There are a dozen ways to judge a wine club, from its pricing and personalization to its ability to get hard-to-find bottles into your hands. (For a guy who lives in Pennsylvania—a place where every state-run wine shop tends to stock the same stuff—this last feature is a major plus.)
But in terms of the “quality” of a club’s wines? That’s tough to assess. Decades of wine research has repeatedly hammered home the fact that wine drinkers—even the super-knowledgeable—struggle to differentiate expensive wines from cheap ones.
A 2008 study from Humboldt State University found only 10 percent of judges involved in U.S. wine competitions were “consistent” when rating wines. (When secretly served the same wines three times during a competition, most judges tended to score the exact same wine differently each time.)
More research has also shown, over and over again, that a wine’s price and label play a big part in determining how much the drinker enjoys it—even when the price tags and labels from pricey bottles are slapped onto cheap plonk.
But setting aside the subjective nature of wine tasting, many delivery clubs are worth checking out.
VARIETY CLUBS VS. WINERY CLUBS
There are two categories of wine club out there, says David Jeffrey, founder and chief winemaker at Sonoma Valley’s Calluna Vineyards.
The first are clubs from specific wineries. These offer you only their wines, usually at a discounted price, Jeffrey explains.
If you know you like a vineyard’s vino, joining its club gives you access to discounted pricing and some other benefits—like free vineyard tours or early access to new or special vintages, he says.
There are also the big clubs that send you a selection of bottles every month, or every few months. “These are generally aimed at customers who don’t know exactly what they want to buy, or may be less knowledgeable about wine, but they like wine and are interested in learning,” Jeffrey says.
The best of these clubs use their purchasing power to secure good, interesting wines at steep discounts, which they then pass on to their subscribers. “But there can be wine club managers who are not as good or diligent about getting excellent wines, but rather are more focused on getting the cheapest product and making the most money,” he adds.
THE BEST WINE DELIVERY CLUB FOR EVERY GUY
Assuming you don’t have a favorite winery in mind—in which case your choice is clear—here are a few highly rated clubs to suit your specific tastes.
FOR THE NOVICE
Starting at $13/bottle, clubw.com
Prefer your coffee black, or with cream and sugar? Like citrus, but not spicy foods? Answer these and other questions, and Club W will offer you affordable (mostly under $20) options based on your particular pallet. For a new-ish wine drinker who doesn’t have a strong sense of his likes and dislikes, it’s a good way to explore new wines.
FOR THE RARE-WINE SEEKER
Gold Medal Wine Club
$37 for two bottles delivered each month, goldmedalwineclub.com
If you want to supplement your weekly trips to the wine shop with a few rarer bottles, Gold Medal Wine Club is a great option that focuses on small-production wines not often sold in stores. Their most popular “Gold” club offers medal-winning California wines from boutique wineries.
FOR THE TOO-BUSY-TO-SHOP DRINKER
Wine of the Month Club
$22 for two bottles delivered each month, wineofthemonthclub.com
The club that started it all, Wine of the Month has been around since 1972 for a reason. Rated the best wine club by Consumer Reports, this club’s selections are consistently delicious and don’t overload you with questionnaires and options. Trust them, and you’ll receive two (or more) great wines every month.
FOR THE PARTY HOST
$140 for 12 bottles delivered every three months, virginwines.com
Every case will have its share of big hits and not-so-hots, but the average value is excellent and it’s an easy way to stock up on solid options in the overloaded $10-to-$15 range.
FOR THE WINE DRINKER LOOKING TO EXPAND HIS PALLETTE
International Wine of the Month Club
$35 for two bottles delivered every month, winemonthclub.com
Not to be confused with its similarly named competitor, this club focuses on wines of the world—each of which has to pass through an extensive “two tier” vetting process that involves an expert panel and a few dozen club members. It’s an affordable way to sample some highly rated wines from outside the U.S.
In the end, wine clubs are really all about convenience and helping you sort through the seemingly endless array of options at your local shop. If you love wine, they can be a fun way to explore the wide world of vino, Jeffrey says.