Britons are drinking more and more wine but we do not just want to drink it, we want to talk about it too. Wine clubs and societies across the country are experiencing a rise in membership as drinkers seek to learn more about the wines.

Britain has experienced a wine boom in the past decade as beer falls out of favour. Wine sales rose by 23 per cent between 1999 and 2004, and we now consume more than one billion bottles a year.

But while there is a bank of established knowledge about wine in producer countries such as France, British wine-drinkers generally have little knowledge of viniculture.

But more want to learn and there is a rising number of wine-lovers who meet in pubs, at village halls and even in universities to discuss the merits of grape and region and to distinguish their burgundies from their beaujolais.

Commercial wine clubs, which sell mixed cases of selected red or white wines by post, have experienced greater interest too, as have the wine experts who run appreciation evening classes.

In Britain, there are about 110 formal wine societies which concentrate on talk and taste rather than trade, with names such as Barrels & Bottles in Sheffield, Ilkley Chevaliers, and East Grinstead Wine Appreciation Society.

Many were founded in the 1970s or 1980s when wine was often seen as a slightly exotic foreign drink to be taken occasionally with meals. Keith Powis, a retired dentist who runs the Canterbury Wine Tasting Society, said members were often surprised by how the meetings educated their palate and raised the amount they were prepared to pay for a bottle.

"As people's palates improve, they begin to pick up on the richer subtleties of the better wines," Mr Powis, 59, added. "There are people who come to my wine appreciation evening class who didn't want to spend more than £3.99 a bottle and now they are happily prepared to spend £25 a bottle. I'm not sure their wives agree."

Membership of Dulwich Wine Society in south London has swollen from 30 to 50 in the past 14 years. Members meet in a room at the Crown and Greyhound in Dulwich Village and travel abroad every year for a tour of vineyards, often in Spain. The club does not advertise because so many new members were drawn by word of mouth.

Younger people have begun to start joining wine societies, rather than simply swig chardonnay in bars. "It's noticeable the amount of women coming now and also younger people," said Julie Belton, of Amersham Wine Appreciation Society in Buckinghamshire.

"Our membership starts at the late 20s with a lot in their 30s. Before, the bulk of people were in their 40s, 50s, and 60s. But wine still has a stuffy image and we are thinking of changing the name because the 'wine appreciation' bit seems to put people off."

Jamie Goode, who runs, a down-to-earth vino website, said: "People are initially very insecure about wine because it's such a complex subject and because the way it has been communicated in the past has left people daunted. One of the great strengths of wine - its variety - can be a drawback.

"But once you get people drinking, they relax and they enjoy it. People love being empowered to begin to discover these different flavours. It's not something we're taught. It's an English disease: we're not taught much about what goes in our mouths."

Tips for novices

* Keep it simple. Buy varietals, which means the name of the grape variety is displayed on the label.

* Take one varietal, for instance Sauvignon Blanc, and compare examples between £4 - £7 from Chile, South Africa and New Zealand - and note the best value.

* For red, if you take sugar in your tea or coffee, try Merlot which is a lot less dry than Cabernet Sauvignon.

* If someone gives you a good bottle to keep, lay it on its side in the dark, away from vibrations and in a consistently cool temperature.

* Experiment with port - try the late bottled vintage style which is delicious with cheese. It is half-sweet and loved by those with dry and sweet tastebuds.

Andrew Jones, Editor,