Can this Personalized Wine Subscription Service Get Me to Actually Enjoy Wine? A Review of WincAlcohol Subscriptions
To start: I am by NO means a wine connoisseur. Honestly, I needed to use spell check just to type that. But do I love wine?
Well, not exactly.
I enjoy drinking wine, when I'm out to a nice dinner or looking for a more casual night in. But I've always been more partial to hard alcohol — vodka in the first half of my twenties, and now onto bourbon in the second half. Wine just didn't do it for me.
But recently, it occurred to me — am I the problem? Is the wine I'm drinking just not suited enough to my palate to warrant a pleasant response from my taste buds?
I set out to find that out. With the help of wine maker & subscription service Winc, I wanted to learn a couple things about wine:
- How to taste wine — I'm already a world-class wine taster, in that I can physically taste wine when I'm drinking it. But you know what I mean. I wanted to use words like “bouquet” and “legs,” and not just while describing a hot flower delivery man.
- What's my favorite type of wine — As a chronic terrible decision maker, I knew this one would be the hardest. I can never even decide between chicken or steak at Chipotle, so deciding what type of wine was actually my favorite was going to be a doozy.
- Could Winc really match my picky taste buds up with a wine I'd actually like? You see, Winc claims to have the ability to know what kind of wine I like, simply based on my answers to a few easy questions — mainly about my affinity or distaste in a few key foods and flavors.
But how accurate is Winc, exactly? And can they get me to choose wine over a mixed drink?
That's what I wanted to find out. But the first thing I needed to learn was the proper wine tasting technique.
Part 1: "Alexa, what's the best technique for tasting wine?"
Now, I've been to my fair share of wine tastings throughout the years. Usually held at a vineyard or other very much picturesque locale, these staff-led tastings often have guests taste between 3-6 house-made wines while breezing through a description of each. My memories of wine tastings are all a bit hazy, naturally, but I don't remember ever coming away with any useful knowledge of tasting wine.
So, I wanted to learn how to do a wine tasting on my own, once and for all.
After some in-depth connoisseur (spell check again) research, I decided to base a lot of my tasting technique on this video from Wine Folly, mainly because the woman in the video looked super French (well, my version of French that is solely based on the film Amélie), and also because it had a ton of positive comments — more than I've ever seen on one YouTube video.
In the video, sommelier Madeline Puckette talks about the 4 senses you use to judge a wine: look, smell, taste, and thought. I know, “thought” isn't a traditional sense. But Puckette knows a ton about wine, and judging from the 150+ bottles of wine one the shelf behind her, she's done her research.
To do the tasting, Winc sent over some samples of their most popular wines, all of which are made in-house — yep, Winc is technically considered a winery, due to the fact that they make all of their own wine under cofounder & COO Brian Smith's guidance.
- Diviner Sauvignon Blanc, 2017
- Summer Water Rosé, 2017
- DIME Red Blend, 2016
- Field Theory Touriga Nacional, 2017
So, two reds, a white, and a pink — a good variety for tasting purposes. I enlisted the help of my fabulous roommate Mason, and the tasting session commenced.
The process was simple: we'd go through each of the four wines with Ms. Puckette's guidance, and see how close we could come to the Winc-provided tasting notes for each. Remember, these are not wines that Winc selected for me based on my taste profile. These were provided to us for the purposes of this article.
So you don't fall asleep, I summarized our tasting notes vs. Winc's in this handy chart:
So, we weren't the best (or most elegant) with our first tasting notes. But there were some positives to come out of this:
- We got a few correct, especially the Diviner Sauvignon Blanc and the Summer Water Rosé.
- We both agreed that by the fourth wine, we were noticing more of an array of smells and tastes than the first
- I learned the proper way to taste wine, and hopefully get to use that tasting to find a wine I love
Of course, these wines weren't tailored to our taste palates, but we ranked the wines in this order after the initial taste:
- Summer Water Rosé
- DIME Red Blend
- Diviner Sauvignon Blanc
- Field Theory Touriga Nacional
I learned that I liked wines on the fruitier side, and definitely more dry than not. But what else will Winc tell me about my taste in wine?
Part 2: Winc's Taste Analysis
Now that I knew how to taste wine, and what tastes I actually liked, I was very excited to test Winc's ability to match wines to my palate.
When you sign up for Winc, they walk you through a simple, 6 step quiz that's supposed to determine which wines of theirs you'd love — and that's what they'll send you each month, in batches of four.
The initial test can only determine so much, so you also have the option to review the wine you receive each month, and Winc's algorithm will recommend new wines to you based on your updated, more focused taste profile.
But for now, I was walked through the initial test, which asked me taste questions like:
- How do you like your coffee? While I do get the occasional Java Chip Frappuccino (with no whipped cream , obviously) from Starbucks, I normally like my coffee with cream and sugar. Sweet, but not too crazy. My pick: With cream and/or sugar.
- How do you feel about salt? With salt, it really depends on the food I'm eating. But most of the time, I don't find myself adding extra salt to foods, whether I cook them myself or order them at a restaurant. My pick: Like the taste but don't miss it when it's not on food.
- Do you like citrus? I know a few people who literally eat lemons like oranges, so I know I don't fall into the “loving” citrus camp. However, I do love oranges and OJ, and I love lime-based drinks like margaritas. My pick: Like it, don't love it.
- Do you like earthy flavors like mushrooms and black truffles? This one was a toughy for me. My love for truffle and hatred of mushrooms are pretty even, though on opposite sides of the spectrum. However, I do like the taste of mushrooms, as in beef stroganoff — it's the texture that gets me. And seeing as the wine I'd be getting requires no chewing (hopefully), I decided to go with my gut. My pick: In moderation, as a secondary flavor.
- Do you like blackberries, blueberries, and raspberries? Ok, first of all, does anyone not like berries? I guess strawberries are the most approachable of the berries, and then these three — blackberries, blueberries, and raspberries, all have their downsides: blueberries are just smaller, squishier grapes, and blackberries and raspberries aren't doing themselves any favors with their seeds. I enjoy berries myself, and I knew from my previous experience wine tasting that I definitely loved berry-filled wines. My pick: Love berries. Eat 'em raw.
- How much do you usually spend on a bottle of wine? Ok, this question tripped me up — the only options are $15, $20, or $25. According to my mom, I should never be paying more than $10, maybe $12 on a bottle of wine. Ideally, you find an $8 bottle you love and stick to it. So naturally, these prices surprised me. My pick: I think it goes without saying, but I picked $15.
After you answer everything, you're able to pick the ratio of red to white wines you'd like to receive. I ended up liking both the red and white during the tasting, so I went with 2 reds and 2 whites.
Of course, before I could even see the wines that were selected for me, I had to create an account. Smart move, Winc marketing team!
Something to note: while you have to enter your birthday upon signup, there's no reason a savvy under-ager couldn't just sign up with their parents information, or even just a fake birthday, and receive 4 bottles of wine straight to their doorstep — although there are way cheaper ways to get alcohol before you're of age (that's a conversation for another article).
Anyway, back to the wine selection. I ended up getting these 4 wines as my choices:
- Lost Poet Red Blend, 2017
- Idée Fixe Red Wine, 2016
- Zwicker White Blend, 2018
- Alma Libre Sauvignon Blanc, 2018
While I was able to see the name, type of wine, and three adjectives about each right off the bat, I wasn't able to view any more info about the wines — what do these pair well with? Is this a dry white blend? Fruity at all? Now that I was a wine connoisseur (spelled right on the first try!), I needed to know.
Turns out, I wouldn't be able to find out all about my wines until after I completed the purchase of a membership — or after scouring the Winc website in a new tab.
Three of the wines were $15 each, and the cheapest one was $13, making the total $58 plus $3 in tax, but with this promo code you can get $26 off your first Winc order. It's more than I usually spend on wine, but hopefully it was going to be worth it. Now, all there was to do is wait.
Part 3: Did Winc get it right?
Now, let's recap our journey through wine country so far. I learned (or tried to, anyway) how to taste wine properly, and also did a tasting of a few wines to try to nail down some flavors/types of wine that I might like. Then, I allowed Winc to analyze my tastebuds (a privilege not given to many) and attempt to help me find the wine for me.
But did Winc actually nail my palate?
Here are the details of the wines I received:
I think when it comes to the reds, Winc definitely got it right. The two reds they sent were delicious, and it was hard to do just a tasting — I poured myself a (very) full glass of the Lost Poet after tasting was complete.
As far as the whites, they were good, too — and I was even able to pick out the bell pepper in the Alma Libre and the lychee in the Zwicker. Thanks for the tasting notes, Madeline Puckette!
A cool thing about Winc is that for every wine they send you, they list out a recipe that would pair amazingly with each one, courtesy of Food52.
So, if I were to purchase a bottle of Lost Poet again (and yes, I do think I'd actually do that!), I could easily plan dinner to match with their recommended Instant Pot Chicken in Red Wine Sauce. You know what they say: the more red wine, the merrier.
Overall, here's my breakdown of Winc:
- Winc gives insight into how to serve each wine (chilled, decanted, room temp) — this really helped us during the tasting, as I would have had no CLUE that the Field Theory Touriga Nacional was supposed to be served “chilled, then let warm up in the glass.”
- Winc also lists general foods or food groups that each wine pairs well with, along with providing specific recipes courtesy of Food52.
- Customization only gets better with the more wine you order and review — you can give feedback on the wines you receive, and Winc will continuously adjust your taste profile to match your evolving preferences.
- To my knowledge, you can't view extra details of wine easily before ordering — you'll have to do extra research on the site. But, once ordered, there's a wealth of knowledge waiting for you on the site.
- Along the same lines, you can't view pairing recipes for wines you haven't been sent yet.
- Finally the price per bottle is a little higher than what I'd normally pay for a bottle of wine. However, it is comforting to splurge on a wine if you're confident that you're going to like it.