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The fourth edition of our Summer Sale took place on Saturday 26th June 2010.

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Union Club Tasting February 2010

Wednesday 17th February saw the first Les Caves shop tasting of 2010 in London. The venue, The Union Club on Greek Street, Soho, is a historic building situated next door to L’Escargot, Marco Pierre White’s Michelin starred restaurant. A real contrast to the formal, fine dining experience of its neighbouring establishment, The Union Club provides an informal and cosy environment: just what we required for our tasting.

At six o’clock the first customers began to arrive and before long the room was filling up and buzzing with excitement. The evening began at a furious pace and didn’t let up the whole night; an estimated seventy guests attended the tasting, which was a great turnout for a cold Wednesday evening in mid-February. 

image There was no defined theme as such for the evening, and we had decided to select a variety of wines which we felt best represented our portfolio. Of the 20 wines on show nearly all shone brightly and incited discussion and enjoyment in equal measure. The Menard Colombard-Sauvignon was fresh with plenty of green fruit and a good streak of minerality, a great value everyday white from the Côtes de Gascogne. The Vouvray Sec from Domaine Champalou was soft and supple with a honeyed richness and some tropical fruit flavours, balanced by just the right amount of acidity. The Grandes Jorasses from the Haute Savoie offered flavours reminiscent of a tarte tatin; apricot, peaches, honey, and sweet spice also combined in this rich, oily textured wine. The Don Chisciotte Fiano from Pierluigi Zampaglione, with its cloudy orange appearance, cider apple aromas and general unconventional style, caused some controversy and a few bemused expressions, but it wouldn’t have been a Les Caves tasting without a few downright oddities. 

image As for the reds, the Galets Rouge from Chateau Mourgues de Gres was as good as ever, with an abundance of bramble fruit and lots of garrigue aromas; this is a wine which never disappoints. The Vin Nouveau, a “new wine” from Clos du Tue Boeuf, is made with minimal chemical intervention both in the vineyard and the winery.  It is designed to be drunk in its youth, and we chilled it just a touch to promote even further its fresh aromatic red fruit flavours. The wine was very well received and in fact proved to be the best selling wine of evening. The Benanti Rosso di Verzella from Sicily was equally good, offering flavours of sour cherries and raspberries.  It’s an elegant, remarkably moreish wine; we struggle to envisage a bottle of this hanging around that long once opened!

image As for the sparkling, the Costadila Prosecco, another of our natural wines, was bone dry with flavours of apples and pears: the perfect aperitif before a big meal, Italian or otherwise. The Poiré Granit from Eric Bordelet is made from pears grown on ancient trees.  It needs to be treated like a wine, such is its complexity and delicacy: the Granit is a king among perries.   

The evening was a big success: the wines showed well, it was astonishingly busy, and from what we could tell, everybody seemed to be thoroughly enjoying themselves. We would like to say a big thank you to everyone who came and supported us and a special thank you to Pete and all his team at The Union for making sure the event went without a hitch and for making everyone feel extremely welcome.

What a fantastic evening; we’re already looking forward to the next one!

James Board

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Bin End Sale 27th & 28th June 2009

Thursday arrived: the shop had been gutted, old clothes donned, and the Les Caves team waited with baited breath in anticipation of what was to come.  From the deepest, darkest depths of Essex, an articulated lorry loomed closer to Pew Corner every moment, fully-laden with eighteen pallets – that’s over 10,000 bottles - of wine. This could only be the start of the annual Les Caves Bin End Sale, and the highlight of the shop’s year.

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The sale provides a chance for us to sell - at often quite dramatically discounted prices - wines that have been a bit dormant, wines that we might have over-bought, wines that we need to move along a bit as we have moved on to another vintage, and occasionally wines that we have just plain forgotten about! It is also the only day of the year when the shop is open on a Saturday.

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The Thursday before the sale is traditionally frantic, as everyone scurries around desperately trying to get the shop ready in time.  The shop floor is a flurry of excitement as pallet after pallet is checked and lugged off to wherever free space can be found.  Next comes ‘pile construction’.  This year, all the plaudits were reserved for Audrey, whose pile-making skills were truly top class.  Speed, efficiency, creativity: she had it all in spades. 

Friday arrived: after weeks of preparation, the shop and the staff were finally ready.  When the doors opened at 9.00am, the serious bargain hunters were already assembled, just itching to gain entry to our Aladdin’s cave and plunder its bounty.  Soon, case after case of wine was leaving the shop, yet customers persisted in depositing ever-growing stacks of wine in front of the counter.  The tasting table was as busy as previous years, with Phil-B-two-Ts conducting proceedings with his unique mix of knowledge and personal experience of the wines, estates, and the growers. Customers’ animated shouts to one another could be heard from across the room: “Have you tried this one yet? Come and give it a go, it’s fantastic!”  The initial rush died down around lunchtime, and the day continued at a much less hectic pace, with a steady flow of customers in and out of the door.

The Woking Hospice volunteers did a sterling job throughout the day haranguing customers into buying raffle tickets. Their relentless pace was slowed, and their hard-sell attack softened, however, around midday, and only by means of the timely intervention of a few glasses of rosé.  The day went without a hitch, and, come 6.00pm, tired but happy, the Les Caves staff made their way to The Ship for a mini-celebration of the day’s success, and also to toast the arrival of Monsieur and Madame Champalou - well it would have been rude not to!

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The Saturday is always an early start: the shop needs readying for the day ahead, benches and tables need to be laid out for the lunch, and, most importantly, the team must find time to sit down to savour Tony William’s legendary breakfast.  Saturday morning started slowly; so slowly in fact that certain members of the shop team took the opportunity to engage in a few bouts of pétanque (boules).

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It must have been the delicious aromas of roasted pig wafting in the breeze, combined with the distant sound of boules clanking in the dust, which seemed to bring customers running all at once.  Come 11.30am, the shop suddenly went from almost empty to completely full, and the onslaught was well and truly underway.  Saturday is a very different affair to the Friday, in that Friday sees serious bargain hunters looking to buy in bulk and fill their cellars until the following year’s sale, whereas Saturday sees people who are happy to take their time buy a case or two, have some food, and generally soak up the atmosphere, which this year was (again) masterfully soundtracked by Two Fingers of Firewater.  Les Caves’s very own James Sacha is the drummer in this widely acclaimed band, and their country psychedelia matched the gorgeous weather perfectly.

imagePhilippe turned up and tried to repeat his Tom-Cruise-‘Cocktail’ impression with a wine suffering from secondary bottle fermentation.  The vigorous shaking, which worked so impressively the previous year, backfired this time round… literally! Wine spurted everywhere, conjuring images reminiscent of a F1 driver winning a grand prix and sharing his joy with the cheering crowds. Nobody was safe: customers, staff, and nearby bottles all received a thorough rinsing.  Thanks very much Philippe!

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This year the food was supplied by O’Hagan’s of Chichester, winner of Britain’s “Best Sausage Maker” Award.  Both sausages and a hog roast were on offer, along with a courtesy glass of wine or organic Tuscan beer.  Mr O’Hagan himself was on hand all day, offering not only expert barbequing tips, but also suggesting food and wine matches.  A real character, the day would not have been the same without him.

A new addition to the Saturday programme was a pétanque tournament, although it did not draw as much interest as anticipated, which we can only put down to the scorching weather. For those who did brave the heat for Guildford’s most prestigious sporting title, they were all in for a sound beating by rank outsider Maria Smith, who quite frankly mopped the car park with the rest of the field. 

The sale was again a massive success and we managed to raise over £1600 for the hospice, which will, we hope, go a long way to helping those who in need. We are indebted to everyone who worked so hard throughout.  Most importantly, special thanks have to go to everyone who made the effort to come down and to support us and the Woking hospice: we could not have done it without you.  We were very lucky indeed with the weather, which, accompanied by the aromas of sizzling sausages, the laidback beats of the band, and the continuous flow of wine, made for a fantastic day that will be remembered for a long time to come.

James Board

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Terroirs Tasting 26/11/2008

On Wednesday 26th November the Les Caves shop team, accompanied by a few hand-picked members of the sales team, descended on Terroirs, a trendy new wine bar just off the Strand, described by Jancis Robinson as ‘a brand new, very wine-minded establishment’, and the perfect location for our first London-based tasting. The team behind Terroirs shares in Les Caves’ long-standing misson to sell ‘real wine’, which is reflected in their menu and wine list.

The theme for the tasting was appropriately entitled ‘Natural and Festive Wines’. Twenty two wines were on show from a mixture of sustainable, organic, and biodynamic vineyards.  The common denominator across the range was minimal intervention, aspiring to the view that the wine can express its individuality in its purest form without the excessive use of chemicals. 

Some of our wines have been described as ‘inhabiting the outer limits of weirdness, and a few on show on the evening fell into this category.  Thus we began the tasting with a degree of trepidation; a few of the more ‘testing’ wines did receive mixed reviews. One onlooker remarked, ‘They’re like marmite, either you love ‘em or you hate ‘em’.  In truth this turned out to be a fair assessment: it seemed that people either disliked a wine or were wild about it; there didn’t seem to be much middle ground. Having tried some of the wackier wines before, I was surprised how differently some were tasting on the evening, wines which in the past I had frankly found to be hard going I was now singing the praises of to anyone who would listen. For example, the Ageno from La Stoppa, which I had previously found to be quite medicinal, was now offering peachy flavours with notes of sweet apples. It was yeasty with ‘a scrumpy quality’ and real grip on the palate, courtesy of the tannins picked up from the wine’s lengthy maceration with the skins.

The stars of the show voted by the Les Caves tasting team were as follows: the Goisot Aligoté was showing really well, nutty on the nose and palate, with good fruit and a nice balanced finish; the Minerale+ from Montlouis was offering flavours of white stone fruit and flowers, with enough acidity to keep it lively and refreshing on the palate, balancing out the residual sugar beautifully, and it reminded one member of the Les Caves team of home (wonder who that could have been?) Two wines new to our ever-expanding list were a Pouilly-Fumé from Alexandre Bain and the Mâcon-Chaintré from Domaine Valette, which both acquitted themselves well. The Pouilly boasted notes of tropical fruit, pineapple and kiwi on the nose, whilst being well-structured with a hint of that typical Pouilly-Fumé smokiness on the finish. The Mâcon was a shining star with fresh citrus fruits working in tandem with the stunning minerality; a real winner. 

As for the reds the Ferme Saint-Martin was again a consistent performer, offering loads of fruit with a moreish finish. The Bourgueil, according to Virginie, was ‘a true expression of Breton (Cabernet Franc) from the Loire’, and she should know. The Côte du Py has a gorgeous nose with terrific, unadulterated aromas of strawberries, cherries and raspberries; the palate is elegant and silky-smooth with juicy cherries and blackberries, supplemented by spice and some earthy notes; it is very easy to drink. Finally, the Bedeau offers a pure expression of Pinot Noir; vibrant and fresh on the palate with an unrestrained, wild character, possessing a fine balance between cherry fruit and savoury acidity; certainly it was showing very well.

The food supplied by the restaurant to accompany the tasting was wolfed down as readily as the wine was lapped up. Charcuterie accompanied by cornichons, terrines and a selection of rustic cheeses were all devoured rapidly, leaving nothing but empty plates; always a good sign.

The Les Caves tasting team was lucky enough to sample some of the restaurant menu afterwards. The charcuterie board was fantastic with mounds of saucisson, jambon iberico, terrines and duck rillettes, all served on a rustic wooden platter beautifully suited to any number of the natural wines offered on the wine menu. Some of the small plates also enjoyed were the Lincolnshire smoked eel & celeriac remoulade, piperade basquaise with chorizo, and, of course, the classic French dish of escargots cooked with bacon, garlic and parsley, all delicious and given the seal of approval by our resident food critique Tony Williams.
Overall the evening was a resounding success, and we thoroughly enjoyed the wines, the food, and the company, and were made to feel very welcome by the team at Terroirs. We look forward to our next venture into London, and will keep you posted.

James Board

Wines Tasted:

1. Château Tour des Gendres, Cuvée des Conti 2007
2. Domaine du Corps de Garde, Bourgogne Aligote 2006
3. Fattoria San Lorenzo, Verdicchio dei Castelli Di Jesi Classico Superiore 2006
4. Domaine Frantz Saumon, Mountlouis Sec Minerale+ Montlouis 2007
5. Domaine Alexandre Bain, Pouilly-Fumé 2007
6. Domaine Sebastien Riffault, Sancerre Akmenine 2007
7. Domaine Philippe & Gerard Valette, Mâcon-Chaintré Vieilles Vignes 2005
8. La Stoppa, Ageno 2005
9. Château Plaisance, Côtes du Frontonnais Classique 2006
10. Domaine la Ferme Saint Martin, Côtes du Rhône Les Romanins 2007
11. Domaine de la Chevalerie, Bourgueil Peu Muleau 2007
12. Domaine de Montrieux, Côtes du Vendomois 2005
13. Domaine du Mazel, Vin de Pays de l’Ardeche Cuvée Saint Philippe 2005
14. Foradori, Teroldego Rotaliano DOC 2006
15. Domaine Jean Foillard, Morgon Côtes du Py 2007
16. Domaine Emmanuel Houillon, Arbois Pupillin Rouge 2004
17. Domaine de Chassorney, Bourgogne Rouge Bedeau 2005
18. Clos Lapeyre, Jurancon La Magendia 2005
19. Domaine Champalou, Vouvray Brut NV
20. Champagne Philipponnat, Royale Reservee Brut NV
21.        Domaine de Montrieux, Boisson Rouge N/V
22.        Casa Coste Piane, Prosecco N/V

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The June Bin End Sale 2008

Friday 13th June and Saturday 14th June saw the celebration of an important date in the Caves de Pyrene diary, namely our annual Bin End Sale. This provides a chance for us to sell at quite often dramatically discounted prices wines that have been a bit dormant, wines that we might have over-bought, wines that we need to move along a bit as we have moved onto another vintage and occasionally wines that we have forgotten about! (Yes, - with a portfolio of some 900 wines it can happen!). Wines and bargains for everyone - with a top price of £10.00
It also provided us with the chance to raise some much needed funds for our neighbours, Christopher’s, the Hospice run by the local charity Chase

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It’s also very evident that insider trading is totally acceptable in the world of Les Caves as the staff descended upon the stacks of wine like vultures to the kill and sifted through the offerings like truffle hounds on the hunt. Phil is confident that he got the bargain of the day with his Jeroboam of Pibarnon Rose 2004 for £12.00 - rarely has someone looked so smug - whereas Stephen seemed to be investing for many years of future drinking. There was a constant exchange of information - ‘Have you seen the Greco di Tufo for £3.00 a bottle? It’s delicious! Better grab a case!’ It was also quite fun being entrusted by mates and customers alike to spend money on their behalf! So much more fun than spending your own – and so much easier.

Friday was the more earnest day with the serious bargain hunters piling into the shop, displaying a much more business-like attitude and rolling out of the door with well-laden trolleys.

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Saturday took on much more of a party atmosphere. Hardly surprising seeing that Nini had organised a ‘Lamb Roast and Paella’ lunch for a remarkable £5.00 a head which was provided by Gogo’s and was delicious.


We also opened bottle after bottle for tasting - no request refused - so the tasting table was a popular corner of the room. We were actually quite controlled until Philippe arrived and decided that the sale represented the perfect opportunity for him to taste wines that he hadn’t tasted in ages. At one stage he was spotted doing a great imitation of Tom Cruise in Cocktail as he tried to convince us (and himself) that if he shook a bottle of unfiltered Saumur, that was suffering from a bit of secondary fermentation, with enough vigour and then poured it into a decanter like Basque Barman pouring Txacoli, the wine would be perfect. To be honest, he was right!
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It was great to see people leave the tasting table and then go to the ‘check out table’ where Nini, Stephen and Will looked on in ever increasing horror as the stacks of wine to be keyed in grew (in adverse proportion to the floor stocks shrinking) as they laboured over smoking keyboards. It has been reported that at some stage the tortured cry of ‘Bring on the Barcodes’ rang round the room!
Pete was kept fully busy wheeling his trusty trolley to and from the car park and somehow finding time in between to take some brilliant photos to record the event.
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Didier and Carlo busied themselves with pulling the cork on numerous bottles to go with the food and making sure that the drought never set in and that no one was ever short of something to drink.
Carlo then surprised us all by showing that there is certainly more than one string to his bow (or perhaps stick to his kit) by sliding behind James’ drum kit while the boys were taking a beer break and entertaining us with some well-honed jazz rhythms.

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Gideon was totally in his element having joined us under the pretext that it represented a good family day out and seemed to review the food area regularly - a bit like a diligent vigneron carrying out numerous tries down the vines.  As he loaded his purchases into the back of the Scenic, children’s paraphernalia was seen being flung into a corner to make room for yet another six pack.

Yvonne came along with her daughter and realized that there really is life beyond Accounts Payable and experienced life at the sharp end helping us out enormously with the less glamorous side of life – i.e. clearing up.

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Music was provided by the local Band Two Fingers of Firewater, featuring our man James on the drums, whose laid-back fusion of country, blues and rock provided the perfect backdrop to the lunchtime festivities.
There was also a surprise guest appearance of Dominique Narioo (Eric’s sister) who has recorded a number of Albums under the name of Marilis Orionaa and who sung some deliciously moody French songs using the boys as her backing band - which ,considering that they are a group of country rockers, they adapted to brilliantly.

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Overall the day was a resounding success. The weather was miraculously kind to us, the food was fantastic, the music was top-notch, the general atmosphere was wonderful….. and the wines…?? Well, all of you who came and made a concerted attempt to bend the back axle of your cars know about that!

Naturally, all of the effort and preparation would come to naught if it wasn’t for the fact that you rolled up in large numbers to support us - and hopefully to enjoy yourselves into the bargain. Thanks to you we managed to raise £1256.92 for Chase which is a fantastic effort.
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As our sale coincided with the open day at Christopher’s there was some good interaction between ourselves and Chase and it was really nice to see so many people who had been to the open day, and also Chase Volunteers, coming over to see us and also buy wine. You do a truly amazing job!

Finally, many thanks to our driver, Anthony, who cooked us a memorable English breakfast on Saturday morning which set us up perfectly for the day ahead and then never stopped all day, setting tables up, bustling around looking after ice, clean glasses and generally clearing up. Butler anyone?
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Posted by Virginie on 31-Dec-2010. Permalink
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