin had softened. Its balance had got better as it aged.
It taught me a lesson on the ageing ability of what seemed like a rather skinny wine to me, but it was the skinny body of a marathon runner,
lean and sinewy, with no bulging muscles, but fit for purpose and able to go the distance.
I have tasted subsequently there, once with a well known journalist on his first visit there.
He fell into the same trap as I did. It is part of the apprenticeship one serves at Rollin.
To be honest, it can be. However, due to how the scoring works, even if one buyer was to taste a wine and recognise it as their own and therefore be biased towards it and give it a full mark, it would still need to be considered an excellent wine by the rest of the team too, for it to come through. There have certainly been times when we have each recognised a wine from our patch (or at least thought we have!) and hoped that it will come through, but it doesn’t. That being said, there have been even more times when we have recognised our own wines and been disappointed in how it’s showing on the day and been overly strict on it out of sheer disappointment. I think that recognising your own wine naturally makes you feel more strongly in one way or another however the scoring process and the fact that there must be a minimum of 5 Buyers judging at any given time ensures a fair and genuine result. You always get a lot of stick from the other Buyers when it comes to reading out your scores if you have marked what turns out to be your own wine highly, if everyone else thinks its not showing well, so it can be very nerve racking!! Likewise, you don’t want to be seen by your colleagues as having missed a wine that everyone else thinks was singing!
I have exactly the same in the office!
but did you also have a pet rabbit!?!
That is an EXCELLENT mug! I want one now too…
Do the buyers keep score?
Who won this year?
This is a brilliant story, Toby!
One thing I wondered was how often you guys taste wines blind, outside of the Wine Champions competition?
It is a little bit of a cliché but my personal favourite, within the Champs offer this year, is The Society’s Champagne, which even before I was the buyer responsible for the category was my wedding champagne. It has long been a favourite of mine as I really enjoy the richness that the oak brings, the complexity from the unusually long lees aging, and the freshness from the rare decision to not allow the wine to complete MLF. All in all it really is a favourite of mine, and I am delighted that it did well in Champs this year.
Great story. I don’t have the job or the wallet to give me the amount of experience I’d like to have drinking red Burgundy as it ages, so these tidbits are useful for when I do get the chance!
I rarely taste blind. Sometimes when I have made two blends with a winemaker and we cannot decide which one to go for we might taste blind and decide.
I wouldn’t say I was SHOCKED not to see certain wines come out winners. It’s a collective effort and the wines need to please everyone. It’s a level playing field so you can’t get too hung up over one wine. However, there are a few wines I drink by the bucket-load which didn’t win – like The Society’s White Rioja or the Xinomavro Jeunes Vignes from Thymiopoulos. Won’t stop me buying them (as I scored them both highly) but always keen to get them more into member view.
For me there are also wines that i’d be shocked if they DIDN’T win… Society’s Fino, Soccy Cava & Exhibition Fleurie for me just epitomise amazing value and are absolute benchmarks of their style and always seem to sing in blind tastings.