The New London Wine Clubs Changing The Way We Drink

The New London Wine Clubs Changing The Way We Drink

With new-breed wine clubs offering a down-to-earth education in oenology, east London’s fresh-faced bottle experts are pulling the cork on stuffy stereotypes and educating a new generation of grape geeks

Read more food-focused stories in Volume 38: Flavour.

are extremely thin-skinned and temperamental. Part of the
beauty of making wine is turning that delicate, easily agitated
fruit into something longer-lasting and less ephemeral – a product
that will stand the test of time. Part of the problem with the
wine world is that the people who drink it are
often thin-skinned, temperamental, and prone to using words like
“ephemeral” to describe their drink.

The snobbery surrounding merlot, the flagrant use of descriptors
like “cat’s pee” or a “freshly opened can of tennis balls”: it’s
enough to put most people off trying to learn more about wine. But
in east London, a rush of hot new wine-world
talent is cutting out the verbal flagellations of the traditional
wine experience by rethinking the old-school wine

Take Planque, a wine-drinkers’ clubhouse in the east of
London setting out to change the perception of the oenophile from
someone that’s stuffy and stuck-up to laid-back and fun. It’s a
slick space in Haggerston – brought to life by London’s Lipton
Plant Architects and Danish interior designers Studio X – where you
won’t find people over-romanticising wine like they’re training to
become a master sommelier. Instead, Planque is populated by people
dressed in Japanese denim who have a deep appreciation of wine
without any of the wankery. It’s just one of the many wine clubs
currently taking over London like a blush.

A bottle of orange wine and cheese board at Oranj
Stools and wall counter

Oranj opened in Shoreditch this month. | Photo credit:
Harriet Langford

“I wanted to create a wine-centric venue that was equally formal
and casual, with a great list and wine service, as well as
delicious food,” says Planque’s founder Jonathan Alphandery. “The
club aspect was intrinsic to this, as we wanted to create a
community of like-minded drinkers.”

Planque was borne from Alphandery’s passion for wine – he’s
built himself an impressive personal collection of minimal
intervention wines through relationships with various sommeliers,
importers, and restaurateurs – and the space’s success has come
thick and fast. Despite having only been open for a year, Planque
has already got about 70 members in its wine club and was awarded
the Best Short List in the UK Wine List of the Year 2022 for its
carefully curated list of bottles.

How does the “club” aspect of Planque actually work? Well, each
member gets their own designated storage allocation of 72 bottles,
or six cases of wine, which can be kept safe and sound in the
impressive double-archway cellar. Members are welcome to use as
little or as much of their storage allocation as they want while
they build and develop their collections. But it’s not just about
having a place to store and drink good wine. It’s about having the
right people to drink it with.

“The community aspect is the most important – it’s not about
social status or anything,” says Alphandery. “Wine is a shared
passion by so many people, who seem to have a hard time connecting.
We bridge the gap.”

A woman behind a bar
Natural wines on a white shelf

Bottle-based nights run by Dalston Wine Club.

Planque members receive a corkage allowance of two bottles each
month to drink within the restaurant and lounge, free of charge.
That’s a bargain considering the eye-watering rates most London restaurants charge you to drink your own plonk,
but it provides members with a chance to share the bottles and
producers they’re passionate about with people who give a shit.

Alphandery also hosts monthly wine dinners at Planque, where
he’ll pull out some bottles from his personal cellar to accompany a
multi-course meal. Speaking of, the food offering at the clubhouse
is a major draw. With chef Sebastian Myers on the hobs, the
culinary output is always changing and consistently delicious.
Think plates of seared bream with kale and almond, or braised
piattone beans with pork jowl ragout, walnuts, and pickled
elderberries. It’s undoubtedly Parisien-influenced, yet totally
London in its execution.

The reason that most people join a wine club is simple: to enjoy
drinking and appreciating wine with others on the same wavelength.
The girls that get it, get it. That much is obvious. But like any
club, a wine club is also something that people join because they
want to be a part of something exclusive and, more importantly,
something “cool”. 67 Pall Mall is a private members’ club in St James’s
designed for wine lovers and wine-industry folk who have got money
to burn. It might not be everyone’s idea of “cool”, but it’s
undoubtedly exclusive. An annual membership at 67 Pall Mall costs
£2,500. And that’s only after you’ve been vouched for by a current
member as someone worthy of membership. Candidates applying for
membership require what’s known as a “proposer” and “seconder” from
within the club’s existing membership.

Memberships for wine professionals are slightly more affordable,
at £1,250 a year, and it’s worth noting that, spread across three
dashing floors, 67 Pall Mall positions itself as a professional
space for masterclasses, wine tastings, dinners and business
meetings. It’s a wine club designed for two specific kinds of
people: those who are incredibly serious about wine, and those who
are incredibly serious about networking with people who are
incredibly serious about wine.

I wanted to create a place where everyone could feel comfortable and could learn about wine

Hannah Crosbie, Dalston Wine Club

Needless to say, accessibility has always been an issue in the
wine world. Wine lists without any bottles under £32 are just the
tip of the iceberg; the demand for more affordable ways to enjoy
wine has skyrocketed. That desire for unpretentious avenues in
which to explore the world of wine – without the fear of someone
judging you for not knowing what brettanomyces are – is why one of
the hottest properties in the east London wine circuit right now is
a ticket to the Dalston Wine Club.

Run by wine and food writer Hannah Crosbie, this inclusive event
series brings young people into the bottle fold. Crosbie’s events –
which have included everything from “An Evening of Burgundy” to
celebrate International Women’s Day and female wine producers in
Tottenham, to a rosé showcase in Chelsea – are
centered around demystifying the esoteric world of wine and
welcoming all sorts of wine lovers with open arms.

Each Dalston Wine Club sticks to a specific theme, with Crosbie
working closely with various importers to make sure every bottle
hits the mark. Tickets are limited and spaces tend to be capped at
35 people, to keep things intimate and personal.

“In its most basic sense, Dalston Wine Club is what I wish had
existed when I was trying to get into wine,” Crosbie tells
SUITCASE. “Developing a knowledge and palate for wine is impossibly
expensive, and when you don’t have a lot of money or your daddy
doesn’t have a wine cellar, it can be an incredibly isolating
experience. The wine events I was going to were either super-stuffy
lectures with minuscule pours, or they were very middle-class,
exclusionary and mega-expensive. At the time, there was nothing
like it, but I knew that I wanted to create a place where everyone
could feel comfortable and could learn about wine. In that regard,
I find the ‘club’ part of the name ‘Dalston Wine Club’ to be ironic
– it’s for everybody.”

A stylised lounge at Planque
The vivid blue alcove dining space

Lounge and dining spaces at Planque, Haggerston. | Photo
credit: Jeff Boudreau

The affordability of Crosbie’s events combined with a
no-silly-questions approach to talking about wine makes them a real
breath of fresh air that runs against the grain of more
standardised wine education. Doing WSET training is an excellent
way to learn the ins and outs of the wine world, but not everyone
out there is enthralled by the idea of doing homework and exams in
their spare time. “Wine clubs are the perfect place to learn more,”
explains Crosbie.

Natural wine, in particular, seems to be surfing at the top of a
rising wave in London. Oranj, an independent online shop launched by Jasper
Delamothe during lockdown to teach people about small producers
making interesting wine, opened its first bricks-and-mortar wine
bar and kitchen in Shoreditch this November. Housed in a 185sq m
warehouse, the achingly cool natural wine bar is aimed at drinkers
who like their wines to be sourced from producers who are open and
honest about their farming practices. Oranj has also launched a
membership, Club Oranj. Invite-only (unless a space opens up), it
offers monthly bottle deliveries (complete with mix-tapes, tasting
notes and A3 artwork by a local design studio), plus early-bird
access to the company’s tasting and music events. South London
bottle shop Hop Burns & Black has also hopped (sorry) on the
trend with its Super Natural Wine Club – a regular get-together
where punters can buy tickets for £25 and sample six glasses of
natural wine.

Natural wines are – perhaps inevitably given the recent
explosion of wine bars selling the stuff – becoming the hottest bin
in the wine-club offering. “Natural wine doesn’t look like their
parents’ châteaux-clad bottles,” says Hannah Crosbie. “There’s
something about it that makes it feel rebellious, like it belongs
to their generation.” In short: it’s cool. But there’s more to it
than fancy graphic labels and zero-sulphite bragging rights.

“The other side to natural wine is that it creates this
dichotomy that I talk about a lot: between ‘good’ natural wine, and
‘bad’ regular wine,” adds Crosbie. “We hear that everything that
doesn’t have visible sediment has been bollocked with pesticides
and is 90 per cent sulphur, which simply isn’t true. It’s also the
case that now a lot of people perceive wines as ‘funky’ when they
are actually downright faulty.”

When it boils down to it, there’s good wine and there’s bad
wine. It’s knowing which is which that can cause some issues. We
live in a digital age where there’s so much noise and choice that
it’s often hard to decipher between the two and hard to tell what
lives up to the hype and what’s simply a damp squib. It is,
therefore, the role of curators and clubs like Dalston Wine Club
and Planque to help consumers avoid the bad and drink the good.

“The wine club culture there is in the UK definitely paved the
way for us to be where we are now,” Alphandery tells SUITCASE. And
where Planque is right about now is at the top of its game. Things
are looking up for Dalston Wine Club, too. Following a number of
many sell-out events at various locations, it will soon be moving
into a new home in Rondo La Cave – a wine bar and restaurant located
underneath The Hoxton in Holborn. “As for the future, the
possibilities are endless,” says Crosbie. “I can’t wait to see
where we go next.” Join the club.

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