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Wine clubs: Are they worth the effort?

Wine clubs are they worth the effortAt any given moment, the Wine Curmudgeon has a half a dozen pamphlets, mailings, and circulars sitting on his desk, all promising to send wines of great quality and fine value directly to my door every month. And practically for free! In addition, I get similar offers that arrive all the time via email from web retailers, wineries, and on-line shippers.

Is there anything to all hoopla? Perhaps — as long as you know what you’re getting into.

Wine clubs are offered mostly by retailers and wineries, but companies with wine-drinking customers are doing them as well. The Financial Times newspaper has one, as does Sunset magazine. Or how about the Dog Lovers Wine Club? Clubs promise to send you a couple of bottles of wine each month, giving you an opportunity to taste something you might not buy otherwise. Wineries, for example, will sell limited releases and winery-only wines.

The three clubs offered by wine.com, which cover introductory wines, fine wines and speciality wines, are typical. For $19.95 to $69.95 a month, the web site will send two bottles (including detailed information about the wines, food pairings, and the like) to your home or office. The Wine Curmudgeon has belonged to clubs from time to time, and some of them were a lot of fun.

Yet, having said that, there are still things to keep in mind:

• Where you live matters. If your state or county doesn’t permit wine shipments, no one will ship to you. Most clubs provide this information.

• Shipping and handling. Clubs may offer a great deal, like $50 wines for $25. But if they’re charging $10 a bottle to ship the wine, which isn’t unusual, you aren’t saving any money.

• Ask specifically about fulfilment. When is the wine supposed to arrive, and how often does it make that deadline? One now-defunct wine club didn’t ship to Texas for three or four months several years ago because the warehouse was closed (and didn’t bother to tell its customers). How do they ship? That’s an issue in in summer, when the last thing you want is your wine sitting in a stifling warehouse for four days.

• Get an idea if the quality of the wine matches the cost. A reputable club will give examples of what it has sent in the past. If that’s the same stuff you can buy at the grocery store for $4.99, and the club wants $10 a bottle for it, then it’s probably not worth your trouble.

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