Christine Austin comes up with a few recommendations for new recruits after combing the Wine Society's cellars

When we have so many excellent independents in our region it seems unnecessary to mention the huge number of mail-order wine selling operations based outside the county that would love to get a share of our wine market. Our local merchants are not just nice people with good wine shops but they offer a whole range of essential services from lending you glasses for your party to holding wine tastings so you can discover new wines. They are also very accommodating. If I find a new, delicious wine that I would love to talk about, rather than referring to a London-based merchant who sells by the case, I will often ask a local independent to stock it. This means that you can try a single bottle rather than buying a whole case.

But there are exceptions.

Naturally I talk about The Yorkshire Post Wine Club, because I am particularly proud of the quality of wines available through the club. The other mail-order wine-selling organisation that I also talk about is The Wine Society.

To give it its full name, The International Exhibition Co-operative Wine Society Limited is, quite simply, the best mail-order wine buying operation available. They offer a good range of wines at very good prices and they provide a range of offers and services that makes buying wine by the case a very simple exercise.

Known simply as The Wine Society, it was started back in 1874 when various countries sent barrels of wine to a London Exhibition to showcase their wines to the world. Afterwards the wines were largely forgotten in the basement of the newly constructed Royal Albert Hall and so an appeal was made to dispose of them.

In the manner of the day a group of worthies held a series of lunches to enjoy and publicise the wines, and the venture was such a success that they decided to continue. They set up a co-operative company to buy and sell wine.

The key to The Wine Society is the word co-operative. You have to pay to join (£40, made up of a £20 membership fee and £20 off your first order), but this buys you a lifetime share in the Society which can be left to your nearest and dearest when you retire to the great vineyard in the sky. ‘We have some members whose great-grandfathers originally bought their share’, said Ewan Murray from The Wine Society, who also explained their pricing policy.

‘We try to keep profits to a minimum although we do keep enough back for capital projects at our base in Stevenage. Any profits we make are given back to the members by holding down prices.’

Like any wine buying group, The Wine Society has its team of experienced buyers including three Masters of Wine and it has a fleet of dedicated delivery vans across the country, including one based in Yorkshire. The range is comprehensive, well chosen and while it does the classics of Bordeaux and Burgundy very well it is also adventurous with a good range from Moldova, Morocco, Greece and Georgia. There is a regular newsletter, local tastings, frequent en primeur offers and if you want to buy but don’t have enough storage space, your wine can be stored in the member’s Reserve section of The Society’s capacious warehouse and they will nudge you when it is ready to drink.

What I like about The Wine Society (and I have been a member so long that my share has doubled in value) is that the wines are generally benchmark examples of their region. The quality is good, sometimes brilliant, and I can rely on the pricing structure. Quality and price go hand in hand and there is no feeling that the price you pay today may be sliced in half next week. Naturally they occasionally do special price cases, but in general the price represents the right balance of flavour for money, no matter what you choose.

I recently tasted through a chunk of the range, many of them own-label wines. Here are my suggestions for your first case.

The Society’s Grüner Veltliner 2016, Austria £8.25

Classic in style, with white pepper-dusted peachy fruit. A good summer wine to pair with anything herby from salads to roast chicken.

Roero Arneis Bric Ceniciurio, Pittatore Saccheto Fiorella 2016, Piedmont, Italy, £11.95

Lightly perfumed peaches, almonds, cream and herbs. Delicious.

Roussette du Bugey-Montagnieu, Altesse Domaine Peillot 2014, Jura, France, £14.50

Unusual honeyed, waxy, spicy, minerals and lemon pith flavours abound in this wine. Try it with cheese fondue or creamy potato dishes.

Try Roussette from Jura

Fefiñanes Albariño, Rías Baixas, 2016, Spain, £14.95

Definitive, textbook Albariño with citrus and apricots in balance and enough weight to partner grilled sea bass.

Citrus and apricot flavours in Albariño

Riesling Karthauserhof Schieferkristall Feinherb 2015, Ruwer, Germany, £16

Just one of the terrific range of German wines available at the Wine Society. This is off-dry, with pure, nerve-tingling, linear acidity and rounded peach and lime fruit.

Rustenberg Chardonnay 2015, South Africa, magnum, £25

A fabulously big bottle of a fabulous wine. Superb on the Sunday lunch table, this is fresh and elegant with oak firmly under control.

The Society’s Corbières 2015, £7.75

Classic, well-made Southern French drinking. An everyday wine at an everyday price.

The Society’s Sicilian Reserve Red 2013, £7.75

Dark-flavoured Nero d’Avola grapes give this wine mellow, soft-centred drinking. Perfect with grilled lamb.

Ch. Puybarbe Cuvée Apanage, Côtes de Bourg 2012, Bordeaux £8.50

Terrific value in this cassis and redcurrant style, ready-to-drink, rounded, Merlot-based wine.

Rapsani, Dougos 2013, Greece, £12.50

A blend of Xynomavro, Krasato and Stavroto grapes, this is full of savoury complexity with soft red berry fruits.

The Society’s Exhibition Marlborough Pinot Noir 2015, New Zealand, £13.50

Sourced from Villa Maria, this has red and dark cherry fruit, edged with spice. Perfect with roast duck.

Villa Maria’s vines in the heart of Marlborough

Koyle Cerro Basalto Alto Colchagua 2014, Chile, £17

Astonishing flavours of savoury, black olives, leather and sun-baked herbs in this blend of Monastrell, Garnacha, Carineña and Syrah. Creamy, rich and full.

If you would like to join The Wine Society I would be happy to propose any reader of this column. Just put my name in the proposer space on the form, and add ‘Yorkshire Post’ for good measure. Contact The Wine Society on 01438 741177, www.thewinesociety.com

 

About The Author

Christine Austin

Christine is a wine writer, broadcaster and a wine judge for several international wine competitions. She has a technical background and spent five years as a buyer for a major supermarket before moving to wine writing.She writes for The Yorkshire Post Magazine and organises the York Festival of Food and Drink. She has won both the Lanson and the Roederer prizes for wine writing.

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