Every once in a while, the BYO (bring your own) club would gather over a few bottles of wine each of us had chosen on a theme, be it claret from a special vintage or Aussie shiraz.
Every once in a while, the BYO (bring your own) club would gather over a few bottles of wine each of us had chosen on a theme, be it claret from a special vintage or Aussie shiraz. We would taste, sometimes blind, mull over the contents, and wash the lot down with food. Before long, the evening would degenerate into a social bash with no regrets, at least until the morning after. The first part of the evening was often instructive, the second part invariably a lorra laughs, as Cilla might have put it.
The word "club" may smack of a wine merchant trying to offload its wares, or a society of imbibing anoraks clucking over which side of the Côte Rôtie is brune and which blonde, but it need not be a turn-off. Beyond the commercial and the nerdy, this country boasts a broad network of wine clubs ranging from the small and informal to groups that call on visiting speakers, organise dinners and arrange trips abroad. Like book clubs, wine clubs are an example of putting something in and getting a lot more out.
Phil Collins' band (no relation) holds just such informal get-togethers. When one of the group feels inspired, they host a tasting, usually led by a question such as, "What's your favourite champagne and why?" or, "Is vintage port worth the money?" Taking it in turns to act as the host, and organise a simple buffet as ballast, a dozen-odd friends each bring a bottle. For fun, and to help overcome prejudices, they usually taste blind with enough glasses to make comparisons. "The result is a jolly evening with lively exchanges of views on wine - and many other topics as the evening wears on - and an incentive to try new wines," says Phil. His recipe: "Look for a good focus. It defines the wine people bring and creates a framework for comparisons. Cater for partners who may not be as keen on wine as the tasting group. And have lots of water on hand."
At the opposite end of the spectrum, Cecwine, "London's Premier Wine Club", offers high-end wine-tasting events. It's a serious business with masterclasses and gourmet dinners hosted by Masters of Wine. It claims to be unique because it introduces members to wines they would not normally be able to taste, but that's no more than what many clubs are doing. At the Dulwich Wine Society, for instance, secretary Tim Havenhand says that each week, its 30-odd members "get the chance to taste a wide range of wines from all over the world, some of which you couldn't afford to taste or wouldn't otherwise come across".
More informally, Luisa Vogliolo-Welch's Euposia involves wine-tasting dinners based on a theme. "The tone is one of conviviality and friendliness, and it attracts many single people. Rather than drowning people in soil types and time of grape-picking, I concentrate on what they should be looking for in the taste, why a wine makes a good match for a certain dish and what makes it worth its price," she says. Similarly, Lorraine Mandry's Docklands Wine Club is mainly for people who, she says, "like myself, love wine and want to learn more but in a relaxed social atmosphere. Many are single and live in the area and they come to the wine club to have fun." What more civilised way of expanding your wine horizons than getting together and enjoying a few good bottles? It can be intoxicating, in the best sense, of course. E
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