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
$100.00, Vitcole Wine
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
$115.00, Somm Select
Cost per delivery: $99 or $199 (+$15 delivery fee for both)
Average bottle value: $29, $49
Why it's great: SommSelect's three subscriptions are curated by Ian Cauble, who is one of the youngest people to ever been named a master sommelier, and recommended by Singh. The club's “Drink Like a Somm” option—its base tier—includes four monthly bottles with a theme. Sometimes that's as broad as “great sparkling wines,” sometimes all the bottles come from a specific region. What you lose in variety, you'll gain in building knowledge each month. If you want a shipment that boosts the price per bottle and the variety, the company's Somm Six package or Blind Six package—both $199/month—will hit the spot.
The California Love Wine Clubs: Scribe Viticultural Society
$150.00, Scribe Winery
Cost per delivery: Varies, from $150 to $550 depending on tier
Average bottle value: Varies by delivery
Why it's great: Sonoma's Scribe winery, founded and managed by a pair of brothers who are fourth-generation farmers, has been an indie wine darling for years now (and a coveted Instagram wine geek thirst-trap backdrop). For good reason. "They make some of the most diverse wines in California, from natural ‘pet-nat’ sparkling wine to crowd pleasing Cabernet," says Reynolds. Scribe's pricing is a little complicated: it offers quarterly deliveries of four, six, or eight bottles, with the cost depending on what's sent. You'll see per-bottle discounts between 15 percent and 30 percent (with the best value-per-bottle option being the 12-bottle plan, naturally)—and as a bonus, that discount carries over if you reorder more bottles outside the quarterly delivery.
The Best Club for Classic Wines: Kermit Lynch Adventurers Wine Club
$40.00, Kermit Lynch
Cost per delivery: $39
Average bottle value: $20
Why it's great: It's almost understatement to say that Kermit Lynch is a legendary importer of French and Italian wine—one who even pioneered a better way to ship vino from Europe. "Kermit Lynch has been importing wines with great finesse and elegance for decades," says Wines. "I love his palate for wine and would be delighted to discover new wines along with him." Compared to other wine clubs managed by master sommeliers, the Kermit Lynch Adventurers club is surprisingly affordable—$40 for two bottles is a really good deal. If you want access to more expensive bottles, the “Club Rogue” gets you two bottles for $70 and the Club Chevalier gets you six bottles for $250.
The Best Wine Club For Home Cooks: Crunchy Red Fruit “The Circle” Wine Club
$189.00, Crunchy Red Fruit
Cadence: Every other month
Cost per delivery: $189
Average bottle value: $32
Why it's great: Singh is also a fan of the Crunchy Red Fruit wine club, which is another that's led by a singular sommelier. This time, that's Jackson Rohrbaugh, who has been a master sommelier since 2017 and was a bartender at renowned Seattle restaurant Canlis for 10 years. The club's shipments aren't limited to red wine, but it generally focuses on wines from small-batch producers. Besides bottles, each shipment includes detailed info cards, suggested food pairings, and sometimes a little extra treat (like a coaster).
The Best Cheap Wine Subscription: Ferry Plaza “All Four” Wine Club
$68.00, Ferry Plaza Wine Merchant
Cost per delivery: $68
Average bottle value: $17
Why it's great: San Francisco-based Ferry Plaza, a giant shop in the Embarcadero also offers a bunch of wine subscriptions respected by Singh. Managed by master sommelier Peter Granoff and wine competition judge Debbie Zachareas, the subscriptions come in five different "levels"—one focused only on Cabernets, one focused on the Pacific Northwest, another for collectors—but the “All Four” level gets you the best value. Each shipment comes with information on the wines and cheese pairing suggestions. Hopefully your local cheesemonger is still up and running.
The Best Big-Money Wine Subscription: Raj Parr Wine Club
$500.00, Raj Parr
Cost per delivery: $500
Average bottle value: $83
Why it's great: If you don't have a master sommelier best friend, getting into Rajat Parr's club is the next best thing. Parr is one of the most celebrated sommelier's in the world, who literally the book on wine. It's called Secrets of the Sommeliers and it won a James Beard award in 2011. The wine club is very expensive, but the wine is, obviously, both astoundingly good and the opposite of basic. "He's curating some really interesting wines," says Wines. "Both super traditional and really cutting edge from around the world." And then there's the big perk: members get Parr's personal cell phone number to ask questions about new and vintage wines and get restaurant recommendations. This might explain why the club has a waiting list for membership.
Four Other Wine Subscriptions You Could Consider
Fair warning: none of these wine subscription services were explicitly recommended by the sommeliers. But in our testing, all have proven to offer such a good value—especially their discounted introductory packages. The pitch with these four wine subscriptions is decent (probably not life-changing) wine at a solid price. There's no shame in the affordable wine game!
Both of these wine subscriptions start off newcomers with a quiz to gauge wine likes and dislikes, and then ship some algorithmically-suitable bottles. The simplicity is nice, but the results can feel random, like a Spotify Discover playlist. Winc and Firstleaf seem best for the not-so-choosy who just want to keep their cabinets stocked.
$90.00, Wine Insiders
Wine Insider's shipments are as random as those from Winc and Firstleaf, but you get more of the randomness: 15 bottles for just $89. With the math that much in your favor, it's a guarantee you won't love every bottle you pull out of the massive box plopped on your doorstep. But you won't have to worry about running dry—and you might stumble across a real winner.
$450.00, Astor Wine and Spirits
Astor Wines and Spirits in Manhattan is a long-standing, cavernous ode to drinking. The store's staff is knowledgable, and the selection well-vetted. The wine club's a bit clunky though. Monthly shipments are massive, at 12 bottles each, and you need to commit to at least three months at a time. The monthly fee is steep, but the per-bottle price is solid (about $12 each), making Astor's subscription a smart move if you're pouring a glass or two every single day (no judgments) or looking to stock a cellar on a budget.
Originally Appeared on GQ