I joined The Wine Society as a student. Without doubt it was the wisest expenditure of my three undergraduate years (OK, the only wise money-move of those years). Yet it took me until the end of June this year to visit the Society’s French outpost in Montreuil – still charmingly called Montreuil-Sur-Mer even though it has been marooned inland for centuries, following its heyday as a port from the 10th to the 13th century.
I’m kicking myself now for wasting so many opportunities to stop off and stock up as I sped past on the motorway south from Calais. And I’m kicking myself all the more because there’s not much time now to make up for the lost opportunities. With spectacular timing, my long overdue visit coincided with the announcement that the showroom (i.e. shop) is to close at the end of 2016. The main reasons are the lease on the premises, up for renewal at end of the year, and whether enough members use Montreuil and would continue to use it to justify its running costs (the Society isn’t a conventional profit-making company: it’s a mutual society owned by its members who buy a one-off £40 lifetime share, so the running costs of services have to be balanced against their usage by members).
I’m loathe to mention the B word – we’ve all had more than enough of it – but obviously the impact of Brexit wasn’t going to do future business through the Montreuil showroom any favours. Already sterling is much weaker. That said, I’m going to be stocking up as much as I can during the rest of the year and I’d advise anyone else to do the same. We’ve said a lot in The Wine Gang reports over the years about how good and what good-value the wines are, and we’re saying more in our August report, but it’s worth a reminder here that, if you’re thinking about becoming a Wine Society member or buying a membership for someone else, you pay £40 but then then there’s £20 off the first UK order (not Montreuil).
The way the Montreuil showroom works is that it stocks about 220 of the Society’s most popular wines and a small, changing range of fine wines. A further 650 wines can be ordered by the unmixed case (call 01438 741177 before 5pm on a Monday to collect the following week from Tuesday onwards). There’s a guaranteed £24 per dozen saving over the Society’s UK prices on all wines, which obviously makes the savings greater on cheaper wines. Even so, it’s hard to resist (so I didn’t) the Society’s excellent own-label Champagne, long made for it by Alfred Gratien (a favourite house of every wine writer I can think of).
There are more recommendations below, but before we get there let me put in a word for Montreuil, a delightful walled and gastronomically inclined town that will still be worth visiting even after The Wine Society has gone. There are cobbled streets, ramparts dating from the 9th century, restaurants ranging from bistro style to Michelin-starred magnificence and a terrific cheese shop, Fromagerie Caseus (see a selection of their cheeses above and, in the opening photograph, the cow that stands guard at the entrance to the shop). There also are lots of places to visit nearby (gardens, seaside towns, markets and so on).
I stayed at Maison76, a luxurious boutique B&B that I can’t recommend too highly – I could recommend it for the bath alone (above) – but there are other hotels, some offering Society members special rates.
18 wines to stock up on – whites and Champagne first, then reds, in price order
Montreuil showroom prices in euros; thewinesociety.com in sterling
The Society’s Verdicchio 2015, €5.95/£6.50 – Crisp, lemony and herby with almondy depth and roundness. Bargain.
The Society’s Bordeaux Sauvignon 2015, €6.10/£6.95 – Lightly grassy, zesty, unoaked Entre-Deux-Mers Sauvignon.
Château L’Oiselinière de la Ramée Muscadet Sèvre et Maine 2013, €6.75/£7.50 – Textbook Muscadet: lively, dry and refreshing with delicate, bottle-aged nuttiness.
Janare Falanghina del Sannio 2015, €6.10/£6.95 – Juicy, fresh pear, peach and citrus crispness.
Navajas Blanco Rioja Crianza 2013, €6.75/£7.50 – Traditional, oak-aged white Rioja: buttery Marmite toast plus lemony fruit. A steal.
Domaine Cordier Mâcon Aux Bois d’Allier 2014, €11.10/£10.95 – Polished, oak-matured, white burgundy: lemon curd fruit, creamy texture, savoury, umami depth.
The Society’s Exhibition Albariño 2015, Rías Baixas, €12.45/£11.95 – Floral, lemony fruit, a touch of apricot and delicate, salty, mineral length. Delicious. Made at Pazo de Señorans estate,
The Society’s Exhibition Alsace Gewurztraminer 2011, €13.75/£12.95 – Richly fruity with real lift and energy; classic, heady, lychee flavours.
The Society’s Champagne Brut NV, €26.50/£28 – Oak-fermented polish, precision and complexity from Alfred Gratien. Punches way above it's weight.
Cruz de Piedra Garnacha 2014, Calatayud, €4.25/£5.50 – Vibrant, dry, unoaked red Garnacha (aka Grenache) packed with black fruit, violet and liquorice flavours. Bargain.
Percheron Old Vine Shiraz Mourvèdre 2015, Swartland, €4.60/£5.75 – Ripe, spicy, full and supple. Another bargain red.
Château Sainte Eulaie Minervois 2014, €6.10/£6.95 – Spice-edged summer berry ripeness and freshness and more elegance than you'd expect at the price.
The Society’s Sicilian Reserve Red 2013, €6.75/£7.50 – Baked cherry-pie flavours, soft tannins and a sour-cherry kick from Nero d'Avola grapes.
Domaine des Escaravailles Côtes du Rhône Sablières 2014, €7.95/£8.50 – Superior Côtes du Rhône with vivid spicy plum flavour and gentle tannin.
Momo Vendimia Seleccionada Ribera del Duero 2012, €9.25/£9.50 – Impressive junior wine from Bohorquez estate. Full flavoured – berries, pomegranate, dark chocolate, liquorice – with soft oak.
The Society’s Exhibition Mendoza Malbec 2014, €9.75/£9.90 – Penetrating, cool black fruit, black pepper and bitter chocolate, with softening tannins. Concentrated, sensitively oaked and even better in a couple of years.
Domaine Jean-Marc Burgaud Morgon Côte de Py 2014, €13.20/£12.50 – Juicy softness, sappy, mineral flavours, crunchy, bright cherry and plum fruit wrapped around a solid core. Very good.
The Society’s Exhibition Marlborough Pinot Noir 2014, €14.20/£13.50 – Perfume, purity and satin-smooth texture with raspberry and pomegranate fruit and a cranberry bite.
All photographs by Joanna Simon