Covid tried to take away our right to pay $16 a glass for a biodynamic pet-nat at a our favorite brunch spot, but some genuinely good wine subscriptions have stepped into the breach, ensuring the pours continue at home. Now that everything from alcohol delivery to your toothbrush has pivoted to subscriptions, you know the drill: you pay the fee, the monthly/quarterly/biannual shipment arrives. But unlike toothbrushes, the world of wine is vast, there is a lot of bad wine out there, and signing on for wine subscriptions can feel like a bit of a trust fall.
“Quality is hard to evaluate, because it can exist at any price point,” admitted Grant Reynolds, Wine Director of Parcelle (which has its own wine subscription) and author of a literal book on how to drink wine. When you don’t have a shop owner, a somm, or an obsessed friend to guide you, how do you Internet shop for wine? Descriptions blend together; labels are useless. “Some of the best wines in the world have trash labels, and there’s complete junk out there with great branding,” says Reynolds. And that only gets worse when it comes to wine subscriptions.
“The problem I see with most wine subscription services is that most of those wines [come from] made-up labels,” says Sally Mohr, a master sommelier and advanced sake educator. “The winery doesn’t exist—it’s just a name, it has no story, no history, no sense of place.” Which explains why all the sommeliers we spoke to avoided most of the wine subscriptions offered by direct-to-consumer vintners. Emily Wines, aptly named master sommelier for Cooper’s Hawk winery and restaurant group (which also offers its own wine subscription), went further: “I would avoid any subscriptions that are given through non-wine affiliated organizations. Wall Street Journal, National Geographic, etc.”
Helpfully, Alpana Singh, who became the youngest female master sommelier ever in 2003 (and still one of the few female somms of color), offers some advice on what you should look for in a trustworthy wine subscription. Specifically, these three things:
1. Access: “Are you able to get wines that aren’t normally available but are worth having?” There’s no point in paying the shipping fees if you’re getting the same stuff that’s at your corner wine shop.
2. Information: “Am I going to learn something?” In other words, the wine subscription service should offer the details you need to know about what you’re drinking, and a selection that’s fresh and interesting.
3. Authority: “Who is doing the choosing? Can they be trusted?” Many of the best wine subscriptions are led by a top-flight sommelier or a trusted shop.
Which led us to the seven expert-sanctioned wine subscriptions below. There’s a mix of affordable and big-money; subs that are big on European classics and some that like to get funky. All are backed by trusted somms, wineries, or shops. There’s no “best” wine subscription, but there’s bound to be one that’ll deliver the bottles you’re hoping for.
The Most Adventurous Wine Club: Viticole Wine Club
Cost per delivery: $59 or $99
Average bottle value: $25-$50
Why it’s great: Well, first of all, because you’re getting wine that sells for upwards of $60 per bottle. (That’s if you join the step-up Tier II version; Tier I bottles average $25-35/each.) Viticole Wine Club is the brain child of Brian McClintic, a master sommelier who’s focused on organically farmed wines from around the world—and extremely thorough about his sourcing. Each monthly shipment includes two bottles of wine (and the occasional bottle of cider) that McClintic has thoroughly vetted. He posts reams of information about the wineries on Viticole’s website, and hosts a podcast interviewing some of the producers. “His passion is undeniable,” says Wines.
The Best Themed Wine Club: SommSelect