From crisp Champagne from France to an elegant, silky Merlot from Napa Valley. Wine has long been held in esteem and considered a luxury–but now, with the proliferation of wine clubs like Palate Club, wine is reaching more people from different corners of the world.
Wine clubs don’t just change how easy it is to receive wine across the world; they change the way we both see and purchase wine. Tagging along to the subscription trend, wine clubs provide innovation, with the best wine clubs offering personalized service and customization, all in a digital space.
Wine clubs such as Palate Club are popular because many do not have the luxury to visit individual vineyards in person, and because grocery stores and even specialty stores can have limited offerings. And unlike delivery services such as Drizzly, they offer a higher degree of guidance when it comes to selecting your wine.
Bottom Line Up Front Summary: I wanted to like Palate Club, but overall was not very impressed. The “blind tasting” is unique, but ultimately a challenging customer experience because there is zero transparency about quality AND sourcing methods. A fun social experiment, but not something I needed to stick with. Rather, a BETTER subscription service is something like Firstleaf Wine Club here where they have a state-of-the-art quiz-based matching test, with better recommendations as you try (and rate) brands. Full transparency and you know exactly what labels you are getting.
Palate Club Review: Worth Your Money?
Now let’s start straight into our review of Palate Club wine subscription. Especially because there is stiff competition for wine clubs, we’ll be taking a look at factors that make for the best (or worst) wine clubs and ultimately offering a recommendation to whether Palate Wine Club is right for you, or if you should instead seek alternatives.
What is The Main Concept Behind Palate Club?
Palate Cub is a customer-driven wine club service that molds itself in the form of other subscription services, claiming to be a ‘personal wine stylist’.
With a focus on customized shipments, the company claims to also back artisan and sustainable wines, but with an innovative blind testing model that is supposed to more accurately capture your personal preferences by taste alone. The biggest downside that the company buries under terms and policies? They only ship within California.
Verdict: On the surface, Palate Club has a unique platform, but is only for California residents. While may wine cubs claim to be customer-driven, the potential added options of blind testing, as well as wines considered sustainable, are at very least compelling. We will take a closer look at these claims and see how they deliver. Sustainable and artisan, for instance, run the risk of being too ambiguous or keyword, lofty claims.
Is The Wine Really Sustainable and Artisan?
As we mentioned, sustainable and artisan tend to be keyword claims that may or may not be meaningful:
- Sustainability, when discussing wine, usually refers to cultivating wine that is environmentally sound and does not deplete soil or resources. However, many use this term generally and it can vary in validity. There is a certification for sustainability, offered through the California Sustainable Winegrowing Alliance which means wine producers adhere to strict, established standards for production.
- This also varies by country. As their wine is sourced outside the US, and there is no certification mentioned, it is hard to determine whether or not wine from Palate Club adheres to these principles.
- Artisan typically refers to smaller batch, specialty wine. It’s general terms that focus on quality as opposed to bulk wine, and as such, does not have specific standards.
- Verdict: The claims can’t be proven or disproven. While not flagrantly misused, the terminology that Palate Club applies to the wine it sources does not necessarily mean much beyo9nd marketing terms, except for pushing back against bulk wine. That isn’t to say that these claims are false, but, at the same time, may not be important.
How Does Shipping Work?
Shipping is all ground and fulfilled through a third-party company, WineShipping LLC. California residents should receive the shipment within two business days, and all shipping ad handling is free except for orders exceeding one hundred dollars. Unfortunately, they will not ship outside of California.
Verdict: If you’re a California resident, shipping policies are reasonable–but there isn’t much information. While the costs of shipping and handling, as well as delivery time period, are reasonable, less so is the lack of mention of multiple shipping options or security; for anyone living outside of California, the service simply cannot be used at all.
How do Refunds Work?
If you find that the wine seems off, you are directed to contact an email address (there is no phone line or physical address) and not rate the wine. Replacements will be shipped with your next order, and you are limited to three refunds a year.
Verdict: The refund policy leaves us with many concerns. The refund policy does not seem to cover normal issues, such as disliking a wine or packaging mishaps. Instead, it focuses on wine that has gone ‘bad’ which should be a rare, or non-existent occurrence. It should also be noted that limiting the refunds you can have without a specific reason, and having lackluster contact information are concerns as well.
Are There Any Other Policies I Should be Aware of?
Palate Club expressively states, under its terms and conditions, that it is a limited liability, and, further, that “Member purchase and use of any product from Palate Club is at Member’s risk,” which includes “neither Palate Club nor any other party involved in creating, producing, or delivering products is liable for any direct, indirect, incidental, consequential or punitive damages arising out of Member access to, or use of, goods purchased through use of Palate Club’s service” and that all goods are sold as-is.
Verdict: If you’re unhappy with the service, there isn’t much you can do. While you may cancel at any time up to two days before shipping, you are under their jurisdiction for all else.
How Often Does Wine Ship?
Wine ships every month indicated on your order date. You can cancel at any time, and you also have the option to have wine shipped bi-monthly or every three months.
How Does the Process Work?
For your first shipment with the wine subscription, you’ll be asked to take a wine quiz about general taste preferences. From there, you’ll be shipped bottles that are unlabeled. They are curated based on your preferences but meant to get a better indicator of what you really like, supposedly without the chance of initial bias.
From there, you’ll be asked to rate, and continue to rate wines you receive. Though you do not individually select wine bottles, the idea is that over time the shipments will be more precisely catered to your preferences.
Verdict: While innovative, the process leaves us with concerns. The idea of blind taste testing is compelling in some aspects. For one, it could remove bias and lead you to get the wine you really like, as opposed to the wine you think you might like.
Still, it’s unclear if you’ll ever know what wine you were given, and the general concept may make some uncomfortable. While you do provide feedback, you also don’t have much say in the specific wine you’ll get.
What Is The Wine Like?
Just as the process of selecting wine is a bit unclear, the actual wine you might receive could be more transparent. The company claims it “receives consultation from wine experts Guillaume Puzo and Aymeric De Clouet” baed in France. Wine does come with pairing tips, but until you subscribe there is not much mention of wine origin, sourcing, or flavors. Here’s what you do know:
- Varieties include Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Grigio, Chardonnay.
- Regions include France, Chile, Germany, and Greece
- Bottles are priced over seventeen dollars per bottle but no more than sixty
Overall, there is a lack of transparency. There simply isn’t enough information made readily available to help consumers make informed decisions. As the wine quality and selection itself is perhaps the most important factor, this is concerning.
What do Customers Have to Say?
Even before looking at consumer reviews of the Palate Club, let’s look at its wine subscription reputation as a whole. It does not appear to have a Better Business Bureau profile at this time or is under a different name, which is quite unusual. In addition, there is a dearth of other professional reviews for the Palate Club. On Facebook, the wine club earned four out of five stars, based on a meager four reviews.
Verdict: As is the case with much surrounding Palate Club, there is a lack of transparency. There simply is not much feedback, for whatever reason. While Palate Club would naturally have fewer reviews than a large company liken Firstleaf, the lack of reviews and presence at least sounds a note of caution.
Frequently Asked Questions
Before taking any review about wine clubs to heart, the first step is to honestly assess whether or not a wine club is worth it. Wine clubs, like the most subscription or delivery services, are not inherently worth it or not worth it. Rather, the value of a wine club depends on your needs, lifestyle, and why you’re looking into them in the first place.
At their best, wine clubs like Palate Club offer you the chance to experience wine you may not have otherwise, provide an option for easy access, and may even act as a way to broaden your tastes. They can also be convenient for entertaining. That said, most wine clubs, while many are in a reasonable price range, won’t save you money vs buying at a local store.
Simply put, you’ll also be paying for the service itself, as well as delivery, which, even if free, is part of the cost you’re really paying. Furthermore, some may simply not be interested in worrying about deliveries, or may only drink wine occasionally.
To that end, you should join a wine club if and only if you first assess its policies, wine, and terms. If they are agreeable with you, make sure you can select a plan that works for you; many even allow a month to month options.
You should join a wine club if you’ve been wanting to try new wine but are not sure where to start; if you have favorite wines that are hard to access; if you enjoy regularly experiencing a variety not easily available to you; or if you enjoy entertaining ad don’t have time to always look for wine at your local stores.
The cost of wine clubs varies greatly based not only upon the wine club in question, but also on the services offered and the quality and origin of the wine. Of course, you’ll see a range of prices from the same wine club when multiple plans are offered. On average, you’ll find plans that run forty to ninety dollars per month.
The best wine club is one that matches your personal tastes, lifestyle, and budget. In general, there are two main models for wine clubs.
The first one has an element of surprise, curating wines for you and offering a variety month to month. While the best of these types of wine clubs offer information about the wines you can and will receive and allow you to add some preferences, the concept is to act as a way to introduce you to new wine that may, in fact, surprise you.
The second, and perhaps more common model, has more to do with customer preferences and selections. Many allow you, for instance, to take an initial quiz and the wine you’re shipped is curated based on your indicated preferences in terms of wine type, flavors, varieties, and other factors. Some will allow you to completely customize your order, while others will allow you to tweak it or request changes to future orders.
Overall, the best wine club is one that is transparent, sources quality wine, and offers customer-friendly policies, with options for customer interaction and feedback to make orders more personalized.
By all means, it’s understandable that the budget is a concern when selecting a wine club. You should never sign up for a wine club that you can’t afford. At the same time, however, the cheapest wine club is not always the best value. Keep in mind that wine clubs at the least expensive end, for a little as thirty dollars per month, could be selling you bulk or cheap wine.
There are other ways the cost of wine clubs is reduced, such as shipping you smaller or fewer bottles per month, so, likewise, it’s important to compare not just direct costs but the overall cost per volume.
The cheapest wine clubs include options like Vinebox, The California Wine Club Premiere Series, Gold Medal Wine Club, and Cellars Wine Club, all under fifty dollars per month.
Palate Club is one of many wine clubs based in California. It claims to focus on artisan wines with an innovative digital space, with a commitment to sustainability.
Final Verdict: We cannot recommend signing up for a subscription with Palate Club.
While the initial marketing is promising in a number of ways, there are a number of concerns. While the blind taste testing model may seem innovative, it lends itself to a lack of transparency. A customer cannot be readily assumed that the wine is either sustainable or artisan.
Furthermore, there is not enough information pertaining to the quality and sourcing of the wine itself. The refund policy is also mirrored with questions and there simply isn’t enough information to recommend this club even for its limited audience of California residents.
Looking for Alternatives?
Luckily, there are some reasonable alternative wine clubs. These are all rated well through the Better Business Bureau, offer customer selection, and have more generous shipping and return policies:
Allows you a number of different membership options and focuses on sourcing small batch wine from California and around the world. Most suggested for people who already are wine aware and have a reasonable budget.
Where to Buy: Select from one of several plans here.
The Martha Stewart Wine Company provides personalized wine shipments every six to eight weeks with established to award-winning wine, and plenty of variety to suit a myriad of tastes and preferences.
Where to Buy: You can peruse plans for this wine club here.
Firstleaf is another GREAT club that offers an incredibly innovative quiz based system to identify unique wines for you. You can select from 6 bottles or 12, with prices per bottle ranging from $12-15 (generally quite approachable).