What happened to summer? It showed its face briefly but has largely been a washout on British shores, despite valiant attempts to pretend otherwise. Hopes have not completely faded for an Indian summer, but UK drinkers clearly need wine styles to cater for every eventually, and as usual The Wine Society’s massive range covers all bases admirably.
Versatility of styles
As recent retailer press tastings have shown, the seasonality of new releases is less marked than it once was, with buyers eager to cater for all tastes and weather changes. There is also increasing awareness of the permeability of styles, with dark rosés conquering light red territory, vibrant reds venturing into the ice bucket and skin-fermented (orange) wines offering great alternatives to robust whites. Contesa’s Cerasuolo d’Abruzzo is a good example of the above – a deeper-hued rosé perfect for food pairing – as is Thymiopoulos’ Jeunes Vignes, best enjoyed slightly chilled.
Looking to expand your wine horizons?
The most recent press tasting saw the retailer’s eight-strong buying team (the five pictured above, plus Pierre Mansour, Toby Morrhall and Tim Sykes) each choose a small selection of wines from their own area of responsibility to showcase to journalists. These included wines that are completely new to the range – such as Toni Jost’s Rheingau Weissburgunder and the delicious white Bordeaux from Château Chantegrive – as well as new vintages of popular wines including Ignacio Recabarren’s excellent Sauvignon Blanc from Chile’s Casablanca Valley.
The tasting unsurprisingly showed many of the 2023 Wine Champions – this annual blind tasting takes place in house at The Wine Society, with the aim of helping wine lovers navigate the massive selection of lines (around 1,500) on offer. The buying team spent 250 hours this year, over 14 sessions, tasting 959 wines put forward by the buyers. The top scorers – a total of 152 this year – won the title of Wine Champion, and this is flagged up clearly online next to wine listings.
As usual, the retailer’s own Society and Exhibition ranges feature heavily in our selection below. Both ranges see the retailer work with some of the wine world’s top names and provide an excellent way to taste benchmark expressions of classic styles. The own-label ranges have both grown and evolved (a new look is being introduced as new vintages come on-stream), and are also being used to showcase some of The Wine Society’s sustainability initiatives – most notably its selection of recycled PET bottles as an alternative to glass packaging.
The Society range focuses more on the value end of the spectrum, and current highlights include the excellent Fino Sherry made by Sánchez Romate, and the Provençal-style Corsican rosé (note the absence of foil capsule, another sustainability initiative). Meanwhile, among The Exhibition wines, Ridgeview’s English sparkling wine and Pieropan’s Soave are just two of the Old World standouts, with Brokenwood’s Hunter Valley Semillon and the Margaret River Cabernet from Vasse Felix two Australian classics to make a beeline for in the New World.
The Wine Society is a membership organisation – meaning that you cannot buy wine unless you are a member – but lifetime membership is reasonably priced at £40 (it has been set at this price for longer than I can remember), and the membership welcome pack includes a voucher for £20 off the first order. You can also purchase gift memberships, something that we at Decanter regularly recommend as an 18th / 21st birthday present.
A regular winner at the Decanter Retailer Awards, The Wine Society walked away with a whole clutch of prizes in the 2023 competition, including the highly coveted Outstanding Retailer of the Year Award. Its other Awards were Large Online Retailer, Virtual Wine Experience, Own-Brand Wine Range and Wine Buying Team.
The fact that it is a non-profit-making organisation means that The Wine Society can offer its wines at a competitive price – where the same wine is stocked by several retailers including The Wine Society, you will invariably find that The Wine Society price is at the lower end of the range. It has not increased prices on most sub-£20 wines following the recent UK Government duty hikes on alcohol, although it did raise some wine prices earlier this year.
The Wine Society remains the source of a huge number of good-value, excellent wines – the selection below is just a taster. Next year it will celebrate its 150th anniversary and plans are afoot for exciting new limited-edition ranges. Look out for more on that towards the end of the year.
The Wine Society: top wines to try
Prices do not reflect multi-buy offers. Wines are grouped by style and ordered by score, in descending order.