One Year as a Wine Club Member

Posted: November 2, 2011 in Food Adventures
Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

A couple of years ago, I joined a wine club that was advertised in Food and Wine. It guaranteed 12 bottles shipped to me every quarter at the reasonable rate of $120 (plus shipping) whereas the bottles separately would have cost well over $200. As an exciting new membership perk, my first shipment was 25% off and included a wine gift set complete with stopper, cork, and other tools that I have yet to figure out their purpose.

I’m sure at some point you may have seen an advertisement for one of these clubs or something like it.  The advertisers always use phrases like “world’s finest”, “exquisite”, and other words that I believe are meant to sucker the everyday wine drinker into thinking this wine is better than what they already have stocked in their house.

The only really frustrating part of my membership was that you had the option to opt out of any shipment 2 weeks prior to it arriving at your house by simply calling their 1-800 customer service line. If you failed in this, a case of wine that you may not have wanted would show up at your door. Sometimes, they would have special “Deal of the Century” cases around the holidays and halfway through summer that you would also have to cancel or else it would arrive on your door. These special cases often cost a deal more than the normal shipments. It reminds me of my adolescence when I was a member of Columbia House record club and the CD of the Month would arrive, often from a group I never heard of or one that I knew there was only one or two worthy songs. At least with Columbia, it was easy to ship a CD back. A case of wine is another story.

From my experience, I can best bestow several pieces of advice on to you:

1. If you are a procrastinator (like me and 90% of the people that I know) who reads your mail, sets it in a pile to deal with later, and never really looks at it again, a wine club is going to cost you a lot more than you initially signed up for. You’ll get bottles you may not be interested in and your credit card will be much higher than normal.

2. Good wine is wine that you like to drink. By no means should you ever trust virtual experts to select the best wines you’ve never heard of and tell you that it is good wine, received 90 points, and best served alongside lamb or veal at around 54.5 degrees. If you want to try some new bottles, most quality wine stores will have tastings weekly or at least once a month. Not only is this an enjoyable time and a reason to get out of the house, but you can try upwards of 20 different bottles at varying price points without any commitment.

3. There are some states that do not allow alcohol to be shipped to homes and only certain wine clubs are available in particular states. Check on this first and make sure that the club is available in your area.

4. If you have friends that also would join a wine club, there is no reason that you couldn’t split a case with a friend. You get 12 bottles, but if you choose an all white or all red case, you’ll get duplicates of every bottle.

5. If you love any bottle they sell, immediately (and yes, I’m talking to those folks from No. 1) call the wine club and ask for a case. I could never find any of the bottles I enjoyed from my shipment at the wine store and they always cost significantly more because they have to be special ordered. I was infatuated with a 2007 Groote Kaap Pinotage from South Africa that I have been unable to find ever since and the next years vintage tasted significantly different.

I like wine, but I don’t love it. I will probably never join a wine club again and it’s not because of the above five points, but because I’m actually pretty frustrated with the idea of constantly trying new bottles when I find it almost impossible to find anything I enjoy more than my regular staples. I do think that the adventurous wine drinker or someone looking to get more into wine and doesn’t have a decent wine store near them would benefit greatly from a wine club in terms of its savings and ever-changing stock. But for me, I’ll stick to any free wine tasting that comes my way and let the sommeliers and wine experts of the world argue over which bottles they prefer.

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