“It’s OK to hate on a wine.”
No sommelier or vino snob has ever given me that advice.
But Tasting Room did. And for that, I am thankful.
The fastest-growing wine club in the country, Tasting Room touts itself as the “first personalized wine club in the nation.”
As a spirits connoisseur and someone who knows their way around a beer menu, I surprisingly live in fear of wines. Region, grape, vineyard ... descriptions of these cause my eyes to glaze over and a mild panic attack to set in. (Yes, a glass of Malbec might help with that.)
Ironically, I like wine. I just don’t know what I like.
So anything that promises to educate me, not belittle me in the process and leave me with a warm glow? I’m game to try.
How It Works
To start my membership, Tasting Room sent me six mini-bottle samplers (two whites, four reds). The company uses a proprietary bottling system that allows them to extract a bit of vino from regular‐size bottles and pack it into these miniature vessels without losing flavor.
The bottles are numbered 1-6; following Tasting Room’s online rating system via a numbered tasting mat (included), you sip the wines in order as presented on your screen, and compare them in groups of two.
You’ll be asked what you like better, if you like something a “little more” or “a lot more,” if there’s no preference at all ... or even if you didn’t like the grapes one bit (hence the “it’s OK to hate on a wine” line). I took a few notes along the way (“Meaty!”), but you totally don’t have to.
And that’s it. If you go in order and follow the online prompts, you’ll have a wine profile in about five minutes. But you can start, pause or even go back in the process at any point.
Your Wine Profile
Turns out I didn’t hate on any wines, but I did like and even love a few I tried. Personal suggestion: Space out the tastings over a day. As with anything, I noticed I was liking the wines more as I went along and my buzz began to build. Drink some water and take a TV or walk break between sips.
According to my Wine Profile, I like “bold, earthy reds,” and from my (very limited) previous knowledge, this was 100% accurate. What truly separates Tasting Room is the education you receive after you get your profile: in one condensed web page, I had eight flavor notes, in order, of what I preferred (plum, blackberry, black currant, etc.), the grapes I should look for (Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec), what countries I should look for in a wine (California, Argentina, a very specific region in Tuscany), food pairing notes for my wines and even some grapes/regions to try if I was “feeling adventurous.”
Best of all was the one-paragraph finale: “How to order wine you’ll love in a restaurant.”
Suddenly, I had a cheat sheet for wine. Now I feel like I can impress a client (or my girlfriend) — a rare accomplishment.
Once your profile is built, shipments are tailored to your taste preferences.
You’ll get your shipment in a few days, and you should rate those as well. Like a Spotify playlist, you’re refining things and learning more about your tastes as you go.
The rest is up to you. You can set up shipments however you want (2, 6 or 12 bottles, which combo of reds and whites, etc.) and when you want to receive the wine: recurring shipments are monthly, every two months or quarterly, and you can select days you want to receive your bottles.
Don’t trust your own taste profile? You can swap out bottles in TR’s just-launched Design Your Own Case program before they ship.
Each and every bottle comes with a satisfaction guarantee, so if you ever get one you don't like, they'll replace it or issue you a site credit. You'll also find better prices than most stores, since they work directly with vineyards and distributors, avoiding the middleman markup. (Maybe they’re also the Warby Parker of wine?)
You’ll get a lot of updates on shipments and pretty useful email newsletters that offer info like wine-producer spotlights. Nothing too egregious. There’s also a dedicated number for members to call on weekdays for help with shipments.
One important note: You really need to finalize your taste profile and your orders quickly. Tasting Room will send you their own selection of best sellers if you don’t complete the taste profile within 30 days (you can always go back and finish the process). It’s a fairly standard practice among subscription services — you need to be proactive to get exactly what you want. And, again, you should continue to rate the wines you receive.
As for the first full bottles I received? Well, I’d love to tell you what the 2016 Stemwinder Mendoza Malbec tasted like .... had my (admitted wine expert) girlfriend not polished it off in an hour when I was out.
“I really like this,” she said, leaving a grape-y kiss on my cheek.
Can’t hate on that.
Nota bene: The folks at Tasting Room are extending a special offer to our readers: for a limited time, follow this link to get your first wine tasting kit for just $6.95.