A Guide To Joining The Best Wine Clubs
C’mon, join the club…but which club should you join, is a wine club even a fit for you, and do they really offer better deals on wine? If you are adventurous about your wine consumption then you should consider joining a wine club.
The wine club can in fact be an excellent choice for an individual who wants to experiment with various styles of wine but has little to no time for browsing in their local wine shop. It’s my humble opinion that getting to know your local wine retailer and shopping regularly is the best way to learn about new wines. But if the alternative in your busy life is just grabbing the closest bottle at the grocery store (the horror), well then, you need to join a club.
Most wineries have wine clubs, but you’re only exposed to one winery’s offerings in this format. It’s a big field of players, and so confusing that I just called Jessyca Frederick, developer of the popular WineClubReviews website to ask her opinion on the matter. She advises consumers to spend some time reading the fine print.
“The key,” she notes, “is choosing the right club for what you want.” Her website sifts through all the noise and delineates between clubs that provide super value and clubs that provide first-rate access to collectibles. (Caveat: she does accept payment from clubs to be posted on the site, but insists on specific standards and criteria before allowing them to be included on her site.) “The types of clubs have changed. Now services are more personalized.” she says. Indeed, many wine clubs offer palate profiles to tease out your preferred wine styles.
Another advantage to wine club membership is the access to small-production ‘mom and pop’ wineries who cannot afford shipping licenses or marketing. There are just so many amazing wines in the world, and most of them are not on the store shelf at your local grocery store.
Clubs tend to buy larger quantities of wines (buying in bulk yields a lower bottle price) and they don’t have to deal with a distributor, which adds on another layer of pricing. So, generally speaking, wine clubs can offer better bottle prices. Just remember, there are shipping costs to consider. You can spend all day running the
numbers and gauging your value advantage, but I’d suggest selecting the wine club that suits your style. Some specialize in aged Cabernet Sauvignon (try the Aged Cabernet Series from The California Wine Club); others offer an international range of tastes. The list below is by no means comprehensive, but it offers a few places to begin.
One more thing, once you do join, give your new wines at least a week to recover from bottle shock due to shipping. Otherwise they’ll just taste weird.
The International Wine of the Month Club—I liked this club’s wealth of selections and the well-written cellar notes (more like two-page newsletters) that accompany each shipment. Notes include a history on the wine, the varietal and some ideas for food pairings. You can also order additional bottles of any favorites with ease. They use a two-tiered tasting panel to curate selections, which ultimately means the final wines have been judged worthy by 30 different experts. I like those odds.
Club W-–You’ll take a palate profile survey which helps the Club W team curate a special box of wines suited to you particular tastes. This club also focuses on value wines and offers nice touches (which most others offer as well) such as the ability to cancel or skip a shipment and return any wines you don’t like.
The Fat Cork Club—THE perfect club for the Champagne lover. Founder Bryan Maletis, a former brand manager with Laurent-Perrier, in partnership with Jean-Pierre Williamsen, chief exporter for a multitude of grower Champagnes, deliver bubbly lovers exclusive, hard-to-find offerings. The club provides three levels of membership. I like the 2 bottles every other month for $99 (includes shipping). Before sending you a thing, they’ll provide a taste survey to assess your preferences so you don’t end up with a style not to your liking. Members are also invited to attend special tastings at their Seattle-based facility—and the team will even make introductions and set up tasting appointments in France should you wish to visit Champagne.
Gold Medal Wine Club—They offer a range of ‘series’ featuring themes such as medal winning wines from smaller California wineries or Best in Class Pinot Noir wines.
Lot 18---This club offers daily specials on premium wines, a nice fit for a collector who’s looking to stock a cellar.
Plonk Wine Club– They focus on wines under $20 that are, according to the website, ‘artisanal, obscure and affordable.”
Uncorked Ventures—Specializing in California, Washington and Oregon wines, primarily hard-to-find smaller wineries with limited distribution.
Wine of the Month—America’s oldest wine club (circa 1976) with an emphasis on value wines. A great entry-level experience for new wine drinkers.