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Recently, I did a major purging of the wine clubs I belonged to. At one time or another, I belonged to eight at the same time. I’m not even sure what I was thinking when I wrote down my credit card information on the sign-up pamphlet other than “I really enjoy the wine here!” As I went down the list of clubs I belonged to, I started asking myself two questions: (1) When is it time to cancel and (2) When do I know when it’s right to join? For most of us, we’re going to have various answers to those questions.
Joining a wine club is a superb way to experience new wines that weren’t on your horizon. Typically, most wine drinkers start out by buying wine from the same region, over and over again until they move on to the next varietal or region of interest. Not every town has adequate wine stores or knowledgable staff, which means sometimes you find yourself coming home with a not-so-stellar wine—but I assure you, that doesn’t have to happen ever again!
Over the past several years, I’ve joined wine clubs from all over the place—wineries, wine bars, magazines and online clubs such as Winc (while popular with bloggers, I wouldn’t recommend this service based on the knowledge of customer service representatives I’ve spoken to) and International Wine Club (not so popular with bloggers, but I do recommend it)—and I can tell you one thing for certain: not all wine clubs are created equal or are worth the investment, which is partially dependent upon how you use them.
Non-Affiliated Clubs Offer Variety
One of the reasons why I love wine clubs that aren’t affiliated with specific winery’s wine clubs is the vast assortment of wine in each shipment. If you’re new to wine or sick of drinking the same wines from the grocery store, joining a wine club from a magazine or an online club will give you the opportunity to experience wines from new regions and varietals of wine you’ve never tried before. Gold Medal Wine Club is a great place to start if you’re new to wine—you can add other types of clubs and more bottles as your palate evolves. Another club I highly recommend is Williams-Sonoma Explorer Club. Each shipment comes with cellar notes and recipes that pair wonderfully with each wine.
Tip: if you’re still learning about what wines you like and dislike, be brave and sign up for a mixed shipment of red and white wines.
Frequent Visitor or Buyer
Most wine drinkers who live near a self-proclaimed “wine country” have a winery or two that they visit pretty frequently and buy more than a bottle or two at each visit. I like to call these clubs your ride or die. Since most wineries have tasting fees that range anywhere from $5 to $30 per tasting, joining their wine club will not only waive the tasting fee, but out-of-town guests will save as well. Not to mention, there’s the great benefit of saving so much the next time you buy that case of merlot—you’ll be getting an additional discount of anywhere from 10% to 30%, sometimes even upwards of 70% off per case. The downside: eventually you’ll start seeing repeat wines in your shipment, which is good if you enjoyed the bottle and quickly consumed it, but it’s not so awesome when you’re looking to try new varietals.
Tip: keep these clubs for no more than two years (or downgrade to smaller shipments) and join another club that you enjoy just as much so you aren’t drinking the same wines for the next five years, or if the wine club offers the ability to customize each shipment, try wines you've never received before to keep things fresh and interesting. If you host a lot of social events, take advantage of case specials and never run out of wine.
Gift or Forgotten Wine: Drop It
One of the wine clubs I recently canceled has fantastic wines and an utterly gorgeous winery, but when I realized I’ve given away every bottle in my last three shipments and I hadn’t picked up my previous two shipments, I knew it was time to cancel. If you are not drinking the wine, find yourself giving the majority of it away, it's time to cut the cord.
Special Occasion Wines
Let’s face it: not all wines are intended to be consumed right away or be served alongside the average delivery pepperoni pizza that just arrived at your door. Special occasions call for special wines, which aren’t always found in the wine aisle at your favorite grocery store. Some wineries are producing and selling wine that’s meant to be held onto for several years, to be enjoyed on grandma’s 90th birthday with her favorite prime rib dinner. This is where it’s imperative to find a winery or wine club that has knowledgable staff that you can have honest conversations with. Library wines can get expensive (anywhere from $70 and up), so it’s crucial that you can trust what you’re buying is what you need and what you want.
Tip: if you aren't able to get a clear answer on cellaring or how long the wine will hold for, put the pen down and walk away.