Thursday, 6 December 2018

Wine subscription boxes: the best ones on offer


For me, one of the best ways that you can expand both your knowledge about wine and your wine collection is through a wine subscription. Wine subscriptions tend to work in various ways but there are a few general models: the first is one where you pay a monthly subscription fee to a wine merchant or distributor, who at an interval that you agree use the funds to buy wines that you can then have delivered or stored in reserves; the second is a subtle variation where you get a monthly box of wine in exchange for whatever subscription you pay. As you can probably imagine, like anything, the more money you put into the subscription the greater either the value of the wines that you buy or the volume of bottles. The real beauty for me, is that you put your hard-earned cash in the hands of real experts with often long-lasting and deep relationships with producers, and that you can take advantage of the wine merchants’ superior buying powers to get access to special wines or producers that as a lone collector you may not have access to. Obviously, the trade-off is that you don’t personally select your wines, but letting someone else make that decision can often be a relief!
Over the last few months, I have tried a few different subscription services and will take you through these and give you my thoughts on them:

The Wine Society

The Wine Society is a wonderful merchant whom I believe that every UK wine lover should be a member of. They are run as a co-operative and therefore the profits that they make our put back into the business, which often allows them to keep their prices at a very reasonable level. In fact they went about three or four years recently without putting their prices up; they have had to do so recently due to post-Brexit related currency fluctuations. Another real strength of the Wine Society is that they have been around since 1874 and as such have really well-developed relationships with producers. This translates itself to a very sustainable approach to business, which puts them at odds with supermarkets, who by-and-large use their huge demand to screw down producers to the lowest possible price in order to maximise profits. The Wine Society, however, takes a different approach realising that unless they offer a fair price to their suppliers that they may not exist in the future and that would be to everyone’s detriment. It is fair to say that I favour this approach strongly, over the supermarkets’.
In terms of subscription offerings, the Wine Society has a number of different Vintage Cellar Plans, including “World Classics” (reds from round the world, outside of France), “Claret” and “White Burgundy” cases (which speak for themselves), and lastly “French Classics”. I have been a subscriber for a few years now to their “French Classics”, currently at a subscription level of £55/month, which gets me 24 bottles a year (with an average bottle price of £25 - £30). The bottles are reds from Bordeaux, Burgundy and the Rhône; I wish that I also got some whites, but alas this subscription doesn’t offer any. There is an option to take a supercharged French Classics subscription at £200/month, which gets you even better wines, but that’s a little rich for me…

One of the aspects that I particularly enjoy about the Wine Society’s subscription is that I can transfer the bottles direct to their storage facilities in Stevenage, which means that I can leave the bottles in a well-looked after facility until I am ready for them. At £8 (+VAT) per case of 12 bottles, I feel that this is excellent value. I am still working on getting an area in my house with conditions that I am happy with to store wine for long periods of time, in the meantime I like the fact that I can store these bottles somewhere where they are safe and maturing nicely.

Over the last few months I have withdrawn some of my wines from storage and sampled some to give you an idea of the kinds of wines that I have had within my subscription:

2013 “Les Hauts Jarrons” Premier Cru Savigny-les-Beaunes (Burgundy): Sat lovely and light in the glass, cherry red in colour with a hint of tawny. On the nose the primary aromas were rich, red cherry with a little touch of strawberry compote; there were also some slightly deeper, savoury aromas of bacon and leather. When tasted, the high acidity was notable and gave it a real bite, the dominant flavours were of red fruit. This was a very pleasant wine, that over the next five years is going to be beautiful. I’m glad I have five more bottles!

2009 Château Chasse-Spleen (Moulis en Medoc, Bordeaux): A light ruby in the glass, this had pleasant berry aromas (blackberry and black cherry) with a touch of damson about it. On tasting, this had a really decadent feel to it, soft tannins which have opened up nicely. There were notable dark fruit flavours to the wine (prunes?) and a pleasing pinch of dark chocolate. A real crowd-pleaser of a wine that is drinking very nicely indeed right now.

2010 Pierre Aiguille Paul Jaboulet Aine (Gigondas, Rhone): This is a robust and rich southern Rhone wine made from a blend of Grenach and Syrah. Being that little bit older it has a slightly deeper nose to it with plenty of oak-induced smoke and savoury leather notes to accompany the familiar red berry fruit aromas. On tasting, it has a noticeable weight to it, although it is nicely counter-balanced with a good acidity to the wine, which means that you don't really notice the 14.5% alcohol on the wine. This is a really excellent wine and a timely reminder that the southern Rhone is about much more than just Chateauneuf-du-Pape.
These are just a few examples of the kinds of wines that I've got in my cellar (both the ones that are in my actual house and the ones that are in storage in Stevenage). I look forward to expanding my selection over the coming months and years!

 

20h33


20h33 are a wine importer who specialise in wines from the Bordeaux region; in fact their whole name is a reference to Bordeaux wine - 20 in French is “vignt” which sounds very much like “vin” and 33 is the dialling code in France for Bordeaux… clever, eh?! They have a number of different subscriptions that you can opt for at different pricing levels and different calibres of wine, these range from their Discovery box (£50/month) to their Five Star box (which goes for a stonking £500/month). You get six wines every three months for this - I can only dream of the amazing wines that you’d be getting in the Five Star box - what a treat that would be to come home to! I sampled some of their wines at their “Premium” level (£100/month), which arrived in the post in a very stylish-looking black box.
What I particularly enjoyed about this subscription box was that it contained a selection of wines both red and white - you don’t always fancy a rich, complex, red wine!

2012 Château Lilian Ladouys (Saint Estephe, Bordeaux): Had a really vibrant, rich nose with blackcurrant and blackberry flavours dominant; slightly on the jammy side, even. There was also a faint whiff of smokiness on it, which gave an indication of age and time in barrel. On tasting, the tannins were very much still there and doing their thing. This was quite an austere wine at first that had a nice mid-palate evolution that saw black fruit notes come through, without being overly sweet. A bit of a thinker of a wine. I reckon in two or three more years, this will have softened just a little more and will be absolutely delicious.

2013 Château Samion (Lalande-de-Pomerol, Bordeaux): Nice and juicy nose with bags of red fruit personality, strawberries abundant with a side-swipe of blackcurrant and damson coming through. On tasting it was more savoury in profile than I was expecting with a touch of smokey bacon coming through once it had sat in glass for a bit. Probably more developed than I was expecting for a wine of this age. Was a really good food-wine, but also crossed over as a pleasant (if not mind-blowing) sipping wine.

2011 Château Moulin De La Roquille (Cotes de Francs): Featuring a very expressive nose with notes of hawthorne and rose giving it a quite perfumed aroma. There were also primary notes of dark fruit, blueberries and damson, coming to mind. There was also a faint whiff of smoke to the wine, an indication of gentle oak use in the ageing process. On tasting it was rather rich and juicy, with notes of cassis and damson coming to the fore; I thought that perhaps it was a little flabby and needed a little more acidity to give it a little more energy. It was a very pleasing wine to drink, nonetheless.

2015 “Nobody’s Perfect” (Entre Deux Mers, Bordeaux): A Muscadelle, this is an exciting wine made by Dawn Jones-Cooper using a biodynamic winemaking process. On the nose it has bags of stone fruit notes, think peaches and apricots; but with a slight hint of something tropical going on that makes it very interesting. On tasting, this is a lovely and clean wine with subtle citrus fruit notes followed by a delicious minerality that preserves the clarity of the wine. The finish is nice and long due to its wonderful balance. This is a fantastic wine and one that pairs very well with food.

Your Sommelier

The premise behind Your Sommelier is that it was set up by two successful French bankers who, having settled in London, found that they felt that they couldn’t get decent French wine in the UK without paying large sums of money. To remedy this, they set up Your Sommelier which retails wine online and lets people choose between direct purchases and wine subscription boxes (the aim being to take the hassle out of wine selecting, for those people who find it a hassle). Each month you receive three wines, along with product sheets to tell you a bit more about them. I received a selection box from them (disclosure - I was sent this as a sample) that was very much focussed on a Christmas theme - it contained: some bubbles, a claret and a dessert-wine - what more do you need for a Christmas celebration?!

NV Domaine Stoeffler Cremant d’Alsace (Alsace): I am a big fan of cremants, as they represent tremendous value when it comes to bubbles - and I am particularly a fan of cremants from Alsace! This wine features grapes of Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc and Auxerrois - classic grapes for this region. This wine has a nice mix of juicy, fruity notes (think peaches and apricots), along with a slightly creamy texture that gives the wine a decent profile. What separates this wine from Champagne is the absence of those richer, biscuity notes; but not everyone likes those! This is a very pleasant wine for toasts and aperitifs as it has such a nice clean palate. At c. £12 bottle too, it represents exceptional value!

2014 Château Moulin de l’Esperance Cuvée Ulysse (Bordeaux): This was a somewhat-disappointing entry level Bordeaux. It had some decent, primary fruit notes, but not much beyond that. In terms of finish, it was all over a little quick really. Bordeaux is one of those regions where you have to spend a bit of money to get a wine worth noting and I feel that this one fell a little short of my expectations (particularly when compared against the others I have noted in this article - although admitting that you have to pay more for these wines).

NV Vignoble des Aubas Gros-Mansang Moelleux (Cotes de Gascogne): This is a pleasing wine (provided, of course, that you like dessert wines. This does a good job of balancing sweet notes on the wine with decent acidity, which means that it doesn’t get too cloying. Overall it is not the most complex dessert wine that I have ever tried, most of the flavour is in the primary notes of candied pineapple and honey. There is however a decent whack of acidity on it, though, which stops it being overly cloying.

Their “Discovery Box” is £36/month, whereas their “Expert Box” reaches up to £60/month (featuring wines from more renowned appellations and producers versus the Discovery Box).

Conclusion

There you have it, a number of different options available to the budding wine connoisseur, who wants to either expand their collection or perhaps learn more about a wine region/area. For those who can afford it, I think setting aside £50 - £100 a month and putting it in the hands of someone who knows what they are doing when it comes to buying good wine will quickly help you develop a little portfolio of wines to choose from. After all, you may have the option later on as your collection blossoms and matures to be able to get into selling some of the wines that you have in your collection (and use the proceeds to purchase some new wines?!).
So, with Christmas coming up - perhaps a wine subscription could be a nice gift idea for that special wine lover in your life?! Or perhaps you can treat yourself? After all, you have been a good boy/girl this year, haven't you...?