Sunday, 7 March 2010

The Wine Society: a perfect wine merchant (almost)

The Wine Society is a mail order wine merchant established in the late 19th century and currently based in Stevenage.  It is one of the largest mail order merchants in the country and constantly wins gongs for the quality of the wines and service offered.   
I attended a tasting of new wines to the list given at RIBA on Thursday and was impressed by the consistency of the wines and the value for money offered.  Prices include delivery even if you live in the Outer Hebrides as long as you spend £75 or order at least 12 bottles.  You need to be a member as the Society is actually a cooperative (the oldest winedrinkers' coop in the world) but the lifetime transferable share costs just £40.  Delivery is fairly swift and if you have a problem with a wine it is replaced or refunded without fuss.
Tastings for members are regularly held around the country and for those wishing to save on the UK's punitive excise duty tax there is a shop in Montreuil-sur-Mer in northern France.  A modest discount is offered to members collecting their wine from Stevenage.  

I tasted 49 wines (out of 50, the last one having disappeared by the time I got to it) and there wasn't a duff one amongst them (even though some were not showing at their best the room being very warm).  The tasting kicked off with a crisp, dry, pear fruit Prosecco (Treviso) at £8.95 incl. delivery, an ideal aperitif and party wine.  Another good aperitif with substance to go with food too was the Manzanilla (Argüeso Las Medallas) at £6.95.  Freshness is all with fragile Manzanilla and the large turnover at The Wine Society ensures this.

Notable whites included a bargain German, The Society's own label Rheinpfalz Ruppertsberg at £6.50, a floral yet dry blend of Riesling and Sylvaner and at 11.5% alc substantial  enough to drink with food; still in Germany, a more traditional, sweet Piesporter Goldtröpfschen Riesling Spätlese 2005 (von Kesselstatt), oustanding at £16.95, a mere 8% alcohol but with flavour and length to belie this; and a Society own label (Exhibition) Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2009 at £10.95 which was all textbook zesty, upfront, gooseberry fruit.  Thankfully, there was a cheeseboard at hand in the guise of lunch and I tucked into some excellent goat with the sauvignon (a Sainte Maure de Touraine from La Fromagerie).  
More interesting foodie whites included a 2009 Grenache Blanc from South Africa (The Foundry), a bargain at £7.95 with really well integrated oak, balanced acidity, and plenty of ripe but savoury fruit.  I cannot wait to serve this one blind to some unsuspecting wino friend.  For a pound more the Marsanne 2008 from Tahbilk (£8.95) in Victoria, Australia again provided plenty of the savoury flavour of a southern French grape grown in an even warmer clime.  Good Chardonnays included the Society's own label 2009 from Limari in Chile (a snip at £5.95 and unmatchable by Burgundians), the unoaked Chablis-like Maycas Reserva Especial 2008 (at an un Chablis-like £9.95), and the oaky, classy 2007 Dog Point from New Zealand (£17).  But perhaps the white with the most amount of bang for buck was the Society's own label Sauvignon Blanc 2009 from Leyda valley in Chile (£5.95).  
An interlude in the form of a rosé was provided via another Chilean, the Viña Leyda Loica Rosado 2009 (£9.50).  This had tremendous character and flavour for a Pinot Noir let alone a rosé and was almost reminiscent of a red Beaujolais.  In the red line up there was plenty of interest.  Stand out wines included a ripe, silky claret, just suffering slightly because of the heat (château Reynon 2006, £12.95), an old fashioned spicy, garrigue herby, chewy, concentrated Côtes du Rhône 2007 (J-L Chave) which was better than many a Châteauneuf du Pape but only £12.50, a bargain basement French Full Red from Roussillon at £4.95 which I often take on picnics and to parties, and an astonishing deep, baked fruit Côtes de Roussillon Villages 2007 (château de Pena, £6.50). 
From Italy I really enjoyed a complex, mature Langhe 2004 (Bricco Rosso Suagna, £6.50) from Piedmont made mainly from Dolcetto grapes with a touch of Nebbiolo, a 2007 Barbera d'Alba (Poderi Colla, £8.50), a Primitivo 2008 from Puglia (Santa Lucia, £6.50), and an Aglianico del Vulture 2003 (Alvolo £14.50).  In true Italian style, these would all have benefitted from being served with food but they were not so savoury, chewy and or bitter that they weren't enjoyable on their own too.

From Spain there was a traditional, sweetly oaky Rioja Reserva 2003 (own label from the La Rioja Alta bodega, £12.95) and from New Zealand  a pair of rather special Pinot Noirs, the first a Burgundian-with-benefits but without the price tag Momo 2008 from Marlborough (£11.95), and the second, a richer, more New World style but fine Dog Point 2007 (£18.50).  Two more big New World reds came in the form of a Shiraz 2007 from Heartland in South Australia (£9.95) and a Shiraz 2004 from Tahbilk (£10.95).  The Heartland was so concentrated it was almost salty whilst the Tahbilk was more Rhône like.  And last but not least from Chile was a Merlot 2009 at a miserly £4.75 (Doña Paulina) and a Cabernet Sauvignon 2008 at £5.75 (El Polilla).

If you want to join The Wine Society, you can be either proposed by another member or a Society employee will do this for you.  And thereafter, you need never lug your bottles home from the offie or the supermarket again.  


  1. Hey Patrick, nice post. I completely agree...the Wine Society have a good selection of wines. The cheeses from La Fromagerie are not bad either.
    Best wishes