This post is was originally published on The Penny Hoarder
If you asked me to describe my version of heaven, “excellent wine” would be among the first words you’d hear.
Excellent wine delivered right to my doorstep at below-retail prices? I honestly couldn’t have dreamed up such opulence unaided. And yet, we live in a world where that level of extravagance isn’t just available; it’s in ready supply.
The future has arrived — and although we’re still waiting on our hover cars and jet packs, we do have wine-subscription boxes.
This is my kind of compromise.
Are Wine-Subscription Boxes Worth the Money?
Having a quality supply of vino available without having to navigate wine labels in the wild — and without even having to leave the house (i.e., put on pants) — certainly sounds like a pretty great deal, especially since many clubs offer wines with special subscriber discounts.
But considering you can get at-least-passable wines plenty cheap at Trader Joe’s or even out of a box, cheapskates like us might still think twice before clicking that oh-so-tempting “sign up” button.
With most memberships starting around $50 per month, and some climbing higher than $100, wine deliveries can add an appreciable expense to your budget, especially if you don’t typically drink as much wine as you’d get from the program.
And then there’s the quality of the service itself to consider. Are the wines really excellent? Are the “discounted” rates really a value? Is home delivery really that much more convenient?
In a brave and selfless bid to discover the answer to these questions, we tried one of the most popular wine clubs on the market.
Which is the Best Wine-Subscription Box?
As the resident Penny Hoarder wino wine connoisseur, I was tasked with the Herculean chore of choosing and evaluating one of the many available wine-subscription options. There were quite a few to pick from, ranging from Firstleaf’s monthly delivery of six-bottle cases to Vinebox’s pricy by-the-glass model.Even Martha Stewart is in on this wine-delivery game, gang. It’s real.
But all told, Winc seemed like the perfect starter option. It delivers a reasonable four bottles per month without a membership fee or commitment, and it even includes free shipping.And, I’ll be honest, there’s a pretty sweet $20-off deal available on your first box.
In fact, it’s less like a wine club and more like a discount wine shop. Once you sign up, you’re free to choose whichever bottles in its online store catch your eye.
Because the monthly delivery model promises winemakers some consistency, the bottles are available at lower prices than they would be at your local liquor — although they’re still not super cheap. Winc’s wines start at $13 per bottle, and some cost more than $40.
But if you, like most of us, don’t really know what you’re looking for, here’s the cool part.
Each wine comes complete with plain-English descriptions, tasting notes and even suggested food pairings so you know exactly what you’re getting into well before you pop the cork.
Plus, Winc’s team of experts will recommend specific bottles each month based on your feedback, which you can leave for every wine you taste through a simple rating system. The taste-tailoring process starts with a quick-and-easy quiz when you sign up, which examines your palate through questions like how you take your coffee and whether or not you like citrus.
By default, you’ll be signed up for the “Winc Featured” membership, so you’ll receive an assortment of wines primarily from Winc’s $13 collection. That means you’ll pay at least $52 per month, and perhaps a few bucks more if one of your wines is an upgrade. There’s also the costlier “Winc Select” option if you’re open to premium-priced recommendations.
But you can always go in and customize your wine choices before they ship, so you’re in control of exactly how much it costs each month.
You can also skip a month or cancel entirely at any time, as long as you make the decision 48 hours before your upcoming shipment.
We Tried Winc. Here’s What We Thought
OK, enough about how it works — how was it?
I’ve got some wine know-how, so I hand-picked two of my bottles and let the system recommend the remaining pair. All told, I bought three $13 bottles and one amazing-sounding $19 splurge.
Satisfied with my choices, I clicked “submit,” paying a total of $33 after my first-box discount, which was hiked up to $25 from $20 as a holiday treat.
That comes out to $8.25 per bottle, which is way lower than I usually pay in a store if I’m expecting a high-quality product. As I’ve admitted before, I’m a little bit of a wine snob.
So far, so good.
My wine shipped the next day and was scheduled to be delivered within 48 hours. Winc does a great job keeping its customers updated along the way, quickly forwarding tracking information and providing optional text message notifications, but I still managed to miss the first delivery attempt. Someone does have to be home to show their ID and sign for the package — it is alcohol, after all.
When I finally got my hands on the box, I couldn’t wait to open it, but I did take a few moments to appreciate all the fun extras Winc included. The colorful welcome booklet features “The A-Z of Wine” — A is for acidity; S is for skin contact.
But soon, even clever reading material would not distract me. I was long overdue for a glass.
I cracked open my $19 bottle first: a 2016 red blend out of Santa Barbara County, California, dubbed the Funk Zone. The bottle had actually been one of Winc’s recommendations and was marked down from a retail price of $24.99.
Once I tasted it, the retail price didn’t surprise me. Composed of 90% syrah and 10% viognier (an aromatic white grape), this is a full-bodied red with the kind of hit-you-in-the-face dark fruit punch I adore. It’s got notes of blackberries and blueberries, dark chocolate, and just enough earthiness on the nose to live up to its name.
Later on, I poured myself a swallow of Winc’s other recommendation, Wonderful Wine Co.’s ambiguous California white blend. It’s an off-dry white without a specific appellation, and as a bone-dry red girl, I was skeptical — but this wine actually made me say “wow” aloud as soon as I took a sip.
Plus, just a few minutes after I cracked into the box, I got an email recommending some delicious-sounding recipes to pair with my wines, courtesy of Food52.
So, all told, I’d definitely say I was satisfied.
Is a Wine Membership Right for You?
Although my Winc experience was a good one, I’m not sure I’ll keep the membership indefinitely — although the fact that I can skip a month anytime means I don’t feel pressured to make a decision right away.
I love the easy rating system, and it’s fun to try new wines I wouldn’t otherwise have access to. At the same time, though, there are definitely months when I wouldn’t spend $50 or more on wine alone.
When deciding whether or not Winc, or any other wine subscription box, works for your budget, ask yourself a simple question: How much do I spend on wine right now?
If the answer is less than the cost of your would-be subscription, think carefully about whether the novelty and convenience is worth the extra money. You may end up with a backlog of bottles you can never seem to get to — or drinking more than you should.
But if alcohol is already a line item in your budget, and you want a fun and easy way to learn about new wines, a subscription box might just be right for you — and I’m happy to give Winc my recommendation.
Jamie Cattanach (@jamiecattanach) is a WSET-certified wine geek who’s written for VinePair, SELF, Ms. Magazine, Roads & Kingdoms, The Write Life, Barclaycard’s Travel Blog, Santander Bank’s Prosper and Thrive and other outlets.