If you're shopping for something to give an oenophile, a wine club membership is a gift that keeps on giving. Such clubs used to have a reputation for poor-quality wines. But as people's tastes have become more refined, clubs have been launched to expose aficionados to pricier wines they might not otherwise buy.
Clubs usually make monthly deliveries that include the wine, tasting notes, profiles of the wineries, and discounts on reorders. There are three types:
These clubs offer the broadest selection. For example, the new Kimpton Life Wine Society (www.kimptonlife.com/kl_wine.html) ships hard-to-find wines. Membership runs $50, $100, or $175 for two bottles a month. At the low end, Wine Odyssey, Wine.com's most popular club for beginners, is priced at $19.95 a month for two bottles.
These are best for enthusiasts who want to deepen their knowledge of a particular region. An Italian Wine Merchants membership, which includes six Spiegelau wine glasses and a 515-page book on Italian wines, ranges from $97 to $259 a month for three bottles (italianwinemerchant.com). The California Wine Club (cawineclub.com) offers exposure to California's boutique wineries for as little as $32.95 a month for two bottles.
Most of the blue-chip California vineyards have their own clubs, which ship limited-production wines that are not nationally distributed. Ridge Vineyard's Advanced Tasting Program, for example, serves up new single-vineyard reds such as syrah and zinfandel blends starting at about $65 for a two-bottle shipment (www.ridgewine.com/clubs).
One caveat: Some states prohibit wine shipments directly to consumers. But there are loopholes, so check with individual clubs on restrictions.
By Jane Black