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SURF THIS: Wine of the times

May 5, 2012

I like wine, but I don’t read the magazines, and I’m not overly concerned with what’s hot or what the “proper pairings” might be. In fact, I’ve learned that I prefer red over white regardless of what I’m eating. And I’m just comfortable enough not to care much what anyone else thinks of my preferences.

I would, however, like to know more about what I’m drinking, and it would be great if I could find great wines—even great values—without investing a lot of time or effort. Come to think of it, I’d love to have a personal sommelier who could match wines to my palate and preferences.

Wouldn’t you know? Someone else had a similar idea. Club W (clubw.com) is an “online community of wine enthusiasts committed to taking the hassle, guesswork and pretentiousness out of enjoying a great bottle of wine at a reasonable price.” They believe (and I wholeheartedly agree) that wine shouldn’t be about being told what to drink, but should instead be all about discovering what you like.

Club W achieves this with its unique palate profile. By asking a series of questions about food and spice preferences (How do you like your coffee? How do you feel about salt? Do you like blackberries, blueberries and raspberries?), Club W matches wine suggestions with your palate.

The wines themselves are chosen by five curators, each boasting an impressive pedigree. There are four sommeliers, including Brian Smith, an advanced sommelier with the Court of Master Sommeliers, and Andrew Freeman, owner of a restaurant and hospitality PR firm. Each brings a unique background and a singular passion to their work: to deliver great wines directly to your door.

Club W is organized like a traditional club. Each month, 12 of the coolest small-batch wines from around the world are selected. Members can choose from these, or have them selected for you based on your palate profile. The minimum monthly order is three bottles for $39. Additional bottles are $13 and all orders ship for free. You can cancel or skip an order at any time, and nothing ships without your prior approval.

The bottles typically retail for $15 to $20 (sometimes much more). According to Club W, a bottle of wine in a retail store has been marked up twice before you buy it: first by a distributor and then by the retailer. When you buy wine through Club W, you are actually purchasing directly from the winemaker or the importer, which helps them deliver the same bottle for less.

Club W believes that learning about wine should be fun, interesting and easy—not overbearing and pretentious. To help, a short video is produced for every wine selected. The video features one of the curators discussing tasting notes, background information, and an explanation of the growing region or varietal. Each video is light and upbeat (like the descriptions of the wine itself) and aims to explain things in terms anyone can understand. Even better, each bottle you receive contains a quick-response code that will take you directly to the video when you scan it with your smartphone.

Club W says its mission is to transform choosing wine into an “ongoing conversation between our curators and your personal tastes,” all with the goal of making choosing wine as simple and pleasurable as drinking it. Judging by the first shipment I received, I’d say it’s on the right track.•

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Cota is creative director of Rare Bird Inc., a full-service advertising agency specializing in the use of new technologies. His column appears monthly. He can be reached at jim@rarebirdinc.com.

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