Sunday, October 11, 2020

    The best wine subscriptions

    The best wine subscriptions

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    • Online wine clubs deliver cases of wine right to your door, and they help you learn more about wine and develop your palate. 
    • The best online wine subscriptions offer user-friendly ordering experiences, safe and reliable shipping, well-curated selections, and resources to make you a more informed wine drinker.
    • Winc is the best online wine subscription we’ve tried over the years because it offers all of the above, and it’s always in tune with the latest wine trends. 
    • Read more: The best wine glasses
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    This content is intended for readers 21 . Please drink responsibly. If you or anyone you know is dealing with alcohol abuse, get help. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357) provides a free, confidential, 24/7, treatment referral, and information service.

    To an outsider, the world of wine — with all its varietals, regions, tasting techniques, and pairing rules — can seem intimidating and difficult to navigate. Online wine clubs, however, aim to bring these barriers crashing down and make the process so easy you don’t even need to leave your house. 

    These wine clubs are typically subscription-based and send you monthly or quarterly shipments of wine that fit your existing tastes while helping you expand your horizons and discover new favorites. 

    “No one is born with a great palate,” said Vanessa Price, a sommelier, wine writer for New York Magazine, and author of Big Macs & Burgundy: Wine Pairings for the Real World, “they develop it over time. The more you expand your experiences with different types of wine, the more evolved your palate will become.” 

    Online wine subscriptions can fast-track that evolution if you don’t necessarily have the time or energy to do all the work. 

    “Generally, wine clubs are great for those who want to be introduced to new things, but who may not be confident enough yet to select new things for themselves,” said David Hamburger, director of special events at Acker, the oldest wine shop in America. “A good wine club should be somewhat instructive, sharing with members enough information about each wine to provide background, but also allow members the flexibility to enjoy it their own way — with a recipe, or food pairing suggestions.” And if you need extra guidance on how to taste or store your wine, head over to our FAQs here.

    In our tests of some of the most popular online wine subscriptions, we found that safe and reliable shipping standards, subscription flexibility and customization, and unique, high-quality offerings are also important factors to keep in mind. 

    With every service below, our bottles arrived on time and securely packaged. Member experience was also great across the board. You can easily skip shipments or cancel your subscription directly from your online account. 

    Remember, an adult 21 years old must be present to sign for the wine shipment. 

    Here are the best wine subscriptions: 

    Prices and details are accurate as of 10/8/20. We’ve overhauled this guide by re-testing previous picks to see if they still stack up, trying new wine subscriptions, and speaking to experts within the wine space. We’re continuing to test other subscription services, including those specializing in sparkling wine. 

    The best subscription overall

    Winc

    Connie Chen/Business Insider

    The modern wine club model is nearly perfect in Winc‘s hands, from its large and on-trend bottle variety to its streamlined browsing and customer rating system.

    Subscription frequency: Every month

    Shipping fee: $9 for orders of three bottles or fewer; free for orders of four bottles or more

    A la carte shop: Yes

    As a new member at Winc, you start by taking a quick quiz that asks about your tastes and preferences. Then you’re matched up with wines that align with your “Palate Profile,” and from there you can create your own cart of wine selections. In addition to the suggestions presented to you, you can browse by category. The shop features clear ratings from other members and easy-to-digest descriptions of each wine.

    This design provides a good balance of guidance and personalization — you get suggestions but you also have the freedom to pick out other wines that catch your eye. 

    Winc works directly with vineyards and makes all the wines it sells, producing over 664 wines from 78 grape varieties and 97 regions across 12 different countries since launch. You may see some of these wines also sold at Whole Foods, Vons, and Kroger stores. Since Winc uses subscriber data and ratings to inform new wine production, most of the wine you see will line right up with emerging trends. 

    On the downside, this rapid production model means it can be difficult to re-purchase some of your favorites, so it’s best not to get too attached to a particular bottle. 

    I’ve tried Winc a few times over the last couple of years and always found something I liked while further developing my tastes and preferences. It’s through Winc that I’ve grown to appreciate Chenin Blanc from South Africa and how I realized Touriga Nacional, a dry red wine popular in Portugal, is not so popular with my taste buds. 

    You can only see each wine’s tasting notes and descriptions online, which is slightly inconvenient as you try out your monthly shipment. However, the online-first system ultimately works in your favor because you’ll have your entire order history and personal notes all in one place to reference later.  

    Read our full review of Winc here.

    Pros: Wines are all based on consumer interests and trends, easy-to-navigate interface, many varietals

    Cons: Wine info and notes are only online, a la carte stock goes quickly

    $44.00 from Winc

    The best subscription for sampling

    Vinebox

    Connie Chen/Business Insider

    Vinebox packages European wines in sleek and distinctive single-serving glasses so you can try nine different kinds without committing to whole bottles.

    Subscription frequency: Every 3 months 

    Shipping fee: Free 

    A la carte shop: Yes 

    It’s easy to distinguish Vinebox from the pack: you get no less than nine wines, neatly packed into individual glass tubes and accompanied by a well-designed informational booklet, all stored in sturdy yet gift-worthy packaging. 

    Each quarter’s box is pre-curated so you can’t customize it to your tastes, but you’ll have plenty of fun sipping and sampling each wine. The best part is that you won’t feel bad opening and finishing a whole “bottle” because it’s only a single serving. Vinebox’s design is great for casual wine drinkers who hate commitment, plus it’s convenient and practical because you don’t even need a bottle opener or corkscrew to enjoy your drink. 

    If you do happen to fall in love with one of the samples, you can make use of the $15 credit given to you each quarter. This can be used towards a purchase of the full-sized version. You may also want to gift this unique and beautiful box to a friend whose wine preferences are eclectic or unclear — with so many varietals packed into every shipment, they’re bound to enjoy at least one.

    The particular box I received featured all light and medium-bodied wines, which I just so happen to enjoy. But it would’ve been even better to see some full-bodied wines represented, for additional variety and range. 

    Read our full review of Vinebox here.

    Pros: Good sampling size, memorable packaging, useful info cards

    Cons: Can’t always find or buy the full bottle in the shop

    $79.00 from Vinebox

    The best subscription for natural wine

    Plonk

    Connie Chen/Business Insider

    For natural, organic, and biodynamic wines, you can rely on Plonk to take care of the expert vetting, thoughtful curation, and spot-on food pairing recommendations.

    Subscription frequency: Every month

    Shipping fee: Free

    A la carte shop: Yes 

    Plonk, which is British derogatory slang for cheap, low-quality wine, provides wines that are anything but. The online club focuses exclusively on natural wines that are grown with organic, biodynamic, and sustainable vineyard practices, meaning they don’t contain pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, or commercial additives (like colorants or artificial sugars). There’s also an impressive selection of sulfite-free and unfiltered bottles. 

    If you’re interested in the specific distinctions among the terms “natural,” “organic,” and “biodynamic,” founder Etty Klein breaks them down here.

    Plonk prides itself on selecting and importing wines from small, boutique winemakers and lesser-known wine regions, flouting big industry names to give you a carefully vetted selection. While other online wine subscriptions may offer natural and sustainable options, few can boast both the convenience and range of Plonk’s one-stop natural shop. 

    When you sign up, you have your choice of an all-red, all-white, or mixed variety box, with either four or 12 bottles per shipment. What the included informational printout lacks in glitzy presentation, at least compared to other services, it makes up for in precise tasting notes and ultra-specific food pairings courtesy of Food52. For example, one of my favorite Plonk discoveries, a 2019 Pinot Noir from Margaret River, Western Australia, should be enjoyed with stuffed peppers with lamb, orzo, and halloumi cheese. 

    Pros: Only natural wine offerings, pre-curated, easy to skip shipments or cancel your subscription 

    Cons: Pricey, cannot be personalized

    $110.00 from Plonk

    The best subscription for value

    Firstleaf

    Connie Chen/Business Insider

    You’ll never have to pay more than $15 a bottle at Firstleaf, where the quality and personalization are top-notch.

    Subscription frequency: Every one, two, or three months 

    Shipping fee: $9.95 

    A la carte shop: Yes 

    Like Winc, Firstleaf has you start out with a quiz so it can better understand your preferences.  When you’re finished, it serves up six wines it thinks you’ll like, and you can read about each one and decide whether you want to make any swaps. However, you only have six swaps per shipment. So, Firstleaf is that nice “Goldilocks” service where you have a bit of control, but you’re still steered in the right direction. 

    To draw you in, Firstleaf has a very competitive introductory offer of $39.95 for six wines, including shipping. Afterward, the price goes up to $80, plus $9.95 shipping, but you’re still only paying $15 for each bottle, many of which are industry award winners.

    After you’ve tried every wine in your monthly shipment, you can rate them online. This step is important because Firstleaf will use your ratings to become smarter and hone in on an even better curation for you next month. As your wine knowledge and tastes evolve, so too will the service. 

    I’ve had the chance to try Firstleaf a few times in the last couple of years, and it’s always been reliable. I appreciate that I don’t have to do quite so much work in picking out the bottles and that the main effort only comes afterward, once I’ve tried everything. 

    On top of the existing value of the service, there’s a strong referral program: if you share Firstleaf with a friend, they’ll get $40 and you’ll get $40. 

    Read our full review of Firstleaf here. 

    Pros: Flexibility to swap out pre-selected bottles in your order, attractive intro offer, good overall value

    Cons: May take a few boxes/rounds of ratings for the system to understand more specific preferences

    $80.00 from Firstleaf

    The best subscription curation

    Parcelle

    Connie Chen/Business Insider

    Parcelle Wine Drop combines a truly unique selection of bottles with an informative yet unpretentious wine education from Michelin-starred sommeliers.

    Subscription frequency: Every month

    Shipping fee: Free

    A la carte shop: Yes

    I love Parcelle’s Wine Drop because it has the feel of a cool and exclusive local club but it ships nationwide. Parcelle is based in New York City and enlists the curation and expertise of Michelin-starred sommeliers like the former wine directors of Eleven Madison Park and Chef’s Table at Brooklyn Fare. 

    The experience indeed feels like you’re asking for wine recs at a restaurant. It’s arguably even better because your three wines also come with beautifully illustrated info cards and a copy of Parcelle Press, a mini journal that is, again, visually stunning. 

    Founder Grant Reynolds told Insider Reviews, “The Wine Drop is our shortlist of our favorite wines to have around the house at that time of year. Nothing too fancy but always smart, a bit different, and from small producers focusing on making wines unique to the place they are from.”

    If you prefer more customization, you’ll probably enjoy one of our other picks more, but if you want to leave it up to the pros, try Wine Drop. All three wines I received were hits, and they helped me realize a new love for orange wine. 

    Depending on the wine, the total cost of the individual bottles could come out to less than $95. The Wine Drop I received during September, for example, was $85. In other months, the total may be more. While fluctuating prices may be a dealbreaker for some, I found Wine Drop’s tight curation and immersive experience to be compelling enough reasons to continue my subscription. 

    Pros: Pre-curated, unique variety, beautiful info cards, impressive expertise

    Cons: Not personalized, could buy the bottles individually for less

    $95.00 from Parcelle Wine

    What else we considered

    Verve Wine

    Verve Wine

    Usual Wines: Usual Wines’ single-serving beaker bottles are certainly eye-catching and memorable. However, the company only offer s its subscriptions in red, rosé, and brut, and these wines don’t change month-to-month. On the plus side, its wines contain no added sugars or sulfites, and the grapes come from sustainable farms. If you’re looking for a straightforward subscription you don’t really have to think about, Usual Wines is a good candidate. Otherwise, our picks above provide better opportunities for education and discovery. 

    Acker Wines: Acker has wine clubs for a variety of budgets and levels of enthusiasm, from the $89/month Access Club to the $999/month JK Club for fine and rare wines. Acker’s Access Club seems promising for wine amateurs, but it’s geographically limited to New York City residents. The next club level up jumps to $299/quarter for three bottles, which may be inaccessible for many shoppers.  

    Elicit Wine Project: Elicit Wine Project helps incubate and launch cool, innovative wine brands, so if you’re tired of seeing the same stuffy labels, you’ll like shopping here and putting together your own subscription box. The downside is that there aren’t many varietals to choose from right now. Perhaps as the service grows, we’ll see a better variety. 

    What we look forward to testing

    Verve Wines

    Verve Wine

    The Grand Tour: This club by online and brick-and-mortar shop Verve Wine takes a geographic approach to wine discovery by highlighting four bottles (usually two red and two white) from a different region each month. Why does the region matter? Well, soil, climate, and topography all affect the winemaking process and the final product.  

    The Sip: This Black-owned bi-monthly subscription service focuses exclusively on sparkling wines for all your bubbly needs. In addition to three flights of luxury sparkling wine, you’ll get priority access to new wine releases. It’s the perfect wine club for people who are always looking for an excuse to celebrate. 

    Club Vivant: Another sparkling wine club to consider comes from the beautiful vineyards of Mumm Napa, and features the winery’s annual releases and limited-production bottles. The member benefits are numerous, from discounts to preferred seating and monthly complimentary tastings at the winery. Unfortunately, at the time of this update, Mumm Napa is being affected by the California wildfires, but we look forward to testing  Club Vivant soon.

    Wine FAQs

    Wine FAQs

    Connie Chen/Business Insider

    How to store wine

    Do: Lay the bottle on its side in a cool dark place, preferably in a cabinet lower to the floor. 

    Don’t: Stand it up on the counter or leave it in direct sunlight. 

    Do: Store your opened bottle in a wine fridge so it can keep a little longer. 

    Don’t: Store wine in a regular refrigerator. “The same qualities that keep your food fresh will not have the same effect on your wine,” says Price. See our guide to the best wine coolers and fridges

    How to taste wine

    Go slow and use the right techniques. “Tasting wine to learn something about it is different from just knocking a glass back casually with friends,” said Price. “Take the time to think about what you are tasting. Make sure you stick your nose in the glass and really smell the wine. When you drink it, coat your entire palate. After you swallow, think about how long the flavors and textures linger in your mouth.” 

    The sommelier and wine writer also recommended starting a tasting group with your friends or family. “Pick a theme and have everyone bring a bottle within that theme. For example, if you want to understand Syrah, the line-up should include a Northern Rhône (FR), Barossa Valley (AU), Stellenbosch (ZA), Paso Robles (US), and Tuscany (IT) bottling amongst others. Each person should bring their bottle wrapped so you can’t see the label (don’t forget to take the neck foil off, that one is an easy giveaway!), and put the wines out for everyone to taste and guess which wine is which. It’s helpful to write your tasting notes down so you see how you progress over time. The entertainment value goes up even more when afterward you discuss your impressions as a group, enjoying the wines you brought with friends.”

    How to choose the perfect wine for a gift 

    Make it personal. “The best way to gift a bottle of wine is to know a little piece about the recipient. Whether it’s a birth year or wedding vintage, a favorite place, or just their personal taste, those small things will make a gifted bottle of wine far more special,” says Hamburger.  

    You can purchase syndication rights to this story here.

    Disclosure: This post is brought to you by the Insider Reviews team. We highlight products and services you might find interesting. If you buy them, we get a small share of the revenue from the sale from our commerce partners. We frequently receive products free of charge from manufacturers to test. This does not drive our decision as to whether or not a product is featured or recommended. We operate independently from our advertising sales team. We welcome your feedback. Email us at reviews@businessinsider.com.

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