Join the (wine) club? Part two.

Yesterday I started thinking and writing about wine clubs, with which I lack personal experience. I’ve gotten oodles of introductory offers over the years, and their initial shipment deals always look enticing. Today, in fact, a mailing from Laithwaites offers 15 bottles (representing 9 different reds) for $90 ($69.99 for the wine plus $19.99 shipping).

But surely not all wine clubs are created equal, and I have lots of questions. For instance:

Most importantly, are the wines – often labels that are unfamiliar – decent and do delightful discoveries abound?

  • How good is a club’s customer service?
  • Are the tasting notes discerning and well written, and any extra goodies that come along (wine openers, etc.) well made?
  • Once you get beyond the teaser-rate initial shipment prices, are club wines a bargain compared to retail prices for similar quality?
  • Would wine-snob friends be happy with the offerings if given a gift subscription?

So far, the best consolidated location I’ve found to compare and contrast wine clubs that are not specific to a particular winery is E-wineClubs.com. They’ve reviewed and ranked 30 clubs, but the reviews appear to be from 2011.

For winery-operated clubs, fresh market intelligence will be generated this year, thanks to a survey just announced by the Wine Market Council – a winery-dominated trade association that tracks U.S. wine consumer attitudes and behavior. But survey results will be targeted to club sponsors rather than consumers.

Wine club members, past and present, please weigh in! What are your caveats? Your recommendations? Help the rest of us navigate through this expanding universe of wine clubs.

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