Christmas Gift Ideas: the top six online wine clubs for the oenophiles on your shopping list

Christmas Gift Ideas: the top six online wine clubs for the oenophiles on your shopping list

(Image: S. Lee)

Yes, we know Christmas is still two months away, but sometimes the perfect gift requires a little pre-planning in order to be give-able by December 25. With that in mind, we present a simple, three-part suggestion: (1) buy early; (2) buy online; and (3) buy wine. As we discovered, there’s a whole world of wine lurking beyond the LCBO Vintages showcase. Here, six wine-delivery programs that will help you earn instant credibility with the most sophisticated connoisseurs on your shopping list.

1. For the Patriotic Enthusiast: Wine of the Month Club
The country’s oldest online wine merchant is still an excellent pick. It carries over 450 wines from over 50 Ontario wineries, and monthly selections are all pre-approved by top-tier wine reviewers Tony Aspler and Toronto Life‘s David Lawrason. Most of the featured bottles are not available at the LCBO.
How It Works: Members pay from $45–85 per month for two bottles.
Price Per Bottle: $22.50–42.50
Commitment Level: Low. You can pay month-to-month, or save $16 by signing up for a full year.
Perks: From a gift-giver’s perspective, there’s minimal legwork (since the bottles are chosen for you). Added bonus: some packages let you sub an artisanal cheese for one of the bottles.
Possible Drawbacks: Ontario wines only. Also, while you can choose to receive red wine, white wine or both, you have no further control over the selections.

2. For the Globe-Trotting Wine-Lover: Hemispheres Wine Guild
This club deals exclusively in international wines that you can’t buy in Canada.
How It Works: Members pay $1,320 for four cases of wine per year, each containing 12 bottles from one specific region (the summer 2013 offering, for instance, included wines from Campania, Italy).
Price Per Bottle: $27.50
Commitment Level: Moderate. The club allows a three-month Taster Trial Membership for $110, but the regular commitment is yearly.
Perks: If you particularly love a bottle, you can “top up” your membership by purchasing more of that particular wine.
Drawbacks: As with Wine of the Month, you have no control over the selections.

3. For the Uber Wine Snob: Sommelier Service
Master Sommelier John Szabo, one of only three master tasters in Canada, personally selects a mix of non-LCBO bottles, many of which come from the same pool of international imports sent to top Toronto restaurants.
How It Works: Members receive a case of 10 red, white or mixed bottles every one month, three months or six months for $295 per case, or $495 for a selection of higher-quality wines.
Price Per Bottle: $24.50–41.25
Commitment Level: Moderate. First and last months’ membership is paid upfront. After that, you can cancel anytime with 30 days’ notice.
Perks: Bragging rights.
Drawbacks: With an initial outlay of at least $590, this is one of the pricier membership options (there are, however, one-time-only holiday gift packages starting at $99).

4. For the Renegade Foodie: Charlie’s Burgers
A brand new wine service from the once-super-secret Toronto supper club Charlie’s Burgers. The program promises to deliver “the unfindable and the un-gettable,” including special vintages and limited-edition releases created by wine makers specifically for Charlie’s Burgers.
How It Works: For $112, members get one specially selected wine delivered per month. Quantities vary: could be three bottles, six bottles or possibly one enormous bottle. (Sign up by emailing [email protected]).
Price Per Bottle: Varies.
Commitment Level: High. The wines are sourced six to nine months in advance, so members are asked to commit to at least six months
Perks: Wines come with suggested food pairings for Toronto restaurants like Richmond Station, Langdon Hall, Acadia, Chantecler and Beast. If you bring your bottle to one of the recommended restaurants, they’ll comp the regular corkage fee.
Possible Drawbacks: Less monthly variety than some of the other programs.

5. For the Social Butterfly: Vineland Estates Wine Club
Possibly the friendliest wine club of the bunch (case in point: the club is called “Circle of Friends”). Vineland advertises itself as the world’s only winery-based club that sends out selections from competing wineries.
How It Works: For $50 per month, members get two bottles delivered 12 times per year, plus a “special surprise gift.”
Price Per Bottle: $25
Commitment Level: Low. Pay as you go and cancel anytime.
Perks: Free access to Vineland wine tastings and events, plus free wine pairings with the tasting menu at the Vineland restaurant. Monthly shipments come with suggested recipes to pair with each wine.
Possible Drawbacks: Ontario wines only. Also, we assume there’s a bias towards Vineland Estates wines, which means a less diverse selection.

6. For the Control Freak (i.e. You): Wine Wire
The ideal online service for givers who don’t relish the idea of relinquishing gift control. Like a wine version of Craigslist, Wine Wire works by hooking customers up with independent retailers, who sell non-LCBO wines by the case through an online ordering system.
How It Works: Customers go online and shop by country, wine type and price. Wines are listed and sold by the case (usually 6–12 bottles), and delivered directly from the independent retailer.
Price Per Bottle: $12–350
Commitment Level: Very low. Cases are bought on a one-time basis.
Perks: All listed wines include extensive tasting notes to help with the selection process, and recommended wines include links to video tasting sessions.
Possible Drawbacks: Again, lack of variety. On the other hand, a case or two would satisfy all your Christmas party host/hostess gifts in one fell swoop.