You may either gift or receive a wine club membership this year. And it’ll probably be fine. But in lieu of a random sampling of 20 bottles for $100 with little thought or curation behind the picks, there’s a better way to explore your love of vino — trust the vineyard.
“Wine clubs that send a varied assortment of wines can be good for adventurous drinkers,” admits Thomas Matthews, the executive editor of Wine Spectator. “And there’s a new breed of wine clubs that have cropped up recently with new strategies, including curating small-production wines or algorithms that help customize recommendations. But the downside is that you don’t have much control over the wines you’re sent.”
According to Matthew, clubs run by wineries will deliver more consistent bottlings from transparent and reliable sources, along with tons of perks, like live or — more immediately — virtual events.
So if you know a wine or vineyard you like (or what your gift recipient prefers), target a wine club from them, because you’ll also get some advantages over larger-scale operations. “A winery’s club can offer you highly-rated wines that are often hard to find, plus off-beat selections, large format bottles or library wines that may be available only to club members,” Wine Spectator senior editor MaryAnn Worobiec adds. Bonus: You may get discount offers, member-only savings and chances to reorder favorites, sans commitment.
Below, Matthews and Worobiec offer us some specific winery selections they like best.
Ridge Vineyards: One of the first wineries to offer wine club memberships; since 1977, the Advanced Tasting Program or ATP single-vineyard Zinfandels and Rhone-style wines have developed a strong following.
Mendocino’s Navarro: Highlights include a Pre-Release Tasting Program and a “famously charming” newsletter about their current releases, full of colorful photos and anecdotes that will transport you to their family farm.
Domaine Carneros: This sparkling wine house has a wine club that really caters to members who are able to visit their property. Club members are offered private club room or terrace seating, as well as a discount on cheese and caviar when visiting, and an opportunity to get large-format bottles.
And given the conversations we’ve been having this year, we also inquired about BIPOC-owned wineries that offer wine clubs. Among the Wine Spectator picks: McBride Sisters, Longevity, Theopolis, Brown Estate, Charles Woodson’s Intercept Wines (yes, it’s that Charles Woodson, football fans), Fog Crest, Indigené and LVE.
Now, what if you’re not that up on wine?
As mentioned above, wine clubs that aren’t vineyard-specific are fine, and they’re also getting better! We’ve outlined a few newer ones below — and unlike the choices above, many of these venture outside of California. These are clubs that go beyond bulk shipments and indiscriminate offerings, although some have limited shipping range or additional costs based on where you live, so read the fine print.
Underground Cellar: Members here in this no-monthly-fee club are shown a few similar wines at different price points each week; pay for the lowest bottle and you might get upgraded. Plus, there are opportunities for free storage in a temperature-controlled wine cellar in Napa; you can also have those stored bottles (from different wineries) bulk delivered when you want. (We’ll be testing this out for a larger profile in the near future.)
Wine for the World: Social and environmental impact are the themes of this ambitous club, where you’ll receive an assortment of white, rosé, orange, red and sparkling wines hailing from “vintners [that] include people of color, small families, female trailblazers, and LGBTQ+ winemakers. Some are carbon neutral from field to bottle; some farm organically and craft natural, minimal intervention wines; all prioritize and promote environmental standards.”
Leon Circle: “The best wine subscription for wine nerds” is how New York magazine hailed this Brooklyn-based wine club, which emphasizes “low-intervention, expressive wine” and arrives with copious tasting notes.
CruBox: Just launched, this new club in the MetroWest/Boston area themes their wines around terroir and location, and all arriving with a sommelier-led Zoom tasting. Very 2020!
Raj Parr Wine Club: Very limited-edition wines from California and Oregon dominate this minimalist but highly curated club, which only sends two shipments per year, but also offers up the owner’s personal cell-phone number so members can text with questions.
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