Wine Subscriptions - How are the wines actually chosen?
Who doesn’t love coming home to a box of mystery wines? Subscription wine clubs have the potential to deliver an assorted portfolio of bottles right to your door. But how do the businesses that run these subscription wine clubs decide what wines you'll be getting? Here's what you need to know.
6 Types of Wine Clubs
The world of wine is diverse, with labels that can match every pallet preference. Businesses that run wine subscriptions can choose any number of models, but often it comes down to how they market a club along with their customer base.
1. Clubs that Offer Top Rated Wines
Buying wine can be a little angst-inducing. If you’re worried about how to choose a wine without really knowing what the wine is going to taste like, or how to determine wine quality, then a top-rated club might be right for you.
Wine ratings are a tried-and-true third-party tactic to help you with your wine buying.
Experts who’ve tasted far more wine than is probably healthy for them, publish their tasting notes and profile the wine in a way that gives you a better idea of what to expect in the bottle.
Wines that receive the highest ratings stand out among other bottles in quality.
Wine clubs that focus on highly-rated wines leverage critics’ work to build their portfolios. This means that your wine subscription will reflect bottles that perform well with critics.
The business model looks for top-rated wineries, and may even establish standing relationships with those that have strong reputations for favorable ratings.
2. Clubs that Specialize in Trending Wine Styles
An enterprising business may look to capitalize on current trends among wine aficionados. This means specialized subscriptions for any number of different wine categories.
These days, sparkling wine, rosé wine, pét-nat, natural wines, and biodynamic wines all have their cult followings.
If you’re looking for a particular style of wine that’s not mainstream, then this type of wine club that specializes in trending bottles may be just your thing.
3. Small Production Clubs
Some wine lovers seek out unique, hard-to-find artisanal labels. These small-production wineries don’t necessarily have the resources for marketing or the established routes to market with distributors. This means that you won’t find their wines at your local grocery store or even a specialty bottle shop.
Wine clubs that specialize in small, limited case production wineries build a carefully chosen wine list by sourcing bottles from a range of producers. This helps small wineries with distribution and gets their wines into the hands of customers who yearn for the distinctive.
If you’re looking for limited-access wines, then this type of wine club may be perfect for you.
4. Varietal-Focused Subscriptions
You may adore wines from one particular grape. If Cabernet Sauvignon is your thing, or if you love Chardonnay, you can find a wine subscription that just offers wines from those grapes. The upside of a varietal-focused wine subscription is that you get to taste the stylistic range of a particular grape.
Of course, there’s a world of wines out there to taste, so don’t forget to explore other grapes, too!
5. Region-Specific Subscriptions
Some wine club subscriptions will specialize in a particular winegrowing region. These may be domestic or imported wines. The upside of a region-specific wine subscription is that the business will probably have a strong relationship with the region’s producers or, at the very least, have a specialized understanding of the range of wine styles and wine quality for the region.
Whether you’re looking for Napa Valley or Northern Italy, if you have an affinity for a specific terroir, then you can probably find a wine club that speaks to you.
6. Mixed Bag Wine Clubs
Some wine clubs bring a random mix of wines together in each subscription shipment. They may be domestic, international, or a mix of both.
If you're still new to this whole fermented grape thing and unsure how to select wine or even what wines might be out there, then these types of wine subscriptions can be hugely beneficial to help you figure out your likes and dislikes.
How Do Wine Subscriptions Select Wines?
Once the business has a general idea of its niche, then it needs to source its wines.
For some businesses, the specialty area will drive wine selection. For example, a wine subscription that only focuses on 90+ point wines will need to seek out those wine producers. This narrows down the total number of possible producers and bottles.
If the club is more general, for example, one that sources wines from a number of regions and includes a number of styles, then there may be a host of factors under consideration.
Do Wine Clubs Really Match Taste Preferences To Wine Shipments?
Some wine club subscription services ask you to fill out a taste preference quiz. These quizzes lead you through a series of questions about foods you enjoy or dislike. At the end of the quiz, they announce which wines fit your taste preferences and promise to send you those styles of wine. You’re guaranteed to love the wines because they’ve been selected to fit your taste profile.
Often, these quizzes are more sales gimmick than substance. This is, after all, a business.
Before you’ve taken the quiz, the wine club already has an inventory and a known client base to move that inventory. So if you take the quiz multiple times, you’re likely to get the same wines regardless of your answers.
Many of the more generic wine subscription clubs look for opportunities in an already saturated market. Delivering high-quality wine is not necessarily the first goal of these wine clubs. The business seeks out surplus wine inventory that they can purchase from producers at a discount. The producer may keep their own label on the wine, or even put a second label on the bottle. One way that you can tell if you are a part of this type of club is to research the label on the bottle in your subscription box.
Key Fact: You do not have to be a winery to have your own wine label and sell wine.
With the appropriate licenses, anyone can purchase wine on the bulk market and have a private label put on the bottle. These bottles can then be sold through wine clubs. If you type in the name of the wine and cannot find a winery behind the label, then it's likely a second label for a winery or a wine dealer (private label). The business purchased excess inventory from a producer and bottled it under its own label.
This scenario doesn't mean that the wine is of low quality, or somehow poor. What it does mean is that the wine is two, three, or more steps removed from the actual winemaker. In the world of wine, you hear the term ‘provenance’, this notion that you can trace a bottle of fine wine back to the vineyard. Generally, the closer you can get to the provenance of the wine, the better.
Wine clubs whose business strategy is to move wine from the bulk market are less about quality than about inventory.
Close-out and Last Call Wine Clubs
Another common business model for wine clubs is close-outs and last calls. Here, the business purchases odd lots from producers. The club will send these bottles out to their subscribers or offer them for sale as close-outs on their website.
Wine quality may not always be the bottom-line driver in this wine club business model.
The best monthly wine subscription will strive to deliver wines of quality.
Whether this is through an established, long-term relationship with certain wine producers, or by sourcing highly rated wines, these clubs work to bring you delicious bottles in every box.
2 Tips to Find a Good Wine of the Month Club
Step 1: Focus on the type or style of wine that’s important to you.
There’s little sense in subscribing to a club if it's going to bring you wines that you'll never drink. If you’d rather pass on whites, then find a red wine club.
If you’re wanting to build a wine cellar, then look for a subscription club that emphasizes hand-selected, quality wines based on ratings that include recommendations for wine cellaring (e.g., “Drink from 2025-2035”).
Step 2: Scroll past the marketing message and look at the club’s wines.
You should be able to find a webstore where you can look at current wines for sale or past shipments. Do a little research on the wine labels. Are these wines coming from an actual winery? Or are they private label wines?
Again, this may or may not be an indicator of a wine’s overall quality, but the closer you can get to knowing the wine’s actual point of origin is usually a good thing.
Looking for a Wine Club that Cares about Quality?
Finding a wine subscription that sources top-quality wines means that you don’t need to know how to choose wine. They’ll take care of sourcing great wines for you so that all you need to focus on is finding your corkscrew.
Gold Medal Wine Club now offers the Garagiste Wine Club, its newest subscription wine service.
Garagiste (gar-uh-zheest) winemakers have a long tradition of micro-production focused on quality, not quantity. Each vintage and every bottle come with their own origin story.
The Garagiste Wine Club sources handcrafted, boutique wines from artisanal producers. All of the wines offered through Gold Medal Wine Club go through rigorous tasting panels to ensure quality.
You won’t find these wines on store shelves!
The Garagiste Wine Club embraces rare, singular wines from winemakers that make under 1,500 cases a year. If you’re looking for unique bottles fermented with affection, then this club is for you.
Learn more about the Garagiste Wine Club below!