The Wine Society offers consistently good value wines to suit a variety of budgets at prices that don't fluctuate wildly, writes Christine Austin

There is something very enjoyable about a Wine Society tasting.  For a start the reasonable number of wines put up for tasting means that the whole lot can be done and dusted in a couple of hours.  This contrasts with at least one major supermarket where it is not unusual for me to dedicate two whole days to the exercise, tasting reds on one day and the whites on another just to avoid palate fatigue.

The second reason why The Wine Society tastings are enjoyable is because the wines are good and so are the prices. At many supermarket tastings I’ll scribble a note ‘good on offer’, which means that the wine isn’t actually worth its full price, but will hit its comfort zone when the marketing people slice a couple of pounds off or they make you buy two bottles just to get the deal. This doesn’t happen at The Wine Society. Prices don’t go up and down with the seasons and they consistently provide good value for money, across the range. ‘We try to keep our profits to a minimum’, said Ewan Murray from The Wine Society, ‘although we do keep enough back for capital projects at our base in Stevenage.’

The reason for such a modest approach to profit goes back to the foundation of this wine-selling Society which now operates as a mail-order wine club.  It started in 1874 when various countries sent barrels of wine to a London exhibition to showcase their produce 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 these wines and the venture was such as success that they decided to continue.  They set up a co-operative to buy and sell wine.  Now the buying is done by a professional team which bristles with experience and Masters of Wine.  The range is big, covers the whole world and has enough staples such as own-label basics as well as eclectic newcomers to keep everyone interested. They also offer en primeur Bordeaux and will store wine for you until it is ready to drink.

The key to The Wine Society, or to give it its full name, The International Co-operative Wine Society Ltd, is the word co-operative.  It actually acts like a society, so you have to pay to join (£40, made up of a £20 membership fee and a coupon for £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.  You don’t have to commit to buy any particular amount of wine and just to keep you in touch with The Society, they organize tastings around the country. The next one in Yorkshire is on 20 November in Sheffield when the focus will be on Christmas wines.

I tasted through a wide selection of wines for autumn and Christmas.  Here is my choice for your first order.


White Wines

The Society’s White Rioja 2017, £8.50

A light, citrus-charged Rioja, with a creamy mid-palate and a nutty, toasty finish. Team this with gazpacho, grilled, herby fish or a fishy paella.


Badacsonyi Kéknyelü 2017, Sabar, Hungary, £11.75

Kéknyelü is a white Hungarian grape with flavours of yellow pear, peach and red apple, rounded out with creamy, smoky notes.  Team it with roast chicken or substantial salads.


Mâcon-Vergisson 2016, Joseph Burrier, Burgundy, France, £12.50

A Mâcon that tastes as good as a Pouilly-Fuissé with citrus and white peach on the nose, layered with vanilla and a hint of buttered toast.  Long and elegant.  A bargain at this price.


Roero Arneis Bric Ceniciurio, 2017, Pittatore Sachetto Fiorella, Piedmont, Italy, £13.95

A ripe, creamy wine with notes of pear and honeydew melon with a minerally edge and a rounded, food-friendly texture.  Team this with a seafood risotto.


Coteaux du Layon Saint-Aubin ‘Les Varennes’ 2015, Domaine Cady, France, £17.00

A absolutely gorgeous dessert wine with precise balance between sweet apricot fruit and linear citrus acidity.  It goes perfectly with fruit-based desserts tart or an apricot soufflé.


The Society’s Exhibition English Sparkling Wine, £21

Sourced from award-winning Ridgeview winery, this is made from the same varieties of grapes that go into Champagne, and it is even made using the same long, in-bottle fermentation method.  With bright, fresh floral acidity and a long, creamy balance, this is the taste of an English summer garden.


Red Wines

Pinot Noir 2016, Ostoros, Hungary £6.75

From the Eger region of Hungary this is a light, fresh, cherry and strawberry-filled Pinot.  It goes well with charcuterie, pates and simple pasta dishes.

The Society’s Cabernet Sauvignon-Cinsault Cape Heritage Blend 2016, South Africa, £6.95

An own-label wine put together by the splendid team at Boekenhoutskloof team. This has ripe spiced blackberry fruit and soft, supple tannins.  Enjoy with any meaty supper.


Warner’s Corner Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon, South Australia, £8.95

Lush, ripe, cassis and dark plum fruit, edged with savoury mushroom complexity. A gorgeous wine to pair with roast red meats.


Terres Dorées Beaujolais L’Ancien 2016, Jean-Paul Brun, £11.95

The ‘golden stones’ of this part of the Beaujolais region hold the heat of the day and help the grapes ripen on the vines.  The result is a bright juicy wine, full of cherry fruit and savoury depth.


Wallace Barossa Valley Shiraz-Grenache 2016, South Australia, £16

A concentrated, generous wine with complex flavours of red fruits, spice, liquorice and oak.  It vanilla-laden finish and is perfect poured alongside roast beef.


La Rioja Alta 904 Gran Reserva 2004, Rioja, Spain, £49

Made in very limited quantities this gloriously traditional Rioja is a wine that everyone should try just once to discover what great Rioja tastes like. Complex, lots of red fruits, toasty, caramel, red-fruits and spice, team this with Saturday dinner or Sunday lunch.

About The Author

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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