Are wine clubs or subscriptions worth it?

They take the hassle out of choosing wine, but are wine clubs value for money?

Booze you don't have to choose

Has the time come to join a wine club? If you're sick of blankly staring at row upon row of wine at your local Dan Murphy's, a wine club – where a wine buff chooses the wine for you and it's delivered to your doorstep – could be a good option.

In this article:

Supermarkets are steadily buying up wine retailers, wine producers and vineyards, and using private labels to squeeze out smaller producers.

Labels such as Lovers Not Toreadors, Chook Shed and The Fabulist sound like limited-release drops handcrafted by quirky winemakers, but they're actually Coles and Woolworths brands.

Are independent online wine clubs a way out of this corporate quagmire, and will the quality and cost of the wine make it worth your while?

Want somewhere to store your wine? Our wine fridge reviews compare models from Vintec, Liebherr, Ilve, Fisher & Paykel, DeLonghi and more.

"It's incredibly confusing, the field of wine. There's so many brands out there," says wine writer Huon Hooke. "It's confusing enough for us professionals in the business; I can't imagine what it's like for the average punter."

Having an expert choose for you can be a huge relief for people who are too busy or not confident enough to select wine themselves, but not every wine club is right for every wine drinker.

We've looked into some independent wine clubs to help you find the right one and avoid the potential pitfalls of buying wine you've never tasted before.

Do wine clubs save you money?

The downside of wine clubs that support smaller producers or only stock wines exclusive to them is that it can be tricky to calculate whether you're getting value for money.

"It can be hard to know what you're getting – unless you're sent a bottle to taste in advance, it can be a bit of a gamble," says Matt Dunne, group sommelier for hospitality group Solotel, which owns venues such as Aria Sydney.

Crafty pricing tactics can catch out even the most savvy consumer. "The way a lot of these deals are promoted is actually a bit scandalous," Hooke says.

Some retailers may inflate the recommended retail price of a wine to make it seem like you're getting a cracking deal at the price they're asking.

You know the type: "RRP $35; our price $25" on a bottle that's really only worth $15. And consumers can't check the accuracy of the pricing because (surprise, surprise) the wine is only available through that particular retailer. They could tell you it's worth anything and you'd have no way of checking.

Use wine apps to check if you're paying too much

There are apps can help you find out more about the wine: Is it overpriced? What do the reviews say? Has it won any wine awards?

Dunne recommends the Delectable, Vivino and Wine Searcher apps as good options for checking whether you're paying too much for a particular wine.

If in doubt, Dunne suggests sticking with classic styles – varietals that a region is known for, such as cabernet sauvignon from Margaret River, pinot noir from Yarra Valley or Tasmania, and riesling from Clare Valley.

Taste is largely subjective, and while palate questionnaires and recommendations from friends can help you find a wine you'll love, it can be hit and miss. "You can't guarantee that anybody will like anything – you really can't," says Hooke.

The pros and cons of wine clubs

We like to think of ourselves as glass-half-full types here at CHOICE, but as with many consumer purchases, wine clubs have their pros and cons.

Wine clubs compared

We've looked at some of the better-known independent wine clubs in Australia to give you an idea of what's out there.

  • No compulsory membership fee, but you can become an 'Angel' (member) and pay $40 a month to receive discounts and access to exclusive wines.
  • Make sure you check what you're signing up for – some people have unwittingly signed up to the $40 a month recurring payment.
  • Single bottle prices range from $12.99 per bottle ($8.99 for Angels) to $53.99 ($32.99 for Angels).
  • Delivery is free for Angels in Sydney and Melbourne. (Freight costs vary for other locations and shipping isn't available to the NT.)
  • If you don't like the wine, you can ask for a refund or credit.

The concept

Technically not a wine club, Naked Wines operates on a very different business model to its competitors. 'Angels' (Naked Wines members) have an 'account' they deposit $40 into each month, which Naked Wines uses to pay independent winemakers to produce wine exclusively for its customers.

The payments sit in the Angel's account as a credit they can use to buy wine from the site. Angels receive discounts and can buy certain wines that aren't available to non-Angels.

Wine club details

Naked Wines' winemakers are a mix of newcomers and industry stalwarts such as Simon 'Sorby' Adams, former chief winemaker for Yalumba; Caroline Dunn, formerly of Wolf Blass; and Daryl Groom, former chief winemaker for Penfolds.

All of Naked Wines' products are made exclusively for them, so you're not going to pick up a '98 Grange on the cheap. But the model gives you access to wine made by experienced winemakers at a reasonable price.

For instance, a 2017 Sorby Adams pinot gris from Eden Valley will set you back $35 from the Sorby Adams website. A 2017 Sorby Adams pinot gris, also from Eden Valley, is listed as $12.49 on the Naked Wines site.

The Wine Society logo
  • Wine club packs from $59 for six bottles to $680 a dozen.
  • You can build your own wine plan.
  • If you don't like the wine you'll receive a replacement, credit or refund.
  • Shipping is $6.99 per case, or free for orders of $350+ or 4+ cases.

The concept

A nonprofit cooperative founded in 1946, The Wine Society has more than 20,000 members. All wines are approved by The Wine Society's tasting panel – comprising winemakers, show judges and Masters of Wine – via a blind tasting.

Wine club details

A number of plans are available, from the Bargain Hunter's Pack ($59 per six-pack, delivered monthly or as often as you choose) to the Decanter Collection ($680 per 12-pack, delivered twice a year). You can also build your own wine plan if you can't find what you're looking for.

Orders include tasting notes, recipes, video interviews, event invitations and competitions.

Wine Selectors logo
  • Membership: $22 a year.
  • Wine plans from $108 to $320.
  • Customised plans available.
  • 100% satisfaction guarantee – get a refund if you don't like the wine.
  • Price matching available.
  • Shipping varies from $10.99 to $19.99.
  • Delivery is free for orders of $299+.
  • You can choose delivery frequency on select options.
  • No lock-in contracts.

The concept

Founded in 1975 as the Hunter Valley Wine Society, Wine Selectors opened in airports in 2007 and now has 'cellar doors' at Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Perth domestic airports.

Wines are selected by a Tasting Panel comprising winemakers, wine show judges and wine educators, and are tasted blind using Australian wine show judging criteria.

Wine club details

Membership is $22 per year. Pre-selected cellar door release plans range from $108 for a six-pack of sparkling wine, delivered every eight weeks, through to $320 for a 12-pack of 'Winemakers' Releases', delivered every eight weeks.

You can also create a customised wine plan where you choose the number, variety and frequency of your deliveries.

Members receive inclusions such as: Selector magazine, tasting notes, welcome pack, Food & Wine calendar, birthday voucher and event invitations.

Wine Gallery logo
  • Subscriptions start at $69 for three bottles.
  • Shipping is $9, or free for orders of 4+ bottles.
  • You can pay a $50 yearly fee for unlimited shipping or pay 12 months upfront.
  • Additional bottles are $23 each.
  • 100% satisfaction guarantee – get a credit if you don't like the wine.

The concept

Pitched as a "monthly mixtape of wine", Wine Gallery sends its subscribers a monthly three-pack of wine selected by Banjo Harris Plane, three-time Australian Sommelier of the Year. Wine Gallery uses a palate profile quiz to determine customers' tastes.  Each month, customers rate their bottles so the company's recommendation engine can further pinpoint which wines they'll like.

Wine club details

The standard subscription is three bottles of wine for $69, plus $9 for shipping, sent monthly.

You'll get tasting notes, a magazine and a gift or food-related item for taste-testing with the wines.

Different Drop logo
  • Wine club subscriptions from $20 a bottle.
  • Wine club subscriptions tailored to each customer's budget, tastes and requirements.
  • Price matching available.
  • Shipping is $9, or free for orders of $150+.
  • Full returns on orders up to 100 days after purchase.

The concept

Different Drop focuses on small-production Australian wines and spirits. All wine club packs are chosen by co-founder and wine expert Tom Hollings or a senior member of the wine team, based around the customer's preferences, what they've previously ordered and enjoyed, and what's new to the store.

Wine club details

There's no set wine club selection – subscriptions are tailored to each customer's budget, tastes and requirements, starting from $20 a bottle, but you can create a pack tailored to your tastes. "Simply tell us your budget, your wine preferences and how often you would like a delivery, and a custom-designed mixed pack … will be on your doorstep like clockwork," its website says.

There's also a 'click and collect' option from the warehouse in Ultimo, Sydney.

Vinomofo logo
  • Has no lock-in contract.
  • You can choose delivery frequency.
  • Wine club subscriptions from $139 per dozen to $299 for six bottles.
  • Shipping is free for wine club subscription orders (orders outside of your subscriptions will cost for delivery).
  • 100% happiness guarantee – receive a replacement, refund or credit if you're not happy.

The concept

Vinomofo claims to do away with the "bowties and bulls**t" that have previously typified the wine world: "It's just a drink," they say.

Wine club details

There are three Vinomofo clubs to choose from:

  • Black Market Club: $139/12-pack mixed case, delivered every one or two months.
  • Mofo Club: $179/12-pack mixed case or straight reds or whites, delivered every one, two or three months. Includes tasting videos.
  • Vault Club (not yet available at the time of writing): $299/six-pack of red wine delivered every three months. Includes tasting videos and cellar note tags.
  • Wine club subscriptions from $99 to $180.
  • You can choose the delivery frequency.
  • Money-back guarantee if you don't like the wine.
  • Shipping is $7.50, or free for orders of 12+ bottles.

The concept

Wine Direct says it sources "belters from brands you know and love [and] quirky gems from tiny quantity, independent producers… we ONLY sell great wine, not groceries or petrol".

Wine club details

There are three price levels, with a red, white and mixed offering in each:

  • $99 Buck Wine Club ($99).
  • Premium Wine Club ($124–$144).
  • Platinum Wine Club ($165–$195).

You can select the frequency, length of subscription and number of packs. The packs change every three months.

Naked wines subscription confusion

Naked Wines' unusual business model has caused some consumer confusion – some punters think they've made a one-off purchase, only to discover that Naked Wines is charging $40 a month from their credit cards.

We spoke to two people who were caught out by this. One had even been warned about the recurring payment, and was confident that he'd only made a one-off purchase – only to then discover he was being charged $40 a month. The other went to cancel her Angel membership but was won over by Naked Wines' persuasive customer service staff. "I remember admiring their hustle," she says.

In the end, both stuck with Naked Wines as they were happy with the quality, value and convenience.

The ACCC has been cracking down on so-called 'subscription traps' – where a retailer treats a consumer's decision to make a one-off purchase as consent to sign them up to a recurring payment. While it's hard to say whether Naked Wines' system contravenes the Australian Consumer Law, the ACCC tells us that "a business that fails to disclose key information in connection with an ongoing subscription may be engaging in misleading or deceptive conduct".

We spoke to Naked Wines CEO Greg Banbury about this issue.

He says you'll only be signed up to the Angels waitlist (they've capped the number of Angels they can sign up) if you buy an 'Angel Favourites' case. However, we found that when you first visit Naked Wines' website and take a survey to score a $20 voucher, you're automatically directed to these 'Angel Favourites' cases. So new customers may be more likely to buy these and thus be added to the waitlist.

Throughout the checkout process, there's no mention that you'll be added to a waitlist, or that there's a recurring payment associated with this – it appears to be a one-off purchase.

We asked Banbury why a company that's so committed to transparency would be less than transparent about the fact that they're signing people up to a waitlist (and associated recurring payment), and he defended the company's messaging.

"There's absolutely no benefit to us in signing someone up without them knowing," he says. "It literally costs us money to recruit a customer who cancels."

Banbury claims that Naked Wines' email communications make it "explicit" that you're being added to the Angels waitlist, but the automated emails we received made no mention of how to exit the waitlist, nor that becoming an Angel involves a $40/month recurring payment.

Banbury says he's taking our feedback on board, but Naked Wines has received this same feedback since at least 2014 and is still continuing this practice. That said, except for a few disgruntled ex-customers, online reviews of Naked Wines are overwhelmingly positive, with happy customers vigorously defending the model and the quality of the wine.

We're not saying don't shop with Naked Wines – just be aware of the $40 a month recurring payment before you buy.

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