Firstleaf caught my attention by kicking off with a full page ad in Fortune Magazine. Turns out this club is associated with Food & Wine Magazine which is under the same ownership as Fortune.

I soon learned that firstleaf.com is a trademark of Time Inc. which owns Travel & Leisure and  Sunset Magazine among others. So the glowing endorsement from Sunset’s wine editor, Sara Schneider, now makes perfect sense.

Firstleaf definitely has a powerful publishing company and some wine-savvy people behind it. And this again sets it apart from the competition.

For the record, all wine is sold by Penrose Hill which operates firstleaf.com as a licensee. Its Founder and CEO is a fellow named Philip James and there is a West Coast office in Healdsburg.

So with such a strong background, firstleaf seemed like it might just be the trendsetter in the online wine club scene.

Besides, for many years Sunset Magazine offered a wine club that I thought stood above the crowd in terms of the wines offered. But that program ceased a year or so ago.

The bigwigs at Time Inc. apparently had other big ideas.

So now totally intrigued by all of this, I signed up.

Here is how firstleaf works: After answering 3 lightweight (how many wines do you drink per month?) questions, you are presented with 3 options for a 3-bottle first shipment.

Each trio sells for $15 plus shipping and tax, or roughly $21 delivered.

You then rate the 3 wines sent, add a few tasting notes, and they use this feedback to  suggest wines for your follow-up shipment.

This system of analyzing feedback to customize the selections is used by other clubs such as Tasting Room/Lot18.

With Firstleaf, the follow-up shipment consists of 6 bottles for roughly $90 delivered. Not a bad price for sure.

My initial selection, a mixed trio, consisted of a Sauvignon Blanc from Long Meadow Ranch, a well-known Napa winery, a blended red named Milieux, selected by the Editor of Food & Wine and  highly-regarded winemaker Pax Mahle. The third was a 2014 Napa Red from Domaine Abeille.   

I was interested in a red wine labeled Western Slope from Paso Robles, but it was not offered in a 3-pack I wanted.

Another available red was an Australian Cab-Merlot made by Alkoomi wine. It was said to be a $50 bottle from a five-star winery. But I passed on that. The Hawthorne Grove Pinot Noir has won a few awards, but may just be a brand, not a real winery.

Delivery of the 3 wines I ordered was quick and efficient, so score 1 for firstleaf.

Also, the 3 bottles were nicely packaged.

Moving on to the wines.

The 2014 Napa Red, Domaine Abeille, was bottled in Sonoma County and there is no history to this label. My tasting note: simple berry aroma, high alcohol, over-ripe fruit and nothing distinct about it. Not awful, but nothing to want to buy again. Could be made from any number of red varieties. Best guess Petite Sirah and Zin. 

2014 Sauvignon Blanc Long Meadow Ranch, Rutherford is a real wine with a positive track record. Quite disappointing, however, from its slight spritz and pale appearance to the dull flavors. With time, the aroma perked up, good weight on the palate, but overall a low-keyed Sauvignon. Score: 84. Others have rated it higher. The fizz/spritz noted by all tasters made me wonder.

2015 Milieux Legacy, North Coast, the most appealing of the 3. Showed a good balance of ripe fruit and youthful tannin. Some blackberry, tobacco leaf character suggests it may be Cabernet-based. The “Vinted & Bottled By” designation implies this wine was purchased  ready-made and blended. Another clue is the new vintage. 

Far too many wines are said to be "award-winning," but often from obscure competitions where awards are handed out like candy.


The all-important positive here is the price which seems to be hovering around the $13 a bottle figure. Bravo!

Secondly, the shipping costs are most reasonable.

But there are not many wines to choose from.
Most of them are custom-made, private labels.

Except for Yalumba Viognier from Australia, and Wairau River Pinot Gris from New Zealand, the wines offered when I signed up are relative unknown.

For example, the Moniker Mendocino Pinot Noir is a new brand from the Parducci/Thornhill group. Never heard of it until now. New is not bad, BTW.

The majority of other brands offered have no history. A 2014 Chardonnay labeled Lost Dog Lane is noted as an “Editor’s Pick” by Food & Wine.  But that’s like double dipping to me.

A Heritance Sauvignon Blanc is owned by Bernard Portet of Clos du Val.  He is well-known and best guess is that this is a private label he owns.

And maybe it was more my problem with my many email accounts, I had a hard time trying to cancel. My messages met with a “we’ll get back to you in 24 hours” response when I needed to reset my password.

So overall, while firstleaf “was founded on the premise that buying great wine should be easier,” they have made the buying fairly easy, but need to work on the wine choices.

Finally, this wine club is trying to break away from the predictable wine club fare which is generally crappy.  

But it relies too much on awards that are practically meaningless.

You should check it out.