(Bloomberg) -- Remember how those regular monthly home deliveries of wines during the pandemic felt so essential? When all the out-of-work sommeliers, deserted restaurants, and retail shops bereft of browsers were struggling to survive, they started new-style wine clubs.
Places such as Manhattan’s tiny King restaurant and Michelin-starred Cote plundered their cellars to ship boxes of curated wines to customers, while sommeliers used their connections to ferret out such hard-to-obtain niche bottles as Italian orange wine Partida Creus.
Success pushed expansion. Table 22, a platform for restaurant, bar, and retail subscriptions that began in the middle of 2020, now has partnerships in more than 60 cities.
Now, we’re in a new era of wine-subscription businesses, a growing phenomenon in the US and UK.
In one way, they’re similar to the basic, old-style club model such as those from NPR or Winc: You sign up for a certain number of bottles to be shipped to you every month or quarter. The price depends on the number of bottles, the type of wine (red, white, bubbly, or a mix), and the tier of quality.
The big difference comes in the variety and quality of wines being offered now, as well as who makes them and who selects them.
Wine clubs pushed by such media brands as theWall Street Journal outsource selection to a third party, Laithwaites Direct Wines. Other big clubs that stress low prices, such as Bright Cellars, often include mediocre “exclusives” that sport private label names sounding as though a marketing department dreamed them up. Other than two excellent, longtime clubs—Wine Access and SommSelect—few old-school clubs offer genuine value for the money.
Others, such as Winc and Firstleaf ,promise wines you’ll like based on algorithms created from your responses to a quiz. Do you like M&Ms or Skittles? Coffee with cream, or black? Those I’ve tried utterly failed to predict my preferences.
Then there are the many, many winery clubs such as Matthiasson and Joseph Phelps. These can be great if you’re a huge fan of a specific brand’s wines, but selections are limited.
The top new-style subscriptions, such as New Italian Wine Club or Sourcing Table, feature wines from dozens of artisanal winemakers. These are labels you see on trendy restaurant lists or on the Instagram pages of top sommeliers like Pascaline Lepeltier.
The bottles are personally selected by passionate, knowledgeable, named experts with access to highly allocated bottles that probably aren’t in your local shop.
Think of the subscriptions as your entrée to hot producers and an invitation to expand your palate. Most include such perks as tasting notes, recipes, invitations to special events, and even videos featuring winemakers that you can watch while you taste and drink.
For curious wine drinkers, what’s not to love? My only piece of advice: Sign up for the fewest months available to make sure you like the wines before committing to a longer subscription. Those below, in alphabetical order, ship nationally.
Cote-to-GoTwo “it women’ in the world of sommeliers, Victoria James and Mia Van De Water of New York Michelin-starred Cote, partner with wine shop Convive. For credentials in picking interesting wines such as Domaine Graillot Cotes-du-Rhone Clos Somi, they can’t be beat. There’s a wait list, but club spots open up monthly.Price: Three wines per month for $165 (includes shipping)Perks: Monthly Zoom happy hour with Victoria and Mia; 10 % off bottles at the restaurant and Convive; and priority access to events
King Wine ClubSince July 2021, this restaurant club has offered top French and Italian wines picked by wine director Annie Shi from her list of superb smaller producers. Selections for August: Marisa Cuomo Costa d’Amalfi rosato, Tibero pecorino, and the rare I Suoli Etna Rosso I Rilievi.Price: Three wines per month for $140 (which does not include tax and shipping)
Orange GlouOrange wine-obsessed sommelier Doreen Winkler launched the first subscription such as Margins Clarksburg chenin blanc from California and Czech star Milan Nestarec’s pét-nat, Danger: 380 Volts. Price: Three bottles of wine per month (at $105), six ($195), or 12 ($385)Perks: food pairings, tasting notes
Own Root CollectiveLaunched in 2020 by Terra Jane Albee, this subscription model is different, with a low monthly fee giving you unique access to California micro labels that constitute side hustles for young winemakers employed by bigger, more famous wineries. A typical example is the Orixe Sotelo rosé I recommended earlier this summer. Price: $9 for a one-month subscription; $50 for six months; $90 for 12 months. (Plus shipping costs)Perks: Virtual tastings with winemakers
The New Italian Wine ClubJames Beard award winner Shelley Lindgren and her Bay Area restaurants A16 have long specialized in Italian wines. This tour-of-Italy club grew out of research for her book The New Italian Wine, to be published next year. August’s wines include Kius Brut, from organic producer Marco Carpineti, as well as a bright white from the Amalfi coast in Campania.Price: Three wines per month for $79 (shipping not included)Perks: Tasting notes, regional history, recipes
TWC Cellar AccessSommelier and consultant Thatcher Baker-Briggs helps serious collectors stock their cellars and is also known for importing top up-and-coming producers and values in pricy regions like Burgundy. Among recent subscription wines was a 15-year-old red Burgundy.Price: Three Tier 1 wines for $98, or three to four Tier 2 wines for $150 (includes shipping)Perks: Priority access to other in-demand wines
CorkkWhich wines from England’s nearly 800 vineyards are worth trying? Among the English sparkling and still wines in this subscription are Davenport Limney Estate organic bubbly and Balfour Nanette’s rosé.Price: Three bottles of still, sparkling, or mixed wine for £48 ($58)—does not include shippingPerks: Highly flexible on number of bottles and delivery frequency
OranjThis London shop deals in natural wines. Each month a different chef or somm curates the subscription offer. Among last month’s wines, picked by Ferhat Dirik of Turkish restaurant Mangal 2, were a tangy Beaujolais Villages, from new producer Elisa Guerin, and a fizzy red Lambrusco.Price: Two bottles per month for £60; five bottles per month for £120 (does not include shipping)Perks: Booklet with tasting notes and food pairings; a curated playlist; a frame-worthy art poster
Sourcing TableLaunched in 2020, this offshoot of an online shop is reopening its membership on Aug. 15; those signed up for the waiting list will get priority. In the last edition, wines included a fresh, golden Sandhi chardonnay from California and a plush, spicy red from new Spanish star Juan Antonio Ponce.Price: Six (£150) or 12 (£300) bottles every three monthsPerks: Live Q&As with winemakers; access to wine tastings
Roscioli Wine ClubRome bar and restaurant Rimessa Roscioli was a favorite of Anthony Bourdain. In 2021, it extended its wine club membership to the US. Join to get unusual Italian wines such as Cantina Olivella Catalanesca Insumma, an amphora-aged volcanic white made only for the club.Price: Two shipments per year of 12 Tier 1 bottles for €716 ($721) per year; or 12 Tier 2 bottles for €996 (shipping is including for the US and EU, but not for the UK)Perks: Scannable QR codes connect you to a video message from the winemaker.
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