The Wine Society: Impressive value

In a world of Enomatic machines, crowd sourcing and Twitter fire-sales, The International Exhibition Co-operative Wine Society Limited might sound like a bit of a throwback. They are a co-operative society; they have ‘1874’ proudly stamped on their logo; they are based in a large office in Stevenage. Sexy they are not. But their wines are. And they are unbelievably cheap.

It is one of over 5,450 independent co-operatives in the UK in fact, but the only one whose sole purpose is wine. It was set up to provide authentic, high quality bottles to members in the late 19th century by a Major General Henry Scott, and continues to do so today. Its status as a co-operative explains why its wines are such good value. It is a not-for-profit company owned by its members, so their buyers are not concerned with making money. All they need to do is source the best wines and sell them on at the lowest possible price.

Once considered very much part of the Establishment, they were possibly the least cool place you could buy your wines from. But they have been gradually bringing themselves up-to-date, using new media like Facebook, Twitter and their iPhone app to reach a new audience. Ten years ago the average member was in his or her mid-50s. Now it’s mid-40s. But they do have members in the 20s and 30s too as their membership base widens. Winning both the Decanter National Wine Merchant of the Year 2011 and the International Wine Challenge Merchant of the Year 2011 should help bring more attention to the quality and value of what they offer.

So what’s the catch? There’s a joining fee of £40. But you’ll probably save that much on your first case or two, so don’t let it stop you. And once you have membership, you have it for life. You can even bequeath it to someone in your will. Some of their members are fifth generation, the original membership having been bought in as early as 1875 and handed down ever since. Now that is getting your money’s worth.

I tasted through 60 new additions to their range the other day, and the quality was very high. In general their list is strong in most regions, particularly classic French such as Bordeaux, Burgundy and Rhône. It’s complemented by sizeable, well-chosen selections from the other most recognised Old and New World countries, and a few more unusual ones such as Greece are also present.

If I had to pick holes, it would be nice to see some older mature wines back into the 90s and beyond available; some more natural wines (though there is a section for organic and biodynamic wines); and some more adventurous Champagnes. And if you really want to splash the cash on the very top end, you’ll have to go elsewhere, as few bottles go over the £100 mark. But overall this is a interesting, reliable, high quality list.


Some highlights:




L’Orbois, Jean Christophe Mandard 2010
Orbois grape from Loire, France
£7.95 from The Wine Society

An unusual grape variety from an unusual part of the Loire. Apple and quince on the nose with a musky note not unlike Chenin Blanc. Medium bodied with zippy fruity acidity. Very dry mineral finish, like sucking a stone. Characterful and great value. 89 points, very good value.


Pinot Bianco Isonzo del Friuli, Lorenzon 2010
Pinot Blanc grape from Friuli, Italy
£8.75 at The Wine Society

Perfumed, fresh, subtle but very drinkable and classy wine. Medium bodied, with bright, clean aromas and flavours of freshly cut conference pear. Elegant and balanced with a mineral finish. Understated, not in your face but good quality. 89 points, good value.


Domaine de Bellivière ‘Prémices’, Jasnières 2009
Chenin Blanc grape from Loire, France
£16.00 at The Wine Society

Fresh victoria plum on the nose with a faintly oxidative element. Honey and sweet fruit (apple, quince) that ride on into the finish on the back of a firm acidic streak. Finishes dry. A rollercoaster. 92 points, good value.


Maycas Qebrada Seca Chardonnay 2008
Chardonnay grape from Limari, Chile
£20.00 at The Wine Society

Chalk dust and honeycomb – still young and not giving off much fruit on the nose. Lots on the palate though – tangy, limey, fresh and intense. Long honeyed, toasty finish. Waves of complexity and flavour with a really appetising texture. Exciting and exceptional. 94 points, very good value.




Percheron Old Vine Cinsault, Boutinot 2010
Cinsault grape from Western Cape, South Africa
£5.95 from The Wine Society

Fresh and floral with bright cherry fruit. Lots of body and flavoursome sweet fruit. Long finish for such a cheap wine. Unusual and refreshing. 89 points, very good value.


Thymiopoulos Naoussa 2009
Xynomavro grape from Macedonia, Greece
£10.95 at The Wine Society

Fragrant raspberries and blueberries with aromas of dried herbs. Medium bodied, with a nice viscous mouthfeel, all cut through by lively fresh acidity. Flavours of licorice and strawberry go on into the finish. Real finesse and balance. 91 points, very good value.