Saturday, 28 August 2010

The Wine Society

Wine clubs failed to interest me for a long time. If I can't work out what I want after browsing the supermarket aisles for 20 minutes, how on earth am I supposed to conjure an order of 12 from an internet list? Then I was bought membership to The Wine Society ("the world's oldest wine club") for my birthday. The Society is a co-operative, and as a member I am apparently a shareholder too. The £40 joining fee not only lasts for life, but after life, since the membership may be transferred to a surviving family member.

Most of the trade is presumably done by internet or mail order, but for those so inclined the warehouse (or "cellar showroom") is in Stevenage, and open to members to visit. We made the trip for a "bin-end" sale but were disappointed - not enough ends on offer, frankly. From now on, I'm sticking to the website.

The deal is a good one: 800 wines on offer at any one time, with new offerings being made available as and when. The prices are decent - equivalent to Majestic, except with the Society you don't have to buy two of the same bottles to secure the 'discount'. Delivery is free when you order £75 of product, or 12 bottles. The Society also sources some wines directly from wineries, and badges them as their own Society expressions at reasonable prices. For a little more, you can try their "exhibition" series.

My favourite find so far is the Society's basic Rioja Crianza (2006), which at £6.95 is the best budget(ish) bottle I've discovered for a long while. It's produced for the Society by Bodegas Palacio, which ironically we tried to visit on a trip to Rioja last year, only to find that no-one was turning up to open the winery that day. I was primed to dislike it, then, but was prevented by its sheer quaffability (think leather, vanilla and tobacco on the nose, with blackcurrant and cherries on the palate, perhaps a little chocolate, refined by that lovely dry-oaky thing that Riojas do).

I plan to use the Society's wine list to sample some of the many different styles and regions that I've hitherto failed to try properly, in an attempt to elevate my wine knowledge from mediocre to patchy. We'll see how that goes.

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