By Rose Murray Brown MW Published in The Scotsman 25 September 2021
One of the most frequent questions I get asked is about wine club subscription services – and which is the best one to join to receive monthly or quarterly cases delivered to your door.
Since lockdown, the popularity of wine clubs in the UK has rocketed, with predictions that they could be worth over £1bn by next year. So it is hardly surprising that the big leaders in this business such as Laithwaites, Virgin Wines, Naked Wines and my current preferred favourite, The Wine Society, have now been joined by a proliferation of newcomers.
Most interesting of the newcomers are The Sourcing Table, an off-shoot of Iberian-focused importer Indigo Wines who specialise in organic, biodynamic and natural wines (min £120 for 6 bts) - and the even more quirky Little Wine offering smaller packs of natural non-interventionist wines (min £50 for 2 bts).
The latest to join the wine club fray is Majestic Wine, the UK’s largest specialist retailer and traditionally a bricks and mortar business with a strong presence and following in Scotland. Their new Wine Club upgrades their concierge service created four years ago, under Naked Wines management.
To curate a new Wine Club with a difference, Majestic recruited Elizabeth Kelly MW from M&S (pictured right) and Mark Caporn from Laithwaites, the UK’s largest wine subscription business.
Caporn claims that the idea is to “make every case a real delight – with more investment in the wines themselves, instead of free add-ons”.
Majestic’s model follows The Wine Society’s ‘Wine Without Fuss’ Discovery and French Classic offering two price levels: £99 and £149 (12 bts). However Majestics will be quarterly cases themed around a key region, style or grape.
Majestic’s new club is free to join, whereas The Wine Society does have £40 lifetime membership (which incidentally is worth every penny considering the access you get to this co-operative’s excellent range).
I sampled Majestic’s new £99 case of 12 bottles (6 white and 6 red) of Hidden Gems of France, which includes a range of wines focused on drinking accessibility with easy-going popular wine styles from Muscadet to Malbec. Their £149 Le Grand Tour case focuses on terroir and smaller appellations such as Terrasses du Larzac, Rasteau, Cote de Brouilly, Pouilly Fume and Vire Clesse.
My case arrived promptly and well packed. Inside was a substantial colour booklet accompanying the wines with tasting tips, tasting guide and recipes for the ideal food pairing - and over-size tasting wheel to stick on the wall.
What Majestic claim is different is that each wine comes with its own wine tasting video. By scanning the QR code on each relevant page of the book, it leads you to the video – although it would be much more helpful to have the code on the bottle itself.
Whilst these new wine tasting videos are a great idea, they are a mixed bag as they are not made by the Majestic team, but by the producers themselves with videos varying in quality and style.
Liam Stevenson MW and Gerard Bertrand offer simple tasting descriptions, whilst Domaine les Yeuses, Chateau Timberlay, Chateau de Pizay or Domaine Sainte Rose have full promotional videos and (sometimes rather shaky) drone footage of their vineyards offering a great chance to learn about the wine’s origin – whilst you sip the wine in your armchair at home.
Majestic hope to attract a new audience to their new club, who may not yet shop in their stores. By offering attractively packaged educational material and videos, they do differ from competitors, but whilst the wines in the cases are exclusive to the Wine Club, people may want to buy more of the wine they liked in the case. To overcome this hurdle, they offer two recommendations available in store alongside the club wine, to encourage experimentation.
Buying from a club like the new Majestic Wine Club is certainly better and more educational than buying a case of wine from your local supermarket. To date none of UK’s supermarkets have similar wine club models with regular subscription services, but this may well change as demand grows.
My favourite picks from Majestic’s Wine Club £99 case (exclusive to their Wine Club – not available in store):
WINE CLUB WHITES
Languedoc: LA MAISON BLANCHE PICPOUL DE PINET 2020 Costieres de Pomerols
Nectarine, lime, creamy texture, zippy fresh and dry – a cracking example of the lipstinger grape, Picpoul, made by Liam Stevenson MW.
Bordeaux: SAUVIGNON BLANC 2020 Chateau Reynaud Lacoste
One of the best Bordeaux Sauvignons I have tasted in this price range – floral, grapefruits with lemon, lime and green apple fruits – lush, ripe and forward.
Languedoc: VIN DE PAYS D’OC CHARDONNAY 2020 Laroche
Stone fruits, citrus, crisp and creamy – unoaked, approachable style made in Languedoc by the renowned Chablis firm of Laroche.
WINE CLUB REDS
Languedoc: LA GARRIGUE 2018 Domaine Ste Rose
Loved the herby notes, rich sweet blackberry fruits, black pepper undertones and soft tannins on this Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre blend from the Simpson’s Languedoc estate.
Burgundy: BEAUJOLAIS 2020 Chateau de Pizay
Very attractive red cherry nose, redcurrant and sour cherry palate – a lush fruit forward example of Gamay to serve lightly chilled.
Languedoc: CABERNET SAUVIGNON RESERVE SPECIALE 2018 Gerard Bertrand
Very generous upfront fruit, sweet plummy palate with spicy and vanilla, some tannins – a good introduction to Cabernet Sauvignon.
Join Rose’s Hidden Gems of Spain wine & charcuterie tasting in St Andrews on Friday 22 October www.rosemurraybrown.com