Join the (wine) club? Part one.

I have no personal experience with subscription-model wine clubs. I have feared that selections will be disappointing, that I could do better making my own choices. At the same time, I know many clubs offer labels not typically available to retail buyers and at prices that can be attractive.

So maybe I’m wrongly biased and, if I picked the right club(s), I’d broaden my vinicultural horizons immeasurably.

Most wine clubs are one of two types: winery-sponsored clubs, through which a particular producer can deliver bottles, often those for which it can’t get retail distribution, directly to consumers; and unaffiliated clubs that source from multiple producers.

In the second category, a few clubs are associated with non-wine brands (e.g., Zagat, New York Times, Wall Street Journal) and some offer a specialized selection (kosher, sparkling wine, non-U.S., for example). NOTE: the Zagat and WSJ clubs are supplied by the same retailer, New Jersey-based The Wine Cellar.

Most clubs give subscribers some options – setting red versus white preferences, adjusting the delivery frequency – and make it easy to cancel at any time.

But clubs have pitfalls, notably around shipping: many are restricted in the states to which they can ship, and I can’t discern a coherent pattern to the limitations. For instance, Zagat ships to Massachusetts residents but Cellars Wine Club cannot. Wine of the Month Club apparently ships by wagon train to Massachusetts, as its site warns those residents to expect three- to five-week delivery times. The New York Times Wine Club notes that, in Indiana, it can ship only to certain ZIP codes. Utah and Pennsylvania residents (among others), you’re pretty much out of luck.

Tomorrow I’ll have more to say – and to ask you, dear readers – about wine clubs. In the meantime, does anyone have a wine club shipping story or lesson to share?

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