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?