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

The Daily Telegraph - Saturday - - FOOD DRINK -

VIC­TO­RIA MOORE

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.

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