Wine clubs have changed a lot since I managed one for a retailer on New York’s Upper West Side, when your payment got you a single bottle per month and it was the club’s choice. Members would have to call or email if they wanted only red or only white wines. (There was also the woman who wanted only pinot grigio or white zinfandel, but I digress…)
Today’s clubs combine the fun of internet quizzes with the power of algorithms to pinpoint your palate and offer options galore at the click of a mouse.
For example, Winc starts with a series of questions asking how you feel about, among other things, salt (from never use it to put it on everything), berry fruits (love ‘em, hate ‘em, or only in jam), and earthy flavors (ewwww, no to yes, please). The club also wants to know how adventurous you are in terms of trying new flavors – not jumping out of airplanes!
Another popular club, The Tasting Room, sends out six mini bottles of wine. Taste, report back what you liked and didn’t like, and your first shipment is based on that profile.
“I was very satisfied with what they sent,” says Meghan Burek, a Tasting Room member and wine club devotee. “One prosecco I didn’t like,” she says of her first shipment, “but I feel like they got it.” In fact, she loved two of the wines so much, she ordered more right away.
In addition, Meghan stocks up around the holidays with bottles she’s liked over the past few months. “It’s good to have something I know is good on-hand for parties or to bring to people’s houses,” she says.
Meghan also belongs to Naked Wines, which has a completely different value proposition. There aren’t quizzes or tasting notes. Instead, members are “angels” who pay $40 per month, which helps support independent winemakers. “You can pause payments or make extra shipments [if you’ve banked a few payments without requesting wine]” Meghan explains.
But what she really loves about the club is how personal it is. “I get alerts from winemakers with harvest notes, or new launches. It’s really cool that winemakers are talking to you! I love how you can rate the wines,” she says, but beware of that two-way communication.
Meghan at first didn’t realize that the winemakers actually read the comments. She called one wine “disgusting” in her review, and was mortified to hear from the winemaker, disappointed that she didn’t enjoy the wine. (“But they refunded me the money!” she adds of the bad bottle.)
However, not everyone craves that interaction. “They are a little email heavy and want to create a community, but I don’t care about that aspect,” says Casey Wilson of her membership in Winc.
Instead, she joined the club “because it seemed like they catered to people who like decent wines.” And it was a good decision: Her first delivery had “quite good” red wines though the one bottle of white she got “was not as successful.”
But it keeps getting better: “They honed the second group [of wines] based on feedback from the first batch,” Casey says. “I’m waiting on the third [shipment] and am really interested in what’s coming.”
One thing that she likes about the club is the simplicity. “It’s easier for them to find things to send me,” she says, instead of having to wander through a wine store guessing what she might like.
And she loves the exposure to different kinds of wine – even if it’s one she’s never heard of. “They sent something called a valdiguié and I loved it! I had a sip and went shopping for a meal to prepare with it!” FYI, valdiguié is a red grape mostly found in France’s Languedoc-Roussillon area.
How do you know which wine club might be right for you?
Meghan suggests making sure the club has flexibility, both in the ability to edit your selections and to decide when you receive shipments.
Casey recommends looking at the wines the company sells, how they describe the wines, and to get a feeling for the club’s “taste” and how well it matches yours.
I would also advise looking at the cancellation policies to make sure you’re okay with the terms. And don’t go with the first club you see. There are so many options out there, it is easy to find exactly the right wine club for you!
In addition to the clubs above, here are some other options to explore: