Aldi Wine Club: Where Art Thou?

Regular readers may already be aware of the Aldi Wine Club, a 3 month long assignment tasting 6 wines exclusive to their range, and then writing up your thoughts to the wider Aldi community to help guide shoppers in the right direction with their purchases.

AWC Logo

Though I’ve participated in my fair share of panels, I ensure I step back from time to time to allow others a turn at playing wine somm.  I do, however, regularly keep an eye on their website to see how things are progressing.

Over the last few months this has been limited to the continued viewing of a holding page detailing that the hunt is on for the 18th panel, a search that allegedly commenced last December.

AWC June18

Clearly something has stalled, and knowing that the club is pretty unique amongst the supermarkets wine offerings, its closure would be a sad loss for UK wine drinkers.

It would be doubly sad too as it came along at just about the right time to replace the now defunct Tesco Wine Community.  In the case of Tesco, any non-core activities were set aside to repair the big holes in their balance sheet, and the musings of wine lovers were probably far down the list of essentials.

With austerity and shrinking sales still affecting everyone on the high street, I wondered how far down the Wine Club was on Aldi’s balance sheet.  I decided to find out.

The club was administered for Aldi by PR firm Clarion Communications.  Seeing that they had won ‘PR Company of the Year’ at this week’s Drinks Business awards, and are clearly still active in the wines and spirits sector, prompted me to get in touch to see what the current state of play is.

I had several contacts listed for them, each of which pinged me back saying that the email accounts no longer existed – not a good start.  I also reached out to Aldi directly who, in spite of my specific query, responded with the vague offer of passing my feedback to the ‘relevant teams’, and an equally unhelpful redirection to the holding page I had referred to in my enquiry.

A little despondent that clearly Aldi had no real firm grip on the status or plans, I was pleased to be able to connect with Becky at Clarion who was able to shed some more light on the situation.  She confirmed that the club hadn’t closed or been forgotten, just merely dropped down the immediate projects schedule due to some high priority work.

I’m glad to see that the door hasn’t been completely closed on the exercise.  Becky also confirmed that when they recommence the offering she’ll be in touch, so stay tuned if you’ve been wondering where the club had gone or want to get involved in the future.

I hope that in the intervening time between the last panel and the next there have been new ideas kicked around to energise the club and make it more inclusive, more popular, and higher up the Clarion/Aldi priority lists!

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Member 1,555 – A variety of varieties – #MWWC20

The following essay is my submission for this months Wine Writing Challenge.

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Just over a year ago, whilst idly browsing wine sites on the internet, I saw something that made me bristle with excitement – ‘The Wine Century Club’ (http://www.winecentury.com).  Listed as a fun and adventurous approach to trying new wines and creating a record of your vinious experiences, the club was set up by Steve De Long of the De Long winery, and was open to anyone who has tried at least 100 different grape varieties.  As I write this essay, it has over 1,600 members worldwide.

Researching what it was all about and when it was set up, my enthusiasm was slightly dulled by reading comments from people who didn’t seem to understand why you would participate.  They were eager to point out that there was little reason as you didn’t really learn anything from the process and that there was no way that you could recall every variety that you had ever tried.  They went on, stating that even if you took the most meticulous of tasting notes, the fancier or rarer varieties were likely to be miniscule parts of a blend and therefore unable to be singled out as having been ‘tasted’.  Whilst these are valid points, I stuck to my reasoning that it encourages you to broaden your palate, actively search for something new to try, and I made a vow to actively study up on any new ‘finds’ that I may make in the process.  In addition, aside of it being another way to make wine drinking fun, it was a challenge, and challenges are meant to be met.

I set about starting my list.

There are multiple tiers of membership (up to 500 varieties tried!), but when you go for your first 100 varieties you don’t need to list the specific bottle you have tried.  Indeed the whole structure of the club is based on the honour system, in that you’re only fooling yourself if you cheat.  May the wrath of Bacchus curse your palate, as the entry form states.

I went through the provided list of varieties, checking off the ones that there was no doubt that I’d drunk at some point – Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet, Pinot, Riesling etc.  When switching between bottles in regular drinking it probably feels like you are trying a lot more different varieties than you actually are, and my list petered out at somewhere around 40 different types.  Where could I go next?

Thankfully as a diploma student of the WSET (Wines & Spirits Education Trust) I had spent multiple weeks in a classroom environment trying flight after flight of wine, and part of the whole point was to ensure that you were well acquainted with a wide variety of styles and tastes.  To further aid the learning process you were expected to take detailed notes and thankfully I still had mine.  Scores more varieties hit my list and took me well over my 100 variety target, and I was able to start fleshing out my lists with the actual producers and vintage details which added more legitimacy to my application.  Even allowing for things like disputes from synonyms (Zinfandel and Primitivo, for example) I had enough to join the club, and so I sent off my form.  A good month later (the club is based in the US and I am in the UK) I was the proud recipient of a splendid certificate, and happy in the knowledge that I was only one of 30 people in the UK (who have participated, obviously) to have reached the 100 mark.  Well, I was happy for a second, and then I was already working out how to reach the next rung up.

Trying 200 different varieties was a daunting thing, but this made me think all the harder about the task at hand.  I dusted off the tasting notes from my wine club purchases which added a few more ‘off the beaten track’ varieties to the list, but it was time to up my game.  In a moment of serendipitous timing, wine magazine Decanter announced that they would be hosting their first ever Mediterranean Wine Encounter, bringing together producers from stalwarts France, Italy and Spain, as well as up and coming countries like Israel, Croatia, Turkey and Slovenia.  Looking through the event catalogue my eyes were alight at the number of varieties that were featured that I had never even heard of – Pavlos, Goustolidi, Callet, Krassato – and needless to say, I booked my ticket there and then.

I was now up to about 170 varieties when I hit upon the fact that, whilst exploring these far flung places making wine, there were plenty of English (aka Germanic) varieties that I hadn’t even tried.  I set about scheduling up visits to numerous UK wineries (which you can read about in some of my earlier blogs).  This added a few more obscure ones to the list – Rondo, Kerner and Huxelrebe to name just three, and my list now stands tantalizingly close to the all-important figure of 200 varieties tasted.  I now actively (and excitedly) scan the supermarket shelves and wine lists online or in restaurants, looking to add to my expanding collection.

As Christmas approaches, wine season kicks in to gear here in the UK and I have several tasting events lined up over the coming weeks.  Here’s hoping that they have a few new varieties to try alongside the usual suspects!  The whole experience has been tremendous fun for me – why not give it a try for yourself?

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To ‘Premier’ or not to ‘Premiere’

As a quick primer to start, just in case wider readers are unaware, Laithwaites are one of the UK’s leading online and mail order wine merchants.  Over time they have expanded to include a growing number of retail outlets, as well as being the hidden face behind other mail order wine clubs (for example, ‘The Sunday Times’ newspaper offering).  If you google ‘Laithwaites Premier’ you will pull back a handful of results, mainly for their Premier Cru Brut Champagne, but if you add the ‘e’ and search for ‘Laithwaites Premiere’, you will pull back different results altogether.

Taking a step back, I’ll allow my story to unfold. Whilst using cashback site Quidco for a general Laithwaites purchase, I was browsing user feedback comments and happened to notice someone mention that, when twinned with the Laithwaites Premiere service, buying wine became even better value. I was comfortable with the idea of using a cashback site – an easy way to get anywhere between 5-10% of the (pre-VAT) order amount back to your account, simply by making the purchase through their web portal. When buying (for example) a £100 case of 12 bottles of wine, it is virtually the equivalent of getting one bottle entirely for free, which for me has quickly become a no-brainer. What I wasn’t aware of, however, was what Laithwaites Premiere was, and I’d been an active customer of theirs for several years. Premiere means ‘the first instance’ and Premier equates to ‘first in importance’ or a luxury top level tier. Was this a one-off service that I’d missed, or a premium service that I didn’t qualify for?

           Laith Prem Pic

Even when you google the name correctly, you will literally find only a couple of web pages for this un-advertised service, but it gives you a flavour of the top level detail. For a one-off payment of £40 per year, Laithwaites will add two bottles to each 12-bottle order you make – one red, and one white. What is impressive is that this includes the 12-bottle cases that you buy as part of your mail order wine plans (one case per quarter – surely the entry level point of being a mail order customer) and so that already gets you 8 additional bottles per year. Based on the £40 charge, this equates to just £5 per bottle, which is a fair bargain as it is. Buy any other cases throughout the year, and the price per bottle dilutes even further.

I contacted Laithwaites to ask why the service wasn’t advertised as it seemed to offer very good value to anything over and above the most dormant of their base. It puzzled me that they are very quick to publicise bolt-on offers to reduce delivery charges (pay a one-off cost and then all further deliveries are free), but not this offer. The response that I received detailed that Premiere wasn’t a hidden proposition, but was only offered to customers at certain times in the year.   This seems odd as I have bought from them for years and make a beeline for this sort of offer. I would have surely noticed it (as I did when spotting the comment on Quidco) and to this day, the links seem buried on their website and I can only easily retrieve them via google.

On to the wines themselves, the site describes them as being to the value of £15 – joint value, not per bottle (I was initially very excited!), and the plan is described as being all about the discovery of new wines that you may have not tried before. Here’s what I have received:

May 2015

Le XV du Président 2014, Cotes Catalanes IGP, France – £8.99 LINK

Elqui River Sauvignon Blanc 2014, Chile – £8.99 LINK

June 2015

Santa Julia Malbec 2014, Mendoza, Argentina – £8.99 LINK

Lime Leaf Verdejo 2014, Vino Blanco, Spain – £7.99 LINK

July 2015

Picco Attila 2013, Venezie IGP, Italy – £8.99 LINK

McPherson ‘The Full Fifteen’ Chardonnay 2014, SE Australia – £8.99 LINK

I won’t go in to my tasting notes for each of these wines, but safe to say the price-point is circa £8.99 and these are solid entry (or slightly above) level wines all garnering 3 or 4 star ratings (out of 5) from customers. They also cover a multitude of regions, both new and old world, and an array of grape varieties, with no duplication over the last quarter. The plan delivers exactly what it claims in that these are well made wines, not quite in the customer favourites camp yet, but ones you may wish to try in order to get them there.

In summary, I certainly think the plan is well worth a punt. Just today I purchased a case of customer favourites red wines and their premium reserve counterparts. These 12 bottles came with a free bottle of Opi Malbec from Argentina (which serendipitously happens to be one of my go-to bottles from Laithwaites) added free on a deal as I purchased prior to the 5th August. When added with the 2 Premiere bottles and subtracting the Quidco cashback, this comes to an amazing £6 per bottle – awesome value for tried and trusted reds, and even better than general supermarket value.

Hence, I’m spreading the word. Give ‘Laithwaites Premiere’ a google.

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