Are you a member of a wine club? Do you receive monthly mailings of new wines?
I myself have been a member of a few wine clubs and some I’ve joined have proven to be a mistake.
Now, I’m not talking about the wine clubs that you join after a weekend in Sonoma or Napa. Those wines you’ve already tried and enjoyed. Plus, those are usually of much higher quality. I specifically mean these mass-marketed wine clubs like Wall Street Journal Wine, Tasting Room wines, or one of the many other “clearing house” wine clubs.
Unfortunately, I think these wine clubs are created simply for the bottlers to make a little extra money with the year’s leftover grapes. The wine isn’t all that good, and the only way to order more, if you actually like it, is through the wine club and nowhere else. The wine from these clubs could also be small batch wines, bulk, or overstock wine that a company wants to be rid of. Multiply this by many and many companies, and you’re left with a clearing house of wine that needs to be sold.
Some of these wine clubs also offer “private label” wines.; this is nothing more than mediocre quality wine with a new label. Wine clubs buy large amounts of bottled wine for cheap and then create a unique label for the wine (which is why you can’t find/buy the wine anywhere else). Then these wine clubs advertise these private label wines as premium wines to their customers. This false advertising is one of the many problems with budget wine clubs.
For Tasting Room wines, their unique selling point is that they can bottle small samples, mail them out, and have you taste test them. (Only ONE of the samples mailed to me was palatable!) You rate them online and then choose your favorites. Fortunately, with Tasting Room, you’re able to change your wine shipment each month, switching from white to red, vice versa, or just to hand-pick the wine you want to try for the month. Tasting notes are given for each wine which helps you choose the bottles you’d probably like. So, if you’re shipped a wine you don’t like, you can alter next month’s selection online to find one better suited to you.
I never found a wine I really liked at Tasting Room. In fact, I never really liked ANY of them. And I promise you, that I’m not super picky with wine; almost every bottle I pick up and try from the store I like! In fact, one of my favorites is an $10 bottle of Ménage à Trois wine. While I don’t drink super cheap wines, I generally buy bottles in the $10-$20 range.
Last I checked, the price for this wine club membership is NO WHERE to be found on the website. The only information they do provide is the cost for the mini bottle sampling kit – $10. Why is pricing not found on their website?? I looked up my cost for Tasting Room membership from May of 2017 and it cost $160 for a total of 8 bottles (and the sampling kit); my plan allowed me 2 bottles a month for 4 months. That equals $20 a bottle, which includes shipping fees.
The problem with Tasting Room is that they are selling you on personalization of wine. On their website, they state “Tasting Room is the only wine club that focuses on you — your tastes, your preferences.” However, how can they claim that if they only offer 111 total wines? (Yes, their website currently has only 111 different wines to choose from!) The breakdown of what wine they have is featured below.
If you only like white wines, you have 43 Tasting Room white wines to choose from. You certainly can’t dial in what you like when you only have 1 Riesling, 1 Pinot Grigio, and 3 Viogniers to choose from. The same is true for the red, sparkling, and rosé wines. When you break down what different wines Tasting Room offers, you begin to realize how little variety they have.
For the Wall Street Journal wines, I’ve received three cases as gifts. You can order a case of all red, all white, or a mix of both. All at once you receive a case of 12 bottles delivered to you home for a bargain of $70. However, there were a few duplicate bottles in the box; the problem with that is if you don’t like the wine, then you’re stuck with a second bottle that you don’t want to drink. The Wall Street Journal wines are also usually one shipment of 12 bottles and you have no choice or control over your selections of wine (other than whites, reds, or both). You could have bottles you like and bottles you don’t. You get what you get.
Yes, I get why wine clubs are fun. Who doesn’t love getting new wine in the mail? It’s fun, exciting, and adventurous to try new wines. But what if you don’t like anything that was shipped to you?
Here are a list of questions every wine connoisseur should ask before joining a wine club:
- How much does it cost to join the wine club?
- Does it match the personal style/region of wine that I like?
- How often am I charged?
- Is there a commitment or initial fee to join the club?
- Does the price include shipping and handling for each shipment? If not, how much is shipping and handling?
- Can I choose the type, color, or amount of wine I receive?
- How often are the shipments and how many bottles are sent?
- How are the wines shipped in hot months (especially in the south) and cold months (in the north)?
- Is there an auto-renewal each year?
- Do they offer discounts on bottles of wines that you can buy outside of the wine club?
- Can I cancel anytime? Is there a fee to cancel membership?
- Can I adjust my membership (number of bottles shipped, red/white wine change, number of shipments)?
Remember, if you drink a lot of wine, then a wine club may be a great idea to save a little money. Especially so if it’s a winemaker or winery you really like. (I’ve done that with great success with small to medium-sized wineries in Sonoma, CA.) I would definitely not recommend joining a wine club blindly. You don’t want is to lose money or end up committed to a club that you want to get out of but can’t, due to the membership’s rules.
In my personal opinion, you can’t really find your true flavor profile by drinking a few bottles of wine. I think a better technique would be to gather some friends that like wine, have everyone pitch in some money, and go out and buy wines ranked 90 or above at a fine liquor store (I like Vin in and around the Chicago area) for the same price range of $10-$20 per bottle. This way you all can taste many different wines to fine tune what you like; and you’ll be tasting higher ranked and much better tasting wine as well.
Do your research on wine clubs before spending your money. I know for a fact that there are great wine clubs out there and a lot of great wine that needs drinking!
If you have an experience with a wine club, I’d love to hear about it in the comments.