Is Winc Worth It?
When I was first asked to review Winc, I wasn’t sure I was the best fit for such a task. I’m not any kind of oenophile. In fact, on the rare occasions when I do buy wine, I have a very specific method: I walk into the store, and I find a person who looks like they know about wine. And I say to this person, “I want something that you would find distastefully sweet. I want to walk out of here with a bottle that makes you think less of me as a human being.”
And I am always happy with the wine that I get.
When I first visited the Winc website, though, I suddenly realized that maybe I was the perfect person to try it. The first thing you see is a big, friendly, Buzzfeed-esque survey that opens with questions about how you take your coffee (ranging from black to Frappuccino) and whether you like mushrooms. Winc seems to be designed to bring wine to people like me, who don’t know much about wine but who are willing to venture into it when the situation arises.
Let’s Get the Cons Out of the Way
There are a couple of things to mention before we get to the wines. The whole reason that I was asked to review the service instead of one of our editors taking it for themselves is that they can’t ship to every state, presumably for reasons that have to do with the individual states’ liquor laws. So before you fall in love with Winc, make sure your state says it’s ok. Arkansas (where ESL’s editors reside) is off-limits, so the wine was sent to me here in Austin.
At least, it was supposed to be. Winc uses FedEx, and the shipment requires a signature. That means that when the FedEx person furtively puts a sticker on your door and drives away without knocking (which they always, always do), it’s up to you to make alternate arrangements. I finally had them deliver to a local FedEx location, which turned out to be a Radio Shack. The Radio Shack clerk told me that they had suddenly become the wine distribution center for South Austin, which makes me feel like I’m not the first person to have this problem.
One thing that should be noted as I discuss whether I liked the wines: The setup survey asked how willing I was to try new things. I told it that I was pretty adventurous, and I typically am when it comes to food and drink. I was hoping to gauge how well they could send me things that were on the outside of my palate but still generally in the neighborhood. It might have been a more fair test for me to say that I wasn’t adventurous at all, and just get what they thought I’d like.
When I went to pick up the wine, I was greeted by a cheerfully modern-looking box, a magazine, and four well-packed bottles. I specified three whites and a red, and they sent me a Ye-Ye Albarino, Passarola Vinho Branco, Wonderful Wine Co. White Blend, and a Nouvelle Ere Bordeaux Blend. It looks like most of these are imported and bottled by Winc.
The first one that I tried was the Ye-Ye Albarino. It was Sweet, but not unbearably so. (That is to say, not as sweet as I typically like it.) It tasted light enough that it wasn’t hard for a novice to drink. It was 12.3% ABV, and I don’t know what’s normal for wine but it didn’t particularly taste strong. My wife and I drank it while watching Martha and Snoop’s Potluck Dinner Party, and we almost felt as tipsy as they looked, which is saying something.
The label said there were notes of grapefruit, lime, and honeysuckle and I could actually tell that those things were sorta in there. This was a bit of a stretch for me, but it was about as good as a white wine as I’ve ever had that wasn’t, like, a dessert wine.
Next up was the Wonderful Wine Co. White Blend, which we drank as we watched Drunk History. It was another fitting pairing. This one smelled pretty intense. It tasted like grapes. It also sort of tasted like apples. (This is maybe what people mean when they say a wine is “fruity?” Or are they talking about non-grape fruits?) More than anything, it tasted like there was a lot of alcohol in there, which there absolutely was. My wife said that it tasted like somebody had poured vodka into a bottle of wine and was unable to help me finish the bottle. That was probably an extreme response.
Drinking the other half of the bottle now, by myself, that seems a little harsh. But another thing that is a little harsh is the aftertaste of this wine. It’s not necessarily an “Oh hey that’s crisp” sort of white wine taste, it’s more of a W.C. Fields kinda thing. It’s for sure doing its job, though, and if I were back in grad school I could absolutely see this being my jam.
The third wine we tried was the Passarola. This wasn’t as agreeable as the Ye-Ye, but not as harsh as the Wonderful. There was sort of a bite to it, and I found myself wondering whether this was what people talk about when they talk about notes of berry and what have you. There’s sort of a bitter tartness up front and I can kinda taste peaches if I look for them. This one isn’t as strong as the others, but it has definitely hindered my attempts to edit this article.
My wife and I paired the first half of the bottle with spaghetti squash and a vegetable-heavy marinara, and I am currently (as of the writing of this paragraph) pairing the second half of the bottle with peanut butter and pretzels by myself. The bottle makes mention of the Passarola’s namesake, a whimsical airship designed by an ex-Jesuit priest, but I’m not getting whimsy so much as…intensity. And I’m swishing it around, doing all the Wine Person things, covering my whole tongue in an earnest attempt to experience all that it has to offer me, and while I’m getting spectacularly tipsy, I’m not really getting much of a flavor, because that bitterness in the front is just sort of burning down the woods on its way out, General Sherman-style.
The more I look for something else, the more I get bitterness, and then eventually grapes. I once again wonder whether I filled out the survey wrong, or whether perhaps the Winc catalog isn’t broad enough to cover all of the tastes that it aspires to. In other news, I’m not entirely certain what percentage of this bag of pretzels I’ve eaten, and I’m sort of terrified to make an accounting.
I think it was at least a third of the bag of pretzels.
The last wine to try out was the Nouvelle Ere Bordeaux Blend. Because I have even less experience with red wine than I do wine in general, I called in a friend, composer Margie Halloran, California native and oenophile. After walking me through a tasting with a bottle (or two) she was already familiar with, we turned our attention to the Winc bottle.
The color had a light surface to it, a little purple with a tinge of brown. Sort of on the brownish side of burgundy. The immediate nose was sort of alcoholic, honestly. It was slightly sweet under that. When we swirled it then smelled it again we got a few other things. It still smelled pretty heavy and sort of boozy, but beyond that it was tannic and a little jammy. Margie detected what she described as a “scallops” smell. I did not. The taste was…honestly, it was a lot of the things I don’t like about wine. It was bitter first and foremost, in a way that covered my entire tongue. I may not have been able to smell the scallops Margie described, but I immediately tasted something like seafood. I know grapes can pick up flavors from nearby crops or whatever, but I had a hard time understanding how fishiness enters that equation. My wine expert declaimed that “It’s not accessible. It’s too savory, but it’s also too light to really accompany savory things.” That was nicer than anything I had to say about it.
We also got sort of a saltiness upon swirling it around in our mouths. Not like chips or fries, but sort of briney. I asked my oenophile friend whether I was being unduly harsh because of my inexperience. Her assessment was “I wouldn’t seek this out unless I was eating, like…a fish pasta in a red sauce, which isn’t really super common. I don’t think it’s terrible, but I wouldn’t purchase this myself.” I found myself really wishing I had waited to share the Ye-Ye with her, because I felt like she could have told me more about what I liked.
The final component to the Winc box was the magazine that came with it. In a lot of subscription boxes, some sort of little periodical accompanies it (and it’s not typically very helpful). But with Winc’s desire to perform wine outreach, their magazine was actually incredibly useful. For one, it was hefty. It was roughly the length of an actual publication that one might subscribe to, if a bit diminutive in dimension. It included an interview with one of Winc’s growers, a travelogue “day in Santa Barbara” article, a guide to grape varietals, recipes with pairing recommendations, and more. Honestly, the entire thing was extremely informative, and given Winc’s positioning as reaching out to people who might not be into wine, it was incredibly effective.
The Verdict: Is Winc Worth It?
All in all, I’m glad that I tried the Winc experience, even though it didn’t work out the way I wanted it to. I still find myself wondering whether I should have been more conservative with my responses on the quiz, and whether that would’ve gotten me things more in my wheelhouse. All in all I wound up with one bottle that I rather enjoyed, one that was okay, and a couple that were a little too strong for their own good and didn’t really hide it well, and I know for at least one of them that it wasn’t just my inexperience dictating that feeling.
Last modified on January 10th, 2018