Behind the scenes of the Exhibition range
All our wines are carefully selected and often even blended by our team of talented wine buyers, but the wines we put under this label are a bit special. Representing some of the world’s finest vineyards and produced by some of the top names in winemaking, these wines receive even great attention from our buyers who work in close collaboration with the growers behind them. The current roster of Exhibition suppliers includes growers as illustrious as Jean-Louis Chave (for our Hermitage wines), Catena Zapata (Argentina), Spain’s La Rioja Alta, Jane Hunter OBE (New Zealand), Château Brane-Cantenac in Bordeaux, to name but a few.
These are not just flagship bottles representing their region, or even specific vineyard site in some cases, but are also a reflection of enduring relationships we enjoy with some of the best winemakers on the planet. They are proud to have our Exhibition label on their wines; we are proud to have played our part in that. Needless to say, we believe these are classics that can be bought with confidence and enjoyed at leisure, for whatever occasion.
Where does the name come from?
As is often the case, the idea for this range came about as a result of a good party, as indeed was The Wine Society itself! For those that are not familiar with the story, The International Exhibition Co-operative Wine Society (to give us our full name), was born out of a series of lunches in 1874 that came about as a way to taste and buy some Portuguese wines left over from one of the last great exhibitions held at the Albert Hall. Those responsible thought that this setup needn’t stop there and had the foresight to form a mutual group of wine lovers to club together and carry on buying wines in this way.
We’ve had cause to celebrate significant Wine Society anniversaries over the years, including our centenary in 1974 for which a special range of limited-edition bottles was produced to mark the occasion. This idea was replicated in 1989 when we celebrated opening our brand-new warehouse and Showroom and again in 1999 on our 125th anniversary (happily coinciding with millennium parties).
These ‘Celebration’ ranges proved so popular with members that we decided we should develop a permanent range of special-cuvée wines to enjoy on a more regular basis and so the Exhibition range was born.
Over the years we have had the privilege of working with some stellar producers, and the four relative new-comers below are no exception.
Pieropan – The Society’s Exhibition Soave
Who better to make this wine for us than the Pieropan family? After all, they were the first producers in the region to market wines with ‘Soave’ on the label back in the 1930s and have been blazing a trail ever since. They were also the first to produce a single-vineyard Soave in 1971 from their Calvarino site, which the family acquired in 1901. This at a time when Soave was not considered anything more than a cheap and cheerful generic quaffing wine.
The Pieropans have been making wine here since the 1890s; our association with them goes back a long way too (though not quite that far!). It was Sebastian Payne MW, previous buyer of Italian wine for The Society, who established contact with the late Nino Pieropan and his wife Teresita in the nineties. It was just their top cru, the exceptional Soave La Rocca that we first listed, (adding their straight Soave and Calvarino more recently). Thanks to the great relationship forged with the family even as the global renown of La Rocca has meant it is increasingly hard to secure, we’ve been able to carry on stocking it for our members to enjoy. It also means that they agreed to create our own-label wine, something they’ve not done for any other clients.
Now buyer Sarah Knowles MW continues to work with Nino’s sons Andrea and Dario, who took over the estate in 2017 after Nino’s death and together have produced this special Exhibition wine for our members.
The continued success of the Pieropan name in the region is due to great levels of attention to detail in the vineyard and commitment to farming low yields of the indigenous garganega grape, long associated with good-quality Soave. Since the 2015 vintage all the Pieropan wines are certified organic. It’s also true that they have vines planted on exceptional soils, including the famous La Rocca vineyard, planted on the only limestone and clay soils in the region on the steep slope behind the castle at the heart of the town of Soave. Calvarino, with its volcanic soils is more typical of Soave Classico making wines that are designed for earlier drinking and having a little trebbiano mixed in with the garganega.
Our Exhibition wine is made especially for us and nods to both these great wines with 80% garganega from a vineyard just above Calvarino, in the western (warmer) part of Soave and 20% trebbiano from the Monte Tondo vineyard that neighbours La Rocca. Redolent of peach and preserved lemon with subtle hints of a savoury chalkiness, this is a beautifully balanced wine for lovers of proper Soave and those that don’t yet know they are!
Watch Sarah Knowles MW’s short video on this wine.
The Society's Exhibition Soave Classico 2020
Gunter Künstler – The Society’s Exhibition Rheingau Riesling
When buyer Marcel Orford-Williams set out to source a German riesling for the Exhibition range, he was determined that it should be from the Rheingau and from its top winemaker. Rheingau riesling from around the town of Hochheim was a popular wine in the 19th century (commonly referred to as ‘hock’) and would have featured prominently in our early wine lists, and would have cost more than grand cru Burgundy! Interestingly, the wine enjoyed in these times would have been dry too, like this wine, not the sweeter styles that people more often associate with Germany which would only have been made in exceptionally rare vintages.
It was only in 1965 that Gunter’s father, Franz, established what is now arguably the top estate in Hochheim. Franz’s family had been vineyard owners in Moravia for three centuries before expropriation forced him into exile after WWII. Franz steadily built up a reputation as one of Germany’s best winemakers before going it alone, accumulating small parcels of vines on terrific sites and establishing a winery in the town of Hochheim-am-Main. Big shoes for Gunter to fill when he took over in 1992!
Fortunately, Gunter has more than proved himself and from his patchwork of carefully collected vineyards crafts exhilarating dry (and sweet) wines that display both poise and harmony alongside a great sense of place and the ability to age.
His are thoroughly modern wines built on a rich tradition and perfectly pitched to serve alongside the exquisite flavours of modern Asian-style cuisine, that we can’t get enough of in this country.
Rizzi – The Society’s Exhibition Langhe Nebbiolo
The Langhe region in Piedmont in north-west Italy is renowned for its reds made from the nebbiolo grape with the tw
Two principal big names here being Barolo and Barbaresco DOCGs. While both wines are made from the nebbiolo grape, Barbaresco tends to be a little softer and easier to approach in its youth. In comparative tastings, the Rizzi Barbaresco wines have really impressed our buyers, standing out from their peers for their perfume and lovely ripe fruit; it made total sense for our buyer Sarah Knowles MW to turn to Rizzi, leaders in the region, for this wine.
Although the Dellapiano family’s roots here date back to the nineteenth century, it wasn’t until 1974 that Ernesto and his wife decided to give up city life in Turin and return to the family’s vineyards in the village of Treiso to produce their first wines. They named the winery Rizzi, after one of the crus, and it is now run by Ernesto’s children Enrico and his sister Jole. They own 35 hectares of vines on slopes both sides of the hill on top of which their winery sits. 15 hectares are planted with nebbiolo and their holdings lie in all three Barbaresco zones, including the four crus of Rizzi, Pajorè, Manzola and Nervo.
The family know each patch of vine intimately and Enrico’s intelligent and meticulous winemaking coaxes the best out of their fruit. This wine, made especially for us, comes from young vines, to youthful to qualify for Barbaresco, from the family’s prime hillside vineyards. The wine is aged in old oak vats for a year, not to add any wood character but to soften the grape’s naturally high tannins whilst preserving its fresh, fragrant style. Though this wine is designed for (relatively) early drinking, you could watch it develop for up to five years or so.
Schug – The Society’s Exhibition Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir
Unlike many of their Californian contemporaries who have largely concentrated on cabernet sauvignon, the Schugs are proud to carry on their family’s 100-year-old tradition of making hand-crafted pinot noir. The current custodians, Claudia and her brother Alex, are dedicated to following in the footsteps of their father and the founder of their Carneros estate, winemaking pioneer Walter Schug. Originally from Germany, where the family had pinot noir plantings in the Rheingau on an estate dating back to the 12th century, Walter made his name at renowned Napa estate Joseph Phelps. But some 40 years ago he decided to start his own winery in the wind-swept, cool hills of Sonoma, perfect for cultivating pinot noir. It’s here that the family now continues his passion honouring the family’s decades-old, handshake commitments with local farmers throughout Sonoma County, coupled with techniques handed down through the generations.
The microclimates of the Sonoma Coast AVA include the western portion of Carneros and the Petaluma Gap. The cool climate and low yield of these vineyards allow pinot noir to mature slowly while retaining their natural acidity, resulting in a balanced wine with ripe flavours, silky texture and crisp acidity. The wines do see some oak ageing – mainly large old oak casks or ‘neutral’ barrels – nothing to disguise the lovely red-fruited flavours of strawberries and cherries – rather just adding a hint of spice to the wine. The Schugs say that they hope that with every glass poured of this wine, made especially for us, it helps to create memories with family and friends, a heritage they have enjoyed as a family. The grace and balance of these wines speaks to the European routes of the Schug family combined with the glorious Californian sunshine. A red to break rules and serve with fish, fowl, grilled meats and earthy veggie cooking too.
Watch a video of Sarah Knowles MW introducing this wine.