Should I join a wine club? This is one of the most commonly asked questions I’ve received. Also in the top ten are: “What’s the best wine club?” and “Are wine clubs really a good deal?”
Personally, I don’t currently subscribe to wine clubs, though I have in the past. Many of those seemed like great deals.
I often found that a great price is different from a great deal. Also, as I got more knowledgeable about wine, I found that I could navigate online and retail wine stores and do well without the help of a wine club.
But my experiences were from a few years ago, so I revisited the wine club market and investigated eight clubs. Many resembled my experience in the past, but two stood out. More on that in a second.
Why join a wine club?
I see three primary reasons:
- To replenish your supply of a particular winery’s bottlings that you love
- To have a regular supply of wine come to you with virtually no hassle
- To have a knowledgeable buyer (often with more pricing power than you have) send you interesting wines you would or couldn’t buy yourself
Want to use a club for education or to get bargains? Don’t bother. There are other ways to do that (and I hope my columns can be one of those methods.)
Things to avoid
– Clubs that require long-term commitments
– Clubs that hide shipping costs
– Clubs partnered with a brand that isn’t tied to wine. That newspaper, magazine, or hotel chain is adding cost without adding value. Also, the brand is almost certainly not involved, except for the licensing agreement.
My favourite club for each use case:
Wine clubs from a particular winery will depend on your palate — I’ll leave that choice to you. But beware signing up after you’ve toured multiple wineries and tasted LOTS of wine in one day. Your good mood may not transfer to the bottles they send you in 3 months. The club will be there tomorrow, if you’re still excited then. Also, if you love a commonly available wine, you may want to forgo the club and buy it at lower prices closer to home.
Low-cost, “everyday,” no-hassle wines (under $US15 a bottle.) Tasting Room from Lot 18.
Notice I didn’t say cheap. I liked the Tasting Room approach to customising the club’s selections to your palate. New members receive a tasting kit of 6 small bottles of wine, which you then taste and rate using the accompanying website. After tasting through the six small bottles, the service provides you with a taste profile and then follows up with wine (either all red or red and white) matched to your profile. I had my wife do the tasting kit (she enjoys wine but isn’t nearly as obsessed as I am) and the results suggested some wines she wouldn’t have typically gravitated to on her own.
The wine was uniformly good, but none of wine was amazing or something you would want to collect. But that isn’t why you join a club like this! You join to have wine you like on hand when you want it with very little hassle or risk. If that sounds good, this is a very good option. The site does a nice job of allowing you to provide feedback and further tailor offerings after the initial tests. It also helps you find something you like you can order at restaurants or wine stores, which is a nice feature. Here is the suggestion they provided based on my wife’s feedback on the test:
What I liked: The ability to tailor shipments to your palate. A great entry point for learning more about wine. Decent to good wine at an affordable price. Great feedback loop on the website.
Premium Discovery Option ($US25+ per bottle.) Wine Club by Winestyr.
Winestyr is a new wine club from four-year-old online wine seller Winestyr. Inspired by the wine offered by individual wineries, the club focuses on smaller, independent, American (mostly California) wines that don’t make it to the shelves of most wine stores. Unlike the clubs from specific winery however, Winestyr’s club presents a variety of well-made, interesting wines from lesser-known winemakers. Think about this as a “greatest hits” of multiple-producer clubs.
The club leans toward bold, well balanced, classically American style wines. The wines in my shipment were all really well made and well worth the $US25-33 per bottle price of the 3-bottle packages (price is lower if you select red and white over all-red wines.) If you are looking for a variety of well-made wines this is the best club option I could find.
What I liked: Well made American wine that is difficult to buy through other channels. Great documentation on each wine. Ability to purchase more of anything you like. This is a great gateway to vineyards that could easily fly under your radar.
What about the other six clubs? I couldn’t recommend any of them. There are certainly more than eight wine clubs on the market, and some of them are very certainly good. But I had to end my review somewhere! The vast majority (and the other six I tested) delivered wine that was either uniformly or predominantly bad. Low-cost airline kind of bad.
But there are good clubs out there. If there is a vineyard you particularly enjoy, join their club for regular replenishment of your wine reserves. Otherwise, clubs can be a great low-maintenance way to resupply your everyday wine closet, or they can send you new discoveries on a periodic basis with a high degree of success. I found two I liked. If they sound good to you, take the plunge.
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