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Aug 31, 2020

Of all the shows in the catalog, one has always stuck out as not really fitting in so this week we’re scrapping the old and we’re replacing it with something that is related but more timely, relevant and just plain better!!


This week we discuss the pros and cons of the seven main types of wine clubs. We list a few specifics, but try hard to concentrate on various types of clubs and what you can expect from each.


Here is the run-down...

Wine clubs claim to do a few things for their customers:

  • Give access to exclusive discounts, free delivery, extras
  • Save you time by avoiding the wine shop
  • Allowing you the chance at discovery, or the removal of decision-making
  • Give you options on the way you want the club to work --how often, timing, how much to get
  • Many also give loyalty/rewards

We spend the bulk of the podcast going through the categories of wine clubs:

  1. Profile services ask you questions and claim to hone in on the types of wines you like. After taking a few of these quizzes, I found them to be completely inaccurate. Further, a lot of the stuff is no-name brands, so clearly bulk wine that is of dubious quality.


  1. Budget/bulk wine of meh wine that is marked up. A lot of this is wine produced in huge quantities that is poor quality and comes up on the bulk market for people to buy, bottle and market. Occasionally the bulk wine can have sugar or other additives put in to adjust the wine’s profile to the target customer.

    Other wines are in shiners, finished wines, often made by a decent winemaker who had too much wine or who bottled a lot that they didn’t think was quite up to snuff. Producers sell these bottles and the wine clubs make a one-shot deal brand that you’ll never see again. It can be great, but don’t fall in love – you’ll never see it again (and if you do, it could be different wine in the bottle next time!).

    Naked Wines, which is very popular, is a sub category of this – they ask for a monthly donation to keep their wine projects alive, and with that, you can buy bottles with your credits as you see fit (it’s similar to kickstarter but with an actual product you can buy!). In reality, Naked Wines is also mostly a clearing house for second wines/wines that aren’t good enough for the brand that is selling them.

  1. Media Wine Clubs: Wall Street Journal, New York Times, etc. lend their names to a marketing firm who manages the club and uses the name to get customers. These are often good deals, some of the wine is probably good, but the these wines are from giant distribution clearing houses who are trying to get rid of wines by marking them down. You may get an occasional good one that just didn’t sell in retail, but most is lower quality, bulk wine, or from shiners. The benefit of these – there is a lot of variety and they are CHEAP. The Wall Street Journal is a bit more transparent about its club, the New York Times says it has “experts who travel the world” looking for wines, but never tells us who those experts are, exactly.

  1. Curated clubs are those selected by real people – people who you could theoretically ask about the wines and talk to about them. Some come from wine shops who taste thousands of wines a year and have a good sense of what are good deals or what is best from their stores (I mention K&L and The Grand Tour from Verve) but they are also things like Plonk Wine Club, which provides exclusive access and carefully selected natural, biodynamic, and organic wines, and my favorite (and my sponsor!) Wine Access, whose team puts together themed wine club shipments of 6 bottles 4 times per year. Wine Access has true experts selecting the wines, and they pick based on quality and value, rather than what’s cheap and available on the wine market.


  1. Test tubes/wine flights: I should have mentioned the sample bottles, but I focused on the test tubes of Vinebox. It’s a good idea – you try nine wines :4 red, 4 white, 1 rosé. They come in a box with glass-sized pours. The wines are exclusive to the club and every box gives you credits towards buying full bottles, which are theoretically available on their site. There were a lot of complaints from members that they couldn’t get the full bottles. It’s clear to me that the wines are also in bulk – “exclusive” wines that are hard to get and never seen in a bottle – all red flags.

  1. Flash wine sites: Although not as popular as they used to be, and not exactly a club, these sites (WTSO and Cinderella Wines from Wine Library) sell real brands at low prices but they put you under the gun to buy – once they run out, you can’t get the deal. Fixed quantity, fixed price. They work straight with the importers of the wines or the families that make them, and they buy in enormous quantities so they are able to get great deals and pass them on. Again, not wine clubs, but in the same genre.


  1. Niche Wine Clubs: Do you like Oregon Pinot Noir? What about Kosher wine? Do you have to have vegan wine? If so, there is probably a club for whatever you desire. I think these are great – it can be hard to find exactly what you’re looking for and these clubs cater to special interests. The only caveat: make sure they are giving you good producers, and not junky bulk wine! It can happen even in niche-y products, you know!

I talk about my experience working as a consultant for a now defunct wine club (that was discussed in the OLD episode 185, so it wasn’t relevant anymore!) and how it has informed my view of clubs, in general.


The bottom line: Make sure you are asking the right questions: Questions to ask:

  • Are the wines geared to your taste? After a few shipments are they good or not so much?
  • Are you an experimenter or do you want the same wine you always get? That will help determine what kind of club you should join.
  • If it’s a curated model, who is the expert selecting the wine and why do you trust them? Also, Have you heard of the wines? Has anyone rated them ANYWHERE?
  • Is there a niche that you love but you can’t find the wines? Go for it. As long as the quality is high, this is your best chance of scratching your itch for specialty wine!
  • If you’re price sensitive, clubs can be a great value – again, just make sure you get a good one! Make sure to ask: Is shipping included? Taxes? What are the extra fees?
  • What do customer say about the customer service: Will they take returns or credit you for a skunked bottle?


As a last note, once you sign up, make sure you stay vigilant – changes can happen and you may not notice!

Lots more detail than just this, but these are the major points!


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Thanks to our sponsors this week:

Wine Access 

Visit: and for a limited time get $20 off your first order of $50 or more! 

Wine Access is a web site that has exclusive wines that overdeliver for the price (of which they have a range). Check out their awesome wine site with fantastic, hard to find wines -- you won't regret it! 


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