Okay so I joined a wine club. Really, it doesn’t make me a bad person!
Yeah, I joined the Wall Street Journal wine club, which is really the same as both the Zagat and Laithtwaites wine clubs. WSJ has two levels: Discovery Club, which offers a range of wines from around the world selected by their wine buyers; and the Premier Club that specializes in world-class fine wines. I’m in the Discovery club.
My primary motivation for joining was financial. Quite simply, they made me an offer I couldn’t refuse. 15 bottles of wine for $89, seriously how could I say no?
I could say NO MORE, if the wine wasn’t good. Fortunately, that hasn’t been the case. The Ascencion Malbec was a very good bottle, and I’ve also enjoyed a Touriga Nacional Giesta Dao from Portugal, a good Primitivo Tenuta di Somaro from Puglia Italy, and a Chianti Collezione di Paolo. All were good wines. I wouldn’t say any of them rocked my world, but in the same breath I wouldn’t mind having another bottle of any one of them.
Wine clubs come in many forms and price levels. I’m an adventurous wine drinker so the idea of a surprise package showing up on my doorstep every three months is kind of cool to me. I will tell you though, the best way to buy wine is getting to know some good wine retailers, shopping with them regularly, and letting them teach and recommend wines.
Most vineyards have wine clubs as well, and for those of you who find a single varietal you like and stick to it, that might be a way to get new releases without having to drive or call to get your allotment. Additionally, it may save you from being closed out of your favorite wine if sales are too brisk before you can place your order.
The most appealing aspect to the wine club is it gives me access to small production wineries who can’t afford the shipping, licenses, or marketing that would enable them to even let me know they exist. This is what Trader Joe’s does–buying up full productions of smaller vineyards to supply their stores–and wine clubs do the same thing. Plus, they have knowledgeable wine buyers that help ensure you don’t get stuck with a bummer. This lowers their overall cost per bottle, plus they save on the distributor’s cut. All you have to add in shipping and you’re done. Just remember to let you new arrivals sit and recover from bottle shock due to shipping. Yes, wines suffer from jet lag too.
Wine of the Month is America’s oldest wine club. Starting in 1976, it’s a great place for entry-level drinkers to get going. Lot 18 is for folks on the other end of the spectrum. This is a club for Premium wines, fit for a collector who is working on stocking his cellar. Club W no politics folks, just wine, this club takes a profile of your palate and selects wine that fits your profile. There are Cult wine clubs that package super-premium or celebrity wines. Want a bottle of wine made by Boz Scaggs? This club would be about your only hope. I even found a club that specializes in aged Cabernet Sauvignon (California Wine Club). Local Wine stores also have their wine clubs with shipments scheduled monthly, or quarterly.
The down side of the club is that you are not the wine picker, and some people just like driving the boat so much that they don’t want to turn the selection of the wine over to a third party. I understand that. Some also think they can find better values on their own. And they sometimes do. My feeling is that wine is getting more and more hyped, and where everything thing is marketing driven. Even those reviews we love are marketing driven to support ad sales, so the club gives me some relief from the Madison Avenue bombardment. It’s just another possible avenue that you should give some thought to.
Let me know if you have had any experience with a wine club, or buying wine from internet organizations.