Few things are as needlessly shrouded in mystery and obfuscation as the world of wine. From preposterous tasting notes (‘hints of kiwi fruit, Chanel No. 5 and the last whisper of Tuscan summer sunshine’ etc.) to the restaurant ritual of pre-dinner tasting (which, of course, you’re not technically supposed to do; one is supposed to merely sniff the wine it to check if it’s corked, in the manner of a Roman Emperor). As a result, many people understandably fall in a pattern of repetition - seeking solace in the one dependable bottle they recognise. The full-bodied Malbec. The crisp Pinot Grigiot. The One That Happens to Be On Offer That Day.
What is needed, then, is a means of encountering new, interesting wines - ideally in a way that’s accessible, unintimidating, intelligently-curated, and reasonably-priced. What you need, in short, is a wine club.
There are a plethora to choose from - Savage Vines offer a superb range of biodynamic wines (plus a selection of accompanying playlists, to enhance the drinking experience…) whilst Naked Wines offers a unique investment model, whereby subscribers support independent winemakers (it’s fully subscribed at present, but there’s a waiting list). And, happily, Berry Bros. & Rudd, the venerable wine merchants of St. James’s, also offers a Wine Club.
BB&R has undergone something of a quiet revolution in recent years, with the opening of its Pall Mall shopfront - a modern, inviting extension of what the company has been doing for centuries round the corner at its ancient but slightly formidable, St. James’s HQ (more a stately-home-slash-gentleman’s-club than a shop, with nothing so gauche as a ‘till’). Unsurprisingly, their Wine Club offering is immensely well thought out, and offers a host of benefits. Victoria Reeves, Berry Bros. & Rudd’s Wine Club Manager, explains: “We believe that enjoying good wine is one of life’s unadulterated pleasures” says Reeves, “and knowing a little bit about what you are drinking only enhances that experience. Each of our four Wine club cases is accompanied by detailed tasting notes, serving suggestions and food matches making your decision about which cork to pull for that midweek supper or special occasion dinner an easy one. Membership is flexible, so you can skip, swap or add cases as required and members also benefit from 10% off all other purchases on bbr.com.”
The offerings vary seasonally, and change month-to-month. “The wines are carefully picked by our expert buying team,” says Reeves. “The cases are curated to ensure a balance of wine styles from different grape varieties and wine growing regions around the world. Prepare to be surprised and delighted. Our buyers sometimes enjoy challenging perceptions and expectations.”
BB&R’s wine club isn’t the cheapest on offer - but it is, without doubt, one of the overall best-in-class. Plus there are scaled subscription options, depending on your level of vinomania. “We offer four different membership levels which are designed to cater for those who are just developing their taste in wine and established oenophiles (wine geeks!) alike,” says Reeves. “Our ‘Bourne’ Mixed Case costing just £60 per month is an excellent introduction to the world of wine. Showcasing typical examples of different grapes and styles, this selection is an enjoyable way to develop wine knowledge or simply to ensure you always have some excellent bottles in your wine rack. At the other end of the spectrum, Wine Club members who sign up to receive the ‘Wellington’ case (at £150 per month) will receive a case that is truly for the connoisseur, delivering a wish-list of wines from regions such as Bordeaux, Burgundy, Rioja and Piedmont.”
Whilst you plump for BB&R, Savage Vines, Naked Wines, or somewhere else (honourable mention to Vinoteca’s offering), you might equally decide the monthly commitment isn’t for you - in which case, Reeves has sage advice; “Just try to avoid in-store paralysis! Don’t always reach for the same bottle that you bought that the last time. Be brave enough to try something new and seek expert advice when you can.” And, if you do subscribe to a club, and find yourself presented with a bottle of something strange-looking and unpronouncable? “The world of wine is not meant to be intimidating. Just explore and enjoy!” So there you have it. The first rule of Wine Club - drink lots of wine.
Main image credit: Ran Zisovitch via Getty Images