ADVERTISING: Advertorial — GEORGE BALLING: The right wine club for you

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Regardless of where you are in your wine consuming journey a wine club can offer many benefits. The biggest question for most consumers is how to pick the right wine club. In fact, the importance and impact of this question can’t be understated and takes on a very personal aspect. Wine clubs come in many “shapes and sizes.” Many differ based on their strategy, and there are big differences between winery wine clubs and those run by retailers. Here are some of the points to consider and pitfalls to avoid when choosing your wine club.

Consider your consumption patterns and levels. Many wine clubs will distribute to their members monthly, some with multiple bottles. With our wine club here at the dinner party we offer our club packs quarterly, so only four times per year with three bottles in each pack. As a consumer, if you take a monthly sample and keep track of how many bottles you consume, you will get a clear sense of your consumption rate. Then pick a wine club that matches your consumption rate. Keep in mind that you sometimes will want to buy single bottles outside of your wine club, so factor that into your count. In short, it makes no sense to join a club that sends you three cases per year when you drink half that much.

Also, the best wine clubs offer a discount on all of your purchases-not just your club purchases. It is a nice perk that should be part of the program for your loyalty to the shop or winery club that you belong to.

Pay attention to the price point you want to drink at. Are most of the bottles you choose in the $15-$20 range? If so, joining a wine club where the average price is $40 will only leave you reluctant to drink the expensive bottles from the wine club, causing them to accumulate. You may even lose track of some, causing them to reach a point where they are no longer good — the most tragic of consequences.

Consider your patterns on color and varietal. If you drink only red or only white, or if you tend to like fuller bodied wines, select a club run by a retailer that structures their club to work with your palate preferences.

Winery sponsored wine clubs and retailer clubs differ in one big aspect. With winery clubs you will only be receiving wine from this one source, so they are best suited for those who like to drink the same thing over multiple vintages and sometimes even months. If you enjoy variety and trying new things then a wine club from a retail shop like the dinner party is a better way to go, as we have wineries from around the world using all grape varietals to choose from.

One important piece of advice is to avoid wine clubs sponsored by publications and some organizations. These clubs are often using private label wines in their wine clubs which makes it impossible to get additional bottles if you find one you really like. It is also challenging with these clubs to know what you are truly getting. Private labels are employed in most cases to not only camouflage what is really in the bottle, but also to hide who is making it or where it comes from. Stick with folks who are actually in the wine business as opposed to newspapers, magazines and airlines for your wine clubs and you will end up with better wine.

Finally choose a club where you have the option of getting more bottles of the club wines you like the best. Beyond just wanting to enjoy more of the “winners” in any club, it ensures that the wine club sponsor is dealing in current vintages and wines that come from viable and successful wineries. Make sure you join a club that provides tasting notes on the wines. You will know who picked the wine for the club and why. It will tell you how deep the relationship between the wine club and the producer runs and how much they really know the wines they have chosen.

We have been honored by the number of customers in North Idaho that have chosen our wine club, making it one of the largest in the area. It exhibits a level of trust and appreciation that lets us know we are doing a good job for the consumer. As you get ready to select a wine club, whether it be your first time or if you are changing wine clubs, or even if the club you belonged to no longer exists, we would like the opportunity to talk with you about ours.

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George Balling is co-owner with his wife, Mary Lancaster, of the dinner party, a wine and gift shop in Coeur d’Alene by Costco. The dinner party has won the award for best wine shop in North Idaho twice, including for 2018. George is also published in several other publications around the country. After working in wineries in California and judging many wine competitions, he moved to Coeur d’Alene with Mary more than 10 years ago to open the shop. You can also follow us on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/#!/dinnerpartyshop.

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