Spotlight on Australia at The Wine Society's spring tasting

Jo Gilbert

For the past 140 years or so, The Wine Society has stuck to its mantra of quality over margin.

That’s why its members won’t find promotional offers in the quarterly wine lists sent out via the traditional mailing order catalogue and online channels.

Most recently, the company has cast its selective eye over Australia.

Not a promotional offer per se, but rather a focus on the wines from the region is currently going out to customers with its spring catalogue.

Customers could get a glimpse of what was on offer at the society’s spring tasting yesterday (April 11), via wines like 2016’s Blind Spot Chardonnay from the Yarra Valley.

Blind Spot is in fact a brand developed by The Wine Society in conjunction with winemaker Mac Forbes.

In keeping with their focus on quality, authenticity and value for money over margin, the society only buys “what’s good for that year”.

This year, Chardonnay makes its return with the 2016 vintage, marking another good year for the grape.

A close working relationship between the buyers and winemakers is what helps such brands come to fruition, says Pierre Mansour, the society’s newly promoted head of buying - as is the case for Blind Spot.

“We work with wine producers to produce wine that we like. Mac is responsible for production and works with [Australia buyer] Sarah Knowles MW to oversee the winemaking process,” he explains.

Not one of the 100 own-label wines the society produces under its Society and Exhibition ranges, Blind Spot is instead part of a family of branded wines made in conjunction with local winemakers, which also includes ranges in Chile, Argentina and South Africa.

Part of this approach is to save high quality grapes from being hovered up by big production companies in areas which present further opportunities for exploration.

“A lot of the interesting stuff in Australia can get absorbed by the big companies,” Mansour observes.

“In Yarra Valley, we saw an opportunity. With Mac’s help, he identified the growers whose grapes get blended in with grapes from other vineyards. He selects them, then oversees the wine making.”

 

The Wine Society Spring Tasting 2017

 The Society’s Grüner Veltliner from Austria

 

The Wine Society is somewhat unique in its offering.

Operating since the 19th century, it is a cooperative where its members are its shareholders are its customers.

Their wines range from £5 to £500; some members use their services for everyday, others for top end only, although Mansour says, “we like it when our customers do both”.

The diversity is evident at yesterday’s tasting, where a nicely balanced Grüner Veltliner with notes of pear and white pepper (part of the Society’s own label range) sits at a comfortably priced £8.25.

There are also some interesting picks from Turkey and Greece, which tick boxes for members’ thirst for adventurous European [and Eurasian] styles.

The Öküzgözü from Vinkara Winehouse wins the award for the least pronounceable grape at the tasting.

It’s just as unusual on the palate, with strong strawberry jam flavours, but will please those looking to explore.

Most of the wines retail for between £8 and £25, providing an in-road for new members who might be put off by the assumed expense of joining a historical wine society.

The society does have high overheads, but these go into providing quality services that are endorsed by members, such as their own delivery service.

It’s part of the overall package, says Mansour, who highlights their own label Society range - the more entry-level of the two – as playing a key role in inducting new members.

“For new members beginning their journey, our own label wines can offer really good flagships for different grapes, regions and styles. The Society’s Grüner Veltliner from Austria is actually quite a wacky wine to have under own label.

“But we thought the wine was terrific and deserved the Society label. Through that we saw sales of Austrian whites treble. It can really introduce people to a category as a whole.”

 

 

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