Wine clubs that deliver wine to your front door have been around longer than the internet. The first were mail-order clubs, akin to a book of the month club. Then they began migrating online. Now, there’s a new breed of wine clubs that uses technology and algorithms to pinpoint the best wine for you. Think Stitch Fix or Amazon for wine, with personalization as the new mantra.
Here are 11 new-wave wine clubs worth considering, whether you’re a wine newbie or a somm wannabe.
For wine newbies
New members of the Tasting Room wine club begin by rating the six wines in a starter kit of mini-bottles. The Tasting Room team then customizes subsequent shipments based on those ratings. The wines are sourced from 10 countries and discounts are sizable ($20 wines for $13, for example), which makes this a great, nonspendy pick for folks exploring the world of wine. Plus the customization options are considerable. You choose the shipment size (two to 12 bottles), frequency and shipping date, and you can review the selections and change them before they ship. Shipments include recommendations for food pairings and other wine varietals, regions and style you might like.
The sips: Our tasting kit included two whites and four reds, two of which we loved, including a lemony, zippy French white and an Italian barbera d’Asti. From that, the Tasting Room generated a profile for fresh, zesty whites for us, although we’re more partial to aromatic whites and earthy reds. So we swapped out wines for our next shipment and ended up with a mix of pleasant, though not terribly exciting, wine. That said, we know what we like. If you don’t, a Tasting Room membership is an easy way to find out. Details: www.tastingroom.com
This club has techie appeal. Founded by MIT grads Richard Yau and Joe Laurendi, a proprietary “Bright Points” algorithm matches your wine preferences, based on 18 attributes derived from an initial quiz that asks questions about your tastes in chocolate, tea, beer and spirits, as well your adventurousness in the wine world. As each monthly wine shipment ($60 for four bottles of reds, whites or a mix) arrives, you rate them, so future shipments can be tailored to your taste.
The sips: With its bright teal-colored wrappings and pithy wine quote stickers, Bright Cellars takes a fun approach. Serious wine lovers may find the algorithm-recommended wines very basic, as we did, or not well aligned with their tastes. But Bright Cellars is a great option for wine-world newcomers. Details: www.brightcellars.com
This is a great option for foodies, who want to up their wine-and-food pairing game. Order a HelloFresh meal kit subscription and you get the option of adding wine chosen by the club’s sommelier to pair with the recipes — you can get the wine shipments ($89 for six bottles) without the meal kit, too. HelloFresh’s team makes and bottles the wine, using grapes sourced from international vineyards. Shipments can be scheduled, skipped or rescheduled. You can’t customize the initial box, but you can make adjustments on future shipments.
The sips: We found HelloFresh’s wines simple and straightforward, with nothing too challenging for any palate. If you like more complexity though, you may want to look elsewhere. Details: www.hellofresh.com
WincFounders Xander Oxman and Geoff McFarlane work with winemakers around the world to create exclusive blends and bottlings, most around $13, for Winc members. To join, you answer six questions, including how you take your coffee, your thoughts on earthy flavors and your level of wine adventurousness — a quiz that didn’t particularly capture our tastes, but you can swap out wine choices for others you prefer, before the wines ship and there’s a $20 discount on your first shipment.
The sips: We tried Summer Water, a light-bodied rosé that was more like water than wine. Other selections, including a crisp albarino and earthy grenache, had more soul. The wines are fun and lighthearted, and should please most palates. Details: www.winc.com
Food & Wine executive wine editor Ray Isle is the face of the wine club, but a sommelier team personalizes selections based on your ratings, fine-tuning the selections based on your reviews. Firstleaf claims its wines are discounted up to 60 percent off retail, thanks to partnering directly with vineyards, and you won’t find these wines at any supermarket. Answer a three-question quiz, then choose whites, reds, domestic or international wines. A six-bottle shipment arrives once a month, every two months or quarterly at a price point of roughly $13 per bottle. There’s an introductory three-wine pack for $15 (plus tax and $5 shipping).
The sips: Our shipment included an aromatic California white blend (Firstleaf wouldn’t reveal the varietals), California merlot and a French cabernet petit verdot blend. The wines were fine, but didn’t wow us. Our first set of ratings indicated that the next shipment would have included more floral whites, a rosé, merlot and malbec. Firstleaf is a great option if you’re just beginning to explore wine and don’t want to invest a lot of dough. Details: www.firstleaf.club
For serious wine aficionados
Sonoma founders Windee Smith and Chad Richards’ model offers access to hard-to-find, limited production wines. They taste through hundreds of wines every month, then hand off the best dozen or so to a rotating panel of sommeliers, restaurateurs, winemakers, vineyard managers and wine writers to taste blind. Each sip is rated on a 20-point UC Davis oenology scale that evaluates color, clarity, aroma, taste, texture and finish. The top three wines go into that month’s shipment. The $99 Exploration Club and $199 Experience Club include three bottles each; the $299 Elite Club has six. There are some nice perks, too, including winemaker dinners and access to the club’s wine-tasting lounge in Sonoma.
The sips: We were super excited when we opened the box and found Mendocino’s fabulous small-production Knez Pinot Noir, as well as an Italian fiano and Sardinian cannonau. These complex, flavorful wines had soul. We can’t wait to see what else the club might send. Details: www.panelwines.com
Plonk Wine Club
The name plonk — slang for bad bulk wine — is tongue in cheek. Founder Etty Lewensztain’s goal is to help you discover a world of organic, sustainable and biodynamic wine, and introduce you to offbeat varietals, such as zweigelt and alicante bouschet, which should appeal to malbec and cab lovers. Like all these wine clubs, the offerings include white, red or both, and a single varietal two-pack option, which gives you one bottle of cabernet sauvignon, pinot noir or sauvignon blanc, and a second bottle of something different, with a similar style or flavor profile. Delivery options range from a single case ($95) to monthly case deliveries ($1,080), with wine notes, wine-pairings and a Plonk corkscrew.
The sips: We were delighted with the range and quality of wines, from an awesome Mendocino roussanne, marsanne and viognier blend to a beguiling Austrian red zweigelt and red Portuguese blend. We’d trust Lewensztain to choose more wines for us. Details: www.plonkwineclub.com
Los Angeles-based sommelier Ashley Ragovin (Animal, Osteria Mozza) is on a mission to bring you “damn good wine,” she says, by sourcing sustainably-produced global wines from producers she loves and trusts. Each monthly Pour This shipment ($125) includes three bottles, which may include a mix of French, Gaillac — a French wine-growing region that dates back to ancient Gaul — or Sonoma County wines. This is the most expensive wine club entry-level pricing, but the caliber of wines is deeply impressive, which makes this a great way for serious wine lovers to discover cool and obscure wines effortlessly. Each shipment arrives with a CD filled with tunes for sipping, dancing and enjoying the evening. Despite its name, our “Flash Dance” CD was a mellow blend of chill ’60s and modern tunes.
The sips: We were enamored with the cru Beaujolais from the French village of Fleurie, and mauzac, a waxy floral French Gaillac white variety we’d never heard of. A friend, who tasted with us, went nuts for a mysterious red blend also from Gaillac, saying it had legs so long it needed stilettos. If Ragovin’s wines inspire this much passion, sign us up for more. Details: www.pour-this.com
Inspired by Berkeley wine importer and retailer Kermit Lynch philosophy, Mark Aselstine aims to offer his Uncorked Ventures club members West Coast wines that wine-industry insiders drink. He meets with winemakers and vineyard owners and keeps on top of trends, such as the growth of cool-climate vineyard sites and urban tasting rooms. Memberships range from Wine Exploration ($55 for two bottles) to Reserve Selections ($225 for three bottles), available in monthly, bi-monthly or quarterly shipments.
The sips: We signed up for the Wine Exploration, and received an Oregon pinot gris and Napa Valley syrah. The wines weren’t the expected regional varietals, and were from top-notch producers. Oenophiles may recognize many of the boutique labels; wine newbies may not. This is a great option for wine lovers who want to get out of a rut and try something new. Details: www.uncorkedventures.com
Curated by staff sommeliers, the offerings are billed as wines you don’t see everywhere but want to drink daily. The team finds small-production wines and also collaborates with winemakers on bottlings, such as the Lekker South African rosé included in our shipment. You can choose monthly 3-packs ($45) or six-packs ($75) of all white, all red or a mix. And, they promise, if you can find the wines in their shipments for less, they’ll give you wine free for a year. Shipments include a mini-magazine, The Back Label, filled with stories about the wines and recipes from the Food52 blog.
The sips: Some of the wines, including an Australian pinot gris and an Italian white pecorino (not the cheese), were indeed awesome. Others were pretty average, but good everyday-drinking wines. Details: www.wineawesomeness.com
This is a wine club with a purpose: Vinfluence donates 20 percent of proceeds to City Harvest, Sustainable Harvest International, Fiver Children’s Foundation and other nonprofits. Certified sommelier and wine educator Shannon Westfall wants her club members to discover wines from small, off-the-beaten path wineries. Westfall sources wine through vineyard partnerships, with an emphasis on environmental stewardship. Each monthly shipment highlights a single winery, typically one whose small production levels make it nearly impossible to find in retail stores. A Discovery membership is $100 for three wines (plus tax and $15 shipping); a Collector membership is $200 for six wines (plus tax and $20 shipping). Added perks: Winemaker dinners, special events and free tastings for up to four people at partner wineries.
The sips: All three wines we received — a Sonoma chardonnay, grenache and merlot — were easy-drinking, crowd-pleasing wines. Details: www.vinfluencewine.com
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