If you’re looking for a gift for a wine lover, sign them up for something a little different. Christine Austin reports.
Buying a gift for a wine-lover is fraught with difficulty. The bottle you have lovingly chosen may be met with a polite smile and then be put away in the wine rack to gather dust. It might be the wrong region, vintage or producer, or it just might be the wrong price. So one way to get around the problem is to introduce the wine-lover to a new source of wine and mail order is the fastest growing area of interest.
The Wine Society
The Wine Society, or to give it its full name, The International Exhibition Co-operative Wine Society Ltd. is one of the great institutions of the wine world.
The key to The Wine Society, as it is generally known, is the word co-operative. You have to pay to join (£40) but this buys you a lifetime share in the company which can be left to your nearest and dearest when you retire to the great vineyard in the sky. The Wine Society is essentially a mail-order operation, although there is a shop in Stevenage and another in France close to Calais so you can pick up wine at duty-free prices. They also hold regular tastings around the country (Bradford on November 25) to showcase some of their wines. I have attended many of these in Leeds, York, Harrogate and even at Castle Howard and they are always over-subscribed and rather jolly affairs.
The range is comprehensive, well chosen and somewhat classic in style, with over 50 per cent sourced from France, although there is a terrific selection from Chile, showing that The Wine Society is not afraid to be adventurous. There is a regular newsletter, frequent en primeur offers and if you want to buy but don’t have enough storage space, your wine can be stored in the Members’ Reserves 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 (www.thewinesociety.com) is that the wines are quite often benchmark examples of their region, offering good quality at remarkable value for money. The main reason for this is that The Society is a co-operative and so there is no-one taking profits out at the end of the year. Funds are re-invested in wine and sold on at margins that none of the big-name retailers could possibly manage. Joining The Wine Society is easy and the £40 joining fee makes a terrific Christmas present, providing years of lists and tasting opportunities. In theory you need to be proposed for membership but I am happy for you to use my name, or if you ring them on 01438 740222, they will find a proposer for you.
• Top choices from The Wine Society:
The Society’s Spanish Red, Jumilla, Spain, £5.50. A simple, lively, supple, peppery red berry-filled wine. Cracking value at this price.
The Society’s Chablis, 2012, France, £11.50. Full flavoured, clean and crunchy with citrus and mineral flavours.
Blind Spot Rutherglen Muscat NV, Australia, £7.50 for 37.5cl. Full of toffee and marmalade flavours with enough acidity to end clean on the palate. Good enough to accompany the Christmas pud.
If your wine-lover wants to get more involved in the whole process of choosing wine then Naked Wines (www.nakedwines.com) offers the chance to fund winemakers who might otherwise not get their wines to market. It is a long road from growing grapes and making wine to actually seeing your bottles on the shelves of a shop and so Naked Wines funds selected winemakers to create individual wines for their range.
Customers are called ‘Angels’ and you need to invest £20 a month in winemaking projects. In return for this regular investment, you get access to favourable prices on the range of wines, usually saving around 25 to 30 per cent on the standard price.
There are now 146,000 ‘Angels’ in the UK, and while the average price per bottle is generally higher than most retailers, this is a selected, individual range that will appeal to the more experienced drinker.
Naked Wines was the company that stepped in when the wine tanks of Katie Jones, grower and wine maker in the Languedoc were sabotaged and her top white cuvée was destroyed. With seed investment, Naked pre-ordered her following vintage, allowing her to continue working. She now has four wines listed in the range providing great flavours that just can’t be found anywhere else.
Other winemakers supported by ‘Angels’ include Jonathan Maltus in Bordeaux, Virgile Joly in the Languedoc and Carlos Rodriguez in Rías Baixas.
• Top Choices from Naked Wines:
Richard’s Elgin Chardonnay 2013, South Africa, Angel’s price £18.99. Elegant, cool-climate Chardonnay from Sheffield-born Master of Wine Richard Kershaw.
Jones’ La Gare, 2013, Fitou, France, Angel’s price £14.99. Rich, deep, peppery spice in this Carignan, Grenache and Syrah blend.
Franck Massard Desnuda Montsant 2013, Spain, Angel’s price £9.49. Many years ago Franck was an award-winning Sommelier at Middlethorpe Hall. Now he has his own vineyard and he makes this chunky, full-flavoured, robust, herb-edged wine.
For many people it just isn’t enough to stay home and order wine. They need to see the vineyards and meet the winemakers and 3D wines (www.3Dwines.com) offers that opportunity. You join by buying an ‘Experience case’ containing three wines, together with a tasting glass and notes, and you can then arrange to visit the vineyards and see where you wines have come from. The price of this three-pack, for Bordeaux, is a fairly hefty £155, but the fact that you get an introduction to the properties, may make it worthwhile. 3D also organise tasting weekends and trips so this is definitely the more social end of mail order wine.
• Top Choices from 3D Wines.
Kahurangi Estate Heaphy Sauvignon Blanc 2014, New Zealand, £10.75. Bright, zesty, herbaceous, thirst-quenching style.
Ch. Mongravey, Margaux, Bordeaux, 2010, £23. Ripe, elegant, cigar-boxy flavours.
Rocca delle Macie, Chianti Classico Riserva di Fizzano, 2010, Italy, £19.21. Deep, truffle-edged, savoury fruit with supple tannins.