Back in late March, at the height of the stockpiling pandemic, and with demand at its peak, The Wine Society had to close, declining all new orders for two weeks while it introduced social distancing practices into its warehouse. Three months on, the august merchant has safely emerged from lockdown and this week presented its first new offer to members since the spring.
Wine Society Champions is an annual exercise whereby all the buyers present a parcel of their wines for a peer-review blind tasting, and the winners go into a special offer for members. The first of these has just been issued; the second, a fine wine offer, follows in October. Part of the idea of the Champions exercise is to see which regions are performing well and where the value lies. Buyer Jo Locke, talking via Zoom, said the classic regions such as New Zealand (but with Chardonnay, not the ubiquitous Sauvignon Blanc) and Australia were strong as ever, as is rosé (“it’s gone crazy,” Locke said). Two of my selections below, Saumur Plantagenêts and the Zephyr Marlborough Chardonnay, are Champions.
The rest come from the merchant’s summer tasting, for which each of the Society’s buyers was asked to select three wines from their portfolio to present to the press. The hit rate was high, but what was more notable was how deeply the buying team cares about who they buy from – and sell to. They are always on the qui vive for distinctive wines that don’t cost a packet, mostly from smaller growers. Here are my ten highlights.