Blending is the most important skill a wine buyer can possess, argues Janet Wynne Evans.
With more than 100 everyday and Exhibition-grade wines sporting The Society's own label, the quality of our blends is the bedrock of The Wine Society's reputation. It's not just a matter of achieving a mix better than the sum of its parts. Two key demands we make of our Society wines are that they should be good ambassadors of their region, and have a consistency to them, rather like a good non-vintage Champagne, which meets the expectations of the members who buy it faithfully year after year.
The Society does not go in for confected, homogenous styles which could have rolled off a factory line rather than a vineyard truck, so the buyers have to find other ways of accommodating vintage variations, lapses in supply, surges in price, and all the other factors which make every new blending operation so challenging. Sometimes it just can't be done, in which case the wine is delisted until such time as it ticks all the boxes again, for it is better in the long run to leave it out than disappoint members by putting it in if it isn't right.
Our longest-standing growers know by now what ticks our boxes, and they often reserve cuvées which they believe may be of interest in readiness for the buyer's visit. These are quite often tasted at different times, so the buyer's tasting memory – a fearsome database, as yet unreplicated by the computer industry – must not only store impressions accurately, but retrievably too, never losing sight of The Society template for each wine. The ability to tell the future is pretty useful, especially with raw, in some cases unfinished, wines, as is the knack of seeing beyond individual wines, and their possible impact on others in a blend. Anyone without these assets, and the stamina to deploy them, need not apply for what many consider to be the most glamorous of jobs. Arduous as it may be, the blending process is only part of the job. Next comes the challenge of making the transition, not only from calibrated mixing jug to bottle, but from the pragmatic, practical world of the tasting-room to the glamour and romance of the List.
But that's another story. At least 100 of them, to be more precise.
The Society Range is the perfect showcase, not only for our buyers' blending expertise, but also for some of the most reassuring names in the business. In it you'll find producers like Wirra Wirra in Australia, Villa Maria in New Zealand, Concha y Toro in Chile, La Rioja Alta in Spain, Jean-Marc Brocard in Chablis and Henri Prudhon in Burgundy, to name just a few. That such producers are willing – we know they are eminently able – to work with us to create unique bottles of wine is just one manifestation of the co-operative spirit at work. They do so because they know that we, the members, share their passion for good wine. Members' continued support of Society and Exhibition wines enhances our purchasing power, which helps to keep our growers happy and our prices realistic. It's called a 'virtuous circle' and if that isn't getting it together, we don't know what is.
This article is adapted from one which first appeared in the literature which accompanies each case of Wine Without Fuss, The Society's subscription service which keeps racks filled by leaving the choice of bottles to our buyers. Each booklet includes food-matching recommendations for the wines featured, extensive tasting notes and features of topical interest. Click here for more information.