I am not a fan of the traditional wine club format. I was duped into joining one ages ago – not a wine farm affiliated club, just a general wine-of-the-month type. It was horrific. I could put together a better selection than the ones I received by tossing glue-covered corks at a supermarket wine shelf and taking the first ones they stick to. It’s horrendous and nearly always “good idea, bad execution”. There are many reasons why this is the case, probably mostly because of badly sourced wines or budgetary constraints; if you want to offer people 6 or 12 wines of a certain quality, then there is a certain cost associated. And if you don’t happen to like the selection, you’ve just paid a bundle for a case or two you don’t care for. Thankfully, there are those among us who have wrestled with this problem on behalf everyone who has have suffered through the annoyance of being sold awful wine in bulk. Could it be that Tank & Barrel has managed the impossible? Have they created a cool wine club?
Tank & Barrel is a concept created by Alex Brodbeck and winemaker Francois Haasbroek. They wanted to take the mostly outdated idea of a wine club and drag it into the now by making both the process and offerings appealing. They’ve transformed the monthly wine club by breaking it down to its bare bones. Membership is R300 per month and for that you get two exciting, unusual and very much niche wines delivered to your door.
At first glance, the idea of two wines seems a bit underwhelming – we’re so used to these operations selling us multiples of 6. The reasoning behind it though is quite pragmatic: when you are subscribed to a wine club delivering 6 or more wines that you don’t specifically pre-select, the odds of you being stuck with wines you don’t like are quite high. Receiving only two bottles a month means if you don’t like what you get, you only have the one bottle to deal with. On the upside, if you DO like what you receive and you want to buy more, you can order as many as your heart desires directly from T&B. Win. Win.
In short, it’s an efficient monthly wine exploration service offering easy discovery of new wines and the anticipation of a new surprise each month.
The wines that feature in the club are definitely more off the beaten track than mainstream. Not entirely unknown or unacclaimed, of course, but not always the type of vino that you’ll pick up at your local supermarket liquor shop. They don’t stick religiously to the R150 per bottle average – some packs are made up of two wines worth a tad more than R300. The R150 per bottle price point is one where you often find a multitude of exciting wines. The T&B monthly selections so far have included (to name a few) Duncan Savage White, The Foundry Grenache Blanc, Vuurberg White, Overgaauw Cape Vintage Port AND Touriga Nacional, Fram Pinotage and Keermont Terrasse.
I was generously sent a “test box” (containing the Keermont Terrasse and the Fram Pinotage) to see if I – with my deeply ingrained dislike of wine clubs – would be sold on the idea of this one. Hand on heart: I am converted. Each month’s wines come with fantastic tasting notes, dripping with wit and information. An infographic styled image in the middle tells you all you need to know about the wine, including what it smells like, whether to decant or not, ideal pairings and serving temperature, what it looks like and where it’s from. Paragraphs dotted around it provide some extra info on the wine, the winemaking, the winemaker, region and soils and a very short and sweet “What WE think (Why we picked it)”. There’s also a superb Bad Pairing suggestion: for the Keermont it was “Don’t pair with people who think white wine can’t age” and for the Fram it read: “Creme Soda – Why spoil the world’s most noble drink with wine?”. Each delivery also has a little blurb on a wine-related topic, just to get you thinking about wine some more.
Tank & Barrel is, in some ways, still a work in progres. Their ‘To Do’ list for the future includes a new website, eCommerce and maybe even an app to snap together and streamline the whole thing. T&B as it is today is definitely a must-try. Ingeniously selected wines with brilliantly informative and entertaining tasting notes and the option of buying your favourites directly from them is an unconventional and convenient; it’s the most innovative way to discover new wine that I’ve come across.
Membership is R300 per month and (for now) you sign up for 6 months with a once-off payment of R1800. As the club grows, monthly payment options are likely to follow.