Can you remember the first wine that you fell in love with the first time you sipped it? The ephemeral experience of a wine that tickled all the right spots, made you want another sip, and caused you to become a fan? When that happens, it often becomes one of your go-to wines. When we hit the store trying to find a wine for an event or to share with friends, we browse the aisles and end up…. exactly at the same spot, with our old friend, our go-to wine.
Because a typical wine store might have 500 different bottles while a super store might have thousands! How can you decide? You’ve never tasted most of them and don’t want to invest your money in something you don’t like. Or worse, you don’t want to bring something to a friend’s home only to find that it is horrible.
There’s a better and less risky way to expand your palate and have some fun doing it – join a wine club. There are a bunch in the market, but some of the best ones have taken notes from Uber and Netflix to develop great software and methods to find the perfect wine for you.
I’ll mention a few later in the article, but you usually sign up for a monthly subscription of 2 to 4 bottles, depending on your consumption. Depending on the club, this will cost you $30 to $100 a month. The price will depend on how much the underlying wines cost, which isn’t always correlated to quality.
The newer wine clubs will have you answer a number of questions about your taste profile to help them select great wines you will enjoy. These questions aren’t about wine, but rather focused on things like if you like sugar in your coffee or if you like spicy food. All of these questions are designed to give them hints as to your palate. Basically, they are going to curate your wine selection and help you along the path.
Similar to Netflix, once the wines arrive and you try them, you are supposed to rate the wines based on how you liked them. Over time, they learn your preferences and can hone in on some great wines you will enjoy. And while you do, you’ll try some things you would never have pulled off the shelves at the local liquor store. After a few months, when you’re ready to try something new, you can head into your local wine store with a new confidence as you look for the grapes and growing areas that you enjoyed thanks to your experience with the club. But this time, you’ll have the confidence of having tried something similar and knowing you like the taste.
I recently spoke with Brian Smith, co-founder and wine maker of Winc (Previously Club W) from Playa Vista, CA, one of these new style wine clubs. They developed the business by looking hard at the target customers and figuring out what they were missing in the wine experience. They attempt to deliver exploration, context, and cultural relevance with all their wines. That means they offer wines from around the world, such as good benchmark wines from Albarinos to Pinot Noir to sparkling Rose. They explain what the wines are and where they came from to give them context and include great recipes to pair with your new-found wine.
They also have a sophisticated taste matching system and a wide variety of over 20 wines they curate. What is unique about Winc is that they have vertically integrated back to the grapes, wine making, and bottling, unlike most wine clubs. This means they can deliver great price-to-quality ratios and give you a tour of wines around the world with reliable quality levels. The only downside is if you like a wine, you can’t go down to your local store and grab some more. But Winc is working fix that by developing retail distribution of their most popular wines. They average around $13 a bottle for their selections. You can check them out at www.winc.com
Cellars Wine Club is a premium wine club for those that have a better feel for what they like. You can select from single bottle shipments up to cases of 12 wines on the shipment schedule you select. They have some fun categories including the 90+ Point Wine selection, the Sparkling Wine Club, and the higher end Connoisseur Club. Wines range up to $40 a bottle for the more selective clubs. You can check them out at www.cellarswineclub.com
The appropriately named Bright Cellars was created by two MIT grads with a passion for wine. They have a Bright Points algorithm that scores each wine by comparing 18 attributes to your preferences, matching you with your monthly experience. They bring in wines from producers around the world and package them into a 4 bottle a month shipment for around $15 a bottle. Find them at www.brightcellars.com
Tasting Room has a unique approach to determining your palate by sending you a package of 6 smaller airline sized bottles of wine. You are supposed to taste them, rate them, and report back to Tasting Room. They will use this data to develop your first shipment. You can select the quantity of wines you want in each shipment and the frequency of shipment. They will select from their 62 producer direct wines to tickle your taste buds. You might have seen them on TV, but you can start now at www.tastingroom.com
WSJ Wine Club is the one of the original wine clubs and follows the traditional model of curating great wines from a variety of producers around the world. You can pick whites, reds of mixed cases of wine. They offer classic grape varieties from each area, so you become grounded in the differences between French and Californian Cabernet Sauvignon. It hits the sweet spot for quarterly wine clubs with an average price of around $14 a bottle, delivered. They have a cheaper price to get you started – www.wsjwine.com
Whichever wine club you select, it’s a great way to open your palate to new choices and gain confidence as you head to the wine store. Pick one and give it a go!