Thursday, August 23, 2007

Wine Club Review - Redux

Up to the age of forty eating is beneficial. After forty, drinking.
--The Talmud

Never been much of a drinker: I never really cared to lose control of my surroundings. Also, I am pretty cheap.

Never much of a wine drinker: while I might be a skinflint, cheap wine is not (in) my (brown) bag.

In the course of my profession in recent months, however, I have been treated to some fairly fine wines (strike that, some stupendous wines)--and it turns out I like wine--good wine, anyway.

In my quest to secure good wine AND remain cheap, I signed up for several wine clubs simultaneously (penny wise, pound foolish):
4Seasons Wine Club
Wine Insiders (formerly A Taste of California)
My Wines Direct
Wine Library
Wine Woot

Addendum: Wine Buyer: free shipping section and sort by rating: some real bargains there!

Addendum the Second: Wines 'til Sold Out! is like Wine Woot for the ADD crowd; instead of one deal a week, the site offers one deal a day, shipping included. Offers reviews and tasting notes, as well as retail value and "Best Web" comparison.

Following are my thoughts, my wine club reviews, or at least my review of wine clubs in which, so far, I have participated. I will update as I drink more (although my typing may deteriorate). I started with discount wine clubs, but have moved up the scale a bit in terms of price and quality. As it stands now, I am bumping up against my supply/demand limits (i.e., I am cheap by nature, and wine ain't cheap).

Folks join clubs for a variety of reasons: local availability is slim; snooty stores can be intimidating; things are cheaper on line; whatever. Often, newbies are looking to be led by someone with greater experience (regardless of the endeavor), so clubs that tout their expertise and "insider" status and elitism will always have new adherents (uh, like me, apparently). On to the club reviews:

Four Seasons Wine Club has, by far, the best marketing (their wine is a different story...). The 4Seasons pitch is that they send a case a quarter (get it? Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter!). To entice new sign-ups, they offer the first case at half price AND deliver your choice of a "connoisseur" wine opener (with wooden box), a tabletop corkscrew, or a six-bottle wine fridge (yes, yes they do!). The also include some really nice write-ups of their wines, the region, the background, whatever. Useful information.

The wine, on the other hand, while...serviceable, has been nothing spectacular. Generally, their wines are "private label," that is, 4Seasons (or, more accurately, their much larger parent) contracts with vintners to produce certain wines. (And you thought that only vineyards produced wine! Oh foolish ingenue: grapes are just a commoditized fruit, and fruit can be produced anywhere--and trucked anywhere. Some "vintners" may "consult" to any number of wineries: it's almost incestual.) Also, while I am not sure whether the outcome is intended, this does mean that one cannot G--gle the wines for a review.

The wines did not make me gag but, at first, they did make me wonder whether my palate was simply...unsophisticated (more on that in a minute).

Wine Insiders niched me, too. They sent a similar advertisement/enticement: half price on a case of "the perfect combination of taste and value," of "both well-known and hard-to-find wines" chosen by "an expert tasting panel" to ensure delivery of "only the best wines."

Ugh. Really just...bleh (my apologies for my inarticulateness). I mean, again, I didn't gag (and I have had wine that made me gag), but it was so...innocuous, so inoffensive and timid: it was as if it were afraid to be wine. I could barely distinguish among their (again, private label) merlot, cabernet, and shiraz. And then it hit me: The Emperor Has No Clothes!

If one had but little frame of reference, if one were a mere neophyte among oenephiles, tipping that first toe into the ocean that is wine (or, as Homer put it, "the wine-dark sea"), one might be a bit...intimidated to say "But there's no there there." That would be me (was me, in fact--until just last night), had I not benefited from some really great, really (dare I say) moving wines. The swill I was quaffing from WineInsiders and 4Seasons was built for the fattest part of the American market, i.e., it was not very challenging; not bad (but not good, either), just...nothing special. Really, I might as well have been drinking water.

Both of the clubs above do not sufficiently exceed my local shoppes 3/$20 special; I would *never* pay full price for offerings from these two (and have cancelled).

For value-oriented clubs, that leaves MyWinesDirect. My Wines Direct sends real-label wines (so one can research actual reviews), often pre-packaged in "themes" (e.g., Barbecue Bests, Red Gems, etc.). They do not market themselves as a discount purveyor, but G--gle can find dollars-off coupons and Fatwallet delivers Fatcash (discounts), so one can realize something approaching 30% off fairly easily. So far, their wines have been...good; definitely better than the other two. I am not ready to declare them stupendousextrasuperspecial, but as discount wine clubs go, they deliver real wines with real tannins and real structure and real grapes. I have only worked through three bottles, but I have already ordered my second half-case, and give them a cautious bottoms-up. They at least exceed my local 3/$20 comparison.

What I really like about My Wines Direct is that they limit their selections, giving at least the impression that their offerings are, indeed, carefully selected. 4Seasons, for contrast, offers over 200 wines (research shows what we all know: consumers are overwhelmed with choice), making no choice "special." Wine Insiders limits their offerings, but I don't want to drink what they have! (Oh, and their shipping is super slow and their customer service, while pleasant and responsive, takes a long time to fix any problems...).

The real winner here is Wine Library. I love Wine Library TV; Gary Vaynerchuk is a hoot! And he is a great marketer: very believable, makes you think that $60 for a bottle is the STEAL OF THE CENTURY! Funny thing is: he's RIGHT! When he tells you a wine is massive, the thing is freakin' MASSIVE; when he tells you to cellar a bottle as an investment, by gum, you would do well to buy half a case! The downside? Did I mention the $60? Or the $30? Per bottle? NOT a discount seller--more of a guide to "the good stuff." And they do have sales. Shipping isn't cheap, but it's fair. They have earned my (occasional) business, especially for the special.

Lastly, there is woot! (or, more accurately, wine woot!). I have not yet ordered from them (I am still in the research phase), but they seem, for the most part, to dig up little-known West Coast wineries. Their format is to offer one deal (or "woot") a week. The best part, though, is that in their forums the winemaker will answer any and all questions (some quite sophisticated--ranging anywhere from business questions to sun/slope equations). The forumites are a wealth of knowledge and amusement. I also recommend the main site: W00T! which offers one (usually tech-geek) deal per day.

So, there you go. If any of you (two) are looking to join a wine club, you can take my experience (for what it's worth). I'll report back some day when I have tried Woot! [ed. note: at this time, I have finally begun receiving my woot purchases, but, to pervert the words of John Paul Jones, I have not yet begun to drink). And if I come across any other clubs, I'll let you know [ed. note: see below].

UPDATE--Clubs in the Pipeline:
Doorstep Wine (
Cellar Brokers (

I have signed up for the above two clubs' email hot-deals; once I purchase (and drink) something, I will update the review. Hmm... I wonder whether I should begin adding exactly what I am drinking here... BTW, I have never really had an addictive personality (too cheap for that), but this whole wine thing has really begun to bump up against my rev limiter.

What does this have to do with the search for man's essentiality? I am not sure (and I may be simply justifying some nascent alcoholism), but I think a man should know something about wine.
Search terms: woot ( wine til sold out ( wineinsiders (, mywinesdirect (, 4seasonswine (
I tasted - careless - then -
I did not know the Wine
Came once a World - Did you?
Oh, had you told me so -
This Thirst would blister - easier - now -

--Emily Dickinson


Anonymous said... is another daily wine deal company to check out. Cheers!

California Wine Club Coupon said...

Another advantage of joining a wine club is that you can have your wine delivered at your door steps. How sweet is that? You just have to sign up online and it would be best if you could spot a promotion code you could use when you sign up. This will save you extra dollars.