Thoughts on The Wine Society

If you follow professional wine critics, in the broadsheets say, or in wine magazines, you will invariably hear, on repeated occasions, two things that they all consider to be indisputable truths.

The first is that half bottles are ‘useful’. Can’t see it myself. Better to open a full bottle and drink over two days. Saves money as well as giving you an different perspective on the wine.

The second truth is that membership of the Wine Society (WS) is a good thing and well worth the £40 (actually £20 since you get a £20 credit) it costs for lifelong membership. I’ve been a member for about 7 years and have spent a lot of money with the Society. But are they necessarily better than independent wine merchants?

On its website the WS offers six reasons to join. Of these, only one is of any real substance. That is that, since the WS is owned by the members, any profits will be used to reduce prices and enhance services. This is a very difficult claim to test since different sellers stock different wines. At best I’d say – no more expensive than anyone else with, as everywhere, some poor quality/value wines and some bargains. However the website is pretty good, but not perfect (the reviewed wines list could be much longer, no members’s forum), as is the delivery service, with a low spend needed to get free delivery. The WS is also very quick to refund money if you feel a bottle is not right or poor value.

Some claims are made for the benefits of mutuality. Apart from price the others are those offered by any independent, except for in-house delivery. In practice the WS behaves like a private company. Membership involvement is, apart from the AGM, non-existent. There are a handful of co-opted members but the WS is not interested in the ‘enthusiastic amateur’, as the Chairman put it in her last Annual Report. Experienced businessmen (yes, they are all white males) preferred.

So – worth it or not? For the small sum of money involved – certainly. You’ll get access to a wide range of mostly interesting wines which will be reasonably priced and promptly delivered. Taken together that makes them better than any independent. But you are more shareholder then member.


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