The Wine Folly Guide to Wine Clubs
This guide is a run down on how to find a great wine club and includes several examples of good ones (and bad ones). Empower your knowledge to make a smart wine club choice, and know how to suss out the swill.
Wine Clubs are Great for Beginners
Wine clubs are a great way to start exploring new wines, especially if you’re a beginner. For this reason, gifting a wine club membership to someone is about as thoughtful of a gift as it gets.
I would know. My dad subscribed my to the basic K&L Wine Merchants Club when I turned 21. It lead to my becoming a sommelier, starting this website, and creating a best-selling book. In short, wine changed my life for the better. I hope wine can change your life for the better too.
Wine Clubs are Not Created Equally
On the flip side, there are a bunch of unsavory wine clubs out there that are nothing more than a bulk wine clearing house. These clubs look virtually the same as the real deal on the surface, but the quality is about as good as the bottom row of a grocery store shelf.
So, how do you find the best wine club?
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Blue Apron neatly packs their wine club box with 6 mini bottles (500 ml each) and neat print outs.
OPTION 1: The Budget-Friendly Wine Club
Up to $15 a Bottle
If you’re looking to spend up to $15 a bottle, you’re in the “budget” wine club category. Don’t let this fact stress you out, there are many great tasting wines in this price bracket.
In order to pull this off and be profitable, many wine clubs in this price segment offer “white label wines” (aka private label wines). Here’s how a white label wine typically works:
- Wine buyers purchase lots of pre-made wines from larger volume producers for cheap.
- The wine club hires someone to create a cool custom label for the wine.
- The club sells wines at a high premium to their club members.
- Because the wines are one-offs, they’re not available anywhere else.
Because the white label wines aren’t really traceable back to their origin, they’re rarely, if ever, rated by traditional wine critics. Instead, you’ll have to check consumer rating sites like Vivino or Cellartracker for opinions and tasting notes. (Definitely do this!) The other downside is that you’ll never know who actually made the wine. Once it’s gone, it’s gone. That said, if the wine buyer for the club is good (and not just a faceless relabeled bulk wine clearing house), the wines can actually be quite delicious.
5 Budget-Friendly Wine Clubs That Don’t Suck
K&L Wine Merchants klwines.com
These guys were one of the first-bests in online wine retail and have long standing relationships with producers all over the world. Yes, their cheap $19.95/month (doesn’t include shipping) wine club may be loaded with their white label brand, Kalinda, but their buying power and ability to self-import makes it possible for them to feature small producers. For this option, you don’t get to choose the wines–most of the time it’s one red and one white.
Wine of the Month Club wineofthemonthclub.com
This is another long-time standby similar to K&L Wine Merchants that still features real producers that are hand-selected by their owner, Paul Jr. You get two bottles a month, starting at $23.96 (shipping not included), and there are a myriad of wine club options to select from, including red-only and white-only shipments.
Blue Apron blueapron.com
This is a private label option where you get five slightly smaller bottles (the equivalent of three standard bottles) for $66, shipped. The wines are selected by actual humans who care and the wines are selected to pair with Blue Apron’s food membership. The whole thing comes in a beautiful box with lots of neat print-outs. You have the option to choose what you receive each month based on their curated list.
Naked Wines nakedwines.com
Not really a wine club. It’s more like a private wine marketplace that has a monthly fee of $40 that you use to select Naked Wines private label wines. The cool thing about Naked Wines is they actually have a pretty passionate following of customers who actively rate and review wines (which makes the whole thing more transparent) and the prices are actually pretty good for what you get. As a member, you can find, follow, and support real winemakers from all over the world to produce more private label wines.
Winc Wine winc.com
This was formerly Club W and rebranded to Winc in 2014, when they transitioned from a third-party marketplace to directly managing the sourcing and production of their wines. This difference puts them in a better position to handle customer service, compared to places like like Martha Stewart Wine or Bright Cellars. The way it works when you sign up is you take a taste preference test and commit to 3–4 wines per month (any permutation of red and/or white) ranging from $13–$75/bottle ($60–$160/mo). Wines are mostly American and you’ll get to choose what comes each month. The one suspicious thought I have with this option is that because they’re a private label brand, it seems like they could better pass the savings onto the customer.
The Grand Tour offers a pack of 750 ml bottles from a new region each month, along with maps and info.
OPTION 2: Curated Wine Clubs
More than $15 a Bottle
If you can spend more than $15 per bottle and more likely around $30 a bottle, you can get yourself into a curated wine club. The increased buying power allows the club to wholesale purchase substantially higher quality wines. You’ll often find these clubs curated by Master Sommeliers or other seasoned experts who, ideally, have palates that match your sense of taste.
For those who can afford it, curated wine clubs are a great way to explore new wines and regions you would have otherwise never tried. Of course, if you’re buying in this range, there are lots of other options too, including having a tailored sommelier service from a retailer (online or off).
5 Curated Wine Clubs Worth Investigating
Plonk Wine Club plonkwineclub.com
Created by lady sommelier, Etty Lewensztain, you can get into this club starting at around $50 for 2 bottles shipped and they offer savings if you choose a three, six, or 12 month commitment. There are several options: red only, white only, Cabernet only, Pinot only, and even a Sauvignon Blanc only club. Overall, the quality price ratio is about average market price with a slightly higher skew. The cool thing is you can see what they’re shipping each month, so it’s totally transparent.
In this club, you get six bottles per month, curated by Master Sommelier, Ian Cauble, for $199, shipped. There are two options: the “Blind Six” and the “Somm 6.” The Blind Six features black-wrapped bottles that are considered “classic wines” included in the Master Sommelier exam. Great for practicing. The Somm 6 is a more exploration-worthy selection from places unknown.
The Grand Tour grandtourwine.com
Created by Master Sommelier Dustin Wilson, this club is curated from his swanky Verve Wine Co. in Tribeca, NYC. The idea behind The Grand Tour is to explore a new wine region each month. You receive four bottles for $95, shipped with neat print outs that include wine maps and detailed notes about the region. You don’t get to choose reds or whites and if you look at their wine archive you’ll see it skews more reds in the winter and more whites in the summer.
Fat Cork fatcork.com
Nothing but grower Champagne starting at $119 for a two-bottle shipment that’s customized to your Champagne taste preference. These guys are importers out of Seattle, WA with a list of about a dozen grower producers, which is what they include in their club along with printouts to tell you more about Champagne.
Viticole Wine viticolewine.com
Follow Master Sommelier Brian McClintic, as he travels on a hunt to find the best people making the most unique wines in the world as a member of this one. The club starts at $105 per month (shipping not included) for two-three wines. Since the club features so many small producers, you’ll have to join the waiting list to get in.
How Not to Get Duped By a Phony Wine Club
A word to the wary: there are a lot of bad wine clubs out there. After searching online I stumbled across several high-ranking wine clubs on Google search that I suspect are selling exceptionally low-quality, bulk, white label wines. Here are some of the less-than-savory examples:
Highly suspicious wine clubs:
- Virgin Wines 15 wines for $70 (doesn’t include shipping)
- Wall Street Journal Wine 15 wines for $70 (doesn’t include shipping)
- Heartwood & Oak 15 wines for $90 shipped
- Wine Insiders 15 wines for $90 shipped
- Splash Wines 15 wines for $104.95 shipped
When I pulled the above brands up, it was nearly impossible to find information about the actual wines in the offer. I did manage to come across a blogger, the wine dabbler, who managed to source several wine club brands back to one California private label producer, ASV wines. There is, of course, nothing really wrong with private label producers, but the lie is how the clubs market the wines as being more valuable than they actually are. I will admit I haven’t tasted these wines, but after some experiences with cheap wines lying to me, I’m highly suspicious.
Watch Out for Wine Club Ratings Sites
Another thing I happened across while on my hunt for the truth were a bunch of bogus wine club rating sites. These sites use affiliate marketing to link back to the very wine clubs they rate.
- wineclubreviews.net Actually has some super detailed reviews that are useful, so the affiliate thing is how she is monetizing that free content. I’d definitely use this site before finalizing my choice. That said, it’s not exhaustive.
- wineclubsreviewed.com hrmm.
- consumersadvocate.org hrmmm. Personally, I’d trust Consumer Reports instead.
- wineclubgroup.com hrmm.
Shipping Problems with Wine Clubs
If you’ve never ordered wine online and are reading reviews, you’ll see the largest issue with wine clubs is shipping and returns. Here are some helpful tips on how to best prepare to receive your shipment:
- All wine shipments require a 21+ signature in person to be dropped. So, if you’re not there it will be returned.
- If possible, have your wines shipped to your place of work where there is someone to receive it.
- Be sure to check each club’s FAQs for their policy on corked bottles and non-delivered shipment fees. Especially, if you think you might miss a delivery.
- Summer time heat and winter freezes are bad for wine. Some clubs will hold your shipments for good weather.
- If you have to pay shipping, see if the club offers discounted or fixed rate shipping. The actual cost to ship 4 bottles of wine across the US with ground shipping is about $50.
- Many states do not allow wine shipments and thus, wine clubs cannot ship to these states. Email or call the retailer if information is not freely available.
3 Take-Aways on Wine Clubs
The wine clubs included in this article do not create an exhaustive list! I would encourage you to explore further, because there are many great wine clubs out there! Here are three things to walk away with that will empower your decision-making:
- How transparent is the wine club? Are they willing to show you past club wines? If so, investigate the wines.
- Look up reviews specifically for the company’s customer service. This is going to be very important after you join and something goes wrong.
- If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. If you’re on the hunt for good cheap wine, give Total Wine, Costco, and Trader Joes a try.
By the way, we are not affiliated with any of the wine clubs mentioned above.