Tag Archives: wine advice

“Curated” wine clubs, and why they don’t seem to be the answer

curated wine clubs
Do you have any curated chardonnay that is rich and opulent in texture?

“Curated” wine clubs are supposed to use science or experts to find wine you like. But they keep recommending oaky California chardonnay to the Wine Curmudgeon

Know two things about a host of “curated” wine clubs making the rounds these days, companies like Sippd, Bright Cellars, and SommSelect. First, they’re supposed to use science or an expert to take the confusion out of buying wine. Or, as Sippd claims, “Sippd uses AI to provide you highly personalized wine recommendations.” Second, they really don’t work, and certainly not any better than asking the woman at your local wine shop what’s on sale that you might like.

I pointed and clicked through a variety of those websites last week and used three for this post (a tip o’ the WC’s fedora to regular blog visitor Wiseguy for setting me off on this adventure). The results were past discouraging.

I found pricing to be mysterious. Bright Cellars offers “$20” wines discounted to $15. In fact, a quick check on wine-searcher showed that many Bright Cellar wines seemed to be labels developed for Bright Cellars, so no telling what the true price is since you can’t buy them elsewhere. Meanwhile, SommSelect charged $68 for a bottle of French sauvignon blanc that cost $52 on much of the East Coast.

In this, the SommSelect wines were almost all high-end and not aimed at ordinary wine drinkers, even though many reviews for the site say otherwise. How about “A wine club may, on average, cost a little bit more than pulling your ten-buck bottle of wine off the shelf in the store. But, by signing up for a wine club, you aren’t simply buying one or more bottles of wine, you’re buying years of experience from sommeliers. …”

This was depressing in and of itself; how much longer will the wine business perpetuate the myth that only sommeliers are worthy of finding wine worth drinking?

Even more depressing. …

The science, algorithms, and artificial intelligence on Sippd and Bright Cellars were about as effective as letting Churro, the blog’s associate editor, pick wine the way he picks his chew toys. The algorithm sites ask a series of questions about wines and flavors that you like, and then the algorithm magically and mysteriously finds similar wines. Not surprisingly, they don’t ask about price.

Sigh.

Sippd, which sells its wines through Wine.com, gave me an 83 percent “taste match” for E&J Gallo’s La Marca Prosecco, which is pretty funny since I don’t really like Prosecco. And it offered a 92 percent “taste match” for a $129 red Bordeaux, which is even funnier since I’ve never bought a $129 bottle in my life.

And Bright Cellars recommended five wines, all from the U.S. when I buy mostly imports. Even worse, they included two California chardonnays (“Rich and opulent in texture. … rich and creamy. …”) and a couple of reds that claimed to contain some kind of chocolate something or other. Regular visitors here know that those are the kinds of focus group wines I regularly rant about.

Maybe you’ll have better luck with these sites than I did. I hope so. No one should be as miserable as I was after I finished — once again worrying about the future of the wine business.

Photo: “_MG_5551 2” by Yahoo Inc is licensed under CC BY 2.0

More about wine clubs:
Wine Insiders wine club, and why more people don’t drink wine
Update: Third-party wine clubs and their experts
Blue Apron wine: Disappointing and depressing

Ask the WC 25: Three-tier reform, wine prices, wine scores

three-tierThis edition of Ask the WC:  Is the Supreme Court going to take a three-tier system case? Plus, what’s happening with wine prices and why does the WC dislike scores?

Because the customers always have questions, and the Wine Curmudgeon has answers in this irregular feature. You can Ask the Wine Curmudgeon a wine-related question by clicking here.

Hi, Wine Curmudgeon:
I really liked your post about buying wine illegally. Is there any chance we can get rid of all these stupid laws and buy wine like normal people?
On-line wine buyer

Dear On-line:
A variety of cases are wending their way through the legal system that could make it possible for us to buy wine from out-of-state retailers and on-line. They include my favorite, Walmart’s attempt to overturn a Texas law that says publicly-held companies can’t get a state retail liquor license. Talk about foolish. However, another case is attracting more legal attention — Lebamoff v. Michigan. Lebamoff, an Indiana retailer, sued to be allowed to sell wine in Michigan. In this, it directly addresses out-of-state retailer sales. Tom Wark, who follows these things in his role as executive director of the National Association of Wine Retailers, told me he thinks there’s a good chance the Supreme Court accepts Lebamoff. If so, it should decide once and for all whether Internet and out-of-state retail sales are constitutional. Having said that, there’s no guarantee the court rules in favor of direct retail shipping if it takes the case.

Dear Wine Curmudgeon:
What’s going to happen with wine prices? I thought they were supposed to go down, but all I see is $15 wine in the grocery store.
Cheap wine buyer

Dear Cheap:
Your guess is as good as mine. The grape glut is real, here and in Europe, and I’m working on a post about that for next week. But I agree — prices don’t seem to have responded to an excess of wine on store shelves. The tariff, of course, is one reason. I also wonder if supply chain problems caused by the pandemic are limiting the supply. A limited supply means prices won’t fall, even if demand has decreased during the pandemic. So we will just have to wait and see.

Greetings, Charmingly Grumpy:
I’m new to the blog.. How come you don’t use wine scores like everyone else?
Inquiring mind

Dear Inquiring:
Scores are one of the three or four worst things about the wine business (the others being corks instead of screwcaps, premiumization, and three-tier). They’re biased in favor of expensive wines, regardless of quality; they don’t give enough credit to “lesser” grape varieties or to white wine; and they reflect the critic’s taste and not necessarily whether the wine is any good. In this, they are a crutch for retailers, who can post 88 points and figure that’s customer service. I explain what the wine tastes like so you can make up your own mind.

Photo: “Dallas Food Truck Truck Festival – August 2011” by BetterBizIdeas is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0