Typically, wine clubs have had about as much coolness factor as the old Columbia Record Club. No serious wine drinkers would have ever considered joining such a club. But now a handful of new wine clubs is changing the game with selections focused on Santa Barbara wines, grand cru Burgundy or natural wines.
Bottles are hand-picked, often highly allocated (i.e. hard to find), come with tasting notes and/or recipes — and inside is something you'd actually like to drink. Some clubs cater to what you already like. Others challenge your palate with eclectic and surprising choices. One has no pre-selected wines and instead sends out bottles custom-tailored to each member's interests.
What's not to like? Belonging to a wine club is suddenly cool.
Note that prices for wine club subscriptions do not include any applicable sales tax or shipping.
When sommeliers Eric Railsback and Brian McClintic opened Les Marchands Wine Bar & Merchant in Santa Barbara last spring, they had no plans for a wine club. But customers asked for one. They started off with two clubs and now offer several more, each devoted to a specific interest and price point. "We're working really hard to make sure we're giving value and really cool wines," says Railsback. The latest is SBC Wine Club, featuring the wines of Santa Barbara County, two bottles per month, "a mix of hard-to-find gems, recognizable names, and up and coming young producers" ($80). For Burgundy hounds, the Grand Cru Club offers two to three highly allocated Burgundies a month ($249). And the more affordable Daily Drinkers Club sends out two bottles a month at $49. lesmarchandswine.com/club, (805) 284-0380.
Michael Mina Wine Club
Sommelier Raj Parr, wine director for the Mina Group, also runs the Michael Mina Wine Club, launched in September. That means he and his team of sommeliers choose the wines for each month's mailing. Many are lifted right off the wine lists at any of Mina's 19 restaurants across the country. And each is paired with a recipe that can be made at home. "Wines need to be food-friendly, balanced and fresh," says Parr. And the recipes? "Very classic — and practical. Nothing with 17 ingredients." Members receive four shipments of six bottles spaced three months apart. The Hidden Gems level is $120 per shipment, while Wines of Consequence (suitable for captains of industry and such) is $300. Parr has recently added two special-occasion shipments for members, RN74 Celebration and Taste of Bourbon Steak, both at $180. http://www.minawineclub.com.
The Feiring Line Wine Society
Wine writer Alice Feiring, author of "Naked Wine" and "The Battle for Wine and Love or How I Saved the World from Parkerization," launched her wine subscription newsletter, the Feiring Line, last year. When subscribers lamented how hard it was to find the mostly natural wines she recommends, she got together with a wine shop owner to send out some bottles. It went so well that she's sending out her second mailing in the next week or so. Just like that, the Feiring Line Wine Society was born. Members pay $75 a month for two to five wines. "It's completely eccentric and based on wines that I love or wines that are important to know about if you love this genre of wine." What's surprised her is that some of her current 35 subscribers include a few prominent California winemakers. http://www.alicefeiring.typepad.com.
Kermit Lynch Wine Club
Berkeley's rebel wine importer and retailer Kermit Lynch also has a wine club, a little more than 3 years old now. The concept is simple enough: two clubs, each offering two bottles of Kermit Lynch wine every month — and with a recipe from former Chez Panisse chef Christopher Lee included with each bottle. Of course, there's some beautiful prose describing each bottle too. Adventures Club, named for Lynch's book "Adventures on the Wine Route," offers value wines in red, white and rosé from France and Italy ($39 per month). Club Rouge delves into more serious reds, focusing on complex and cellar-worthy wines from France and Italy ($69 per month). Or join both for $108. Since Lynch's portfolio is filled with notable and interesting labels, joining a club is something of a no-brainer. kermitlynch.com, (510) 524-1524, Ext.15.
Wine Expo Wine of the Month Club
Perhaps the most unusual club has to be Santa Monica retailer Wine Expo's Wine of the Month Club, which has no plan and is custom-tailored to each member's tastes. How is that different from just going into the shop and asking one of the wine clerks for a suggestions? It's more convenient for, as owner Roberto Rogness puts it, anybody "just too plain busy (or lazy?) to come down and peruse the wonderful selection at Wine Expo." Just give Rogness a budget, try to convey to him the kinds of wines you would like and he'll put together wines that should tickle your palate. The great thing about this "club" is that you can tweak the criteria over time. Feeling like getting into rosés or grower Champagnes for the next several months? He can oblige. wineexpo.com, (310) 828-4428.