Takeout and delivery alcohol sales have been a lifeline for restaurants during the past year, and the industry is hoping they’ll be allowed to continue – but experts told Insider that competing with liquor stores while still turning a profit is easier said than done.
As the pandemic for restaurants to close dining rooms and limit capacity, more than 30 states allowed bars and restaurants to sell alcohol to go in an effort to stay afloat. Exact numbers for alcohol sales in the industry aren’t available, but restaurants typically aim to make 30% of revenue from alcohol sales.
The National Restaurant Association, which has more than 40,000 members including McDonald’s and Darden Restaurants, says that off-premise alcohol sales have helped restaurants stay in business.
“For restaurants, the road to recovery is going to be a long one,” Mike Whatley, vice president of state and local affairs, said. “Expanded off-premise alcohol regulations are one of several policies restaurant operators will need going forward.”
Many large chains embraced the new rules and capitalized on alcohol sales to make up for the pandemic slump. Applebees, known for promoting $1 cocktail deals pre-pandemic, sells nearly a dozen different to-go cocktails now at some locations. Though the company declined to share sales data with Insider, it will continue to sell to-go alcohol “as long as it’s something our guests want and is profitable for our franchisees,” Patrick Kirk, vice president of beverage innovation, told Insider.
While the majority of states allowed to-go alcohol under some circumstances over the past year, laws vary by locales, and Applebees franchisees were able to offer different drinks depending on their circumstances. Bulk beverage containers and cocktail kits were two of the most popular options at Applebees and other restaurants across the country.
Alcohol sales were up across the board last, and not just at restaurants. Overall sales, not including restaurant sales, were up nearly 25% in 2020, according to NPR. Delivery apps like Drizly and Saucey also benefitted from the loosened restrictions.
Even restaurants that didn’t previously sell alcohol are getting in on it. Buffet chain Golden Corral was hit especially hard by restaurant closures and is now working with Icee and Coca-Cola to sell frozen drinks like a Jack and Coke Icee to help attract younger customers.
Though alcohol sales helped restaurants survive over the past year, they might not be a tenable way forward.
They’re still a small piece of most restaurants’ businesses, analyst Mark Kalinowski told Insider. And there are some clear challenges: it tends to be cheaper for customers to just go to a liquor store, he said. “It’s a competitive business and highly fragmented even with restaurant closures.”
To stay competitive, restaurants will need to show that they’re valuable as one-stop shops for food and alcohol. They will have to focus on signature cocktail mixes or already mixed beverages to provide something that liquor stores don’t.
So far, Florida, Colorado, Texas, and Georgia all have laws in the works that would extend the pandemic-era rules.
“Laws that made sense pre-pandemic don’t necessarily make sense now,” Kalinowski said.
The sparkling seltzer market has tons of options, but Spindrift stands alone as the first sparkling water made with real squeezed fruit juice.
If you haven’t tried Spindrift before, this hint of juice adds a deeper flavor than you’ll find from most seltzer brands. It also comes in refreshing flavors like cucumber, cranberry raspberry, orange mango, and more.
Its unique flavor has drawn a fervent fan base and sales have exploded over the last few years, growing 800% between 2016 and 2018, according to Bevnet. Once local to only New England, you can now find Spindrift nationwide at major retailers such as Target and Trader Joe’s.
The wild success of its non-alcoholic seltzers has resulted in even more hype for it’s most recent launch: Spindrift Spiked Seltzer.
Being both a Spindrift fan and hard seltzer enthusiast, I knew I had to get my hands on a pack of the new spiked seltzer. I tried all four flavors of Spindrift Spiked Seltzer to see how it stacks up against a saturated hard seltzer market ahead of the summer.
What’s in Spindrift Spiked Seltzer?
There are four flavors of Spindrift Spiked Seltzer: pineapple, mango, lime, and half and half (half tea, half lemonade). Compared to popular hard seltzers, Spindrift has a slightly lower ABV than Truly, White Claw, and Bon & Viv, at just 4%. All four flavors are under 100 calories per can, too, lower than most competitors.
The biggest difference between Spindrift and competing seltzers is the 4% to 10% fruit juice in its hard seltzers. Despite the juice, the Spindrift seltzers somehow boast only zero to three grams of sugar per can and fewer carbohydrates than competitors.
Each can of Spindrift Spiked Seltzer has a thin design similar to White Claw and minimal branding. I paired my first seltzer, a half and half-inspired mix of black tea and lemonade, with a batch of hot wings hoping it would cool off my tongue.
Seconds after I cracked open the can and took my first sip, I noticed how non-alcoholic the drink tastes. It was akin to a watered down Arnold Palmer, but much more fizzy and bubbly.
This provided an immediate cooling sensation and I could sense the fresh, cane sugary taste of the lemon and tea.
Next, I tried the pineapple flavor. The fruity taste was a bit more apparent than the half and half flavor, and the alcohol stood out more, too. I liked the smooth, tropical flavor more and more as I sipped on it. I felt similarly about Spindrift’s mango flavor.
I saved lime for last since it’s often one of my least favorite flavors of seltzer. Yet, the second I cracked open the can, I could smell just how genuine the taste was compared to other lime-flavored food and drinks I’ve had. This was easily the most enjoyable flavor of the pack and reminded me of a quality, crisp sour ale.
The bottom line
After polishing off the cans from my taste test, I immediately looked up where I could find Spindrift Spiked Seltzer. It’s one of the best alcoholic seltzers I’ve ever tried. The fresh hint of juice fused well with the bubbly effects of the seltzer, and the alcohol subtly blended into the beverage. It’s a crisp, refreshing drink that would be perfectly at home in a beach cooler or at a summer cookout.
The low 4% ABV means it will likely take more than one drink for you to feel its effects. This could be a plus or a negative for some people, depending on the setting or occasion for drinking the seltzer. Still, it feels more refreshing than higher-alcohol competitors.
For now, the seltzer is just entering U.S. markets which means it could take awhile before it hits your local convenience or grocery store. (You can buy it online and have it shipped, however.)
Pros: Real juice taste, crisp bubbly effect, standout lime flavor
Cons: Hard to find in stores, will require more than one or two drinks to feel a buzz
The CDC has now declared travel within the US safe for those who are fully vaccinated, and many wineries have reopened with new safety measures in place. For those seeking an in-person wine getaway, consider a stay at some of the best Airbnbs near wineries. However, for those who aren’t yet vaccinated, aren’t ready to gather in a tasting room, or are simply seeking a fun, at-home evening activity, virtual wine tastings are a great option.
Many places are bringing tastings, classes, and events directly to living rooms instead so you can uncork a favorite bottle of wine with friends, coworkers, or loved ones via Zoom instead. Best of all, many of the tastings are free to join, and some will send wine directly to your door as part of the package. For those that require buying your own bottles, it’s easier than ever to order wines directly from vineyards or from a local alcohol delivery service.
I tried a virtual wine tasting myself on Coursehorse myself. I’m no stranger to in-person tastings thanks to my background as a travel editor, and I remember the days of drinking Chianti in Tuscany, throwing back cava in Catalonia, and sipping Chardonnay in Sonoma. I was hesitant at first about doing a virtual class since wine tastings are such sensorial experiences. However, after ordering wines on Drizly with a few old college friends and joining the class via Zoom, it turned out to be a blast. I even I discovered a new favorite Sauvignon Blanc I’ll definitely be drinking again in the future.
In fact, I had so much fun I ended up signing up for a second virtual tasting via Bouchaine wineries with my family. If you want to follow suit, read on for some of the best virtual wine tastings below.
Here are 24 virtual wine tastings to try at home:
Wine Tasting: Sensory Techniques for Wine Analysis on Coursera
For those who want to seriously up their wine tasting skills while quarantining, Coursera offers a free class from UC Davis to turn beginner sippers into pro sommeliers. The class takes roughly 14 hours to complete. Throughout the class, students build sensory vocabulary to describe wine, learn to identify various faults in different varietals, discover classic wine types of the world, delve into food pairings, and more. The course culminates in a peer review project using all the knowledge developed throughout the course to assess a specific wine.
Starting price: Free
Wine included? No. Students will need to purchase the necessary wines on their own. Coursera anticipates that the total cost of the wines through the class is $150 to $250.
The oldest Napa Valley winery, Charles Krug has been making wine for almost 160 years. Currently, they offer multiple options for sipping from the comfort of your own home. Beginners can try three customized bottles while learning about the family’s history, while foodies can pair current release Charles Krug wines with curated charcuterie. For those who already have Charles Krug wines at home, you can also have an expert lead you through a tasting of what’s in your cellar.
The winery has also partnered with The Laugh Cellar for a virtual comedy series. Tickets are $99 and include two bottles of wine and access to the wine tasting and comedy virtual event.
Starting price: Tastings can be customized and range from $85 to $250 depending on the wines.
Owned by award-winning Latina winemaker Cecilia Enriquez, Enriquez Estate Wines is a family-operated winery in Sonoma, California. With the holidays quickly approaching, the winery realizes that spending time with family may be virtual for many this year and they’re aiming to help make that time special still.
Enriquez Estate Wines’ Virtual Holiday Party Pack is an excellent way to virtually celebrate and safely reconnect with family, friends, or colleagues this season. Cecilia will lead a private guided virtual tasting experience as tasters enjoy a two-pack of premium Brisa and Tempranillo wines and a Cheese & Charcuterie Nosh Box.
The popular wine website is tapping winemakers, wine critics, and other pros for a series of free virtual wine and spirit tastings. Join Invivo X creators Sarah Jessica Parker, Rob Cameron, and Tim Lightbourne for a tasting of their inaugural New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc and Provencal Rosé, or get to know the trailblazers of the Oregon wine scene as they share stories about winemaking, artistry, and entrepreneurship.
Virtual Wine Tasting 101 is ideal for beginner tasters interested in learning basic wine terms, how to properly taste wine, and trying different varieties to decide what wines most appeal to your palette. The two-hour, interactive class begins with a brief introduction to how wine is made and teaches wine newbies to speak confidently about acidity, legs, body, and more fundamentals through five different wines. It can be booked as part of a regular group lesson or as a private event.
Starting price: $25 per person
Wine included? No. Participants will need to buy the specific wines themselves ahead of time, but all of the wines are easily accessible at most wine shops and through alcohol delivery services.
How to join: Sign up on Coursehorse here. A Zoom link and PowerPoint will be emailed out just before the tasting begins.
Virtual with Us
Alex Schrecengost recently launched Virtual with Us when she saw a need during the pandemic for colleagues to connect safely and remotely in a way that still cultivated a fun, business-casual social environment. While it was originally created with businesses in mind, groups of eight or more friends and family can sign up for virtual tastings, too.
The company works with sommeliers and wine professionals to curate top wines and has helped put together special events for groups ranging from a murder mystery party to a gala fundraiser.
Starting price: $200 per person
Wine included? Yes. While this tasting is pricier than some other options on our list, it includes premium wines, sommelier fees, event planning fees, and all shipping/taxes.
Started by sommelier Michael Bottigliero, Bottles Nation has transitioned their usual in-person tasting events to online offerings due to COVID-19. Bottles Nation is not associated with any specific wineries so the sommeliers don’t push specific brands and instead focus on sharing their true favorite bottles.
The company runs tastings for individuals, as well as accommodating events and parties and multiple people can join in from up to six different locations for the same starting flat fee.
For those in the mood for something other than wine, Bottles Nation also has beer and mixology tasting options.
Starting price: $150 for one hour
Wine included? No. You can purchase wines yourself or order directly from Bottles Nation when you sign up.
How to join: Sign up on Bottles Nation here. After signing up, they will contact you directly to set up a time for a Zoom call.
Corkbuzz is offering a series of virtual one-hour wine classes taught by varying experts and broken down by region. Taste your way through Napa Valley or learn the basics of Burgundy. Classes discuss everything from the geography and soil to the winemaking techniques and popular varietals of each specific region. The classes are fairly informal and participants are encouraged to sip along with any theme-relevant bottle.
Starting price: $10 per person
Wine included? No. You can buy any wine from that region to enjoy while following along.
How to join: Sign up on Corkbuzz here. Zoom links are sent the morning of the class and follow-up notes are sent the next day.
A personal favorite winery in Napa, Bouchaine is offering customized 50-minute virtual tastings to bring California wine country right to your couch. Select from three different options depending on your knowledge and experience: Winemaker 101, 201, or 301.
Predictably, 101 is best for casual wine sippers who want to learn basics like how wine gets its color and how the same grapes can be made into completely different wines. Meanwhile, Winemaker 301 focuses on clones (different grape vines that are grafted together) and delves into topics like differences in aroma and flavor in Pinot Noir clones. Every class is with a live host overlooking the stunning estate vineyards. Once you purchase your wines, you’ll be able to set up a private time that works with your schedule for the wine tasting.
Starting price: $59
Wine included? Yes. Classes include two, three, or four wines from the vineyard depending on the level and are shipped directly to your door.
How to join: Select your experience here. Once you’ve purchased, you can schedule a private tasting session via phone or email.
You definitely want a taste of Matthiason, a six-time James Beard Award nominee and Winemaker of the Year according to “Food & Wine Magazine.” Luckily for wine enthusiasts everywhere, the winemaker is offering complimentary private tastings online to everyone who purchases a Tasting Pack or a Wine Club Membership.
Get an inside look at the stories behind the wines and all your wine questions answered. If you do decide to join the wine club, you’ll also enjoy priority access to member-only and limited production wines, as well as 15% savings on all wine purchases.
Starting price: Free with purchase of a Tasting Pack or Wine Club Membership. Tasting Packs start at $249 for 6 bottles. Wine Club Membership starts at $315 for 6 bottles.
Wine included? Wine must be purchased to participate in a tasting.
To enjoy a 45-minute Zoom tasting, purchase a Virtual Tasting Pack to be delivered to your door, then sign up for a time slot that works for you online. An employee will guide you through each of the wines and give an update of what’s happening at the ranch. If you want the tasting to be a private event for just you and friends, call ahead of time to arrange it.
Starting price: Virtual Tasting Packs start at $124. Tune in to Social Hour on Instagram for free.
Wine included? Yes. You must buy the wines first to sign up for a virtual tasting.
These fun and free tastings are hosted by Caroline, a British-American sommelier living in France. She typically hosts small group wine workshops in her gorgeous loft apartment in Lyon’s Croix-Rousse, but has moved her tasting experiences online. Join others from around the world for a free virtual happy hour via Zoom. If you’d like something a little more structured, you can also sign up for a private wine tasting either for yourself or a group.
Starting price: Free to join the virtual happy hour. Private tastings start at €150, or around $164.
Wine included? No. Buy whatever wine suits you ahead of time and email the host what you’ll be drinking so she can answer any questions you might have about it.
The United Sommeliers Foundation has teamed up with Benchmark Wine Group for weekly virtual wine tastings. Every Thursday, wine lovers are invited to take part in exclusive virtual tastings guided by celebrity sommeliers. Participants can buy bottles from Benchmark for the event, or just crack open a bottle of whatever is handy. If you want to support the foundation, you can donate to participate on-screen and ask questions throughout. Alternatively, you can register and watch without participating for free.
Starting price: Free to register and watch. A $50 minimum donation to The United Sommeliers Foundation is required to participate on-screen.
Join America’s oldest wine shop for your next virtual cheers. Every Wednesday Acker Wines offers virtual vintage tastings and private tastings for both wine and spirits can also be arranged. Group sizes can be tailored and tastings are led by a sommelier. Just be sure to book your tasting at least two weeks in advance.
Starting price: $75 for two bottles
Wine included? Yes.
How to join: Register for private virtual wine tastings here.
The Supper Share
The Supper Share was created in March 2020 specifically to help sommeliers, chefs, and restaurant professionals find new opportunities to share their expertise and talent while many people continue to shelter in place due to the novel coronavirus. Fill out a simple form, choose a wine theme, and they take care of the rest. Within 48 hours, they’ll connect you with a sommelier, provide a retail link to order your wines, send a custom invite for everyone in the group to use to connect virtually. You can also set up customized virtual dinner parties, cocktail classes, and more.
Starting price: Packages start at $75 per person.
Wine included? Yes. Participants will receive a link to order wines after signing up. The package price includes the cost of two to three wines.
How to join: Fill out a simple form with your date, party size, price range, and other details here.
Willamette Valley Wine
Willamette Valley Wine regularly adds and curates new virtual wine tastings, happy hours, and events with vineyards and winemakers across the region. Every tasting is a little different, but past events have ranged from blind tastings of Pinot noirs to a chardonnay tasting that included a mini cooking lesson.
Starting price: Free
Wine included? No. Buy wines from the specific winery or sip along with whatever you have on your bar cart.
How to join: Depends on the event. Many are held on the vineyards’ individual Facebook pages or via Instagram live. You can see all the upcoming events and how to join here.
Book a Guided Virtual Group Tasting at Ponzi Vineyards and virtually connect with friends, family, or work colleagues over a bottle. After placing an order, a Ponzi team member will gather each participant’s delivery address and send a package to each person. Packages can be entirely and you can even get custom Ponzi wine glasses included.
Each experience is led by an experienced Ponzi Wine Ambassador who will walk your group through the wines.
Starting price: $200 for four people
Wine included? Yes. Bottles are sent directly to every participant.
Chateau Montelena is hosting virtual holiday celebrations for gatherings of family, friends, or even corporate groups who want to connect this holiday season. The winery will offer a variety of completely customizable, fun, and educational experiences that can be customized to any group’s preferences.
Options range from a standard wine tasting package that can be tailored to group size and budget to enhanced virtual experiences with culinary pairings and cooking tutorials.
Starting price: Free for the tasting, wines starting from $35.
Wine included? Yes. Choose from a range of different bottles and package options that can be delivered for tailored tastings. Single bottles start at $35 and curated collections start from $135.
How to join: Explore curated collections here and see a menu of special holiday options with food partners here. When you’re ready to book a virtual tasting experience call 1-800-222-7288.
Kosherwine.com has teamed up with the Israeli Wine Producers Association for a weekly virtual wine series. Novices and oenophiles alike can enjoy the free live-streamed events now through July 5. Each event focuses on a different Israeli wine producer whose notable products are widely distributed across the US and beyond.
Participants are encouraged to submit questions for the expert prior to these sessions, and one lucky winner will receive a free bottle of wine and a VIP winery tour for each live event.
Starting price: Free to live stream
Wine included? No. Viewers can purchase Sampler Sets from each winery at a discounted price to taste along with the experts or enjoy afterward.
Kendall-Jackson recently launched a new series called At Home with Kendall-Jackson, a virtual cooking series featuring weekly hands-on demonstrations hosted by the winery’s culinary team on Wednesdays at 7 p.m. ET. Viewers can learn firsthand how to cook wine country fare and how to wine pair from the comfort of their homes.
Starting price: Free to join on Zoom
Wine included? No. BYOB your favorite Kendall-Jackson wine or whatever you have handy.
Champagne lovers can enjoy learning about the iconic bubbles from the source. Discover the Champagne region in France via a virtual experience with A la Francaise Champagne.
Guests can join a one-hour virtual Zoom tour with a local expert and pop their open bottle of Champagne to enjoy during the experience. The tour is available to join every day of the week at four different times to best accommodate a range of time zones.
For a more intimate and immersive experience, you can also arrange for a private tour with Champagne sent to your doorstep ahead of time.
Starting price: ~$17.50 (€15) for the standard tour; ~$116 (€100) for a private tour
Wine included? No, but it can be arranged for private tours.
How to join: Sign up for a virtual Zoom tour here.
Far Niente Family of Wineries and Vineyards
Started in 2020, Far Niente’s Hosted at Home wine subscription offers pre-scheduled virtual wine happy hours, hosted by senior wine educators. Discover new wines each month sent directly to your doorstep, and enjoy special appearances from the Far Niente Family winemakers, wine experts, chefs, and more.
As an added bonus for those seeking ways to connect with other wine lovers amidst the pandemic, Hosted at Home allows you to connect with other members from around the country during the virtual experiences.
Starting price: $200 per month
Wine included? Yes.
How to join: You can purchase a Hosted at Home membership here.
Larmkead Vineyards is a world-class, family-owned wine estate in the Napa Valley. For those who enjoy savoring a truly high-end bottle, they offer a yearly membership at three different bottles so you can choose from receiving 10 bottles all the way up to 36 bottles shipped right to you. As part of the price, members also get access to virtual tastings to celebrating the release of new wines. And for those who happen to live nearby, members also have access to four annual visits with complimentary tastings (up to four guests per visit).
Specializing mainly in bigger corporate events, treat your coworkers and colleagues to a virtual tasting with Bluemont Vineyard. Tastings are personalized to meet your team’s size and needs. An event manager will help you every step of the way and virtual event boxes are shipped to each participant in advance.
Starting price: $45 per person
Wine included? Yes.
How to join: Sign up for a virtual tasting event here. Guests will join the event via zoom video chat.
The world of wine – with all its varietals, regions, tasting techniques, and pairing rules – can seem intimidating and difficult to navigate. Online wine clubs, however, aim to bring these barriers crashing down and make the process so easy you don’t even need to leave your house.
These monthly or quarterly subscriptions typically send you wines that fit your existing tastes while helping you expand your horizons and discover new favorites.
“No one is born with a great palate,” said Vanessa Price, a sommelier, wine writer for New York Magazine, and author of Big Macs & Burgundy: Wine Pairings for the Real World, “they develop it over time. The more you expand your experiences with different types of wine, the more evolved your palate will become.”
Since you might not have the time or energy to do all the work, a wine club can fast-track that evolution.
“Generally, wine clubs are great for those who want to be introduced to new things, but who may not be confident enough yet to select new things for themselves,” said David Hamburger, director of special events at Acker, the oldest wine shop in America. “A good wine club should be somewhat instructive, sharing with members enough information about each wine to provide background, but also allow members the flexibility to enjoy it their own way – with a recipe, or food pairing suggestions.” If you need extra guidance on how to taste or store your wine, head over to our FAQs here.
Safe and reliable shipping standards, subscription flexibility and customization, and unique, high-quality offerings are also important factors to keep in mind.
With every service below, our bottles arrived on time and securely packaged. Member experience was also great across the board. You can easily skip shipments or cancel your subscription directly from your online account.
Remember, an adult 21+ years old must be present to sign for the wine shipment.
The modern wine club model is nearly perfect in Winc‘s hands, from its large and on-trend bottle variety to its streamlined browsing and customer rating system.
Pros: Wines are all based on consumer interests and trends, easy-to-navigate interface, many varietals
Cons: Wine info and notes are only online, a la carte stock goes quickly
As a new member at Winc, you start by taking a quick quiz that asks about your tastes and preferences. Then you’re matched up with wines that align with your “Palate Profile,” and from there you can create your own cart of wine selections. In addition to the suggestions presented to you, you can browse by category. The shop features clear ratings from other members and easy-to-digest descriptions of each wine.
This design provides a good balance of guidance and personalization — you get suggestions but you also have the freedom to pick out other wines that catch your eye.
Winc works directly with vineyards and makes all the wines it sells, producing over 664 wines from 78 grape varieties and 97 regions across 12 different countries since launch. You may see some of these wines also sold at Whole Foods, Vons, and Kroger stores. Since Winc uses subscriber data and ratings to inform new wine production, the wine you see will line right up with emerging trends.
On the downside, this rapid production model means it can be hard to re-purchase some of your favorites, so it’s best not to get too attached to a particular bottle.
I’ve tried Winc a few times over the last couple of years and always found something I liked while further developing my tastes and preferences. It’s through Winc that I’ve grown to appreciate Chenin Blanc from South Africa and how I realized I’m not a fan of Touriga Nacional, a dry red wine popular in Portugal.
You can only see each wine’s tasting notes and descriptions online, which is a bit inconvenient as you try out your monthly shipment. However, the online-first system ultimately works in your favor because you’ll have your entire order history and personal notes all in one place to reference later.
Since the wines are based on your preferences, there aren’t any seasonal or holiday offerings.
You’ll never have to pay more than $15 a bottle at Firstleaf, where the quality and personalization are top-notch.
Pros: Flexibility to swap out pre-selected bottles in your order, attractive intro offer, good overall value
Cons: May take a few boxes/rounds of ratings for the system to understand more specific preferences
Like Winc, Firstleaf has you start out with a quiz so it can better understand your preferences. When you’re finished, it serves up six wines it thinks you’ll like, and you can read about each one and decide whether you want to make any swaps. However, you only have six swaps per shipment. So, Firstleaf is that nice “Goldilocks” service where you have a bit of control, but you’re still steered in the right direction.
To draw you in, Firstleaf has a very competitive introductory offer of $39.95 for six wines, including shipping. Afterward, the price goes up to $80, plus $9.95 shipping, but you’re still only paying $15 for each bottle, many of which are industry award winners.
After you’ve tried every wine in your monthly shipment, you can rate them online. This step is important because Firstleaf will use your ratings to become smarter and hone in on an even better curation for you next month. As your wine knowledge and tastes evolve, so too will the service.
I’ve had the chance to try Firstleaf a few times in the last couple of years, and it’s always been reliable. I appreciate that I don’t have to do quite so much work in picking out the bottles and that the main effort only comes afterward, once I’ve tried everything.
On top of the existing value of the service, there’s a strong referral program: if you share Firstleaf with a friend, they’ll get $40 and you’ll get $40.
Firstleaf has seasonal offerings, typically around the holidays, for wines that pair well with fall and winter foods.
Vinebox packages European wines in sleek and distinctive single-serving glasses so you can try nine different kinds without committing to whole bottles.
Pros: Good sampling size, memorable packaging, useful info cards
Cons: Can’t always find or buy the full bottle in the shop, sells out frequently
It’s easy to distinguish Vinebox from the pack: you get no less than nine wines, neatly packed into individual glass tubes and accompanied by a well-designed informational booklet, all stored in sturdy yet gift-worthy packaging.
Each quarter’s box is pre-curated so you can’t customize it to your tastes, but you’ll have plenty of fun sipping and sampling each wine. The best part is that you won’t feel bad opening and finishing a whole “bottle” because it’s only a single serving. Vinebox’s design is great for casual wine drinkers who hate commitment, plus it’s convenient and practical because you don’t even need a bottle opener or corkscrew to enjoy your drink.
If you do happen to fall in love with one of the samples, you can make use of the $15 credit given to you each quarter. This can be used towards a purchase of the full-sized version. You may also want to gift this unique and beautiful box to a friend whose wine preferences are eclectic or unclear — with so many varietals packed into every shipment, they’re bound to enjoy at least one.
The particular box I received featured all light and medium-bodied wines, which I just so happen to enjoy. But it would’ve been even better to see some full-bodied wines represented, for additional variety and range.
Vinebox has a popular seasonal offering that only comes around the holidays, an advent calendar called 12 Nights of Wine. The limited-quantity box costs $129 and contains 12 glasses of wine, and it usually sells out, so be on the lookout in the winter.
For natural, organic, and biodynamic wines, you can rely on Plonk to take care of the expert vetting, thoughtful curation, and spot-on food pairing recommendations.
Pros: Only natural wine offerings, pre-curated, easy to skip shipments or cancel your subscription
Cons: Pricey, cannot be personalized
Plonk, which is British derogatory slang for cheap, low-quality wine, provides wines that are anything but. The online club focuses exclusively on natural wines that are grown with organic, biodynamic, and sustainable vineyard practices, meaning they don’t contain pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, or commercial additives (like colorants or artificial sugars). There’s also an impressive selection of sulfite-free and unfiltered bottles.
If you’re interested in the specific distinctions among the terms “natural,” “organic,” and “biodynamic,” founder Etty Klein breaks them down here.
Plonk prides itself on selecting and importing wines from small, boutique winemakers and lesser-known wine regions, flouting big industry names to give you a carefully vetted selection. While other online wine subscriptions may offer natural and sustainable options, few can boast both the convenience and range of Plonk’s one-stop natural shop.
When you sign up, you have your choice of an all-red, all-white, or mixed variety box, with either four, six, or 12 bottles per shipment. What the included informational printout lacks in glitzy presentation, at least compared to other services, it makes up for in precise tasting notes and ultra-specific food pairings courtesy of Food52. For example, one of my favorite Plonk discoveries, a 2019 Pinot Noir from Margaret River, Western Australia, should be enjoyed with stuffed peppers with lamb, orzo, and halloumi cheese.
Plonk has seasonal offerings throughout the year, including a Thanksgiving bundle and a sparkling wine sampler around the holidays.
The best subscription for sparkling wine
If you like celebrating with a bubbly drink, Mumm Napa has more than enough variety with its quarterly wine club. It uses French techniques to make its delicious wines and offers discounts, exclusive events, and free tastings for its members.
Pros: Great variety and high-quality production of sparkling wine, informative booklet included, many membership perks
Cons: Total annual price is expensive, may not be suitable if you’re seeking sparkling wines made from different producers
Mumm Napa has roots that go back to the 1800s with the French Champagne house G. H. Mumm & Cie. The parent company of Mumm Napa, Mumm is one of the largest producers of Champagne globally. Its Napa Valley vineyard continues to use traditional Champagne-making techniques to make its sparkling wines, the best of which are showcased in the Club Vivant subscriptions.
The Collector’s Edition club ships quarterly and costs $200-$275 per shipment, depending on the bottle variety. It contains six full-sized bottles per shipment, including the winery’s signature DVX annual release wine and limited production wines. You’ll also get a detailed pamphlet of notes for each wine.
I loved the sparkling Pinot Noir and the Brut Reserve, and the pairing suggestions (like truffle popcorn with the Brut Reserve) were helpful and spot-on. I also appreciated the general variety that the club provided, from the sparkling rosé to the sparkling chardonnay. I have more experience with still wines, but Mumm Napa’s carefully produced assortment showed me that sparkling can be just as diverse and fun. It also gave me an excuse to celebrate exciting moments in my life, no matter how big or small.
In addition to the actual wines, there are perks like 20% off Mumm Napa sparkling and still wines, 20% off gift shop purchases, and 30% off club selection re-orders. You’ll also get access to exclusive wines and invitations to virtual events. The membership is even more worth it if you live close to Napa — once a month, you can enjoy a complimentary select tasting for up to four people (note: this may be temporarily unavailable due to restrictions from the novel coronavirus pandemic).
The best subscription curation
Parcelle Wine Drop combines a truly unique selection of bottles with an informative yet unpretentious wine education from Michelin-starred sommeliers.
Pros: Pre-curated, unique variety, beautiful info cards, impressive expertise
Cons: Not personalized, could buy the bottles individually for less
I love Parcelle’s Wine Drop because it has the feel of a cool and exclusive local club but it ships nationwide. Parcelle is based in New York City and enlists the curation and expertise of Michelin-starred sommeliers like the former wine directors of Eleven Madison Park and Chef’s Table at Brooklyn Fare.
The experience indeed feels like you’re asking for wine recs at a restaurant. It’s arguably even better because your three wines also come with beautifully illustrated info cards and a copy of Parcelle Press, a mini journal that is, again, visually stunning.
Founder Grant Reynolds told Insider Reviews, “The Wine Drop is our shortlist of our favorite wines to have around the house at that time of year. Nothing too fancy but always smart, a bit different, and from small producers focusing on making wines unique to the place they are from.”
If you prefer more customization, you’ll probably enjoy one of our other picks more, but if you want to leave it up to the pros, try Wine Drop. All three wines I received were hits, and they helped me realize a new love for orange wine.
Depending on the wine, the total cost of the individual bottles could come out to less than $95. The Wine Drop I received in September 2020, for example, was $85. In other months, the total may be more. While fluctuating prices may be a dealbreaker for some, I found Wine Drop’s tight curation and immersive experience to be compelling enough reasons to continue my subscription.
Each month’s Wine Drop has a different theme so the selection is curated and intentional. For example, April 2021’s trio is a precursor to summer rosé season.
What else we tested
What else we recommend and why
Picked by Wine.com: Long a reliable place to shop a huge variety of wines, Wine.com now has its own personalized club for the people who get instantly overwhelmed when they land on the site. I was impressed with the level of personal care by this service — my assigned sommelier personally reached out to me explaining why he couldn’t include any sweet reds in my shipment and suggested how I could update my account for a better experience. My conversations with him were friendly and informational, making me feel comfortable enough to ask questions. Since the Picked program is fairly new, you might not get the variety you want, as I experienced, but the level of care and personalization alone makes it worth a try.
Eater Wine Club: We always look to Eater to find local restaurants and bar recs, and now it’s making use of its expertise and community connections to curate a monthly wine club. The new club, which launched in late 2020 and sends you four bottles of wine every month, has already featured cool, memorable themes like Greek wines and celebration-worthy wines that aren’t Champagne. I loved that the roster of monthly curators and wine experts hailed from all over the country so that even in the midst of a pandemic, it felt like I was traveling to and exploring a new food and wine scene. As a member, you’ll also be invited to a virtual tasting with each month’s curator and receive an exclusive newsletter.
SommSelect: An impressive roster of sommeliers picks out the wines in this Sonoma-based club. I’ve been trying The Explore 4, which is built around a monthly theme. The first box I received contained wines from all over the world: Swartland (South Africa), Northern Piedmont (Italy), Southern Rhône Valley (France), and the Finger Lakes (New York). The accompanying booklet was among the best produced and most helpful of all the clubs I’ve tried so far, filled with useful information about each wine and a glossary that instantly deepened my wine knowledge.
What we do not recommend and why
Usual Wines: Usual Wines’ single-serving beaker bottles are certainly eye-catching and memorable. However, the company only offers its subscriptions in red, rosé, and brut, and these wines don’t change month-to-month. On the plus side, its wines contain no added sugars or sulfites, and the grapes come from sustainable farms. If you’re looking for a straightforward subscription you don’t really have to think about, Usual Wines is a good candidate. Otherwise, our picks above provide better opportunities for education and discovery.
Acker Wines: Acker has wine clubs for a variety of budgets and levels of enthusiasm, from the $89/month Access Club to the $999/month JK Club for fine and rare wines. Acker’s Access Club seems promising for wine amateurs, but it’s geographically limited to New York City residents. The next club level up jumps to $299/quarter for three bottles, which may be inaccessible for many shoppers.
Elicit Wine Project: Elicit Wine Project helps incubate and launch cool, innovative wine brands, so if you’re tired of seeing the same stuffy labels, you’ll like shopping here and putting together your own subscription box. The downside is that there aren’t many varietals to choose from right now. Perhaps as the service grows, we’ll see a better variety.
What we’re testing next
The Grand Tour: This club by online and brick-and-mortar shop Verve Wine takes a geographic approach to wine discovery by highlighting four bottles (usually two red and two white) from a different region each month. Why does the region matter? Well, soil, climate, and topography all affect the winemaking process and the final product.
The Sip: This Black-owned bi-monthly subscription service focuses exclusively on sparkling wines for all your bubbly needs. In addition to three flights of luxury sparkling wine, you’ll get priority access to new wine releases. It’s the perfect wine club for people who are always looking for an excuse to celebrate.
Primal Wine Club: Another natural wine club that looks promising is Primal, which offers red, white, and mixed wine clubs as well as education about the oft-confusing world of natural, biodynamic, and organic wines. The price per bottle is on par with Plonk’s, so the points of differentiation we’ll be looking for are curation, variety, and reliability of delivery.
Wine how-tos and FAQs
How to store wine
Do: Lay the bottle on its side in a cool dark place, preferably in a cabinet lower to the floor.
Don’t: Stand it up on the counter or leave it in direct sunlight.
Do: Store your opened bottle in a wine fridge so it can keep a little longer.
Don’t: Store wine in a regular refrigerator. “The same qualities that keep your food fresh will not have the same effect on your wine,” says Price. See our guide to the best wine coolers and fridges.
How to taste wine
Go slow and use the right techniques. “Tasting wine to learn something about it is different from just knocking a glass back casually with friends,” said Price. “Take the time to think about what you are tasting. Make sure you stick your nose in the glass and really smell the wine. When you drink it, coat your entire palate. After you swallow, think about how long the flavors and textures linger in your mouth.”
The sommelier and wine writer also recommended starting a tasting group with your friends or family. “Pick a theme and have everyone bring a bottle within that theme. For example, if you want to understand Syrah, the line-up should include a Northern Rhône (FR), Barossa Valley (AU), Stellenbosch (ZA), Paso Robles (US), and Tuscany (IT) bottling amongst others. Each person should bring their bottle wrapped so you can’t see the label (don’t forget to take the neck foil off, that one is an easy giveaway!), and put the wines out for everyone to taste and guess which wine is which. It’s helpful to write your tasting notes down so you see how you progress over time. The entertainment value goes up even more when afterward you discuss your impressions as a group, enjoying the wines you brought with friends.”
How to choose the perfect wine for a gift
Make it personal. “The best way to gift a bottle of wine is to know a little piece about the recipient. Whether it’s a birth year or wedding vintage, a favorite place, or just their personal taste, those small things will make a gifted bottle of wine far more special,” says Hamburger.
What’s the difference between Champagne and sparkling wine?
All Champagne is sparkling wine, but not all sparkling wine is Champagne. Champagne refers specifically to sparkling wine made in the Champagne region of France. Because of this geographic distinction, that means there are only certain grapes — like Chardonnay and Pinot Noir — that can be used to make Champagne.
If you buy through our links, we may earn money from affiliate partners. Learn more.
Dating online can be awkward even in the best of times, but especially while social distancing.
Online dating platform Hinge paired with Uncommon Goods to create a virtual date kit to enhance connections.
Inside, you’ll find cocktail ingredients and conversation starters to enjoy while on video chat.
Table of Contents: Masthead StickyVirtual Dating Kit (small)
Online dating can be a learning curve even in the best of times, but during social distancing that long list of date ideas can slowly dwindle down into video chats and walks outside. Luckily, online dating platform Hinge recently partnered with Uncommon Goods to create a Virtual Date Night Kit that helps singles swipe, share, and say goodbye to their profiles that much quicker.
For $30, you and your date will receive a box filled with conversation starters and a make-your-own cocktail kit that includes mixology tools and three recipes to follow. It’s a unique activity for two that you can enjoy while on FaceTime or Zoom.
“Throughout the pandemic, our goal has been to help our community continue their dating life in safe and fun ways,” said Logan Ury, Hinge’s director of relationship science. “Two out of three users have felt a growing connection with someone they met over video chat, and partnering with Uncommon Goods to help singles have a shared experience over video was the perfect collaboration.”
The pandemic and all its associated awkwardness hasn’t stopped folks from dating, in fact, Hinge has experienced recent growth, which is in part what led to the inspiration for this kit. According to Ury, Hinge saw a 63% increase in downloads globally and a 14% increase in dates compared to 2019.
As someone who met their boyfriend on Hinge amid the pandemic (we’ve now been dating for nine months), I was instantly curious about the Hinge x Uncommon Goods collaboration. My boyfriend and I wanted to take note of how the kit measured up to our on-app experience. Though we’ve already covered most of the first, second, and third date topics, the Virtual Date Night Kit let us mix things up, literally, with a build-your-own mixology kit and activity. We assessed the quality of the cocktail ingredients, the conversation starters, and pretended how it would be to experience as a first date if we took a time machine back to June 2020.
Whether it’s your first time communicating without message bubbles or you’ve been in a year-long relationship, the Hinge x Uncommon Goods Date Night Kit is a fun and fresh way to connect.
How it works
Let’s start with the basics. The kit includes the following:
You can purchase the kit here. They are buy-one, get-one, exclusive of shipping for each order. Alcohol is not included.
Once the “date planner” orders their kit, Uncommon Goods will e-mail them a unique redemption code to share with their date. This means no mailing addresses have to be exchanged between the two singles.
The second person on the date will then order their kit by entering their redemption code at checkout, where it says “Uncommon Credits.” Within a week, both singles will receive their kit.
Even though I just turned 21, my boyfriend and I opted for the mocktail version (that is, omitting either rum, tequila, or vodka from our mixed drinks). I appreciated that the included recipe pamphlet – which also has the nine conversation starters on the flipside – labels alcohol as “optional” and outlines steps to skip if a mocktail is desired. Hinge x Uncommon Goods definitely gets brownie points for being inclusive of singles’ diverse preferences, whether they don’t drink alcohol or are a social drinker.
The kit categorizes three different cocktails for the type of date night ambiance you want to create with your new connection:
My boyfriend and I have since advanced from the virtual-only dating scene, but we thought it best to try the “More Than a Mule” drink because it sounded like something many folks would prefer for a first date.
The mini potion-like bottles of ginger-lime simple syrup and lime bitters made me feel like a bartending pro, and I liked how the kit amped up the typical crack-open-a-bottle experience. The opportunity to virtually create and mix a drink with your date makes for an easy way to beat the awkward silences that typically accompany Zoom dates.
Though the kit was a throwback to mine and my boyfriend’s first few days on the app, I was a bit disappointed with the lack of instruction on the kit’s outside label. To make testing it as realistic as possible, we opened the box virtually on the night we wanted to try the activity. As we were concocting and mixing, we realized that we both didn’t have lime juice on hand. I recently ran out of orange juice in my refrigerator as well – an ingredient to make the other two drinks in the recipe pamphlet – so I had no other choice but to make the “More Than a Mule” drink. And, even for that recipe, I substituted the lime juice for lemon juice, which turned out to be pretty delicious. Thankfully, I was fully stocked on club soda.
My boyfriend and I didn’t use the stainless steel jiggers because we mixed up a mocktail, but they would be useful if creating a cocktail. The included drink stirrers were a nice touch as well.
To top it all off, we appreciated the dried lime slices to feel like we were at a tiki bar. They made our small glasses look dynamite and, if you’re a lover of all things citrus, you can munch on them, too.
An overview of the conversation starters
As someone who loves finding getting-to-know-you questions online and playing them with my friends and family, the fact that this kit only includes nine conversation starters was kind of a letdown. Sure, if you’re getting to know someone, one question can slowly turn into a half-hour discussion on your cherished memories and favorite sitcoms. But, because my boyfriend and I adored The Book of Questions by Gregory Stock, Ph.D., on our video chats sprinkled throughout the week, we weren’t huge fans of the handful included with the kit.
Even though the $30 cost covers you and your date, it would have been nice to see more questions for the price. Regardless, it’s still a great concept and it was a great way to lead the discussion throughout the evening.
Should you buy it?
Buying the kit depends much on preference, how long you anticipate the video chat being, and most importantly – planning ahead. Since it takes about a week to ship, you’re going to have to keep the conversation going, whether it be on-app messaging, social media communication, or personal phone number exchanges.
It was nice to see a dating app go above and beyond the typical video chat or on-app prompts. However, opening your favorite bottle of wine and perhaps purchasing The Book of Questions makes for a similar experience.
I recommend this kit solely for privacy reasons. If you want to treat a potential suitor to an enjoyable, lighthearted date but aren’t up for meeting in person just yet, this is a great option. No shared addresses means you have more flexibility when it comes to establishing boundaries in the early stages of getting to know each other.
The bottom line
While it was exciting to receive my Hinge Virtual Dating Kit in the mail, the $30 price point for nine questions and no alcohol included doesn’t give me a strong push to recommend it. Again, if keeping personal information, like your address, private is of high priority, definitely go for it. It’s a great business model to help aid online daters, but it’s not all that necessary – unless you’re really wanting to do a hands-on activity, like mixing drinks, virtually.
Pros: Amplifies the online dating experience, includes conversation starters to get to know your date, no sharing of addresses required
Cons: Doesn’t include alcohol and some other ingredients for cocktails, not many conversation starters
Trying to carry two bottles of wine, a handle of whiskey, a six-pack of beer, and some bitters to stock our bar cart might as well be an Olympic sport. But the task of buying alcohol doesn’t have to be so strenuous, and for anyone who can’t or doesn’t want to go outside to the store, there’s always alcohol delivery.
We’ve broken down how to buy alcohol online and the best places to order from whether you’re into spirits, wine, or beer. Some can get you your alcohol within a couple of hours of ordering, while others may have set shipping schedules.
One thing to keep in mind with any alcohol delivery service is that each state has its own laws.
Alabama, Oklahoma, and Utah have outright bans on booze deliveries to private citizens. In almost all other states, wine deliveries are perfectly legal, though they will require a signature from an adult who’s 21 or older in most places. Check the National Conference of State Legislatures‘ Direct Shipment of Alcohol Statutes page for the most updated information.
Wine.com boasts the world’s largest online wine selection, letting you find your old favorites, discover new wines, and shop collectible and boutique wines.
There’s no shortage of choice at Wine.com, where you can shop by varietal and region, or browse various curated lists and deals. You can also pick up gift baskets, glassware, and other wine accessories to supplement your bottles.
Each product page features helpful winemaker notes, reviews from trusted critics like James Suckling, and additional information about the vineyard. There’s also a live wine expert chat function in case you need extra help.
In addition to home delivery, the site offers order pickup from more than 10,000 participating locations including Walgreens, Duane Reade, and Safeway.
If you anticipate ordering often, get the annual $49 membership, which is called the StewardShip program, and gives you free shipping on every order for a full year with no purchase minimum.
New customers can also take $20 off orders of $100+ with the code “NEW2021“.
Shipping cost: Varied and based on the number of bottles and the size and weight of your order
NakedWines.com lets you support independent winemakers around the world and you’ll receive big discounts so you can stock your wine supply for less.
If you’re interested in getting to know the winemaker behind each of your bottles, you’ll love NakedWines.com, which specializes in lifting up independent wine labels around the world. You can become an “Angel” who invests $40 a month directly in up-and-coming winemakers, and in return, you’ll get wholesale prices (up to 60% off wine) and a free gift bottle every month.
Even if you don’t want to become an Angel, you can still shop the large variety of red, white, sparkling, rose, and sweet wine on the site and try the user-friendly filtering system. You can even browse winemaker profiles to hear directly from the source, read customer reviews, and easily shop all the wine from that maker.
There’s a generous welcome offer of $100 off your introductory case that includes six bottles of reds and whites. For future orders, there is a six-bottle minimum.
Shipping cost: $10 for orders under $100. For orders $100 and more, delivery is free — except for Hawaii (+$70) and Alaska (+$130).
Tippsy is a great way to explore Japanese sake à la carte or through a monthly subscription box.
If you’ve never drunk sake outside of a Japanese restaurant, you’re missing out on a whole world of booze. And if part of the reason is that you’re not sure what to order or what to pair it with, you might want to sign up for Tippsy.
Tippsy is an online store for sake, and it keeps the category from being overwhelming with taste profiles, pairing suggestions, translations of Japanese labels and descriptions, and more. Bottles can be purchased a la carte or through a subscription that arrives one, two, or four times a year. Each box contains six 10-ounce bottles, and your first box comes with a Sake 101 guide with tasting notes, and suggestions on food pairings and even what temperatures to enjoy the sake.
This is a great way to expand your palate and knowledge of alcohol without venturing out to a Japanese restaurant.
Currently, you can get $10 flat shipping on all orders, or earn free shipping if you order six or more bottles.
Membership cost: Starting at $93/box for subscription, à la carte bottles starting at $10 — Jada Wong
Craft beer enthusiasts will be happy with Craft City‘s impressive inventory that tends towards smaller brewery labels.
If you have a particular craft beer in mind — maybe you tried it while traveling or you bought it from a store once and never saw it again — chances are that Craft City carries it. It also happens to be a great place to buy other fizzy drinks, like craft kombucha and craft soda.
You can enjoy the nation’s best craft breweries, from more well-known names like Ballast Point and Allagash to labels you’ve never heard of. The nice thing is that you can buy single bottles rather than full packs, so you can create a fully customized beer stash.
Some of the products include ratings from Beer Advocate and Rate Beer, plus each page tells you exactly how much stock is left and whether you need to act quickly to snatch up your favorites. There’s also a cool Product Comparison tool if you’re between two beers and want a side-by-side breakdown of their differences.
Shipping cost: Based on your specific location, and generally, we found you’ll pay between $10 to $16 for ground shipping.
For alcohol delivery within the hour, Drizly provides the most reliable, well-designed, and widely available service.
Drizly works with your local liquor stores to get you wine, beer, spirits, and even mixers, snacks, and party supplies quickly. Delivery’s free in New York City and only $5 in other areas. Drizly service is available in more than 220 markets nationwide.
Stock and pricing really depend on your neighborhood retailer, but you should expect all the big brands and bar essentials, as well as more unique offerings such as craft brews, bottles from local distillers, and exclusive wines. They should cost you the retail price, or a little more, though Drizly also regularly runs deals and promotions to save you some money.
Both the website and app are easy to use and you can look at your past purchases to make reordering a breeze.
However, since it does charge a premium on common bottles and brands, we recommend going to other sites or your local liquor store for the bottom- and middle-shelf stuff and focusing instead on all the rare vintages and limited offerings — if you have the budget.
You’ll also find custom engravings, fancy crystal and barware sets, and gift baskets. If you ever want to make someone in your life — be it a partner, relative, or business contact — feel special, ReserveBar’s the place to find the best boozy gift.
At the time of this update, if you buy three bottles you can get the fourth for 50% off with code “THEFINALS.”
Shipping cost: Shipping is $15-$35 for orders under $149. It’s free on orders over $149 with the code above.
Flaviar is an accessible starting point and community for people wanting to expand their experience with spirits, and it offers no shortage of member-exclusive features to dive into and explore.
The world of fine and niche spirits can be overwhelming, especially if you’re new to the scene. But if you’re interested in trying small-batch whiskeys, vodkas, tequilas, and more, personalized spirits subscription service Flaviar is an excellent place to start.
In addition to providing quality options (including rare bottles) at great prices, Flaviar also serves as an online community for fellow fans (600,000+ strong) to get together and talk about everything spirits-related.
It carries more than 20,000 different spirits and every three months, members can pick out one full-size bottle and a curated Tasting Box filled with various samples. There are many other perks, including member reviews, articles about different spirits, cocktail recipes, and interviews with industry experts.
The modern wine club model is nearly perfect in Winc‘s hands, from its large and on-trend bottle variety to its streamlined browsing and customer rating system.
Winc is always updating its stock of wine, which it produces based on consumer interests and emerging trends. That means you’ll always have something new to look forward to when you do your monthly wine shopping haul.
Winc’s site is easy to use and browse for different varietals and regions, and you can view member ratings and descriptions for each wine. We also love it because its wines are pretty affordable, ranging from $13 to $32 a bottle.
Amateur wine enthusiasts can start with the Palate Profile, which will point them in the right direction of different wines to try. Membership isn’t required to order from Winc, though it can save you some money if you regularly consume wine.
Right now, new customers can take $20 off four bottles or more.
Membership cost: $59.95/month, or order a minimum of three bottles starting at $13/bottle
Beer of the Month Club has more than 25 years of experience recommending craft beers and uses three criteria — quality, freshness, and variety — to curate its 12-packs.
This club has been around since 1994 and is more than familiar with the best craft beers you should know about. Its panel members have some impressive experience up their sleeves, including over 100 collective years in the brewing industry and 500 beers rated every year to bring you only top-tier beers.
Beer of the Month currently offers five different membership types: US Microbrewed, US and International Variety, Hop Heads Beer, International Beer, and Rare Beer. You’ll get 12 bottles that represent two to four beer styles and breweries, plus profiles and tasting notes.
The subscription is aimed at people who want to develop their taste in beer or simply find it too time-consuming to do the research and work themselves.
Right now, you can save up to $30 off prepaid orders. Use the code “SAVE10” for $10 off a 4-shipment order, “SAVE15” for $15 off a prepaid 6-shipment order, and “SAVE30” for $30 off a prepaid 12-shipment order.
Membership cost: $29.95-$38.95 a month, plus $15 shipping.
One of America’s largest beer makers, Molson Coors, had to halt production this week the company said.
“Molson Coors experienced a systems outage that was caused by a cybersecurity incident,” the company said in a statement. That systems outage has led to a variety of issues for the company, including “brewery operations, production, and shipments,” according to an SEC filing.
In short: Hackers forced the maker of Coors to stop making beer.
Molson Coors is America’s second-largest beer producer, behind only Budweiser maker Anheuser-Busch, according to the Brewer’s Association. The company brews its namesake brands Molson and Coors, as well as Miller, Blue Moon, Leinenkugel’s, Redd’s Hard Apple, and Topo Chico Hard Seltzer, among others.
It’s unclear how much of the company’s beer production has been halted by the breach, nor is it clear how this will impact the company’s expected production.
A Molson Coors representative did not respond to request for comment as of publishing.
The SEC filing said Molson Coors, “is working around the clock to get its systems back up as quickly as possible.”
No timetable is given on when the company expects to return to normal production. Molson Coors has “engaged leading forensic information technology firms and legal counsel,” the filing said, and it’s investigating the breach.
Got a tip? Contact Insider senior correspondent Ben Gilbert via email (email@example.com), or Twitter DM (@realbengilbert). We can keep sources anonymous. Use a non-work device to reach out. PR pitches by email only, please.
Thinking about gifting someone special an engraved bottle of Perrier Jouet Grand Brut? Well, why not toss in a pair of Waterford crystal Champagne flutes? A bottle of Jefferson’s Reserve small-batch bourbon? Why not get it engraved? Of course, no one is going to shame you for treating yourself, but that doesn’t mean you should forego the fancy glasses, bottle holders, and other add-ons.
What is ReserveBar?
ReserveBar can be a wonderful website for finding just the right top-shelf bottle or special gift, especially when it comes to Champagne, wine, liquor, custom engraving, barware bundles, and more.
Occasionally, you’ll find great promotions, either on shipping or credit when you buy a certain number of bottles at once. At the time of this update, you can get a $25 gift code if you spend $150 or more with the code “MARCH25“.
What to buy elsewhere
We generally won’t look to ReserveBar when restocking the bottom and middle shelves of our liquor cabinet or getting regular old beer or wine.
For example, a fifth of Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Whiskey from ReserveBar is $34. That’s not a deal when Drizly’s price is around $25 (price varies depending on your location). It pays to shop for run-of-the-mill brands offered for less elsewhere, and the easiest option may be your local purveyor.
I went through the checkout process for a fifth of Tito’s Handmade Vodka at Wine.com (about $20) and Drizly (about $22) only to find the same bottle for $39 at ReserveBar. The above prices are all without taking into account sites’ shipping and handling charges, as well as taxes (which obviously vary from state to state).
So long as your local retailer isn’t marking up its prices too badly, you probably won’t pay much more than $30 for that same delivery from them, not to mention that it’ll likely arrive within the hour. Support your local retailers when and where you can, but also when and where it makes financial sense for you.
How to shop ReserveBar
Before you start shopping, select which state you’d like to have your order shipped to in the top right section of the screen, just below “Customer Service” and to the left of “Corp Gifts.”
Then – and this might be our favorite part about ReserveBar – you can shop by category and subcategory based on everything from vintage to gift sets, limited offerings, and quality. This type of curation is smart and helpful; for example, under Scotch, the drop-down tab lets you choose between “luxury,” “single malt,” and “blended.”
Before you order anything, scour the website and check the retailer’s Facebook page, which often posts deals you might not otherwise find.
We ordered from ReserveBar using a gift code on April 15 in the afternoon, and our box arrived on April 21 at midday, through economy or ground shipping. Everything was safe and sound thanks to empty cardboard inserts and bubble-wrap. I went for a couple of gift sets for upcoming occasions as well as one just for me: a bottle of Dom Ruinart Blanc de Blanc 2007, a bottle of Goslings Family Reserve Old Rum with a pair of Dartington glasses, and a bottle of Remy Martin XO, also with a pair of Remy Martin glasses. Prices were comparable elsewhere, and while some items were a few dollars more on ReserveBar, I felt it was worth it when my purchases arrived so elegantly packaged.
It’s important to know that some wines and spirits can’t be shipped to certain states – on the right side of every product page, you’ll find a list of places that a particular bottle can be shipped to. As with any alcohol delivery service, ReserveBar requires someone 21 or older to be present with a valid ID to accept the order.
Currently, you can get a $25 gift code if you spend $150 or more with the code “MARCH25“.
The bottom line
ReserveBar is the place to go when you want to give a personalized present, or something a little more special than a generic bottle of scotch or Bourdeaux with a nylon bow on it. It’s where you turn for custom engravings, fancy crystal and barware sets, gift baskets full of top-shelf liquors and luxury snacks, and so on. ReserveBar is not geared toward facilitating regular orders, and while you will find a selection of middle- and lower-shelf brands, it will do you well to compare prices before completing your purchase.
I’d started brewing beer when I was 21 at college in Oregon and kept doing it as a passion. After graduating from college in the 2008 economy crash, I didn’t have much luck job-wise.
My degree was in marketing and economics, and while I initially had a job lined up, after graduation I was laid off before I even started, so I worked part-time jobs and brewed on the side. After four years of unstable temporary jobs, I decided to go back to college. I enrolled in Siebel Institute of Technology – out of Munich, Germany, and Chicago – for a masters of brewing.
It can be challenging to get in the door in the brewing industry.
My first job was as a keg washer in Portland. People were willing to work for free, but I was lucky enough to get the paid gig of keg washing. From there I moved up to the cellar, and then brewer. I even helped someone start a brewery in Portland.
In 2018 Big Island Brewhaus was looking for a head brewer. They approached me with a two-year contract, I said yes, then they moved my family out to Waimea and I started to run the brewery.
As my contract came to an end, the vice president of operations at a nearby private residential club community called Kohanaiki contacted me to see if I’d be interested in being the master brewer at their brewery. I took on the job in May 2020, just as the pandemic worsened and everyone went into lockdown.
The brewery had been shut down and vacant for quite some time before I came along. So during the pandemic, while the club had no members, I cleaned, reorganized, and resurfaced the tanks. When guests started coming in early October 2020 and everything slowly started reopening, that’s when the ball started rolling.
This brewery is much smaller than I experienced in past jobs. At the corporate breweries where I worked before, I was never in charge of accounting, management, or any of the paperwork. At Kohanaiki, I’m a one-man team, so I need to pay attention to the budget and spend at least a few hours every day answering emails.
Even though it’s more work, I prefer the structured system and being tuned in on the business side. Other breweries I’ve worked at didn’t have a budget, so it was easy to go a little crazy spending, but here, I know what I can and can’t spend.
It’s hot in Kalaoa, so club members tend to prefer light, fruity beers over dark beers.
The best part about my job is I can brew whatever I like. We mostly create beers that are around 6.2% alcohol. IPA sells well on the island, as does rosé beer and other fruity variations. I’m currently working on a spiked apple cider beer – Belgian double style. I plan to ferment it with apple juice. I also have oak chips soaking in rum, which I’ll add to the beer when aging for a rich flavor.
During the hot months, I also have seltzers on hand. I fought this craze for so long, but eventually I had to give the people what they want, which is seltzers and rosé beer.
Since we’re a microbrewery attached to the resort, I often chat with members, ask their opinions, and listen to their requests of what they’d like to drink. I’m open to brewing anything and everything, as long as I know it will work.
Working in a small brewery, I’m also able to turn over funky ideas quickly. In corporate brewing you have to make a certain number of kegs for that one beer, but here I can make just one keg of a beer before moving onto another to keep it varied.
I can also more easily work with different yeasts. In a corporate environment, brewers are held to a style of yeast in-house, but here, I can make small batches with different yeasts. I don’t even need to use the same yeast again.
Coming from the mainland US, I’ve experienced new challenges while brewing in Hawaii.
A challenge I’ve faced with brewing on the island is water quality. I’ve lived in places where the water quality is good, but here, the water is littered with sodium. I use reverse-osmosis water from nearby Kona, to which I add calcium, magnesium, and other elements to get the flavor profile I want.
Another difference of brewing on the island compared to the mainland is access to local exotic fruits. The club has an onsite biodynamic community farm, and my friend also has a family farm where I can visit and buy different fruits. Anytime I need inspiration or want to see what fruits are available, I’ll go directly to the farm, try different fruits, and instantly think of new beers to make. I allow the flavors and fruits to guide me, rather than creating a recipe and not having the right ingredients to carry it out.
As the island began welcoming back visitors and members around October when the pre-testing COVID travel program started, I began preparing for events. We held Oktoberfest, but instead of the usual German lagers, I also showcased different German beers to introducing unique styles of German alcohol to club members.
We’ve also recently opened to “meet the brewer” events. I show the members what I do and teach them about beer, from the specifics of the brewing process to the variety of flavor profiles. We also do a tasting, where they can try all the different types of beers we have on tap.
As a master brewer at a micro-brewery, I can merge brewing with business ideas.
The brewery is near the 18th hole of the resort’s golf course, so when I first joined Kohanaiki I thought it would be great to set up space for golfers to have a pour after their game. We began offering this last year after reopening, and now guest golfers can watch sports, have a beer, play darts, or just sit and socialize.
Recently, I’ve been thinking of brewing a Mexican mocha. Think spicy, locally brewed coffee, and a touch of lactose for a darker side beer. There’s also a champagne-style beer in the works. I’m looking to incorporate grapes, so it would be a base beer with half grapes.
I have many ideas and time to explore them. It’s just one of the many perks of working at a private microbrewery.
Natasha Bazika is a freelance writer currently based in Sydney. She has contributed to CNN Travel, Architectural Digest, Housebeautiful, Travel + Leisure, New York Magazine, and more. Follow her adventures on Instagram.
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Vinebox is a quarterly wine subscription that sends you nine “glasses” of the world’s best wines for $79.
But instead of full bottles, you’ll get vials that hold about a glass of wine each that’s perfect for sampling.
It can be a good way to try different high-end wines you would otherwise never be able to afford.
Quarterly Wine Subscription (9 glasses) (small)
Finding out which wines you like can feel more like an accident than any sort of comprehensive, efficient effort. My own history more honestly resembles stumbling around in the dark – and asking my local wine shop experts for blind personal recommendations.
It’s exactly this obscurity that makes intelligent wine subscription services like Vinebox so uniquely appealing. Vinebox is a service that sends subscribers nine of the best wines in the world to taste – by the glass – once every three months for $79. Each glass comes out to about $9, which is along the lines of what you’d pay at a nice restaurant.
While you might be used to this concept when it comes to bottles, it makes sense why Vinebox would send by the glass; the high-end wine selection would cost the average person a small fortune (and probably some plane rides), and trying only by the glass is a really low-risk commitment that encourages you to expand your palette. You’re able to try a variety of really diverse, premium wines for a fraction of the cost required for full bottles, and you won’t be stuck with a wine you hate if you take a chance sampling something more adventurous. If you love one, you can buy your own bottle.
How Vinebox works
Order your first box: You don’t need to take a quiz or sign up for an account first. Just visit this page to view this quarter’s box and decide if the wine assortment sounds interesting.
Taste the wines: Vinebox will send you nine 10 cL vials of wine every quarter and each holds a full glass worth of vino. They come nicely packaged in a sturdy box and with a booklet full of information like tasting notes and how to pronounce the names of each wine. You’ll get to suss out your favorite kinds of wine, learn more about the regions in and processes by which they’re made, and get the most out of the luxury wines sent to you.
Discover favorites: If you love one glass more than most, you can buy a full-sized bottle, or Vinebox will make suggestions for a similar wine. Members also receive credits to buy full-sized bottles so you can save while finding and stocking up on your favorite wines. Quarterly members receive $15 in credits while yearly members receive $30. The credits expire at the end of each quarter.
What the wines are like
Of more than 11,000 fine wines tested by Vinebox, only about 1% make the cut into your box. They’re not the same as your local wine store options (even the really nice ones) – you won’t find anything mass-produced here. Though Vinebox handles the bottling and distribution, all the wine is imported from various winemakers and vineyards in Europe.
Quarterly releases are said to be the best wine of the moment – from old vintage cellar releases hitting their “sweet spot” to those that mesh perfectly with current wine trends (which you are now, by virtue of this subscription, apparently on top of). They’re curated by the company’s wine director and sommelier for delivery every three months.
The company uses a closed-nitrogen environment to prevent the wines from ever coming in contact with oxygen. The use of inert gas allows the wines to “maintain their complete bouquet, flavor profile, and mouthfeel” throughout the process. Once they’re encapsulated in the vials, the wines are good for up to three years – though you’ll want to pour yourself a glass much sooner than that.
Price of Vinebox
For a quick look at the membership:
Subscription price: $72 to $79
Subscription frequency: Every 3 months
Shipping fee: Free
A la carte shop: Yes
Vinebox only has a quarterly subscription and each box is $79. Delivery is always free, and you can cancel at any time. You can sign up here.
If you’d like to gift Vinebox, you can either buy an individual box of wines here or sign up the recipient for a six-month or one-year subscription. These are non-renewable payments so no one is surprised or stuck with an unwanted membership.
The six-month plan comes with two boxes of wine and $15 credit towards full-sized bottles per quarter, totaling $158, or $79 per box. The one-year plan comes with four boxes of wine and $30 credit towards full-sized bottles per quarter, totaling $288, or $72 per box.
If your Vinebox gift is for two people instead of one, you can double the plans and save 10% off your price. That means the six-month plan for two comes out to $284.40 total and the one-year plan for two comes out to $518.40 total.
Review of Vinebox
Vinebox’s latest collection for fall is called Back to the Classics. It’s an ode to the “classic” wines of regions like Tuscany, Italy and Burgundy, France and contains four reds, four whites, and one rosé.
All the wines in this particular edition are light- and medium-bodied, so if those are up your alley, you’ll love the box. I enjoyed trying and sipping on all the wines, especially because I tend to be a casual, low-commitment drinker. I hate opening an entire bottle knowing I won’t be able to finish it in one night (or even a few nights), so I really appreciated Vinebox’s unique design. It’s also convenient because all the bottles have screwtops – no bottle opener or corkscrew necessary.
In particular, I liked the Le Gabier Blanc, a medium-bodied Sauvignon Blanc-Semillon blend with notes of apple and peach, which felt appropriate for the transition from summer to fall. Unfortunately, Vinebox didn’t have a full-sized bottle but it had a similar one – a Godello wine. This was slightly disappointing and I haven’t yet bought the full-sized alternative. It turns out Vinebox didn’t have any of the exact same wines as the samplers for the box I tried, so it might be best not to fall too head over heels for a particular bottle.
Other than the quarterly seasonal offering, Vinebox brought back a holiday favorite: 12 Nights of Wine (currently sold out), a fun take on the traditional advent calendar. This limited-edition box contains 12 bottles and comes in one of three beautiful holiday-themed packaging. Each of the slots is labeled by number, letting you work through the collection one day at a time.
The bottom line
If you’re looking for an affordable way to try premium wines, or you just want to stop wasting time and get smarter about wine or your own preferences, Vinebox is worth checking out.
The wines are delicious, and the service is convenient. There’s very little chance you’d have the power, money, or time to first become an expert sommelier and then test thousands of wines to pair them down to the perfect quarterly litmus test for yourself. This way, you get to maintain your life the way it is and still get to try the best wines of a high variety so you can get into a new hobby, impress dates, or just have less trouble ordering in restaurants.