The pros and cons of wine clubs
Are wine clubs and subscription schemes a good way to buy wine? Clearly a lot of people think so, judging by the growing number out there, the latest being Vinoteca and (as of the beginning of next month) Oddbins.
The obvious advantage of a club is that wine arrives without you having to think about it, although I’m guessing that if you read a wine column, you’re happy to give some consideration to your wine choices. It may – and should – also introduce you to wines you haven’t tried.
There are downsides, however. It’s easy for retailers to pop slowmoving wines or those that have reached their drink-by date into a mixed case, for example, and you obviously can’t taste before you buy, as you can in a shop, so you may end up with bottles that aren’t particularly to your taste.
My main beef, though, is with pricing. Naked Wines, for example, contrasts what it says are high-street prices with the discounted “Angel” price you get if you subscribe for £20 a month (which is offset against purchases). But it’s hard to validate what the high-street price would be, because most of Naked’s wines are exclusives. It says “every price is real and never inflated for phoney discounts”, but some may not feel that £19.99 (at the time of writing) is a fair price for the pretty average Le Lastau Saint-Emilion 2014, let alone the £26.99 it claims would be the normal retail value.
Laithwaites also tends to be on the expensive side, so I would generally advise picking your own wines, rather than buying mixed cases for which, like Naked, it offers generous introductory discounts. The site’s Portuguese range is especially strong.
Vinoteca, a small chain in London, offers members benefits on top of its regular case, which costs from £80 to £120. This includes a discount on the first bottle you order at its restaurants and 10% off the rest of the range in its shops and online; Vinoteca also has particularly good tasting notes and food pairing suggestions.
Oddbins, from 1 August, is offering three levels of subscription, with the emphasis on lesser-known wines and grape varieties: an Enthusiast pack for £24.53 for three bottles, which makes quite an affordable start, an Adventurer pack (£33.53), and a Trailblazer (£47.03 – odd amounts, but they represent 10% off retail prices). What these companies all hope, of course, is that this will make you a regular customer, but I’d still advise you to shop around.