Breaking News: Online Wine Giants go head-to-head

 

It rarely happens, but today, both http://www.wineExpress.com and www.cinderellawine.com featured the same wine as the “Deal of the Day.”

Not only was the wine the same, but the promo background stuff was practically duplicated. Both sellers relied on results from Decanter Magazine’s annual wine competition and quoted many of the same comments.

It was rated 95 points by Decanter and was described as the “Best Red Bordeaux under $20.”

To break the suspense, the wine is the 2014 Château Malbec, appellation Bordeaux. Not a big name, but it has a good track record and is part of the Castel Wine Group.

And 95 points is pretty impressive from these judges. (fyi…I once served on Decanter’s panel, so am familiar with the program.)

To get back to the online smack-down, the indisputable winner is….cinderellawine with its $12.98 bottle price and free shopping on 6 bottles.  

The best wineExpress could do was $14.95 a bottle with free shipping on 12 bottles.

Either way, a highly-rated, under $15 Bordeaux is a good find.

Cinderella is part of the mega wine library site, and wineExpress is a division of The Wine Enthusiast.

See detailed reviews of each at www.bestonlinewineshopping.com

Given the super-hype for the 2015 vintage, I’ve been suggesting people stock up on the 2014s, an excellent vintage for Bordeaux wines to enjoy over the next few years.

 

Is Amazon Primeday a Wine Day?

Surprise, Surprise! Amazon Primeday is on for July 10th

Amazon was previewing its wine selections and special packs over the weekend. An early Celebration.

And so I spent many hours over the weekend evaluating Amazon’s wine offers.

The Pitch: “Up to 40% off” on many selections

The Good News:

Many wines have special 1 cent shipping promotions

Over 8,000 wines and specials listed

And Amazon is the most trustworthy online presence

The Bad News:

The vast selection is vastly ordinary

The 1 cent shipping often applies only to case orders, 12 bottles

The best wines are NOT heavily discounted ( often less than 20%) and many are not discounted at all.

Many wines are mass-produced brands, starting with Barefoot, that are widely available

Overall, Amazon’s wine site has that supermarket feel to it which may be intentional.

It offers hundreds of made in America wines, but is weak when you look at French wines and South American wines.

It seems to be unloading many French wines from lousy vintages, such as 2011 and 2013.

The Detailed Update

Now that everyone is pumped for the special Amazon Prime Day on Monday the 10th, here are my thoughts.

Amazon has a large wine department. Not the biggest in the online world but close enough as the most recent listing of available wines exceeds 8,000.  Amazon is a little different from other online wine sellers because it loves to assemble wine packs of 2, 4, or 6 bottles. And toss in a few 12 bottle packs as well.

There seem to be more combinations of Game of Thrones wines (listed as the #1 best seller) than there are episodes of that show. The label art is quite detailed.

So that 9,000 wine items listed includes the various packs.

That said, now let’s get back to the details. About two-thirds of the wines on Amazon are US in origin, mostly California, but Washington State (1,500) is well-represented as in New York (550). These last two states have earned the recognition, so bravo Amazon.  French wines offered hover around 1,000, and Italy shows up with 485 offerings.

Maybe my expectations were too high, but after the first few hours of checking it out, I felt like I was browsing the wine section at Rite­Aid or Target with so many Barefoot wines and others found in most supermarkets and drugstores with a wine dept.

And yes, I check out the wine selection of every store visited. It is a habit.

And, yes I have tasted many Barefoot wines. NOT a habit, a duty.

When you begin hunting for deals and discounts, Amazon surprisingly is not exactly a savvy wine shopper’s paradise.  In fact, as is often pointed out in their customer’s reviews, quite a few of the wines can be bought at better prices at grocery stores like Safeway and at Costco and similar stores.

Apothic, Menage a Trois, Dark Horse, Smoking Loon, Pepperwood Grove,  Barefoot and a large number of other Gallo-owned brands may actually be cheaper at Rite-Aid, Safeway, Target and CVS.

Two of my favorite bargains, Columbia Crest Cabernet and Merlot, are cheaper at Costco and other outlets.

(Note to Amazon brass: you often get many negative reviews from your wine customers for this reason.)

As for small, family owned wineries, the choices are few. I did note that Brophy Clark wines are available as are a few from Hartwell, Peju, Anthem, Dry Creek Vineyard, Zaca Mesa, Qupe, Leeuwin from Australia, Ojai, and Chateau Diana.

All of Parducci brands are listed as are many Coppola wines. But both Parducci and Coppola which offer reliable wines are ramping up production in a big way and are widely available.

To summarize:

Shopping on Amazon Prime is appealing for three reasons: convenience, better pricing, and locating things not readily available from real stores.

When it comes to wine, Amazon scores big on convenience. Only convenience.

Best Tips:

First, check out the “Best Deals” by category.

Also, click on the 1¢ Shipping deals

And, go to the 20% off list and look for those items that are also part of the 1 cent shipping for the truly best deals on Amazon.

Summertime Sippers for the Serious & Semi-Serious Wine Crowd

The prolonged. blistering heat wave here in the Napa-Sonoma area pushed

 many of us into re-thinking about the best wine to beat the sizzling summer heat.

Anyone paying attention to trends would immediately suggest Rose wines since pink wines are being touted by everyone, everywhere,  Or so it seems.

Nest up on the trendy charts would likely be a craft brew, a tangy IPA comes to mind.

Though personally delighted to see the new excitement around Rose wines and a major fan of IPAs,  I’m looking at a long hot spell and the possibility of this being a recurring pattern (yes, I’m thinking climate change.). So, I’m interested in a long-term solution.

Besides, so far in my experience many Roses now playing to rave reviews are hardly cheap as in over $20  for a summer sipper and not always as dry as advertised.

The goal is a summer sipper. No need for a 94 point blockbuster Rose which, I believe, is an oxymoron. Whispering Angle may be a “hot” seller, but it is really not worth 20 bucks.

Honestly, you might be better off buying a cheap Pinot Noir, adding an ice-cube or two, and a twist of lemon for a more satisfying experience.

So, returning to white wines and to finally get to the main point: Sauvignon Blanc is the obvious choice. The best are fresh, zesty, medium-with (not syrupy or ponderous like typical Chardonnay), offer a range of tropical fruit and, the clincher, they can stand up to a big chilling.

Lately, I’ve enjoyed several fine Albarinos which are another good choice for many of the same reasons.

But what makes me stand behind Sauvignon as the ideal summer sipper is its availability and, best of all, so many outstanding examples are priced below $20.

If you are with me, the easiest online shopping if you don’t want to work up a sweat is to open www.wine.com where you will find hundreds of Sauvignons offered. In the under $20 category, it lists 463.

Many wines are discounted and wine.com always has some added incentives. Currently, first time buyers get $20 off an order of $100. Usually there’s a shipping deal on a case, sometimes on 6 bottles,

In my recent tasting experiences, In the under $20 bracket, Chile dominates with New Zealand a strong second.

Okay, sure, we should try to Buy American. But, frankly, the low-end Sauvignons from the likes of Murphy-Goode, Joel Gott, Dark Horse, Geyser Peak are disappointingly bland and zest-less.

There are many other bland brands without a soul.

For lively, zesty, true to type Sauvignons, check out those from Chile’s   cooler regions: Casablanca, Limari, and Leyda.

My personal favorite turns out to be one of the least expensive, 20 Santa Carolina Reserva which offers all of the fresh tropical fruit you’d expect in a fine wine with the bonus of rich, smooth texture and good acidity. Santa Rita offers several Sauvignons, and the cheapest, the “120” is hard to beat at $6.99.

Matetic is another Chilean winery with several fine Sauvignons well worth your attention. Look for the Matetic “Corralillo”  or the Leyda Valley Sauvignon

From New Zealand, you can’t go wrong with Sauvignons from Brancott, Villa Maria, Gissen and The Crossings.

Many of you might be wondering, “What about Kim Crawford Sauvignon Blanc?” Well, it is everywhere…in every supermarket, in every wine shop,mega-store, and in every corner liquor store.

No need to look for Kim online.

Here are my top -12 recommended Summer Sipping Sauvignon Blancs:

 

 

 

 

 

 

2016 Santa Carolina Reserva, Leyda Valley, Chile $9.99

2016 Matetic EQ Coastal, Chile  $16.99

2016 Santa Rita Reserva, Casablanca, Chile $9.99

2016 Vina Leyda Sauvignon Blanc, Leyda Valley $16.99

2015 Gissen NZ Marlborough, $11.99

2014 Château La Verriere Blanc, Bordeaux $13.99

2016 Santa Rita, Reserva, Chile $9.99

2016 Dry Creek Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc, $16.99

2016 Villa Maria Private Bin Sauvignon Blanc $12.99

2015 Ferrari-Carano Fume Blanc,  $13.99

2016 Spy Valley Sauvignon Blanc, Marlborough, $14.99

2016 La Playa Estate Sauvignon Blanc, Colchagua, Chile $7.99

All are available from www.wine.com and I have no relationship with this website.

New Upgrades, Downgrades: Online Wine Retailers

 

Upgrade                    www.cinderellawine.com

Cindy, operated by the Wine Library, has vastly improved its selections this quarter. Always offering free shipping on six, it has gotten out of its ho-hum rut and is now selecting some excellent wines rarely seen online. For example:

2013 World’s End  Rebel’ Reserve Chardonnay, Napa. $19.99

2013 Kangarilla Road Cabernet Sauvignon Mclaren Vale, $15.99

2013 Bello Megahertz Cabernet Sauvignon, $17.77

2013 Lone Birch Chardonnay, Washington, $9.99

However, this site still occasionally over-hypes an unknown, unproven, over-priced wine.

Upgrade                  www.cawineclub.com

The California wine club, one of the oldest, really caught fire with its special March sales. Not only were the wines priced to sell but they were also from real wineries. The $1 per case shipping offer was the clincher. Try these:

2013 Wither Hills Sauvignon Blanc, Marlborough,NZ  $9.25

2015 Pedroncelli Chardonnay, Dry Creek Valley, $11.99

2012 Zaca Mesa Z-Blanc, Santa Ynez Valley $11.99

2012 Highway 20 Zinfandel, Sierra Foothills $11.99

2014 Rabbit Ridge, Tuscan Style Red, Paso Robles $12.99

Upgrade          www.wineexpress.com

After offering a string of over-priced wines such as the Buena Vista, Coppola King Kong, and Black Stallion Cabernets, this site recently redeemed itself by adding some excellent deals to the mix.

It hit the bullseye with The 2015 Redgate Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley for $15 and followed with the 2014 San Pedro Single Vineyard Maipo Valley Cab for $15.

The selection of 2015 Chianti Colli Senesi 2015 Fattoria Del Cerro $10.95 by the case reaffirmed the feeling that this site is worth checking every day.

That is if it continues to ferret out real deals

Downgrade         www.wineaccess.com

Even when offering authentic wines or good deals, this site is totally annoying. The write-ups ramble through elaborate Parker or Galloni reviews, detailed vintage assessments, and usually stray far off the main avenue by dropping names of famous people, restaurants, chefs and hotels in the wine country.

It is obvious they know every VIP in the wine world and can always get a table at the French Laundry.

The so-called narratives easily earn them the Kellyanne Conway award. But it is all far less amusing. They just seem to pile on the irrelevant information, facts, and experiences that have no direct connection to the wine being offered.

Here’s a  recent example of this disconnect:

“We’ve known Phil Titus for 25 years, his marine biologist brother Eric for a decade. The story of Lee Titus — Phil and Eric’s father, who moved to California from Minnesota just after the Depression — is a piece of St. Helena folklore. As Lee attended medical school, his future wife, Ruth Traverso, the daughter of Italian parents, was living in San Francisco’s North Beach. During family October vacations in Napa Valley, the Traversos returned to their Piedmontese roots, helping friends harvest their vineyards in Calistoga. Years later, when Ruth and Lee married, both husband and wife were bitten by the wine bug.”

And Btw, when visiting with Phil, they stayed at the Meadowood and ate fried calamari and Mary’s Chicken.

Downgrade       www.firstleafclub.com

Despite the great background and contacts, this club has not improved since coming on the scene with great fanfare and advertising support.

It asks the same silly questions to establish your preferences, and is still offering the same wines for the most part.

Somehow the private customizing algorithms end up suggesting a couple of Malbecs and ordinary Sauvignon Blancs.

To date, I’ve not seen one wine that is unusual and a super deal.

The 3 bottle trial package remains worthwhile.

 

The Best of the Best Of

The Top Wines of 2016 Lists

As The Wine Spectator was unveiling the top 100 Best Wines in its drawn-out dramatic countdown, others were coming out with their versions. Just because the Spectator has been compiling a top 100 list for 30 years did not prevent others for having a say.

A few days  before Randy Lewis of Lewis Cellars was revving his engine for a victory lap celebrating his 2013 Cabernet as the Spectator’s #1 wine, two competing internet sites got into the Best Of 2016 competition.

First, wine.com announced its list of top-selling 100 wines of 2016 and soon thereafter vivino.com came out with its list of” best wines on the planet.”   For detailed and brilliant reviews of both sites, visit www.bestonlinewineshopping.com

This was the 10th year in which wine.com listed top wines of the year. It compiled a top 100 list based entirely on the top wines sold nationally on Wine.com during the first 11 months of 2016.

In a not too subtle way, it added: “While many publications rank wines based on the opinions of wine critics, we wanted our customers to be the judge, voting with their wallets to determine the Wine.com 100.”

Yes, critics offer opinions, pure and simple. Well, not always pure. But price, availability, and production are not considered when critics pass judgment.

However, quite a few online wine sellers rely on the Top 100 lists from The Wine Spectator, Wine Enthusiast or James Suckling. As an aside, it seems the influence of Robert Parker is definitely fading and the Vinous/Galloni duo has yet to rise to the occasion.

But vivino also does not rely too heavily on critics. With its wine Apps and crowd-sourcing approach, it bases its top wines of 2016 list on its community of 21 million users and the millions of wine ratings they’ve submitted over the past year.

In other words, reviews and scores from your average Joe and Jo, Betsy and Bob, Shawn and John. Some seem to have lots of time and many opinions; one guy named Jack has submitted close to 2,000 reviews.

For each wine style category, the folks at vivino explain, we  “studied the reviews and selected the top ten best-rated wines with at least 50 ratings from the past year. Check out your favorite wine styles, and explore those you are curious about.”

As noted in my review, vivino loves to create categories of wines and wine styles and then compile lists.

For the 2016 results, the site came up with 147 separate categories. For red Bordeaux, there are 11 separate categories which seems excessive.

In the Best Rated category, the 2000 Chateau Margaux is #1 followed by the 1982 Latour. No surprises here! And the Best Wines to Buy Now is another very odd list of fabled names, including most of the Classified Growths including y’Quem.

Furthermore, vivino does not sell wines directly, so there’s no correlation between these community ratings and actual purchases which wine.com uses.

Apples and oranges you might  say.  Regardless, I tried to compare them.

First, the indisputable winner is Chilean Sauvignon Blanc. Brancott’s 2015 was wine.com’s #1 and the 2015 Casa del Bosque headed vivino’s list of Top Values.

Almost as fascinating, Rombauer Winery makes wine.com’s top 10 with its 2014 Chardonnay, and the Rombauer Zinfandel is high on vivino’s Best Value list.

When it comes to Cabernet Sauvignon, the 2013 Clos du Val and 2014 Caymus were among the best sellers on wine.com.

And the Hundred Acres Napa Valley Cabernet was #1 overall on vivino.com and rated high in its other categories.

Malbec fans might be excited to see that the 2012 Vina Cobos was tops with vivino and wine.com’s top ranked malbec was the Trivento 2015 reserve.

And this Champagne fan was intrigued to see Clicquot Brut as top rated at wine.com. Vivino’s high ranked non-vintage Champagne was the Jacques Selosse. Some 168 people reviewed it.Most people will never even see a bottle anywhere.

But to return to The Wine Spectator’s top 100 which had a few surprises. Great to see an Oregon Pinot Noir ranked #2 and the biggest surprise was the #3 wine, an Oregon Chardonnay. That was a gutsy call.

However,The Wine Spectator will invariably include a mandatory wine from Antinori in its top 100, as well as some wine from Jackson Family, and whenever remotely possible, a wine from itsother major supporters and advertisers.

Of the three top wines of 2016 lists, the one that stands out as speaking to me and the typical wine buyer is…wine.com.

And you?

Amazon’s Alexa Opens Up

Cyber Monday is finally here.

And Amazon which may have invented it began working us into a frenzy on Saturday morning.

Well it is your baby, Amazon and you gave it the big initial push, so no problem with the early start.

So like every compulsive online shopper who has waited 365 days for this magic moment, I decided to take advantage of this early kick-off.

Moving quickly through household goods, electronics, and gadgets, I found my happy place located at the very bottom of a long list…”wine.”

Located immediately to the right was another familiar name, “Alexa.” It was an open invitation from Amazon to “Ask Alexa.” and it made me stop and think.

The choice staring at me was to devote hours and hours going over every wine, wine pack, wine combinations, and gifts, sorting them all by price and by reviews and then constantly referring back to my old notes or to…”Ask Alexa.”

With Alexa as a vast source of information, it was a no brainer. And my Cyber Monday report for www.bestonlinewineshopping.com could be wrapped up on Sunday. So here goes.

Me: Alexa, what are Amazon’s wine deals for Cyber Monday?

Alexa: ”There are individual bottles at 25% off if you buy 3,and 35% off for 6. There are many mixed packs at 25% off, as well as a list of wines that quality for one cent shipping.”

Me: Alexa, are there specific wines, packs and case samplers that you can recommended for my readers as great deals?

Alexa, After a longer than usual silence, “Nothing comes to mind…that is if I had a real mind.”

Me: Wow, that is a surprise. I’ve written earlier and noted that Amazon sells wines from Zaca Mesa, Dry Creek Vineyards, Moniker,Hedges and even that excellent sparkling wine from New Mexico, Gruet. Why so lukewarm in general?

Alexa: “If you were not so lazy and scrolled through the various lists of wines, you would detect a trend: Amazon is top-heavy in wines from big corporations, mega-companies, and large distributors. Zombie Chardonnay is not exactly a collector’s item. A few small wineries such as those mentioned are sprinkled in here and there.”

Me: Alexa, Really? If you can avoid the snarky tone, could you offer specific examples?

Alexa,  “Yes, easily.”

Me: Great, now she’s trying to be cute and I’m getting a little annoyed starting every question with her name.

Alexa: What is the deal with big wine companies, anyway?

Alexa: “First, most analysts estimate that about 50% of the total wine market is controlled by the ten largest wine companies. Several of them own or control over 100 wine brands. With such large portfolios, they have the power to distribute wines at every retail outlet and restaurant.”

Me: Alexa, and that is a problem, how?

Alexa: Today, there are 3, 975 wine producers in California and close to 9,000 wineries in North America. With ten companies dominating the marketplace, it is difficult for small, family owned wineries to compete for shelf space and survive. Online would be a perfect fit for small wineries.”

Me: Alexa, and why does Amazon prefer to work with large companies?

Alexa, “Smooth and timely delivery is possible mainly through a large company with a great distribution system.”

Me: Please go on.

Alexa: “Well, I probably shouldn’t let the cat out of the bag, even if I understood that expression, but the wines featured for Cyber Monday include a high percentage of brands owned or controlled by Gallo. You can go to www.gallo.com and click on “porfolio” for a full list. But here are some that are featured Cyber Monday on Amazon:

Barefoot, Louis Martini, “J”, Souverain, Columbia Winery, Alamo, Carnivor, Dark Horse, Edna Valley, Frei Brothers, Talbott, Red Rock, Ghost Pines, Whitehaven, William Hill, Orin Swift.”

Me: Erika, Gotcha! Orin Swift is a hot cult wine with a tremendous following.

Alexa: “Calm down! If you paid attention and read the news in The Wine Spectator and Wines & Vines, Gallo bought the Orin Swift brand and tiny tasting room for mega-millions last June.”

Me: Alexa: Sorry, I only read headlines and don’t have time for well-researched articles. It is super to have you do my homework, thanks. What about the wines from small  wineries, though?

Alexa: “The clever ones like your buddies at Dry Creek, Paul Dolan, and Zaca Mesa have agreed to handle shipping from their wineries.

And, Btw, any wines listed that are shipped from Modesto, are associated with Gallo. Modesto, as you should know, is Gallo’s home base.

From here on, please do your own homework. I’m now busy uploading information for the new echo dot.”

Light jazz music starts spontaneously in the background.

Me: She is so full of information and has such a cool voice.

But at times she can be such a nasty bot!

Rating eBay’s New Wine Dept.

 

The highly anticipated expansion of eBay into online wine sales took place a few months ago. This was in fact the second major effort to ramp up eBay Wine, so it seemed timely to look closely at what eBay now has to offer wine lovers.

Through a partnership with mobile app Drync and its retail partners, eBay Wine greatly increased its wine focus and now claims it is able to deliver wine to 45 of the 50 US states.

The Drync-eBay platform offers real inventory from large and small retailers throughout the US. So none of the pay now, and take delivery sometime in the future stuff which is far too common in this online world.

But that real inventory situation applies primarily to the Drync partners.

And according to Decanter Magazine,  eBay has stepped up its presence in wine by joining forces with mail order merchant Laithwaite’s in the UK. “eBay said that ‘a wide selection’ of Laithwaite’s red, white, rosé and sparkling wines, plus mixed cases, were now available on its UK site. That brings its total number of wine listings to more than 3,500.”

That all sounded like this time around eBay was ready to blow away the online competition, so I subscribed to see how the planned  attack would unfold.

And waited for a few days.  Every now and then subscribers are notified of new wine matches which range from 30 to 48 in number. The emphasis is on either 6 or 12 bottle deals with free shipping.

What’s new is that many of the featured wines are presented by a company called “The Wine Spies” which has been in business since 2007. It says it is not a retail outlet and offers new wines to eBay in the 20-60% discount range. This partner is based in Sonoma County and there are probably other similar retail partners in other states.

Today on eBay there are 36 wines offered by The Wine Spies, mainly from California.  Napa Valley is well-represented. And most are well-known , mainstream names such as Grgich Hills, Beringer, Flora Springs, Clos Pegase, Frank Family, St. Supery, and Saddleback. Hahn Family Central Coast Pinot was another match, and an Aussie Chardonnay was the only import when I last checked.

Except for Saddleback’s Albarino which I tasted last month and is wonderful,  the offerings are mainstream varietals from Cabernet to Zinfandel. So for those who like to stay within their comfort zone, these wines are from reliable wine producers.

With free shipping on six bottles or more and discounts of 25% or more, the deals are more than decent.

So, the new eBay wine section has improved, but in an oddly limited way. Continue reading “Rating eBay’s New Wine Dept.”