Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Let's talk about alcohol and wine

My history with wine has been a bit tumultuous.  I believe, in part, it was due to the fact that, unlike most people, I didn't really have my first drink (and we are talking about anything besides just a sip of wine or beer) until I was almost twenty-one.  When people talk about partying and getting wasted in high school, I just can't relate because it just wasn't me.  The first time I ever had a sip of alcohol was when I was about five years old.  The next door neighbors were over at my house, and I guess we were cooking out and everyone was sitting around the patio.  One of the (grown-up) neighbors had a beer, and I asked him if it tasted like soda.  He laughed, handed me the can and asked me if I wanted to taste for myself.  I took a sip, and immediately spit it out and, handing the can back to him, told him it tasted like pee.  I think this left an imprint on me, because all throughout high school I never had the desire to drink anything alcoholic, as that memory of the awful-tasting beer was still fresh, even 10-12 years later.

The next time I had a sip of alcohol was my senior year of high school.  I went to a friend's house for a New-Years-Eve party in the next city over from mine, about 30 minutes away.  At midnight, his dad brought out what he claimed was an expensive bottle of champagne (note: for all I know, it WAS actually real, expensive champagne, but remember, I was 18 and wouldn't have known expensive champagne if it kicked me in the face.  I'm just having a hard time picturing someone giving expensive champagne to a group of high schoolers, though these people were fairly well off so I guess it's entirely possible).  When he went to pour me a glass, I politely declined, but he insisted, as it was new years eve and special occasions called for special drinks (I think it is interesting that the pressure to drink actually came from a friend's parent, rather than from my friends themselves lol).  He only poured about three or four sips worth into the glass.  It smelled ok, and of course was very fizzy, as it should be.  It kind of reminded me of sprite, and so I thought maybe it would taste like a grape club soda.  OH MAN was I wrong!  You guys, this stuff was AWFUL!  Bone dry super bitter tasting, and I couldn't understand why in the world anyone thought this stuff was fit for human consumption.  I didn't drink any more and when my friend's dad wasn't paying attention, I poured the rest of my glass into the kitchen sink.  As a side note, about an hour later when I drove home, I was TERRIFIED that I was going to get pulled over for drunk driving lol.  Seriously, nervous wreck the whole way home (I didn't know what drunk felt like, and for all I knew, one COULD get drunk off of a single sip of champagne haha).  Don't worry, the drive home was quite uneventful ;).

After that, I decided that alcohol just was not for me.  I decided I must not have the palate for it, plus, as I went off to college, I quickly learned that drunk people can be really annoying, and I didn't want any part of it.  However, towards the end of my sophomore year of college, I failed a really important recital to get into upper division horn lessons (It was called a Junior Qualifying recital, and honestly it didn't matter too much because I was transferring schools anyway and had already been accepted into the other school as an upper division student).  It was a huge blow to my ego and confidence and I felt devastated.  My friend invited me over to her apartment to drink, and reluctantly I gave in.  You guys, this was my introduction to sugary-sweet beverages.  My friend presented me with a Seagrams Fuzzy Navel, and I thought it was literally the best tasting drink I'd ever had.  And that's when I also discovered I was a lightweight, for that 3.whatever percent alcoholic beverage got me drunk when I wasn't even halfway through it haha.  You know the Big Bang Theory episode where Amy takes a bite of ice cream with kahlua or whatever on it, and immediately announces that she's drunk?  Yeah, that was pretty much me haha (though in reality, I was only slightly buzzed - pretty sure I didn't find out what "real" drunk meant until a few years later).  Don't worry, my friend let me crash on her couch so there was no drunk driving involved (I have never driven drunk, and it is one of those things that I find unforgivable).

So began a few years where my drinks of choice were super sugary ones - Smirnoff ice, the Seagrams drinks, strawberry daiquiris, piña coladas, eventually watermelon margaritas, etc.  You know, super girly-girl drinks.  But I still didn't like going to parties and I don't think I ever really got drunk in college.  I don't feel like I missed much in that regard, to be honest.  Like I said - drunk people can be really annoying.  I'm not saying I've never been drunk - no no no, I definitely have experienced the misery of alternating hugging a toilet and having my face pressed against the cold bathroom tile floor because it seemed to ease the nausea bit, lol - but I don't generally drink in order to get drunk.  I think I missed that age when getting drunk must actually be fun - now, on the rare occasion it happens, it usually takes me another day or two in order to get rid of that groggy hangover feeling and I just don't care for it one bit.

So, on to wine.  Several years ago, I was at a banquet for my husband's job (then we were just dating).  There was a certain part of the banquet where we all filled our glasses with wine and made a series of toasts.  To my surprise, I actually really liked the wine that was provided, and this was the first time I realized that not all wine is the same, and that perhaps wine is something I could actually grow to enjoy.  I looked at the bottle to see what kind it was, so that I could buy some more for myself at a later time.  You guys, this stuff was Sutter Home white zinfandel (blech!).  (Looking back, I have to wonder why in the world they were serving Sutter Home white zin at a fancy banquet - though to be honest, I'd imagine many of the people in attendance at this banquet were more beer drinkers and whiskey drinkers than wine drinkers, so it was probably simply the cheapest option to provide for the toast that would be pleasing to the largest number of people). I remember going back home and telling my roommate about it, who replied "oh yeah!  I LOVE white zinfandel! That stuff is the best!"  So I went out and bought the exact same brand and brought it home.  Sadly, it didn't taste nearly as good to me.  Perhaps the special occasion of the ball made it taste better to me than it really was.  However, this ignited my search for wine that I would like.  I started ordering wine-based drinks at restaurants, if not straight-up wine itself.  Keep in mind I did not frequent fancy restaurants, so the wine I was ordering was cheap wine from places like Applebees, and usually was some version of Sutter Home (blech!).  I soon learned that all the cheaper mass produced wines - Sutter Home, Beringer, Two-Buck-Chuck, etc. all seemed to have the same aftertaste.  To this day it is still hard for me to describe, but it's almost like a sweet, but not pleasant, aftertaste, that seemed to leave my throat feeling a bit raw.  I started to think that perhaps I didn't enjoy wine after all (I don't think I was willing to spend more than $6 on a bottle, keep in mind - after all, I was afraid I wouldn't like whatever I bought and didn't want to waste any more than that).

Around 2012, I spent a few months in NC with my parents.  My mom is a strict Pinot Grigio drinker, and she refuses to spend more than $10 on a bottle of wine.  Her go-to brand is Barefoot.  You guys, Barefoot isn't that bad for a cheap wine.  I have great memories of sitting out on the back porch with my mom, sipping on a glass of Barefoot pinot, and, while not being blown away by it, also not hating it.  It may be cheap wine, but it doesn't have that awful aftertaste that brands like Sutter Home have (I'm just going to refer to it as "cheap wine aftertaste" from now on).  However, one day that year I got a bit carried away with my enjoyment of the wine, and got really drunk.  I learned that wine drunk is NOT fun drunk.  I also had a hangover that lasted for 3 days.  Since then I haven't touched a glass of Barefoot wine at all.

My first foray into different regions was later that same year.  My parents were gifted a bottle of wine from Italy when their neighbors returned from a trip to Italy (where they are from).  I believe this wine was also pinot grigio (again - pretty much the only type that my mom and grandad will drink) but man was it good!  I was convinced that the Italians just have better wine, period.  Now I realize that there are great wines from all over the world, it's just a matter of finding them.  And you guys, sometimes the good wine comes from really unexpected places.  I went wine tasting with some friends at a vineyard in Springfield, Nebraska of all places, in the summer of 2013 or 2014.  While it may not be the most complex wine in the world, they have some good stuff coming out of there!  Also, ever since moving to Colorado, I have become a big fan of a lot of the local Colorado wines as well.  Two of my current favorites from here are the Roadkill Red from Colorado Cellars and Sweetheart Red from Whitewater Hill (I am actually drinking a glass of the latter right now).  Both of them are sweeter red wines, but not sticky sweet (some sweet wines go over the top, but these do a great job).  The Sweetheart red has lots of dark and red berry flavors - blackberries, raspberries, even a bit of plum, and it's got just enough acidity to give a little bite, so it almost has hints of a berry-flavored cola, if there were such a thing.  I enjoy it best not quite chilled, but definitely colder than room temp (which, all reds should be colder than room temp, anyway, but we tend to drink them too warm).  My husband tells me the wine tastes like church wine, but he says that about pretty much every wine he tries except for the sweetest moscatos lol.

I'm still a relative novice when it comes to wine, and I feel like my palate is constantly changing.  Sometimes I've tried cloyingly sweet moscatos and Gewurztraminers and thought "oh my, I am DEFINITELY not a sweet wine person!" but then I've tried other Moscatos and Gewurztraminers, and similar styles, that are well-rounded and delicious, and I think ok, maybe sweet wine isn't so bad.  I think lots of times people associate cheap wines with sweet wine, but I think it must take a lot of finesse to create a wonderfully balanced sweeter wine, that isn't just overwhelming with its sweetness and I haven't found that on any sweet wine that I've spent less than $14-15 on.  I don't mind tannins too much - after all, I'm used to them, as I tend to drink a lot of tea, including black tea, without adding much, if any, sugar.  There have been both red and white wines that I have loved, and I don't understand the idea of "only being a red wine drinker" or "only being a white wine drinker."  However, I haven't tried too many good wines that don't fall into the "cheap under-$10 wine" category.  Often when I buy wine, I'll have a look at other options, but for the sake of trying not to throw away money on something I don't like, I tend to just go and buy the wines I've had before and know I enjoy.

All that being said, I like to shake things up.  I get tired of drinking the same wines over and over again, and want to expand and develop my palate even more.  As most people know, I'm kind of a sucker when it comes to subscription boxes.  So, after being curious about wine subscription boxes for quite some time, I finally caved in.  I'm testing out two - Vinebox and Club W, and both of them just happen to be arriving on my doorstep tomorrow!  I am so excited about both of them.

Vinebox is a monthly box where they send you three glasses of high-quality wine, sourced from a particular region, each month.  They are a new company and I believe this is only their second or third month.  So far, all of the wines have been from France and full bottles have ranged in price from $20 for the cheapest white to $50 for the most expensive red.  You don't get to pick the wines they send you - you don't even get asked what sorts of wines you prefer.  They say the idea is to broaden your horizons, which I get - you may think you don't like a certain type of wine, but that same grape from a different region will taste completely different.  So, OK.  Not a big deal.  It also seems like they are sending two reds and one white in each box.  Probably part of the reason why the box is so expensive, as good reds do tend to be more expensive than good whites.  The box itself costs $35 plus $6 shipping, which is honestly REALLY pricey for 3 glasses of wine!   That comes out to almost $12 per glass, not even including shipping!  That's more than a lot of people are willing to pay for an entire bottle! I skipped Lootcrate and Levelup this month just because I really wanted to try out this wine lol.  This is one that I will probably end up dropping, just because the cost doesn't seem worth it, but I was intrigued enough to at least order one box of it, especially since none of the wines they are currently sending out are readily available in the US. 

I think one of my biggest issues with the box so far is that if you like the glass and you want to splurge and buy the bottle, you have to order bottles in multiples of 3, and you can't mix and match those - it's three of the SAME bottle.   I mean, I guess at least you know, if you're buying three $50 bottles of wine, you have already tasted it and know that you REALLY love it to drop that kind of money on it. They give you free shipping if you order 6 bottles, but if you only order three the shipping cost is $10 rather than the $6 that they charge for the subscription box itself.  On top of that, it seems that you can't order three of one wine and three of another and receive the free shipping.  When I tested it out, it popped up as 2 separate shipping charges of $10 (I didn't actually buy the wine, so for all I know, those shipping charges get removed when you actually go to pay).  I asked them if they will ever make it to where you can order just one bottle (I thought maybe, once you get your box, they might let you order a single bottle for wines in your box or something) but they said that you must order at least three bottles.  So that's kind of a bummer, especially since the wines are fairly pricey.  It makes it harder to splurge on a special bottle of wine.  Even more perplexing is the fact that, according to their website and various interviews they have given, they claim to be targeting relatively novice wine drinkers who are looking to expand their horizons.  That's not really the demographic that is willing to drop $50 on one bottle of wine, much less three of the same wine.  They did tell me that they're trying to work on a way for the customer to order more wine by-the-glass, but even that could get a bit pricey (who wants to pay $12 per glass when they could get a bottle of the cheapest white for $8 more?).  

Hopefully Vinebox will work out their kinks, as they are still a new company, but it is a bit off-putting.  I think the worst thing they can do is not listen to customer feedback, especially regarding their prices.  Maybe to them their prices make sense (gotta pay the bills, after all), but they are probably going to need to be willing to cut a few corners somewhere in order to take away that sticker shock and keep their subscriber base.  I mean, the price of the box itself for what you get is so expensive that it just doesn't seem worth it, especially since you don't even get any perks should you choose to splurge and buy the bottles.  You'd think you would at least get some sort of members discount, or heck, even a rewards point system (get a point for every dollar spent on full-size wine, and so many points = $10 off or whatever).  I can't imagine that many of their subscribers will hang around for long at this price point without getting some extra perks, when there are many other wine clubs out there that give you three BOTTLES instead of three GLASSES for just a few bucks more.  I wonder how many of their subscribers are like me, who are only in it for one box just to see if this wine really as good as the price would make you think it is.   I'm just hoping the wine is AMAZING and makes me go, "OK.  So this is why they charge so much for the box - you're paying for delicious wine."  We'll see what I think of the actual wine when I receive it tomorrow, but so far, it just doesn't make sense cost-wise and I feel they are going to have to change something in order to remain a viable business. The upside, I guess, is that they make it very easy to skip months and even cancel the box altogether right on the website (I think that's very important for subscription boxes - it shouldn't be a hassle to cancel if you want out).  As I tend to dip my feet in to lots of different subscription boxes and then cancel them after a month or two so I can try others, that's definitely an important feature for me.  If you are interested in checking them out, head to their website at getvinebox.com

The other box I am receiving tomorrow, from Club W, is definitely the better value.  They have an interesting business practice, as they are technically a global winery.  They work directly with vineyards around the world to create various wines - some traditional, and some off-the-wall unique blends.  Most of their wines are $13/bottle, but they also have premium bottles that are anywhere from $16-35, most being around $20-25 each.  You do have to have 3 bottles minimum in your box, but of course they can be all different wines if you want (or if you just REALLY like a certain wine they have, then they can all be the same).  If you go with all $13 wines, you can get a 3-wine box each month for $39 + $6 shipping.  Or, if you decide to get 4 bottles in your box, then shipping is free.  That makes more sense to me, as shipping is almost half the cost of a bottle of wine anyway - may as well come up with the additional $7 and actually get something for that money, rather than wasting it on shipping.  

I did just that, and will be receiving four bottles in my box tomorrow.  So far, even without having received the wine from them yet, I like several things.  First, you start out by taking a palate test based on what types of food you enjoy, after which they will recommend three (or more, depending on your preferences) wine that they think you will like.  You can choose to add all the recommendations to your box, or you can browse through all their wine offerings and add whatever you like.  Then, once you receive your wines, you can rate them on the website and their computer will use those ratings to tweak its recommendations for you.  Over time, it will get smarter and smarter and hopefully never recommend wines that you won't like.  

Another thing I really like about Club W at first glance is that you are not limited to just once box a month.  Say they come out with a new wine a week after you get your box, and you decide you just HAVE to try it.  You can go and order it (along with at least 2 other wines, as you still must order a minimum of three).  Also, if you don't like a wine they send you, just call them up and they will credit you for it so on your next box you'll get $13+ off (depending on how much the wine that you didn't like was).  This way you don't have to worry about trying out a wine and not liking it, and seeing all that money go down the drain.  Now, obviously, if you abuse this, they are going to call you on it and will stop extending this courtesy to you, so don't lie and say you hate wines that you love (sadly I'm sure there are people out there who would do that).  Also - it goes without mentioning - the labels and names of these wines are SO cute and sometimes just flat out hilarious.  Check out their website and you will see what I mean.

On the downside for the company, I think the fact that it is a subscription box has resulted in a lot of confusion for people new to Club W, as it's not always clear that it is a monthly wine club and that, unless you cancel or skip a month, they WILL send you a box every month (even if you order another box before your monthly shipment date - in fact, if you try to buy an extra box, you have to acknowledge that they will still ship you a box on your regular renewal date unless you go to your account and skip your next renewal), and if you haven't gone in to add wine to your box, they will automatically ship you the recommended wines.  Some people seem to think that it's just an online wine shop and not an actual club (and I get that, because unlike most subscription boxes, you do get to go in and pick exactly what you want in your box and there are different prices for different bottles) and then they rate the company negatively because they get charged for wine the next month when they didn't realize they'd subscribed to something.  They simply thought they bought three bottles of wine and that's that.  Others are angry that, in order to buy wine they are forced to sign up for the renewing membership in order to make an initial purpose. Many of those people were given gift cards to club W and just wanted to make a one-time purpose and didn't want to get roped into a monthly membership of any kind.  That being said, there is nothing prohibiting them from cancelling their membership after the first shipment.  It's just an extra step they would rather not have to take.  

On that note -  Club W is not the easiest to cancel, and it's another major complaint I have seen.  While it is very easy to skip months by going into your account online, you do have to physically call in order to cancel your membership altogether.  Not gonna lie, as someone who hates talking on the phone, that bugs me a little too, as I don't tend to keep the same subscription box for very long since there are so many I want to try and it would be cost prohibitive to keep them all.  I've also read some reviews from people who claim that they skipped a box, but were charged for and shipped their box anyway.  This worries me a bit, as we are getting ready to move and there is going to be at least one month very soon that I will definitely have to skip - I don't want them sending wine to a house I no longer live at, and I definitely don't want to have to pay for that!  I can only assume that those people waited until too late to skip (it tells you to skip at least 48 hours before the renewal date).  My plan is to screenshot the page when I skip it so that if I run into issues, I can show them that I did actually go in and skip it, and that the problem is on their end.  Hopefully that won't be necessary though.  I've learned that lots of times when a company has both stellar reviews and awful reviews, the awful reviews come from people who don't understand how something works, or who just screwed up and want to blame it on the company.  We'll see though.  

Despite some bad reviews, there are even more good reviews of Club W, and I am very excited to try it out. If you are interested in trying it too, please use this link to do so: https://www.clubw.com/wtm2cfq97a .  By using my referral link, not only will you get a $13 credit towards your first box (basically a free bottle of wine), but I will also get $13 when your first box ships!  So that's a pretty good deal!  :)

Just please, if you order these boxes (or, with any drinking whatsoever), drink responsibly.  Don't drink and drive - remember, you can be over the legal limit and not actually feel drunk.  If you are going to a friend's house to drink, either have a Designated Driver (who is SOBER, not just "less drunk"), or arrange to spend the night at a friend's house.  Or, if neither of those are options or you are going to drink at a bar or restaurant to the point where you are over the limit and/or not safe to drive (I know I personally can be under .08 and I still won't drive), please arrange for a cab, an uber, or whatever.  If you can't afford that, then you can't afford to go out drinking.  Please don't seriously injure or kill either yourself or some innocent person just because you made the CHOICE to drive drunk.

That is definitely more than I planned on writing about both of those clubs tonight.  I'll update hopefully tomorrow with pics of both of the boxes and a little comparison (as much as I can do, as I definitely don't plan on getting drunk by tasting all the wines lol!).