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waters on wine

The CB wine club was launched in 2013 as an offshoot of the popular Charlie Burgers dinner series in Toronto.Charlie ​Burgers

According to a survey conducted by Wine Intelligence, 14 per cent of Canadian regular wine drinkers said they had purchased wine online in the past six months. That recent surge of online alcohol sales has inspired a flurry of sommelier-led initiatives launched during the pandemic, and there’s growing interest in subscription-based wine clubs that deliver wine right to your home or office. Monthly and quarterly packages cater to seemingly every type of consumer – from new enthusiasts to oenophiles.

There are a multitude of clubs run by Canadian wineries, which are actively promoted to customers during visits in hopes they can keep the relationship going when those visitors return home. They offer packages of new and often small-batch offerings that might not be available outside of the wine club. If you’re shopping for a wine lover who is particularly fond of a certain producer, this is a safe bet to consider as a memorable gift.

The downside of that type of subscription is that you only receive bottles from that particular winery. Wineries often struggle to retain members for more than a year. That’s where sommelier-led clubs that pride themselves on offering products that aren’t sold at provincial monopolies have an advantage.

Wine experts and organizations across the country are getting into the act, using social media and other virtual platforms to build awareness of their curated wine services. Here are four subscription services that stand out – just in time for holiday gift giving or sourcing special bottles for the festive season.

Apéro Mode

Vancouver-based sommelier Maude Renaud-Brisson started a monthly wine program when the COVID-19 pandemic halted in-person functions.Jeremy Wong/ApéroMode

Vancouver-based sommelier Maude Renaud-Brisson started hosting wine seminars and events in 2019 to share her passion and expertise. When the pandemic halted in-person functions, she started a monthly wine program that introduces some of her favourite producers and wine styles to consumers. “I am so used to doing events and in-person tastings, when I thought about offering wine packs, I knew I needed to tell people why these wines are so special,” Renaud-Brisson says. Each selection comes with a blurb that shares the same information the sommelier would offer if she was presenting the wine at the table.

Timing and pricing: Apéro’s core offering is a monthly selection of four wines for consumers in British Columbia. Pricing is $149 plus tax and shipping. A special two-bottle holiday pack, including a sparkling wine and an inviting red wine favoured by Renaud-Brisson, is also available for $89 plus taxes and shipping. aperomode.com/apero-chez-vous

CB Wine Program

Operated by co-founders Franco Stalteri and Donato Carozza, the CB wine club was launched in 2013 as an offshoot of the popular Charlie Burgers dinner series in Toronto. This month, the club distributed the 100th consecutive shipment of its mystery case, which has featured 88 different producers from around the world to date. Each monthly package includes notes about the history of the winery and its featured wines, including food-pairing suggestions. Carozza, also behind Toronto-based import agency Grape Brands Fine Wine & Spirits, takes personal interest in finding exciting wines to showcase to club members. “We have to be passionate about what we are putting out,” he says. “We’re focused on delivering the best possible consumer experience.”

Timing and pricing: For consumers in Ontario, a personal monthly club membership is $117 plus HST with a three-month minimum order. Gift memberships can be given in monthly increments, starting at a single delivery, to residents of Ontario. A variety of mixed cases – including a champagne-themed selection with caviar, and regional collections of noteworthy wines from Tuscany, Piedmont and Sicily – are also on offer. cbwineprogram.com

Coterie 72

Toronto sommelier Emily Pearce recently launched Coterie 72 as a subscription-based club that offers two packages – Coterie Delights and Coterie Surprise – each month. The kits contain two bottles of each of the three wines selected by Pearce, who focuses on artisanal small-batch producers from around the world. Each package includes information about the producers with a suggested recipe or takeout option to enjoy alongside each wine. There’s even a movie recommendation to help round out the night. The goal, Pearce explains, is to elevate the wine-drinking experience for subscribers.

Timing and pricing: The Surprise Box introduces lesser-known regions or wine styles, which are often better value as a result, for a cost of $194. The Delight Box, which focuses on premium selections from recognized regions, is $294. Taxes are extra, and shipping is included. The subscription can be paused or cancelled at any time. coterie72.com

Gargoyle Wine Club

Scott Zebarth, one of the managing directo​rs of Gargoyle, which operates a national subscription based wine club.RICK O'BRIEN/Gargoyle

Over the course of five years, Gargoyle has evolved to become a nationwide wine club with consultant sommeliers working across the country contributing their opinions on which wines to showcase as part of each month’s shipment. Existing packages range from two to 12 bottles each month, with customers deciding if they prefer to have a mix of red and white wines or just one kind. “We’re constantly looking for wines that we know are going to be huge crowd-pleasers,” says sommelier Scott Zebarth, one of Gargoyle’s managing directors.

Timing and pricing: Monthly prices run from $79 for two bottles to $379 for 12 bottles, delivered to home or work. The most popular order is the mixed six-bottle selection. The subscription can be paused or cancelled at any time. Gargoyle also offers a selection of themed packs, based on seasonal picks or wines to discover from specific parts of the world, as well as a concierge service where consumers can consult with one of the company’s sommeliers to order a bespoke case. gargoylewineclub.com

Wine of the week:

Moët & Chandon Grand Vintage Extra Brut Champagne 2013 (France), $96.95

Rating:93 /100

Grapes for sparkling wine production are picked based on acidity levels as well as flavour. Producers want a vibrant and pure juice to ferment into a base wine that will be refermented to produce a rich and rewarding bubbly. In the Champagne region, harvest typically starts in August and finishes in September. In 2013, grapes hung on the vines until October to get the necessary character, resulting in this complex and flavourful vintage-dated champagne from Moët & Chandon. Drink now until 2026. Available in Ontario at the above price as part of the Nov. 13 Vintages release, $94.75 in Quebec. The ripe and impressive 2012 vintage is $89.99 in British Columbia.

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