Clubbin’ It

Le Metro Wine Club Box (via Le Metro Facebook)

Wine clubs are a popular gift, whether it be for the wine lover in your life, or as a reward for yourself. The big question, however, is whether you can receive wine club shipments inside Pennsylvania.

The simple answer is yes. It’s a bit more complicated that that, however. There is, of course, the PLCB’s Wine Club, which is the only officially sanctioned club allowable in the state. And there are others that will ship here, if you’re willing to be a bit rebellious.

Let’s take a look at a few, shall we?

Before we get started, I should note that I’ve never actually been a member of any of these clubs, however I have perused their selections, terms and tasted some of their wines, and am basing my opinions on that data.

PLCB Wine Club

colle-ticchio-cesanese-del-Available in two tiers, ranging from $25-60/month, in either red, white or mixed, the state’s wine club gets a lot of flack from PA wine lovers, but I had the chance this summer to grab a few bottles from the Wine Club sale, and they were all interesting, solid buys. I paid less on clearance than the club members did originally, obviously, but good wine is good wine.

My favorite was the Corte dei Papi Cesanese del Piglio Colle Ticchio 2011 – a wine I paired with Carbonara earlier in the year. This wine is extremely rustic, loaded with brettanomyces-influenced scents, a wild yeast that brings stinky, earthy aromas that not everyone appreciates but I personally love. As a pick for a variety of palates, I could see it getting mixed reviews. but it’s also a grape – Cesanese, from a region – Lazio, that are both somewhat hard to find in the US right now, and deemed up-and-coming by those in-the-know, so from that standpoint hits all the high marks for a wine club selection. My only gripe is that this was included in a “Summer Sippers” theme, which doesn’t make sense for such a big, bold red wine.

From that same month’s selection, however, was a great summer sipper: Feudo di Santa Tresa Cerasuolo di Vittoria Classico 2010, a Sicilian blend of Nero d’Avola and Frappato, which I grabbed for the bargain basement price of $8.99. Though not the most complex wine, it was an easy drinking, light-bodied red and another chance to try a wine not found as commonly in the US.

Though the PLCB club tends to mostly stay in safer areas of the new world like Argentina, California and Australia, or old world regions like Tuscany, every once in a while a real stunner comes through such as the Eastern Europe theme from May 2014, which featured an wildly interesting selection from Georgia, Croatia and Slovenia that should have surprised and excited all but the most jaded drinkers.

Reading through some of the old newsletters that arrive with the Wine Club (which can be found on the PLCB site), I found them somewhat flat. Though each month includes a personal note from curator Betty Kreder, the wines themselves often only feature tasting notes from either major publications (e.g. Wine Advocate, Spectator) or the winery themselves. This doesn’t bring to mind the personal touch I would hope to get from a club curator. There’s also a recipe every month that supposedly pairs with the wines offered, but a cursory look finds that it only sometimes appears to match with a majority of the wines in the shipment.

In sum, the PLCB wine club offers some interesting wines at reasonable prices, but perhaps lacks some of the service touches that one might find at another boutique club. Let’s look at one of them next.

Le Metro – Wine. Underground.

Le Metro is a wine club based out of San Diego that’s a collaboration between Protocol Wine Studio and Aaron Epstein, the curator of the club’s selections as well as a wine writer.

What’s so interesting about Le Metro is Epstien’s approach towards finding boutique, unique and, as the title suggests, “underground” bottles that subscribers might otherwise miss. Many wine clubs look for discounted, discarded or reduced inventory, but Epstien is all about under the radar. This produces a set of challenging and exciting bottles every delivery. (The downside, I suppose, is that if you love a bottle it might not be that easy to find more.)

Each box contains 6 bottles (available per month or per quarter – $192 when ordered individually or $175 for subscribers) that are presented around a unifying theme such as “California Soil, Italian Soul”, “Seduced by Syrah”, and even “Make Wine, Not War”.

In contrast to the PLCB newsletter, Epstien writes up each wine personally, with notes on why he chose that particular bottle. It’s as if he’s the geeky, passionate guy at your local wine boutique, but you have access to him anywhere in the country. (Especially relevant to PA wine lovers, no?)

I love wines that challenge my perceptions. Take the Chasing Harvest Duoro Tinto 2012. Everyone but me seems to be hyped up on Portugese dry reds these days; for every good bottle I’ve had, there’ve been two mediocre ones. So I wasn’t that excited to try this, but Epstien nailed the pick. Complex, evolving, alive. This had it all. The wine’s personality lept out of the glass.

Then there was the Roark Chenin Blanc 2012 from Santa Ynez (Santa Barbara County). Honestly, I didn’t love it, but it too challenged my perceptions, got me thinking about what can be done in Central California. Warm weather = rich, lush wines? Not here. This baby was crisp and austere, dry as a bone.

It’s also worth noting that the packaging on Le Metro is beautiful. Though it arrives in a standard cardboard box, of course, there are little design touches throughout – the postage stamp, the album cover folio, the bottle number stickers, that make a more personal connection.

In sum, Le Metro is a great choice for the adventurous drinker looking for an enlightening, thought-provoking experience. Though not exactly cheap, Epstien’s vibrant selections will always lead to an interesting journey.

Plonk Wine Club

Lastly I thought I’d mention Plonk, the club with the funny name (Plonk is slang for cheap wine; this company focuses on finding great wine for low prices). I have less experience with this one, but I have always been an admirer from afar. Owner / curator Etty Lewensztain puts a lot of wine reviews on YouTube, and, over the years, I’ve stumbled across Etty’s review for some rare, obscure wine (for which I am seeking more information) on more than one occasion, which I take as a good sign. Check out the Plonk Wine Merchants site for examples of the types of wines Etty sources and links to some of her video reviews. The club is also highly regarded and well rated among online sources.

Are there other wine clubs you’ve tried and liked? Disliked? Let us know in the comments.

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