Buying Advice: Wine Clubs
One of the best ways to sample a variety of domestic and international wines in the comfort of your own home is through a monthly or quarterly wine club membership. Since most wine clubs focus on featuring small boutique wineries and vintages, you'll get to experience truly unique wines that you'd never find in your local wine shop. Regardless of whether you are a wine aficionado or novice, different wine clubs will offer multiple membership levels to cater to your varietal/regional preferences, tasting aptitude and budget. Since most of these wine clubs have very similar features, we have outlined some buying tips below to help you better understand the differences between them if you are considering purchasing membership for yourself or as a gift.
What to Know Before You Buy
Types of Clubs: Monthly vs. Quarterly
Most wine clubs are monthly clubs and allow members to determine how frequently they would like to have shipments delivered: monthly, bimonthly or quarterly. In general, shipments from monthly wine clubs will have fewer bottles of wine since they are being sent more often. Some companies only offer quarterly wine clubs. These clubs send shipments every three months, but each shipment will include an entire case of wine (12 bottles). Unless you only want to receive big quarterly shipments of wine, most people will opt for membership with a monthly club since you have a greater ability to customize your experience or your recipient's experience if you are giving it as a gift.
In addition to offering flexible shipping schedules, most wine clubs offer multiple memberships options with no minimum purchase requirements. Almost all clubs will also allow you to cancel at any time without incurring any cancellation fees. Based on your wine budget, you will first be deciding between membership to a value wine club or a premium one. Costs will vary greatly depending on the club you choose and your membership level, but the least expensive clubs start around $30 for a 2-bottle shipment (includes tax and shipping). Premium wine clubs can cost as much as $700 for a 2-bottle shipment.
The type of wine you want to receive will further narrow down your search. If your membership includes 2 or more bottles a month, most wine clubs will allow you to choose whether you want to receive shipments of only red wine, only white wine or a mix of the two. Some wine clubs will offer a wide variety of domestic and international wines, while others only focus on certain regions or varietals. For more inexperienced wine drinkers, you might want to look for inexpensive clubs that will help expose you to classic varietals from around the world (ex. Wine of the Month Club's Classic Series), so you can then start to identify some favorites that you want to learn more about. Wine enthusiasts might want to subscribe to a slightly more expensive club that features some of the world's best, hard-to-find wines. If you have a particular region/grape you'd like to delve a little deeper into, you can also subscribe to a more specialized wine club (ex. Gold Medal Wine Club's Pinot Noir Series).
Wine Selection Process
One thing to take a closer look at is how the wine club makes their selections each month. It is especially important when researching the value wine clubs since you might not necessarily want bulk or discount bin deals. Good wine clubs typically have a panel of experts to pre-screen wines for quality, value and uniqueness each month before sending out the best bottles to their members. Some wines will have a numerical rating (0-100) assigned to it. While the point system is a helpful guide when judging a wine's quality, keep in mind that these ratings are subjective and always consider the source(s). For example, a wine could have a high rating from the wine clubs "experts" but a low rating from a more trusted source like Robert Parker. A good sign to look for is if the wine club archives all of their previous selections on their website for the public to view. This demonstrates confidence in their selections and maintains a certain level of accountability since you can review all previously featured wines.
Ability to Re-Order Favorite Wines
Unfortunately, some wine clubs don't offer an easy online reordering system if you want to buy more bottles of a particular wine you like. Since liquor laws are different depending on which state you live in, it can be really frustrating if you try to reorder wine from a different distributor or direct from the winery. When you are evaluating a wine club, you should definitely check to see if you'll be able to reorder certain bottles and what kind of discounts are offered. Sometimes these discounts can be as high as 50% off winery direct prices.
Most wine clubs will include a monthly newsletter in each shipment that shares some background on the wineries and tasting notes on the particular wines that were selected. It is very informative and will sometimes include fun recipes, trivia, wine history, news from wine country, etc.
A wine club membership is the perfect gift to give yourself or any wine enthusiast in your life. Since most clubs only feature boutique wineries and vintages, it is a great way to discover amazing wines that you would never have otherwise had the opportunity to try. For gift memberships, most clubs will feature free gift notification (by email or snail mail), and, if you buy multiple shipments, it is a gift that your recipient will enjoy for months. Since email gift notification is instant, it is especially helpful for the last minute shoppers out there. As a bonus, some clubs will also even offer sign-up incentives like discounts on the first shipment or free gifts (e.g. corkscrew, wine glasses, etc.) with your purchase.
As mentioned, liquor laws vary by state, so, you should definitely check if a particular wine club can even deliver to your (or your gift recipient's) state before checking out their membership options. Additionally, since alcohol shipments require an adult signature, some wine clubs will charge an additional fee to ship to residences because the shipping company anticipates having to make multiple delivery attempts. In general, you are better off having your wine shipped to your office to avoid any hassle.