7 Top Websites for Wine Gifts

Where do Wine Shoppers Shop?

Wouldn’t we all like to know where Jeff Bezos shopped for holiday gifts and what he purchased?  Well, though the main thing I have in common with Jeff is lots of visible scalp, many of you are probably wondering where this self-proclaimed, indisputable leader of the online wine shopping world ended up buying wine gifts this year.

And because a list is now the primary form of communication, here is a list of my 7 Top  E-commerce wine sites:

But before I do, here are the 3 Basic Reasons why lists are becoming so popular:

  1. Little or no thinking required, especially for original ideas, so much beloved by influencers.
  2. No need for writing complete sentences, whatever they are or, ugh, paragraphs
  3. Easy as sin because you can borrow from other lists or re-work you old ones, and since words are not that necessary you can attached favorite pics of your awesome canine or self.

Ok, enough toying with you, listen up.

Here’s my “list-icle” of 7 Best Wine Websites fror wine gifts going into 2020:

  1. http://www.wine.com
  2. www.sommselect.com
  3. www.invino.com
  4. www.wineaccess.com
  5. www.garagistewine.com

    6. www.lastbottlewines.com

  1. www.wtso.com

For detailed reviews of these 7 Top websites see www.robywine.com

Online Wine Shops: The Final Four

Final Four NCAA basketball, Spring Break, and Baseball is Back.

Add Easter weekend, Passover, and we have all kinds of reasons for special sales offers and deals.

We began the season at www.bestonlinewineshopping.com  by following 36 candidates, each claiming to have the best deals for members, exclusive offerings of super-duper values, rare wines and great vintages and, of course, the next cult wine.

But we are now down to the 4 teams that have been working the hardest to offer exceptional wines and/or exceptional deals.

www.invino.com

has played extremely well over the last two weeks.

It continues to find new ways to score, locating unusual wines such as the

Vaughn Duffy Pinot and Sauvignon Blanc.

Current exciting offers:

2013 d’Arenberg d’Arry’s Original

Grenache, Shiraz | Australia, $14.99

2017 Sancerre, Laporte, $27.00\

www.sommselect.com

Showing great depth with recent selections of a Hermitage, a Tollot-Beaut Savigny, and a Ribeiro Blanco from Galicia, a ballsy play. Also outstanding  Gigondas but the Bouzy Rouge was odd. Here are examples of an unusual find and a rare culty wine:

2017 Ribeiro Blanco, Galicia $22.00

2016 Coche-Dury’s Meursault “Les Chevalières, $75.00

www.napacabs.com

These folks have truly upped their game recently. A longshot a few months ago, this week it turned heads with several exciting wines. I liked the way it balanced big names and excellent discounts:

2015 Beaulieu Vineyard Private Reserve Cabernet, Napa Valley for $89.99 (regularly $149)

2010 La Colombina Brunello di Montalcino, $29.97

2013 Geyser Peak, Alexander Valley Reserve, $19.97 (60% off)

www.gargistewine.com

Made it into the final four for being so unpredictable but always managing to come up with a surprise play. An excellent Muscadet for under $10 or the 2016 Cos d’Estournel for under $200 may seem unlikely, but this site has them both. I am wildly impressed by the depth of the offerings from the Loire Valley.

Two versatile players:

2018 Bourgueil, Domaine Cotellergie, $16.76

2016 Scott Paul Pinot Noir, Chehelam Mts, $19.71

What about the pre-season favorites and especially www.vivino.com with its 35 millions fans?

That’s a story for another time. 

The Best Online Wine Shop?

So, I have to confess my picks for the Sweet 16 college teams did not fare well. Each one has, alas, gone home.

My game is online wine shopping, and here is my choice for one of the Final Four

http://www.garagistewine.com

garagistewine.com is the most peculiar online retailer I follow. One reason is that its founder Jon Rimmerman who has been offering wines for over 20 years often presents his daily offers late at night.  He is based in Washington State which may explain some things.

He sometimes seems a bit chatty and becomes so excited and enthusiastic that he might belabor a point about a particular wine or region.

He is also insistent about when he will ship your wines and specifies the required temperature and humidity for proper shipping.

But these minor quirks are greatly offset by the pluses.

  • He seeks out wines that are organic, biodynamic and farmed sustainably  
  • He favors small artisan producers and family owned wineries
  • He obtains many wines direct so truly cuts out the middleman
  • He doesn’t use inflated scores from Somms
  • His wines are attractively priced
  • And he is unpredictable, sometimes offering olive oil, nutella, or food items. All high quality.

I enjoy reading his detailed notes because he truly knows his stuff. His background insights about vintages and regions are extremely useful. He is particularly on top of the vintage variations in France’s Burgundy and the Rhone.

He provided a detailed report on 2016 and 2017 based on travels and tastings throughout France and it is spot on. His remarks about 2015 and 2016 Bordeaux are the most reliable in the wine trade.

His analysis of 2016 in Burgundy and of the 2017 Northern Rhone are some of the best I’ve read.

And to this fellow Loire Valley lover, he has the inside track on Loire Valley wines:

“2018 is one of those “pinch me, this can’t possibly be true?” red wine vintages in the Loire. I can’t really compare it to anything else – it has the ripeness of a vintage like 1989 but the freshness of 1996 (another classic year.”

He also looks closely for super wines from Washington, of course but also Oregon. A recent Washington Tempranillo was remarkable.

He often locates super wines under $15 a bottle.

Here are examples of recent offerings:

  • 2018 Bourgueil, Domaine Cotellergie, $16.76
  • 2016 Scott Paul Pinot Noir, Chehelam Mts, $19.71
  • 2014 Rioja Riserva, Burgo Viejo, $13.98
  • 2017 Sancerre, Dezat $19.99
  • 2016 Renvoise “Jasmieres,” dry Loire Valley Chenin Blanc $16.70
  • 2015 Domaine de Cambes, Bordeaux $33.71
  • 2016 Ribbonwood Sauvignon Blanc, Marlborough $7.99

He recently offered a lovely Provence Rose for sale at $9.99.

He found “the best Bordeaux you’ve never heard of” from 2011.

He comes across as frank, as in these recent notes:

“This is fastidiously produced Chardonnay without a smidge of pretense but the stuffing and expression to, well, pummel just about any other example from outside the Burgundian reach under $30. In addition, the impact is from fruit, stone and clarity, not from alcohol, wood or from winemaker strategic manipulation/enhancement.”

Or

“If you think “bargain” wine is devoid of potential pleasure or cannot be in the league of top-drawer entrants, guess again. This wine can easily compete with Sauvignon Blanc at 2-3 times the $ and many of its competitors are not as delicious to drink.”

Sometimes to keep prices low, he suggests buying 6 or 12 bottles or more which may seem like hype and hustle, but I think he is sincere and honest in his emphasis on offering value.

A maximum number of bottles a person may purchase is always listed, ranging from 6 to 60.

Pros:

Wildly eclectic selection not found elsewhere.

Excellent prices

Seeks out biodynamic and other green products.

Cons:

Complicated shipping procedures and delivery dates but only to assure wines arrive in fine condition.

Mind the Gap: Wine Marketing 101

Selling Wines Online: Two Different Approaches

Wines under the Wind Gap label are being unloaded. Garigiste.com offered several a few weeks ago, and today, two websites offered a Wind Gap wine at $15 a bottle.

As we start the New Year, which would you buy based on the website’s offer?

Here are your choices:

  1. Buy a wine associated with a guy in prison for fraud who claimed to be rich, spent lots of money, not always his own and also made by an excellent winemaker. And it was “millions” of dollars. And you are led to believe he, the guy in prison, spent tons of money on the wine.
  2. Buy a wine described in bright, uplifting terms made by an excellent winemaker.

#1 A Wind Gap Pinot Noir as offered by www.vivino.com

“What you are about to read may be the most significant cloak and dagger event in the wine industry ever!

June 27th, 2017 Wine Industry Tycoon Charles Banks was sentenced to 4 years in prison for fraud after excessively overspending to craft the best wines in the world.

The Players:

Charles Banks – His Resume:

✔️Screaming Eagle / Jonata: former co-owner / co-founder

✔️Managing Partner: Terroir Capital – $200 million in winery assets (including Wind Gap)

✔️Defrauds two NBA stars out of millions: (somewhere around $22 million)

Pax Mahle – The Winemaker:

✔️100 point superstar – founder of Pax Cellars and Wind Gap

✔️Possibly more 94-100 point scores than Heidi Barrett and Philippe Melka combined”

 

#2 A Wind Gap Syrah offered by  www.lastbottlewine.com

“BIG, bold, in your face Syrah from none other than Pax Mahle (yes, the guy who just scored 100 points for his $50 Sonoma Hillside bottling under the Pax label) that is made in a drink-me-now-with-gusto style. Bright, perfumey and juicy, this isn’t real heavy or meaty at all, just a warm, friendly, lovely, MIND-BLOWING DEAL if we have EVER seen one. Pax and his wines are all the buzz these days, so it’s particularly thrilling for us to have a little (little!) parcel to sell. PLEASE don’t miss! WILL sell out in the blink of an eye!

(oh, and Happy New Year, also, please hurry on this as Pax Mahle’s Wind Gap is more popular than a roomful of newborn kitty cats and we don’t have very much)”

 

So please cast a vote.

Shameless or frivolous?

 

2018 Wine Website Annual Awards

 

Now that the post-Christmas sales are over and we can wrap up this absolutely crazy year for online wine sales, the results are in for the year’s winners and, yes, losers.

So, without further ado and other clichés, here we go:

BEST FOR ONLINE DISCOUNTS

One site kept improving its offering throughout the year while maintaining healthy discounts usually over 50%, sometimes approaching 70%.

The same site actually apologizes when the discount on a special wine falls below 30%. Others brag when they can offer something at 25-30% below average retail.

And the winner for best discounts in 2018: www.wtso.com

As a footnote, this site was sued 2 years ago for mis-representing average retail prices. So it has really cleaned up its act to become a role model.

We can only hope that other sites relying on false and misleading prices, scores, and narratives take note.

BEST ONLINE WINE DISCOVERIES

This category looks for wines that are not available either in traditional wine shops or on most websites. The focus is on discoveries of unusual, limited production wines that are true to their type. But NOT EXPENSIVE.

Every wine lover is on the lookout for something different, a wine not in the mainstream.

Such as outstanding wine from Greece or Slovenia as well as wines from Germany, Spain, Italy and France. A wine that is highly enjoyable and comes with a rich and exciting history.

And the 2018 winner for presenting the best wine discoveries is: www.sommselect.com

BEST WEBSITE FOR CULT-LIKE WINES

We know there’s a market for 95+ point rated wines priced on the high end. This wine buyer is interested in not only California cults (Cade, Pahlmeyer, Insignia, Shafer, Harlan) but also in the top rated Bordeaux and Brunello, as well as the Super Tuscans like Sassicaia.

Not limited to the current favorites but also interested in the next great cult wine.

This is a hotly contested category.

Over the year one site has proven itself to be the one-stop shopping for the cult and cult-wannabe wines of the world.

The 10-20% discount and free shipping on orders of $149 or more cemented its place on the top.

The proven track record for reliability doesn’t hurt either.

And that site is: www.wineexpress.com

 

BEST WEBSITE  FOR INFORMATION, KNOWLEDGE SHARING

This category may surprise those of you all too familiar with the non-stop hype that highlights fake scores, 100 point winemakers, “greatest vintage ever” nonsense so common on wine websites. 

You may be surprised that the category even exists.

But it does. And we reviewed many websites for their content and found that…

One site offers helpful background information about regions and vintages as well as insights about the wine producer.

One site knows the prime regions of France and offers insider insider information about recent vintages.

One site finds the best values available in Washington and Oregon, both fast-changing wine regions, as well as the occasional gem from California.

The winner is this category also seeks out wines that are organic and NOT MASS produced.

The winning website which is also a good read is www.garagistewine.com

BEST ALL PURPOSE SITE FOR WINE SHOPPING

Think of amazon prime but only for wines. And, no, sorry but amazon does not yet have a good, all purpose wine department.

Check out my review at www.bestonlinewineshopping.com

So for now finding an all-purpose wine website offering  wines from all regions, in all price ranges, including top sellers and cult-like wines is of extreme importance.

It can’t possibly have everything, but we looked for the one site that offers close to everything.

And the winner in 2018 is:

(We interrupt this awards program because it is New Year’s Eve and the Head Judge

just heard the sound of a Champagne cork…)

To be continued next year.

 

Weekend Update: Top 7 Online Wine Sellers

(Online only and does not include flash sales.)

1. www.invino.com

Excellent finds/discounts in CA wines and direct imports.

Recent selections demonstrate a serious effort to find hidden gems. Moved to the top with new Italian wines and super California wines like Cuvaison Pinot and the unusual Marsanne from Mendocino’s Campovida. Offering 2013 “Prime Solum” Napa Cabernet from Bill (William) Hill tipped it for me.

  1. www.garigistewine.com

Totally eccentric, often brilliant selection of imports.

Upgraded this week after securing excellent wines under $10 and super older wines like Qupe 09 Syrah. Provides excellent background on Bordeaux vintages.

  1. www.wine.com

Most complete and reliable site with decent discounts.

Showed well this week with 1 cent shipping option and much improved Bordeaux selection.

4.www.wineexpress.com

Solid, all-purpose site, part of the Wine Enthusiast.

Broke into the top 7 list this with several exciting offers.

Among them, Ferrari Carano’s Siena under $20 and lovely, all-purpose Primal Roots red for under $10.

5.www.cinderellawine.com

Solid for discounted Italian and Spanish wines.

Enjoyed a strong week with exciting Barolo and Brunello deals,and specials on imported  Roses. A double magnum of lovely Rose? Worked for me.

6.www.wineaccess.com

Rapidly improving. Best for CA wines.

Added hard to find wines from Tor and Jones Family, and Vermillion from Keplinger. Not all wines are discounted, this is more like a specialty online wine shop.

7.www.winespies.com

A go-to site if you love exploring new, small wineriesfrom Sonoma County. Added a Sauvignon from Bodkin and a new red from Jigar this week.

This site recently showed remarkable versatility with good deals on McLaren Vale Grenache, RustRidge Napa Zin and Phelps Napa Cabernet Sauvignon.

 

A tale About Hubris & the Exclusive 100 Point Wine Club

 

Part 1

Last Wednesday, during my habitual walk through Costco’s wine department in Santa Rosa, I was blown away to see at the end of an aisle bottles of 2014 Le Dome offered at a discounted price of $69.99.

Surprised, stunned and maybe a little sad, I didn’t buy the wine. But did return to make sure I read the label correctly.

Ten years ago, one of the most famous, most sought-after wines in the world was this very same “Le Dome” from St. Emilion. The 2005 was a great wine and its reputation soared even higher when the 2009 was rated 99 points by Robert Parker.

Then, it went off the charts when Parker rated the 2010 a perfect 100 points. With that, Le Dome joined an exclusive club.

A website, Cult Wines for investors, provides ratings and prices from 1996 onward, if you are interested in all vintages.

Mere mortals could not buy a bottle of Le Dome even if they were willing to pay the $300 asking price.

Almost every bottle of “Le Dome” went to the UK market where it was as much of a national treasure as Judi Dench.  The British wine press could not hold back its praise for “Le Dome.”

Jonathan Maltus, the man behind Le Dome is British, and he was frequently introduced in wine circles as” the first English winemaker to make a 100 point wine.”

When living in the Bordeaux region, I was served Le Dome on several occasions, always by proud British friends. All vintages were extra-ordinary, unusually opulent. Jonathan was at 3 of the dinners and he was quite pleasant, quiet & easy-going. I later visited and tasted many more of his wines at Chateau Teyssier, his primary Chateau on the outskirts of St. Emilion.

Le Dome, made from a small 4-acre parcel, near Chateau Angelus in St. Emilion, was a strong player in the Garagiste movement that shocked the old guard in St. Emilion and rattled the Bordeaux wine trade. Many trace the small production, hands on garagiste movement to Château Le Pin. Others who joined it and Le Dome were Chateau Valandraux, Rol Valentin, and La Mondotte.

Le Dome is made from Cabernet Franc with a small percentage of Merlot, similar to the well-established Cheval Blanc.

Decanter Magazine and other British publications still closely follow Le Dome and gave high scores to the 3 most recent vintages, 2014, 2015, and 2016.

Several of the online  wine retailers I follow have recently listed vintages of the previously impossible to find Le Dome. And http://www.wine.com lists the 2014 for $125 a bottle. Other sites have offered the 2012 at discounted prices.

About a month ago, when reviewing www.nakedwines.com, I noticed 2 St. Emilion wines made by Malthus for less than $30 a bottle. Neither was Le Dome, but there clearly is something going on.

Is the garagiste movement over in Bordeaux?

Or is Le Dome the only star that has crashed down to earth?

Around 2005, I heard from other wine writers that Malthus was launching a similar wine in Australia, and had shipped over those special sorting machines used for Le Dome. Located in the Barossa Valley, that project is known as The Colonial Estate.

Later, around 2008, Malthus launched another project, this time in Napa Valley. The brand is World’s End and the wine, a blend of Cabernet Franc and Syrah, is called “Wavelength.”

Invino, an excellent web retailer that secures great deals, recently offered the 2009 Wavelength for $59.99 and mentioned it had also picked up the 2010 from a broker handling the brand.

Wavelength wines were made from the Stagecoach Vineyard in Napa. A few months ago, Gallo purchased the entire vineyard. So, that’s probably the end of that project as we know it.

But going back to the excitement over joining Bordeaux’s exclusive 100-point club, one line from an article in the British press about Maltus struck me: “I remember seeing [Mr. Parker] after he gave the 100 point score,” recalls Mr. Maltus. “He just smiled and said: ‘Don’t worry, it’s all downhill from now.’ ”

Wow!  I bet Parker would like to take that comment back

That remark now seems somewhat prophetic, but the truth more likely is that the road has had a few major bumps in it.

I hope Jonathan bounces back.

It does seem as if he got caught up in his own hubris and way over-extended himself.

Any return to earth might be easier if he threw away all of the old press clippings about superstar status along with membership in the exclusive 100 point club.

The Greatest Pinot Noir Deal Ever?

 

Leave it to Jon Rimmerman, the unpredictable guy behind www.garagistewine.com to issue this challenge.

His pick: the 2015 Trinity Hill Pinot Noir, White label, Hawkes Bay for $9.98.

That’s right…under $10.

The average price is $15.00.

You can order up to 20 cases, so he has a sh…or make that boatload on hand.

And yes, this is delicious Pinot from one of New Zealand’s best producers.

It sure beats Cupcake’s Pinot Noir. Or Smoking Loon.

Is there a better deal now?

Ever?

 

 

 

 

A Wine Club: Intimate & Educational

Can a wine club be exclusive, limited to a few hundred members, hosts private special events, make great wines and be non-snobby?  

I added that last point because the ATTITUDE you encounter in some wineries is a real turn-off, at least to me. (Are you listening, Napa Valley?)

Some people may think being made to feel uncomfortable and being talked down to by some twit on a script is part of the wine club deal. And attending over-subscribed winery events with boring speeches is the trade-off for buying expensive wines.

A good club, we can all agree, offers something more than high-priced, hard to find wines. The personal service should be attentive and the events should be more than tasting wines and listening to a sales pitch.

But membership should also be a positive experience, as in fun and a rewarding experience, as in learning.

The educational element is all too often non-existent in wine clubs today.

Drinking wine is easy; thinking about it as in expanding your knowledge, well, that’s a different thing.

So, if you share my interest in a wine club that has it all, except the attitude, look no further.

The answer is a new winery named Clarice, located in Sonoma County.

http://www.claricewinecompany.com

This is the new venture of a seasoned pro, Adam Lee, who founded Siduri Wines in the early 1990s and came to know every unusual Pinot Noir vineyard from Oregon to Santa Lucia Highlands in Monterey. And Santa Barbara. And San Luis Obispo. Well, you get the idea.

I was among his many fans who enjoyed Siduri Pinot Noirs because each was a lesson in its place of origin. Yes, they were great studies in “terroir.” Still are.

I also liked the Syrahs made under the Novy label. Make that: loved them.

Having sold Siduri in 2015 to Jackson Family, Adam has been working on a new brand and a unique wine club concept.

The concept has 3 key elements: fine wines for members only, educational discussions, and community.

It is limited to 625 members, and the wines are offered only to members.

Here’s the deal:

“As part of the Clarice Wine Community, members will enjoy two exclusive parties a year, one focusing on the Clarice Pinot Noirs and the other spotlighting a fellow winemaker and their wines, during which members will learn about their viticulture and winemaking, taste their wines, and receive special discounts. Finally, members will receive a case of Clarice Pinot Noir as part of their membership.”

Membership fee is $964.00 a year. But is it payable in six monthly installments.

The case will be available each October. The first vintage was 2017.

Granted, plunking down $160 a month is a big commitment, and once you begin, well, you are in.

The add-on to me is the personal touch in the educational programs. Members will learn about many facets of winemaking such as oak barrels, how they are made and what they add to wine.

Better to let Adam explain the educational aspect:

“From vineyard management and barrel making, to winery accounting and wine distribution — and so much more — you’ll learn from and interact with the true leaders of wine. In addition, you’ll gain access to a growing library of wine-related articles, written by a who’s who of industry experts.”

So, you will earn what the “MT” designation on an oak barel means.

Also, Clarice will offer private social media forums to handle members’ questions or concerns about wine and restaurants, or in Adam’s words:

“Wondering which restaurants have the best wine lists? Need help deciding what to add to your cellar? Join our private social media groups to share knowledge and recommendations.”

To me, that says they are willing to put a ton of effort into making members happy and a part of the family or community. The number of members is limited by the amount of wine produced each year.

The Price of Top Bordeaux

2015 Chateau Margaux 750ml (Bordeaux) – $1,268.70

Rated 100 points: (WA98-100)  (JS100)

(JD100)

Offered by     wwwgaragistewine.com

“STRICT LIMIT 1/person until we run out (in the spirit of the community and to allow as many of you as possible to acquire it at this $, please do not be upset with the one bottle limit.

(to be clear, this is $1268+ per bottle)

$1268+ is a Top Deal?”

Could well be. Time will tell.