A few weeks ago, Angels’ Cup gained a new follower on Twitter. It was the folks at Vinebox, a wine subscription service offering small tasting flights. As the founder of a coffee subscription service also offering small tasting flights, I couldn’t resist signing up. I think my experience as the founder of a similar company (but in a different market) might make for an interesting perspective on what Vinebox is up to and whether or not you should give it a try.
For a little background, before I launched Angels’ Cup, I actually considered doing a wine club but passed on the idea in favor of coffee. The name “Angles’ Cup” comes from the wine and whisky world where “angel’s share” or “devil’s take”refers to the small portion of wine/whiskey that evaporates through the walls of the barrel as it ages. It was fun to imagine that missing portion being sent to subscribers.
I chose to go with coffee instead of whiskey or wine for a few reasons. Most importantly, sampling 208 different coffees per year is affordable. A cup of the best coffee on earth costs less than $3, and in my opinion that makes it a better way for average people to develop a sharper sense of taste. But despite the fact I keep hearing that “coffee is more complex than wine”, I don’t believe it. Coffee technically might have more chemical compounds in it, but wine has so much more going on in terms of varietal, origin, and vintage.
So I was extremely excited to see that Vinebox not only launched a wine tasting subscription, but did a better job than I ever could! I signed up immediately, and a week or two later, my Vinebox arrived! ??
Website and Packaging – 10/10
Wow this is nice packaging. The bottles are beautiful and photogenic. The box has a magnetic closure. Those aren’t cheap. Everything fits together well, the chance of a bottle breaking in shipping is probably 0%, you can throw this thing down a flight of stairs and it won’t break. A+ work, Vinebox!
Value – 6/10
Vinebox costs $35/month. Plus $6 s&h equals $41 total per box. Each box contains three 100ml vials of wine. A typical wine bottle is 750ml. So the equivalent cost per bottle is $102.50! Here’s how a 100ml pour looks in a glass:
Now, I hate when people think about Angels’ Cup this way because if you want to minimize your cost per ml, you should buy a case of wine, not sample vials. That being said, it’s hard to resist the psychological draw of doing the math because it lets you compare apples to apples. And at $102.50/bottle, this is an expensive apple. At this price, I mentally can’t just allow myself to relax and be a subscriber indefinitely. I’m going to have to reevaluate whether or not this is worth it every time I receive a box.
The other questions need to answer is how expensive are the wines? This table shows each wine, the full bottle price listed on Vinebox.com, and the price I could get each bottle for according to wine-searcher.com
|Wine||Vinebox Cost||wine-searcher Cost|
|2014 La Damme Blanche||$25||$17-19*|
|2009 Château Suau||$35||$18**|
|2013 Castelmaure Cuvée no 3||$40||$23**|
* 2014 not available, this is the average price for 2011-2013
** Not available in the US, based on conversion of euros to dollars
That doesn’t look so good… I’m paying about a 3x markup for the sample sizes. But there’s one major caveat to consider: None of these wines were readily available in the US, and I have no idea what import fees, taxes, and shipping would add to the cost. It’s entirely possible that if these were on the shelves, they could all be $40-50 bottles. Eventually we’ll receive some samples that are available in the US and be able to make a better comparison.
I feel like part of the value I could get out of Vinebox is trying things I can’t afford to drink on a regular basis, so I really hope the numbers come in higher when we’re able to make that apples-to-apples comparison. At Angels’ Cup, an 11oz box of coffee costs $22 (shipped), and includes 4 samples of coffee that if purchased individually would have cost $18-21 for 12oz anyway. Angels’ Cup isn’t the cheapest coffee per oz, but it is the cheapest way to try a ton of different coffees. At $41 for 3 samples, it might be cheaper to simply to go a wine bar and share a few glasses with a friend.
Also important to note, the wines were all good. All three were from Bordeaux, and fortunately I’ve had a lot of Bordeaux wines in the last two years. It’s a hit or miss region and sometimes you get real swill. All three selections were what I would consider to be in the top 25% for wines up to $50. No stinkers.
Oxidation – 8/10
My key concern going into this wasn’t so much the cost, it was oxidation. When you expose a wine to air, it begins to oxidize which significantly changes the flavor. You can’t just open a bottle of wine, pour it into a vial, and ship it to someone (legality aside). Either the winery has to bottle it straight into the vial from the barrel, or the exchange has to be done in an oxygen-free environment.
These particular vials say “Bottled for Vinebox Inc. by WIT France”. A quick Google search for “WIT France wine bottling” yields this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W8IWgj40Pss (which I recommend you don’t watch). If I had seen that video before subscribing, I wouldn’t have joined. It was not confidence inspiring. But since joining, I’ve chatted about oxidation with the founder, and that’s not the machine they’re using. They’re using some sort of contained processing line. Ignore the video.
I was planning to buy full bottles of the Vinebox wines to sample side-by-side with the vials, but unfortunately couldn’t find any in the US. I think I heard a rumor that the second delivery will feature mostly Californian wines, so maybe I’ll be able to do a better analysis next time. For now, my inexpert opinion is that the white wine was 100% fresh. It had nice buttery notes and tropical fruit acidity. The reds didn’t taste oxidized, but I wouldn’t aerate or decant them either. Again, not an expert on this stuff, I just know what wine tastes like a few days after opening and I’m listening to my tongue. Hopefully I’ll be able to be more precise next month and update this review.
Overall – 8/10
At the end of the day, I’ve decided to keep my subscription for another month. Here’s a rough guide to help you make your decision:
- Who should subscribe today:
- Gift Buyers – I think that Vinebox is a particularly excellent gift idea, it looks great, it’s fun, and the wines were delicious. You won’t be disappointed.
- Casual Explorers – If your goal is to try a few extra wines this year without breaking the bank, Vinebox makes a fun monthly subscription.
- Who should wait:
- Aspiring Somms – If you’re signing up because you just watched Somm and want to get into wine, your money is probably better spent on a WSET or wine tasting class, or even just splitting some bottles with other friends who share your interest.
- Value Hunters – The value proposition is this subscription’s weakness. It’s an easy problem for the founders to fix though, all they need to do is select more expensive wines. If the box included three $50+ wines, this subscription would be indispensable to me.
All this comes with one major caveat. This is Vinebox’s first shipment ever. If I was an Angels’ Cup subscriber for the first shipment, I would have unsubscribed in a heartbeat. We shipped some coffees that we weren’t terribly proud of because we thought our audience would want to learn the difference between light and dark roasted coffee. We also foolishly forced ourselves to ship coffees from a wide geographic range at the expense of flavor. A year later, we have stronger relationships with roasters, we know what our subscribers are looking for, and we’re 100% confident in the coffee we ship.
I’m optimistic that Vinebox will be able to gather feedback from early users, improve the service, and build an awesome business. They’re off to a good start, and I’m excited to be along for the ride!