AGM Speech 2019 - Pierre Mansour

Thank you Sarah.

Good evening Ladies and Gentlemen, that concludes the formal part of this year's AGM. Before introducing the tasting today, I would like to spend a few minutes updating you on some things that have been happening in the wineworld from the perspective of The Society's buying department.

I'll start by picking out some of the highlights from the Buyers' reports and from their travels this past year. The Society and Exhibition bottlings are the wines we spend most of our time on, fine-tuning blends with winemakers, tasting, tweaking, re-tasting until they meet the high standards members expect. The 120 wide range features some new entries this year: The Society's Hungarian White, a Chilean Carmenère from the Rapel Valley which is a lovely example of this ripe and fleshy grape. From the Roussillon comes The Society's Grenache and a new Exhibition red from Spain's 'other' leading fine wine region, Ribera del Duero. These will all be available in the next few months.

One theme that comes out loudly from the buyers is the 2018 vintage across Europe. Close to home we experienced first-hand the extraordinary weather last year- England has perhaps enjoyed its best vintage ever in 2018, which is rarely something that can be said in all sincerity! Other parts of Europe witnessed similar conditions, resulting in wines that are particularly attractive, generous and fruity. Whites from the Loire, Austria, Italy and Germany (we have one tonight) have that wonderful, drinkability which makes them especially appealing and moreish.

Whilst on the subject of 2018, it's worth mentioning Bordeaux en primeur, a campaign that we are quietly optimistic about. Here is the first paragraph from our offer which is being mailed in a few weeks: 'When Christian Moueix, a wise Bordelais very much not given to hyperbole, describes 2018 as The best vintage of any of the 49 I have been involved in, you can be sure he means it. Having comprehensively tasted our way through the vintage, we agree wholeheartedly. Quite simply, this vintage has produced some of the finest reds we have ever tasted en primeur.' But it is less consistent than 2016 and 2010, picking dates were crucial, so our selection this year reflects the success of growers who got it right.

The Wine Society is one of the biggest players in en primeur in the UK: we are one of the few merchants that covers all the classic regions, Burgundy and the Rhône, vintage Port too (by the way 2017 has been declared a vintage year, the first time in history two consecutive years have been declared), and occasionally Champagne. Across the whole world we are seeing a surge in the quality of fine wines, and also a surge in demand, so we have been actively looking for opportunities with our suppliers to secure decent allocations which members can buy en primeur. Barolo, Rioja, South Africa, Argentina, and something that I think only we could do, Madiran (!) en primeur have all been enthusiastically received by members.

One of the most satisfying aspects of buying wine for The Society is the thrill of discovering something new, unearthing an unknown grape variety or wine style that tastes delicious – I say satisfying because as members your appreciation of wine and attitude towards it (drinking it rather than betting on it to resell) means you are adventurous in trying new things. This trust gives us a mandate to explore.

Anyway, back to exploration.– we decided this year to make more of this unique aspect of The Society by developing the Bin Series label, a celebration of our insatiable thirst for discovery. The Bin wines are a range of limited-edition bottles with a story to tell – we launched Bin #001 last month, it sold out in days, and Bin #002 (a zweigelt from Austria) is next.

I would like to now turn to the theme for this evening's tasting. This year I asked the Buyers to suggest wines that are made by co-operatives, producers who are jointly owned by a number of different members, usually growers, who pool their winemaking effort together. Co-operatives are at their strongest in Europe so the wines tonight are mostly from classic regions. Bordeaux and Austria, Southern France, and a wonderful off-dry riesling from the excellent 2018 German vintage round off the whites. The reds this evening feature the Loire, Italy and Corbières, and we finish the evening with a distinctive, powerful fortified sweet wine from South Africa. I did however make one exception, which I think you'll be pleased with: the aperitif doesn't come from a co-op, it's a fine, serious English sparkler made for us by Ridgeview.

Details on the wines are in the tasting booklet plus the buyers are here today, so do feel free to approach them with any questions or comments you have, both on tonight's wines or other wines in The Society's range. So without further ado, I hope you enjoy tonight's tasting.

Thank you.

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