Want to explore the wine world? Join the club
Laithwaite’s leads the pack in terms of size, but it’s worth checking out the boutique services
Sunday Times Rich List estimated their fortune at £162million. Naked Wines is also well known, largely because it spends a lot of money inserting marketing vouchers into Amazon boxes and the like. Naked is a club – you have to join to become a “Wine Angel”. Strictly speaking, it isn’t a subscription service: Angels do pay into their accounts every month, but they choose when and how the accumulated money is spent.
But, in any case, it’s the less well-known clubs that I would recommend if you’re thinking of trying one out. One that I love is Lay & Wheeler’s new-ish (it was launched in July 2016) Discover Fine Wine Club. “We set it up after asking ourselves, ‘how do we make fine wine a lot more approachable?’” says Katy Keating, its managing director.
“People have a sense of how delicious wine can be, but it can also be daunting, so our premise is you need a guide, and the chance to have a bunch of different bottles in front of you that you might not otherwise try.”
For a relatively modest outlay of £60 a month, Lay & Wheeler delivers six different bottles (red, white, or half-and-half) every other month. That’s £20 a bottle on average, but cheaper wines are mixed with more expensive – for example, an forthcoming six-pack includes Gianni Brunelli Toscana 2015 (£13.40) and a £25 xinomavro from Greece. The beautiful tweak is that not everyone receives the same box. “It’s always been set up so that you have an adviser, and he or she decides what you will get,” says Keating. “You might just want to leave it to us, in which case, you will get the standard selection that has been made. If you want to have a
ROOT 1 CARMENERE 2017
Chile (13%, Morrisons, £7.50)
Carménère was once widely planted in Bordeaux – and when transplanted to Chile was for a long time mistaken for merlot, perhaps on account of the similarity of the leaf shape. Chile has made the grape its own – its wines are reminiscent of red peppers, tea leaves, sometimes a throaty scrape of coffee, and red berries. Fortifying and good with butcher’s sausages. more in-depth conversation to customise it to your tastes, we can do that, too.”
It’s easy to see when subscribers are pleased because they pile in to order more of a wine. “That happened with the Tommaso Bussola Valpolicella Superiore,” says Keating. “We’d sold out, but had so many requests we got in some more.” Keating also says she doesn’t want the club to grow “too big, because we want to make sure people can always talk to an actual human if they want to.”
An even newer service is the Nosy Wine Club, set up by a group of friends who were apparently “tired of drinking the same wines at their
monthly dinner parties”. It seems an odd premise for a club. If drinking the same wine was so draining, why didn’t they just go to a different wine merchant and pull a different bottle off the shelf, or an online wine merchant and click on a different bottle? But anyway. At Nosy you pay £55 a month, and in return receive three bottles of wine selected by a different expert each time. The idea is appealing, and the Nosy packaging is great, presenting wine as the luxury it is.
The two sample playlists I’ve seen didn’t grab me though – one trio included a bottle of (delicious) madeira, which I’d find annoying, as I’d probably be expecting normal wine; another included a bottle of Whispering Angel rosé, which is what all the Voguettes drink, but it isn’t one of the nicest rosés you can find for the money, and it has been sold very hard over the past few years. So my jury is a bit out on this one. I wouldn’t sign up yet, but I’d like to keep an eye on how Nosy develops. A more tempting option (to me) is the Vinoteca Club. Run by the successful wine bar and restaurant, it offers to bring the interesting wines it serves into your home. You can pick the Vinoteca
Friends box (£80 for six bottles) or the Vinoteca Family selection (£120 for six bottles). And this is a proper club – it comes with other benefits, such as 50 per cent off breakfast Monday to Friday at certain Vinotecas, and 10 per cent off all further purchases online and in its wine shops. Finally, if you’re looking for a more budget option, there’s the Wine Society. I bang on a lot about the Wine Society, but that’s because it deserves it. Its not-forprofit structure means that it is often able to sell a wine more cheaply than any other retailer. Its buyers are skilful and seek out good wines. Importantly, from a wine club point of view, it has a broad range of cheaper bottles, so if your goal is to explore at a sub-£10 a bottle level, it has a lot to offer.
There are five Wine Society plans, including Wine Rack Essentials, which costs up to £85 a case; the Lighter Wines plan (up to £110 a case) focuses on wines with a maximum ABV of 12.5% (whites) and 13% (reds); and the most expensive plan is the self-explanatory French Classics, at up to £149 a case. These can be tweaked in various ways to suit your drinking habits – for instance, you can order red, white or mixed; and organise the delivery programme to suit your rate of drinking.
Perhaps a good option with wine clubs is to use them to explore an area or price range of wine you don’t know very well, or to bring you wines you can’t buy in the shop down the road. But save a bit of budget for my recommendations, too – that way you can have your metaphorical cake and eat it.