Wine Clubs (and Online Stores) for Connoisseurs
Those of us who really love wine go out of our way to find unusual and high-end selections, because the joy and satisfaction of an excellent bottle of wine is (often) worth its price. Using an alchemy of critical ratings and our own tasting experience, we find ourselves seeking out the best wines produced today.
There are two basic groups of people buying expensive wine, and we differentiate between them based on whether they want to have the wine selected for them or they want to research their wine themselves. Luxury wine clubs are perfect for the former and there are some great online buying opportunities for the latter.
Luxury Wine Clubs for Connoisseurs
Typically the hardest part about buying the best wines produced is access. If you don’t have an industry connection, the best stuff is usually out of reach. This is because it’s typically produced in limited quantities and those in the know get the first crack at the inventory.
Did you know that some industry insiders run wine clubs? That means that there are always wines available to their wine club members which might not be available to anyone else. Here are a few wine clubs for connoisseurs we recommend.
Diamond by Gold Medal Wine Club
Two bottles per shipment, $188 per box. Enjoy California’s best wines from wine regions like Napa Valley and Sonoma on a quarterly basis. You can drink most of their selections right away, or age them to your preference.
Cellar Select by GrapeSeed Wine
Four to six bottles per shipment, $360 per box. Enjoy GrapeSeed’s portfolio of luxury-level wine on a quarterly basis. Most of their wine is California-made, but some is French.
Wildcrafted Wines by Travelfood
Two to three bottles, two to three times per year, $195 per box. Leveraging insider relationships in Napa and Sonoma, Travelfood curates an enlightened selection of California gems.
French & Italian Collectors' Club by Roscioli
Six bottles of age-worthy Italian & French gems, 750 € per box. Each wine is selected by a well-known restaurateur in Rome (the only middleman is an importer who receives Roscioli shipments and then redirects them to you). Ships quarterly.
Aged Cabernet Series by The California Wine Club
Two bottles of pre-aged Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon for $245 per box. Perfectly cellared 7-12 years, each bottle is ready to drink when it arrives, or hold them to your preference.
Champagne Club from Henri's Reserve
$73 a bottle. 2 bottles per shipment and shipping is included. Two hard-to-find grower Champagnes in each box. Ships monthly, every other month, or quarterly.
Where Connoisseurs Shop for Wine Online
Maybe you’re not excited about a wine subscription where all of the wines are chosen for you. There is still a world of wine for you that goes beyond your local wine shop. Here are some places we recommend finding the best wines online.
Did you know that in most states you can buy wine from your favorite wineries online and have it shipped right to you? Some important notes about buying wine directly from wineries:
- They often reserve their most interesting wines for wine club members. With a winery wine club, you’re essentially committing to receive shipments (usually) from two to four times a year. Because you’re a loyal customer, they let you have access to special or limited bottlings, library wines (older vintages they’ve held back for future sales), and sometimes futures (pre-sales on wines before they’re released).
- The most sought-after wineries often don’t have wine clubs, they have allocation lists. You’ll need to get on their list and watch your email. When new allocations are available you can buy those wines, sometimes at a discounted price. Many winery lists are over-allocated and have waitlists (some are years long)... this is where the industry insiders discussed above come in as they’re often the people on the lists buying inventory for their wine subscriptions.
It’s the digital era and you don’t have to shop at local stores anymore. If you happen to live outside a major metropolis like NYC or LA, this means you have access to wines that are only available winery-direct and in major markets. This is especially important if you’re shopping for the limited-access creme-de-la-creme. Here’s where we recommend shopping for the world’s most valuable selections of wine.
Vinfolio: Bordeaux inventory includes top vintages, First Growth, and 100-point wines; Burgundy inventory includes best vintages and Grand Cru selections; California inventory includes 100-point wines and cult classics. If it’s from a premier wine region or a legendary winery, Vinfolio probably has it for sale.
Zachys: Carries a great selection of ultra high-end Bordeaux, Burgundy, Barolo, Champagne etc. but especially in magnum and other large-format bottlings which are perfect for collecting and long-term aging. They also have a nice half-bottle selection which is perfect for trying new high-end wines without committing to the cost of a full bottle.
The Bounty Hunter: A curated selection of wines across a variety of price-points, with ~200 bottles over $60 from around the world, including large-format and Napa cult winery selections.
K&L Wines: A mind-bogglingly huge inventory of over 10,000 different wines (more than half of which are over $60 a bottle), K&L almost certainly has what you’re looking for from Champagne to Bordeaux, from Piedmont to Napa.
Wine.com: Its reputation is that of the Amazon of wine, and like Amazon they have products at every price point. At last check, they carry 95 different 100-point Bordeaux and 56 96+ Burgundies. They don’t stock much aged wine but they do offer more than 340 magnums and large-format bottles plus more than 220 half-bottles.
Wine Library: Gary Vaynerchuk put his dad’s wine shop on the map before he became a big-time entrepreneur. They’re best known for affordable daily drinkers, but if you tuck into their “Fine & Rare” section you’ll find more than 200 options from Italian stunners like Sassicaia to Champagne superstars like Pol Roger Winston Churchill.
Wired For Wine: An under-the-radar site that offers a huge variety of wine at a discount. We always see top-tier Champagne, Burgundy, and Bordeaux selections here. 2016 Château d’Yquem for $200, 2010 Château La Mission Haut-Brion for $650 (half price!), and many large-format gems, too. Get on their daily email list for the best deals when they are first announced.
Wine Auctions (and other Secondary Market sites)
There is a large secondary-market for wine. People on the aforementioned allocation lists like to hold wine for a few years and sell it for a profit. Also, sometimes big wine collectors want to liquidate their holdings or reduce the size of their collection and will send those bottles to auction houses. Some well-known wine auction sites include:
- Sotheby's Wine & Spirits
- Wine stores that also offer auctions: Vinfolio, Zachys, K&L Wine Merchants
Like all auctions, caveat emptor. Provenance and cellaring authentication may or may not be available but all sales are final and come with a Buyer’s Premium (the auction house’s fee for holding the auction, processing your payment, and delivering the goods). CellarBid apparently does NOT charge a Buyer's Premium.