There are a number of ways you can work towards expanding your knowledge of wine. Recently, I wrote about using wine nights (and pairing them with cheese or chocolate) as one such way, but the weekly wine night is time consuming and difficult to plan around busy schedules. Wine clubs offer an appealing alternative for those looking to develop their wine collection and interests with minimal time commitments.
There are number of different ways to join a wine club. Many wine shops offer club memberships, as do vineyards and wineries. There are also some online wine clubs. Which you join depends on your personal preferences. Here we explore the pros and cons of each type of membership.
Wine Clubs at Wine Shops (or Restaurants)
This option is great for people who are willing to try new things, enjoy learning about their wine choices, and enjoy the social aspect of wine tasting.
Pros: You get to try wines from a variety of regions as well as different varietals. Often these clubs offer an in person tasting “pick up party” so that you can learn about the region and how the wine is made. Depending on the month, a distributor or even the winemaker might be the one pouring your tasting, so you’ll be learning about the wine from a true expert. Many shops offer complimentary cheese and crackers at these tastings as well. You don’t have to go to the tasting (i.e. you can pick up your bottles later), but you miss the chance to learn about the wine if you don’t. Some places also offer other perks for wine club members such as special discounts on bottles or invites to exclusive events, but they vary by location.
Cons: You don’t get a say in the region or varietal. Some clubs allow you to pick your favorites out of a selection (i.e. you try four but buy two). With other clubs, you’re stuck with the picks, whether you like them or not.
Wine Clubs at Wineries and Vineyards
If you have a winery or vineyard you already love to visit and enjoy their wine, this is a fantastic option.
Pros: The winemaker selects a certain number of bottles at set intervals throughout the year. For example, you might sign up to receive three bottles each quarter. You’re getting vintages and varietals the winemaker deems the best for that season, so an expert is truly picking your wine. Most wineries also offer discounts on bottles, cases, and tastings. You'll also often find that you have a bit more choice over specific bottles; most wineries are very willing to let you swap out bottles and pay an up-charge if you're trading for higher priced wine. The wineries that do club memberships well weave their (say) quarterly pickups into nice events that feature music and good food. Finally, establishing yourself as a club member allows you to develop a relationship with the winery over time in terms of the verticals (bottles of the same wine, but in different vintage years) you pick up, special events like barrel tastings in the cellar you get invited to, friends you make, and attachment you form to the winery itself (some have special club member only areas away from the hustle and bustle of the main tasting room).
Cons: Your wine club purchases come from the same place. This limits your options in terms of varietals and region. While your wine is selected by an expert in these specific wines, you also run the risk of getting stuck with less attractive vintages that the winery needs to unload. Also, because most of us don't live next door to a winery, these clubs take a bit more driving to get out of the city than your local shop requires.
Online Wine Clubs
Great for busy people who are more interested in possessing and consuming the wine than they are about forming relationships with the folks who make or sell the wine, or the physical places they occupy (i.e. wineries).
Pros: Convenience. Wine is shipped directly to your door. You usually get a case at set intervals, and the prices will be discounted from regular retailers. The best online wine clubs will include a write-up about the region, winery, and winemaker, though not all clubs offer this option. Innovators in this area have actually developed methods to assess your tastes and match specific wines to your preferences, so there is a lot of customization available here.
Cons: There is a distinct lack of a personal touch. You are not interacting with the person who selected your wine or with anyone who is knowledgeable about it. A lot of the juice, so to speak, behind Wine:Thirty Flight is the notion of broadening your world view through experiences found and friends made; online wine clubs will leave you coming up short in both regards. Delivery is also an issue. When alcohol is shipped via FedEx or other delivery systems, a signature from someone over 21 is required. You may need to either be at home when it’s delivered or have it shipped to your office.