I'm a Certified Sommelier, and this Online Wine Club Changed My Mind About Natural Wine
I've tested several bottle subscriptions. A playful new wine club called The Waves offers a wealth of organic wine, and it's one of the best I've tried.
Pamela is a freelance food and travel writer based in Astoria, Queens. While she writes about most things edible and potable (and accessories dedicated to those topics,) her real areas of expertise are cheese, chocolate, cooking and wine. She's a culinary school grad, certified sommelier, former bartender and fine dining captain with 10 years in the industry. When not sitting at the keys, she leads in-home cheese classes, wine tastings and cocktail demonstrations.
Classification of wines into easy categories to navigate
Recyclable shipping materials
Limited window for curating your own picks monthly
No branded packaging
More expensive than other wine clubs
Like cupboards full of groceries, those who like to have a well-stocked wine rack on hand have a multitude of options to choose from when it comes to online wine retailers or wine subscription programs. You can get everything from single glasses of legendary wines to a case full of staples delivered on the regular. For wine aficionados and burgeoning enthusiasts, it can be tricky to sort through all of the options to figure out what’s convenient, what’s actually good, and what fits any particular niche taste or consumption style you subscribe to.
CNET’s Best Wine Club and Subscriptions is a good place to begin to get an idea for various formats, but we’ve found another to add, especially for those who have a higher concern about what’s in their glass. While winemaking has centuries of history behind it, wine labels haven’t evolved much to give you detailed information about what’s contained within the bottles. (Heads up: it’s never just grapes.) The Waves is a new wine club that offers only organic and natural wines for the savvy wine consumer who wants a feel-good option that still highlights a multitude of grapes, regions and styles.
I’m a certified sommelier myself, and I was curious to try The Waves to get a feel for what they offer and how it works. Here’s everything you need to know about The Waves before you pop the cork on this discriminating wine club.
Service: Online natural wine subscription service with 3 available levels
Products: 300+ natural wines
Regional availability: Continental US minus certain states that limit home wine delivery (Alabama, Arkansas, Delaware, Mississippi, South Dakota, Utah and Rhode Island)
Cost: $70 to $400 monthly and roughly $33 per bottle depending on the subscription tier and number of bottles. Shipping is free for the upper two tiers and $10 for the lower.
New-customer discount: Use code WAVES20 for a double-barreled discount of $20 and 20% off your first order.
What is The Waves?
The Waves is a new, natural wine subscription program helmed by a team of James Beard-awarding winning sommeliers and wine directors. The program was founded by Gaurav Tiwari, a tech and innovation expert with a decade of experience at Amazon, along with Andy Comer, the founding wine director of Seattle’s Tomo, both of whom had a passion not only for wine but also for transparency when it comes to providing relevant product information for wine consumers. They were joined by other James Beard Award winners Rajat Parr and Billy Smith, both of legendary NYC restaurants, to curate a deep selection of interesting and enjoyable wines in a variety of styles that “meet The Waves’ standards of sustainable and ethical production.”
How does it work?
The Waves offers three subscription levels for a selection of natural wines delivered to your door on a monthly basis. For a fixed monthly price, the “Mover” subscription ships two bottles a month, “Shaker” ships six bottles a month, and the “Wavemaker” ships 12. Subscribers can either let the system curate shipments based on stated preferences, or choose their own bottles during a 10-day shopping window at the beginning of the month. In addition to the subscription service, wine bundles are available for purchase based on themes such as The Perfect Dinner Party, The Wild Bunch and Orange Wine 101. Subscribers also get access to a Rare Bottle Room, with selections that include legendary producers and regions, or hard-to-come-by wines, whose single bottle prices start in the $45 range.
Natural wine, defined: (It's not as funky as you might think)
Even as a wine professional, I get a little twitchy when the term “natural wine,” is bandied about. “Natural wine” isn’t regulated terminology in the US, so the term can have different meanings among producers and consumers both, which further confuses the category. For some, “natural wine” conjures an idea of murky wines with a flavor more like kombucha or sour beer than wine. I’ve had one too many of these, (which is to say I’ve had one,) and so I freely admit that I typically approach “natural” wines with a healthy dose of skepticism, as these types of wines are exactly what I am not looking for. However, a natural wine bar owner recently delineated an important point for me: certain tenets of natural winemaking don't necessarily result in funky wine. Funky winemaking makes funky wines, and the majority of wines produced with a “natural” point-of-view produce classically tasting wines.
What I especially liked about The Waves is that they are crystal clear about how they define “natural” for the wines that exist in their catalog. And the principles are quite simple: organically farmed grapes with no synthetic additives and a commitment to low-intervention winemaking. For those not in the know, principles of “low intervention” often refer to things such as letting ambient yeast do the fermentation rather than by intentional inoculation and not weeding out wild groundcover among the vines for better soil health.
Also noteworthy is that their language here is “organically farmed,” not “certified organic.” It’s an important distinction as many small producers don’t have the resources to pursue certification, but have exceptional farming methods that promote regenerative agriculture. The experts at The Waves have done that homework for you so you can feel good about the wines they send you.
How wines are organized and selected
You don’t need to logon each month and choose wines: you can simply feed the system some information about your wine preferences according to basic metrics such as color, style or degree of adventurousness and let the AI-enhanced software do the picking for you. It’s a true subscription that continues to ship wine monthly if you do nothing.
Should you want to pick out your own wines, another highlight of The Waves’ model is how it's tagged and categorized its selection in order to make choosing wines simple, and what’s more, fun. Wines are categorized under evocative, helpful descriptors, and many are cross-listed under numerous labels. These include rubrics like “Lean, Refreshing Bubbles,” Earthy, Balanced Reds,” and “Crowd Pleasing Whites.” Note the lack of pretentious sommelier-speak, or even hyper specific wine terminology. Even if you’ve not studied wine, you can easily get what each category is getting at, even if specific grapes are unfamiliar, and choose accordingly. If you do want to choose your own wines, though, note that you have a 10-day window each month in order to make choices. Otherwise, you’re getting what you’re getting.
The Waves' curated selection will break you out of your four-bottle rotation
As someone who constantly scans online wine retailers, I really appreciate the selection at The Waves, and think that the exposure to lesser known regions and varietals is really important for consumers. There are thousands of wine grapes worldwide, but we tend to drink the same four or eight or so on repeat. The Waves makes discovering new wines extremely easy, and their categorization system makes it low-risk for finding something you’ll like. Clicking on an individual bottle will also give you additional context about the wine including its winemaker, region and/or appellation, ABV, vintage, degree of adventurousness, and serving temperature. (Not every white should be served ice cold, FYI.) Plus, it will introduce you to other wines with a similar wavelength. (As a writer, I also appreciate their clever but never sledgehammered wordplay throughout.)
The Waves wine club cost and pricing
The Waves’ “Mover” tier is $70 per month, plus $10 shipping for two bottles. The “Shaker” tier is $200 per month for six bottles, and shipping is free. The “Wavemaker” tier includes 12 bottles per month, for $400, with free shipping. The math is obvious, but I’ll do it anyway: at the lower tier you pay more per bottle: $40 apiece versus about $33 apiece for either of the upper tiers. The first month comes with a 20% discount for any of the tiers, and there’s no commitment. You can cancel after just one month. (More obvious math: if you opt in for the highest tier for just one month in order to stock up, you’re paying only about $26 per bottle. It’s a good deal even if you don’t stick around.) Because the subscription is a fixed price regardless of the wines you get, some months are more value-driven than others.
Who is The Waves good for?
The Waves is excellent for people who care strongly about drinking natural wines, even without a deep understanding of what that means. It’s also a great service for wine drinkers with an exploratory mindset who want to be exposed to new things in a low-risk setting, i.e. your own home. No navigating expensive wine lists or mispronouncing multisyllabic grape names in public.
Who is The Waves not good for?
The wines that The Waves offer are of extremely high quality, and their cost is baked into the subscription price, but these aren’t cheap wines by most Americans’ standards. If you’re looking for more of a bargain, you’ll have to look elsewhere. $80 can get you more like four to eight bottles of wine, rather than the two The Waves offers, in a conventional retail setting, but then you’re on your own for navigating the potential synthetic additives that might be in those bottles. Chances are, if you’ve been chugging along unconcerned with synthetic additives and would rather drink more wine for less money, The Waves might not be for you.
Final verdict on The Waves wine club
I really appreciated The Waves’ transparency when it comes to how they define the wines that they offer. I also really enjoyed their selection, which leans more toward the exploratory than the well-known but still offers a plethora of approachable, classical wines. The low-maintenance aspect of the service also makes it easy to just sit back and let some wines come your way every month. All in all, I think it’s a thoughtfully executed wine subscription program that can appeal to a wide variety of wine drinkers. I’ll drink to that.
If you're new to The Waves and want to test the waters, use code WAVES20 for a double-barreled discount of $20 and 20% off your first order.