Why Join a Wine Club? The Pros and Cons of Wine Subscription Services

Why join a wine club? We have some reasons.

Many serious collectors are choosing to join a wine club because it allows them to sample rare or unusual wines that they’ve never tried before. Photo Credit: Pixabay CC user Engin_Akyurt

 I used to be skeptical about online wine clubs, especially those offering deals that seemed too good to be true. Could you really get a mixed case wines including high-quality California Chardonnay for less than $13 per bottle? In order to test some of these popular wine subscriptions, I joined a few wine clubs myself. After signing up for three different subscription services, I learned that the quality of a wine club can vary dramatically depending on how rigorous the bottle selection process is. In my experience, wine clubs that are run by certified sommeliers or focus on niche styles or regions tend to be the most worthwhile. In fact, only one of the three wine clubs I joined met my high expectations–it offered diverse selections of highly rated wines, including a delicious Syrah from San Antonio Valley in California and a proprietary red blend from Napa winemaker Helen Keplinger. I was extremely impressed with the wines I received, and the experience made me rethink my skepticism about wine clubs.

 
If you’re wondering why you should join a wine club, consider that today’s wine subscription services are often founded and run by sommeliers who hire knowledgeable, trained staff members to choose unique, highly rated wines for each shipment. Unlike the wine clubs of the past, which frequently featured lower-quality wines, many modern wine clubs have a greater focus on quality, and a number cater to very specific regions, styles, and preferences. However, wine clubs aren’t right for everyone. Before you sign up for a subscription, think about the pros and the cons to these clubs. Here are a few of the pros:

  1. Modern Wine Clubs Are Changing

The biggest complaint that serious wine enthusiasts have had about wine clubs is that they tend to feature easy-drinking, fairly boring bottles, often at low prices. Some wine clubs even make cheapness a specialty and point of pride. And while the price of a wine doesn’t always dictate its quality (you can find some truly delicious $20 wines), most of these budget-friendly wine subscription services are designed for casual drinkers, rather than collectors or connoisseurs.

So why join a wine club if you’re a serious wine enthusiast? Well, modern wine clubs are changing for the better. For instance, wine clubs like SommSelect were founded by Master Sommeliers who ensure that the club’s selections are carefully curated. SommSelect’s monthly subscription includes a blind tasting option–the company sends you six bottles wrapped in black tissue paper and lists the order in which you should taste them. Wine journalist Elin McCoy calls these niche, sommelier-run clubs “the only wine clubs worth joining.” Other wine clubs hone in on a specific style of wine or region, making it more likely that the wines you receive will be something special. Here are just a few examples:

  • Fat Cork: Specializes in grower Champagne.
  • Cellar 503: Offers wines exclusively from Oregon.
  • Gold Medal Wine Club: Focuses on wines from small-production wineries.
  • Wine Down Box: Offers unique food pairings alongside each wine.
  • Viticole: Specializes in organic wines.

These new wine clubs have taken subscription services way beyond the old days of quantity over quality. They’re even offering great wines that are hard to find elsewhere.

  1. Gain Access to Limited Releases and Rarities

I’ve wanted to try Lalalu Cabernet Franc ever since I first heard about this small-scale, terroir-driven producer. However, finding just one bottle of the 2016 vintage was extremely difficult; its limited production and esteemed reputation make it all but impossible to locate on the market. The only place that I could find the bottle was through a special SommSelect membership offer. This story isn’t an uncommon one, either–in many cases, small-scale producers will sign exclusive special release deals with wine clubs in order to introduce their wines to a broader audience. If you join a wine club with an excellent reputation, you may come across some fantastic lesser-known bottles or limited releases that you can’t find anywhere else. If you’re looking to try some wines made in very limited quantities and you’d rather not spend the time to hunt them down yourself, consider joining a wine club that has exclusive deals with small-scale producers.

  1. You’ll Discover New Favorites

If you’re looking to spice up your wine collection or get out of a wine rut, then a subscription service can help you break out of your usual routine. For instance, I’ve long enjoyed Keplinger Grenache, but I wasn’t as familiar with some of Helen Keplinger’s other incredible wines. It wasn’t until I joined a wine club that I discovered the 2014 Carte Blanche red blend. After tasting it, I’ve decided to seek out more wines made by Helen Keplinger, including her Keplinger Syrah and the 2011 vintage that she oversaw during her time at Bryant Family Vineyard.

Of course, it’s no good having an “aha” moment about a new wine if you forget everything about it later. It’s a good idea to keep track of your tasting notes for every bottle by using the Vinfolio wine management app or a similar platform to take detailed tasting notes on each bottle of wine. A mobile app allows you to see at a glance which wines you enjoyed most, which in turn will offer you insight into other wines and producers to try.

  1. Wine Clubs Can Adjust to Your Preferences

Many wine club subscriptions offer you six unique wines each month–this means that you could receive as many as 72 different wine bottles every year. But what good is receiving all these wines if you don’t actually enjoy most of them? To solve this problem, some of the best wine clubs now use advanced algorithms and surveys to determine exactly which wines to send you every month. While some wine clubs still rely on a “somm knows best” mentality, other wine clubs like Winc (formerly called Club W) are taking a more algorithmic and data-based approach to their offerings. The club collects information about each member, including preferences and whether the member enjoyed the wines they received in previous months. They then use this data to refine future wine offerings. Founder Xander Oxman tells Eater, “Our predicted recommendations are better as we collect more data, and consistent feedback tells us what’s working and what’s not.” With the ability to change wine offerings at a moment’s notice, fine wine clubs have the ability to evolve with emerging trends as well.

  1. You’ll Rekindle the Joy of Wine

You should also join a wine club if you want to improve your drinking experience. Too often, serious collectors get bogged down by market statistics, bottle resale value, returns on investments, or whatever vintage everyone is excited about at the moment. However, wine is much more than just a financial asset or trophy. It’s easy to lose sight of what draws us to fine wine in the first place: complex flavors that excite our senses. Wine clubs offer bottles that are ready to be uncorked right now, which gives you the opportunity to drink wine more often and more casually. While your age-worthy wines are in storage, you can sample lesser-known wines that are drinking well right now. This might even inspire a few spontaneous blind tasting parties or an experimental food and wine pairing dinner with close friends. Regardless of where your tasting experiences take you, rekindling your love of wine–and the experience of learning something new–can make any wine club worth the fee.

A Few Caveats for Collectors

Despite these benefits, fine wine clubs aren’t the right choice for every connoisseur. Here are some of the reasons why you might choose to pass on joining a wine club:

  1. If You Already Understand Your Palate

If you’re a serious wine collector, you likely already purchase plenty of wine throughout the year from trusted retailers and you may not need a sommelier to tell you which wines to drink every month. You already try a lot of wines–maybe you belong to a local wine tasting group–and your collection is already focused on the ones you’re passionate about. If you fall into this category, it makes more sense to purchase your favorite Hundred Acre label on your own from a reliable retailer rather than signing up for a wine subscription service.

  1. If You Don’t Have Space to Store Bottles

If you rely on a home cellar or wine fridge for storage, you may not have enough space to add 72 new bottles of wine to your collection every year. Moreover, wine club wines are almost always meant to be drunk early, and they’ll take up precious space that you might prefer to save for age-worthy wines.

  1. If the Wine Club Requires Long Contracts

Some wine clubs ask you to sign a contract that might last anywhere from six months to a full year. Especially if you’re an experienced collector, choose clubs that offer month-to-month services or that offer contracts that last fewer than three months at a time. This allows you to cancel your subscription if you dislike the club’s selections and it keeps you from crowding your cellar with wines you’ll never get around to drinking.

  1. If You Discover Hidden Fees

Keep an eye out for hidden shipping fees or consultation costs; quality wine clubs will tell you exactly how much the service costs upfront. The cost of shipping should be included in the listed membership price or should be easy to find before you sign up.

  1. If the Wine Club Advertises Other Services

In our experience, it’s best to avoid wine clubs that offer non-wine-related services. In general, a wine club should stick to selling and talking about wine, not advertising Carribean vacations or airline deals. In some cases, a larger parent company (like an airline or a hotel) will license their name out to a wine club. When this happens, you may end up paying more for your wine because the brand’s name is attached to the service. Instead, choose fine wine clubs that are solely focused on the wine itself.

The bottom line is that wine club memberships should be fun. While not every connoisseur needs one, quality subscription services can be a springboard for exciting new drinking experiences. At their best, they are a simple, useful tool for collectors who wish to expand their horizons and rediscover what they love about wine.

Whether you are starting your high-end wine collection or adding to an established portfolio, Vinfolio is your partner in buyingselling, and professional storageContact us today to get access to the world’s finest wine.

At Vinfolio, we help our clients buy, sell, store, and manage their most treasured bottles of wine. But in our spare time, we’re just a group of passionate and slightly obsessed oenophiles--we love sharing a great glass of vintage Champagne, followed by a Burgundy, and then a Bordeaux, to get things started. We’re always obsessing over the latest (and oldest) vintages, and we want to share that knowledge and passion with our readers.