I have known about “the oldest wine club in the world” for at least a dozen years, but it took me until almost its 140th birthday to finally sign up. The £40 joining fee was my rather shallow reason for waiting as long as I did, but after being so impressed at their winter tasting last year I bought my share, joining the likes of author Sir Authur Conan-Doyle and former PM John Russell (both now “permanently lapsed” members of the society). Despite its rather elitist past the The Wine Society is open to all (as evidenced by them letting me join) and though you need to be recommended by a member, the club’s secretary will happily vouch for you if you don’t know anyone.
Now before you start thinking “Right, so they ask you to shell out forty squid to be a member and I bet they don’t stock any wines under a tenner. No thank you!”. Not so my dears, TWS offer an impressive range of very good wines around £6 and their bottles from eight to ten pounds knock spots off what you can buy in most supermarkets at that price band. Being a member, you can be sure that their dedicated team of buyers are unearthing wines that you’ll struggle to find anywhere, save for in good independent wine shops. Highly trained and focused on their individual regions, they are constantly scouring the market for the next great value hidden gem or that special small allocation of a rare and wonderful vintage. As it’s a nationwide wine club (based in Stevenage) there’s delivery involved, but if your order 12 bottles (or more) or spend a minimum of £75 then delivery is free (For the first 6 months new members are offered free delivery on 6 bottles). They also offer specific time slots that can fit easily into anyone’s schedule, which allows you to save that half/full day for I don’t know… holiday, as opposed to sat at home.
Well I reckon that’s enough singing of praises, it’s time for me tell you about the wines that have made me such a big fan (Compiled from two tastings Winter 2013, Spring 2014 and my own personal orders).
The Society’s Fino (15%/£6.25) – Sea salty, flinty mineral, flor yeasty perfection. I am one of those people who think that a good glass of chilled bone-dry fino with some salted almonds and a few good olives is perhaps one of the greatest pleasures to be had in this world. As summer approaches, at this price I have two words for you; stock up.
Cayetano del Pino Palo Cortado Solera (20%/£14.95) – Salted caramel, sour lemon peel and baked clay aromas give way to a palate that’s fresh, creamy, salty caramel and preserved lemon. To say that this 12 year old-ish sherry has a long finish is a massive understatement. It literally goes on and on and on…
Blind Spot Tasmania Brut 2009 (12.5%/£13.95) - Nose of fresh lime, cured lemon and toasty biscuit with a marzipan foam. Palate is rich, layered yet remains clean and refreshing. It is quite fine, has lasting bubbles with a biting pear finish; very impressive. When it comes to sparklers (and pinot noir) “Tassie” may produce some of the best in Oz; this is top quality stuff and a real bargain.
Saladini Pilastri Falerio dei Colli Ascolani 2012 (13%/£6.50) – I ordered this wine because to be honest I had never heard of it. It’s perky, elegant, slightly floral fragrant with vibrant acidity and limestone minerality. Opened it up to drink with a Chicken Panzanella salad (toasted bread salad) I made and they paired beautifully. Made from native passerina and pecorina grapes this pleasant little number from Marche in north east of Italy is worth a punt.
The Society’s Chilean Chardonnay 2013 (13.5%/£6.95) – Bit muted and sweaty grey minerals on the nose. But the palate is robust fresh pink grapefruit, full flavoured green melon with a spicy fresh yet full lime finish. Fabulous value from the Limari valley, which is getting a name for producing some of Chile’s best cool climate Chards.
Domain de Salvard, Cheverny 2013 (12%/£7.95) – It’s a blast of winter fresh super smoky green melon on the nose leading to a really vibrant wine, with vivacious acids and a lovely rich lime finish. Sauvignon Blanc with a hint of Chardonnay this is one firecracker of a wine.
Blind Spot Clare Valley Riesling 2013 (12%/£7.95) – I get aromas of green tea, pear, flinty lime and a whiff of white pepper. In the mouth it’s creamy, yet taught acids keep it well structured. Green cooking apple, shards of ginger, ripe white melon with a clean finish. Clare Valley is arguably the best place to grow riesling in Australia and this darling is superb value.
Docil Vino Verde 2012, Niepoort (11%/£9.95) – Pear and honeysuckle aromas with flavours of green mango, fresh white melon, spicy tarragon and a lychee finish. Such a complex and interesting wine. After a time in the wilderness Vinho Verde is mounting a huge come back thanks to their governing body getting its proverbial shit together, something the rest of Portugal should take note of (besides Port and the Douro). Their wines deserve a bigger audience. Sadly this wine is running out(less than 30 bottles) and no longer on the main list. Call to order!
Drapeaux de Floridène 2011 (12.5%/£13.50) – Nose of pencil lead, fresh melon, dried lime, smoky eucalyptus. The oak is warming and fine grained on palate. There’s lively lemon, lime, flinty minerals that bite back, persistent acidity with a buttered salty lemon finish. From Graves in Bordeaux this more affordable sibling of one of my desert island wines (Clos de Floridène) is a blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon. Affordable luxury this is.
Norman Hardie Unfiltered Chardonnay 2011 (12.5%/£20) – Smelling it I pick up wild woody oak, earthy mushroom and lees (Dead yeast cells. Believe it or not, but it’s actually a very nice rich smell). On the palate it’s a bit of a sexy beast: moist animal fur, white peach, brown butter, green apple skin with a long smoky tingling flinty finish. Delicious, eh! Being a Canuck I am saddened by the lack of wine from my native land here in the UK, but Norman (as well as being one of the most warm and charming winemakers I have ever met) is really flying the flag with this top drawer Ontario Chard.
Other whites of note are:
Les Pierres Bordes Marsanne-Viognier IGP Pays D’Oc 2013, France (12.5%/£5.95)
Zarcillo Bío-Bío Riesling, Chile (13.5%/£6.50)
Blind Spot Yarra Valley Chardonnay 2013, Australia (13%/£8.50)
The Society’s Exhibition Limari Chardonnay 2012, Chile (13.5%/£9.50)
Clos de Floridène Graves Blanc 2011, France (13%/£18)
Grosset Springvale Clare Valley Riesling 2013, Australia (12.5%/£20)
Weinert Carrascal 2008 (14%/£7.95) – This Argentine blend of Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot was my value red of the year last year. Tragically they have run out of this sensational wine (even more tragic was that I didn’t stock up on it. Doh!), but I have been assured that they are getting the 2009 vintage sometime in May. Just to get you in the mood here are my notes: Rich fig, cigar, caramel and blueberry coulis nose. Mature forest fruit, tart firm tannins, rich meaty, peppery menthol, complex. Wow!
Koyle Don Cande Secano Interior Cinsault 2013 (14%/£8.50) – The nose was tangy light bramble fruit with hints of salty game. First thing I tasted was in yo face peppermint and fresh fresh acidity. Next things went all black: black salt, blackberry and massive black peppercorns. Very bold but balanced wine. Koyle is an excellent Chilean producer and this cinsault is a real thrill ride.
Blind Spot Gundagai Shiraz 2012 (13.5%/£9.95) – Very aromatic red and black fruit, touch peppery and some aniseed on the nose. It drinks very light. There’s fresh forest berries with potent acidity and a peppery popping finish. This refreshing characterful and very drinkable wine comes from the newly created region of Gundagai in New South Wales and is unlike just about every other Aussie shiraz I have tried.
Kanonkop Kadette Pinotage 2012 (14.5%/£10.50) – Sweet and sour aromas are very inviting, with tinges of tarred dark fruit. First I taste charcoal but then lean fresh berry fruit. Its meaty, there’s blackberry juice and even floral violets. I am not a big fan of South African reds, they are too often overwhelmed by a burnt rubber character, but this offering from Stellenbosch is lovely, balanced and fresh. I really loved it.
La Source de Vignelaure Chateau Vignelaure 2008 (13.5%/£10.50) – Nose is lovely ripe plum and cassis with a dense palate of chocolate, intense dark cooked fruit, very spciy with peppery green rocket tannins. Coteaux d’Aix en Provence is much better known for its rosé, but they make some super reds. This being one of them. If you want to impress a wine geek friend bring this to their next dinner party.
Château Tour Saint Bonnet 2009 (14%/£11.95) – A rich dense mature nose of prune, plum and menthol. Very ripe fruit, nice tannic feel and structure. It’s bright yet concentrated, meaty and long. This terrific Medoc blend of mostly Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon is drinking beautifully right now and excellent value for lovers of rounded expressive left bank Bordeaux.
Scacciadiavoli Montefalco Sangrantino 2007 (15.5%/£20) – A sniff, there’s brooding thick gamey black fruits and glinting gems (Whatchew talking bout Willis?!). Palate is cigar box and mouth puckering dry tannins, but wait… the wall of dark fruit builds in intensity. It’s beastly, wild and huge mungous. Sangrantino is a rather special red variety grown mostly in Tuscany and Umbria producing wines that can leave you feeling a little like you have been assaulted. But well made ones like this Montefalco, if given time in the bottle can produce a real beauty of a beast.
Other reds of note:
The Society’s Southern Spanish Red 2012, Jumilla (13%/£5.50)
Domaine Laborie IGP 2013, Languedoc/Roussillon, France (13.5%/£5.75)
Château Haut Baraillot 2010, Entre-Deux-Mers, Bordeaux (13%/6.95)
Saint Saturnin ‘Bilbo’ Domaine de la Reserve d’O 2011, Languedoc/Roussillon, France (15%/£10.95)
Chianti Classico Monteraponi 2011, Tuscany, Italy (14%/£14.95)
Cavas de Weinert 1997 (magnum), Weinert, Argentina (14.5%/£49)
Blind Spot Rutherglen Muscat NV (half bottle) - (17.5%/£6.95) – Nose that is both floral and stinging nettle. Viscous peach ice tea, gingerbread, creamy and toasty on the palate. Rutherglen in northern Victoria (Australia) is famed for producing some tremendous Muscat sweet wines. This is great value for such a prized sticky.
Château Raymond-Lafon Sauternes 2008 (half bottle) - (14.5%/£10.95) – It’s got waxy lemon, honeysuckle and lighter flint on the nose. It coats the mouth with luscious honeyed peach, white spices, buttery baked caramelised pear and finishes with lilac. Wowsers! This is an absolute bargain for a mature Graves sweetie of the exceptional quality of Raymond-Lafon. Go on get a few bottles in, you won’t regret it.
Sign up is super easy and along with a lovely welcome pack, the membership comes with more than just interesting wines. As well as ordering online there’s tons of knowledge at your finger tips on their website: articles, vintage charts, customer and press reviews. For those of you who like the old school touch they send you a nice newsletter every month and you can phone them to place your order or ask any questions as well. If you are ready to be more adventurous when it comes to the wines you drink and can afford around £70-80 for 12 bottles then I heartily recommend joining The Wine Society.
*In addition to their very own ‘Society’ range, WS recently launched ‘Blind Spot’ ; an exclusive Australian line produced in cooperation with winemaker Mac Forbes that focus on quality, diversity and value for money, highlighting some lesser known and up and coming wine regions from down under.