One pleasant surprise in the autumn round of tastings is a bonus, but two in a week and it was starting to feel as if Christmas had come early. So it was with the tastings put on by the Wine Society, the mail-order club, and Virgin Wines, one of Europe's bigger online wine retailers. If I was a member of only one wine club, it would be the Wine Society, a non-profit-making co-operative founded back in 1874. And not just for the tastings, en primeur offers, temperature-controlled warehouse storage or even the Postman Pat-style delivery van. What appeals above all, is the range of wines chosen by one of the best and most experienced wine-buying teams in the country.
Perhaps the very name suggests the stolid reliability of Victorian values rather than the excitement of the new wave. But now that it's branched out into the New World in a big way, the Wine Society gives customers both quality and choice. It even won the International Wine Challenge gong this year for its Chilean (and Alsace) range. The only apparent drawback is the membership requirement for access to the 1,500-strong wine list, but it's not too hard. A one-off £40 for a lifetime membership (call 01438 741177 for the form or visit thewinesociety.com) gives you a share in the co-operative and a say in how things are run. New members joining before 31 December get £20 worth of wine.
For a taster of what's good off the list at under a tenner, try the 2007 Trigone Blanc, Domaine du Soula, £7.95, an appetisingly dry southern French blend of appley, mineral-dry flavours from the Roussillon and the superfresh and tangy, featherweight 2005 Saarburger Rausch Riesling Kabinett, Zilliken, £9.95, with its Mosel Valley notes of petrol and curried spices. Great whites include the sensational 2005 Quoin Rock Oculus, £10.95, a stylish, toasty-rich Graves-style blend from the Cape, a dazzling Tassie, the 2007 Society's Exhibition Tasmanian Chardonnay, £11.95.
Good value reds include the gorgeously aromatic, Crozes-Hermitage-like spice of the 2006 Society's Chilean Syrah, Elqui, Valley, £5.50, the cedary, merlot-based claret, 2006 Château Les Tours Séguy, Côtes de Bourg, £6.95, and the stonking value richly concentrated biodynamic red, 2006 Coyam, made by Chile's Alvaro Espinoza, £9.95. At just over a tenner, the chunky peppery 2005 Society's Exhibition Gigondas, £10.95, is a powerful, winter-warming red.
All of which leaves scant room for Virgin Wines, which in fact lost its virginity in 2005 to Direct Wines. Thanks however to the enthusiasm of its buying director, Andrew Baker, Virgin has become an online resource that backs up its "life's too short for boring wines" slogan with some substance. Not necessarily in the cheap everyday department, but a number of the wines Mr Baker showed in the £7.99-£10.99 category were exemplary. Top whites in this price range include the bone dry Clare Valley 2006 Long Yarn Riesling, £9.49, an intense, passion fruity 2006 Ventolera Leyda Sauvignon Blanc, £9.99, and classically full-flavoured, stonefruity 2007 Pazo de Señorans Albariño, £11.99.
On the reds front, there's a fresh, eucalyptus hint to Chile's richly blackcurranty Perez Cruz Cabernet Sauvignon Reserva, £9.99 (£7.95 in November), a fine mouthful of mint and blackcurrant fruitiness in Argentina's 2005 Landelia Cabernet Sauvignon, £8.49, and a seductively perfumed, 2005 Heger Spätburgunder Q, £10.99. Visit virginwines.com for more of where these came from.Reuse content