Decanter’s Amy Wislocki has recommended a selection of current releases picked from The Wine Society’s excellent range, which is curated by nine buyers, including three MWs.
The firm is a cooperative owned by its 185,000 members. Founded in 1874, it has long been popular with wine lovers in the UK. The pandemic accelerated growth, and The Society has enjoyed its busiest and most successful years ever in 2020 and 2021, despite closing for two weeks at the start of the first lockdown, and being closed to new members during April and May 2020.
Focus on sustainability
As well as investing in the construction of a new warehouse, The Society is focusing this year on launching a new sustainability strategy, an ongoing programme that will be invested in continually going forward. By the end of next year, The Society should be a carbon neutral business, the first step to being net zero carbon emitters across the business and its supply chain by 2040. By the end of this year, it will have measured its entire gas emissions across the business. It is expecting glass and packaging to be the areas with the most impact. The own-label Society and Exhibition wines will all eventually have sustainability ‘score cards’, which will enable members to quickly identify – using a traffic-light system, perhaps – the environmental impact of any of these wines, and make a more informed buying choice. And in 2024 the business will launch a forum where its (approximately 1,000) wine suppliers can share best practice in their vineyards and wineries.
At the same time, The Society’s buyers are focusing on travel this year, after being so restricted during the pandemic. ‘Despite the focus on sustainability, we won’t be restricting travel, as we strongly believe it’s the best way to unlock quality, develop relationships and discover new wines,’ says director of wine, Pierre Mansour. ‘Our buyers need to be in the vineyards, meeting the winemakers and viticulturists. Inevitably this will add to the business’s gas emissions, hence our holistic approach, which will look to balance out the environmental impact of this by tackling other areas in the business.’
Some readers question our inclusion of The Society in recommendations round-ups, on the basis that wines can only be purchased by members. But the range offered by this non-profit making organisation offers such a high level of excitement and diversity that most UK wine lovers would reap rewards from paying the one-off £40 membership fee (especially considering that on joining new members receive £20 off their first order).
The Society was awarded Outstanding Retailer of the Year 2021 in Decanter’s Retailer Awards, as well as Best Large Online Retailer of the Year and Best Virtual Wine Experience. It also took top spot as Austria Specialist of the Year, Portugal Specialist of the Year, and South & Regional France Specialist of the Year.
Many retailers would envy its average bottle spend of almost £11. Over half of sales are of French wine – with Italy and Spain the next most important in terms of sales – but many other regions are seeing a sharp increase in demand, including England, Greece and Austria. Many popular wines sell out fast, so don’t hang around if something takes your fancy.
Price & delivery changes
The Society has not raised its prices for the last couple of years, but will be introducing some price increases from May 2022. However, it insists that the majority of the range will be unaffected. Next-day delivery is now free of surcharge, and the same applies to Saturday deliveries. The business is also currently trialling free delivery on all orders, and will measure the impact on sustainability before deciding whether to roll this out permanently.
Looking to expand your wine horizons, or after great gift ideas?
The Wine Society: top wines to try
The 22 wines listed first were tasted at a press tasting hosted remotely in March 2022. The remaining recommendations were tasted previously, but are still available to buy.