Wine & the Holiday Spirit

Over the last week, the online wine retailers turned into a pack of shameless shills pushing overpriced, overblown, and underperforming wines. I can only guess they were trying to package and gift wrap vastly ordinary vino to those who want to get their holiday shopping done quickly.

In my ongoing tracking of online sellers, one stood out once again for being different and being in the holiday spirit. Read their comment below to understand why I like www.lastbottlewines.com and then check out tomorrow’s marathon madness.

“Here at the end of 2016, we’re also aware that not everyone has the resources that we enjoy — so in that spirit, as we get ready to BLOW OUT 100s of cool wines, we’re also donating $10,000 to our friends at The Napa Valley Food Bank. This wonderful organization provides a variety of nutritious food to low-income individuals, families, seniors and non-profit organizations throughout Napa County through four programs: Emergency Food Pantries; Senior Brown Bag; the USDA Commodity Program; and Non-Profit Access. They feed thousands of local households every month and we are proud to support their work!!”

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?

Black Friday in the Online Wine Shopping World

 An Up-to-date Report:

Amazon is disappointingly focused elsewhere; same old wine deals.

www.getwineonline.com is better with 10-40% discounts and coupons.

Laithwaite offered a special case of red wines, mostly heavy-duty reds.

And www.lastbottlewines.com will likely offer a surprise or two in its flash sales before this day is over.

But the major Black Friday breaking news is that the big boy, http://www.wine.com, came through in a big way.

The today-only offer at wine.com is an extra 10% off and free shipping for a case.

My tip for exploring the lists of white and red wines, is sort by SAVINGS.

Dont be bamboozled or distracted by that “Popular Sellers” category which always seem to start out with high-priced wines.

And if you truly want a deal, dont sort by the 90 points or more ratings.

My search was for excellent wines priced at least 25% below average retail before that extra 10% was applied.

Looking very carefully at wines below $20 a bottle, we zoomed in on these ten money-saving deals:

2015 Cabernet Sauvignon Los Vascos, Colchagua Valley, $9.99

2012 Chardonnay Mercer, Columbia Valley, $10.69

2013 Chardonnay Benziger Family, Sonoma County $10.99

2014 Garnacha Torres 5G, $11.99

2013 Shannon Ridge Wrangler Red, Lake County, $12.99

2012 Casa Santos Lima Confidencial Reserve Red, Portugal  $12.99

2015 Pinot Gris, “J” Russian River, $14.99

2015 Chardonnay Reserve, Frei, Russian River, $15.99

2014  Cabernet Sauvignon Catena, Argentina $17.99

2014 Gewurztraminer Trimbach, Alsace, $19.99

Too Good to Be True?

As we approach Black Friday and prepare for Cyber Monday, deals are coming at us from every direction.

And now, not to be ignored, the over two dozen online wine merchants I track daily are also trying to cash in on this crazy time.

One deal so far seems exceptional.

The Offer:

“From now through Black Friday only, firstleafclub.com is offering 3 rare, high-quality wines, each $30 a bottle at retail, in this special deal for only $5 a bottle!

2012 Kita Grenache, Santa Ynez Valley

2014 Moniker Pinot Noir, Mendocino

2015 Ultima Cabernet Sauvignon Gran Reserva, Chile

For a limited time only, you can get these three award-winning wines for just $19.95 (including shipping) as your introduction to the Firstleaf wine club! “

My Take:

Putting aside the award-winning and “rare wine” fluff, this offer is almost too good to be true.

The Grenache and Pinot are very good wines from real wineries.

Kita is a family-owned winery that made less than 300 cases of the attractive Grenache. Moniker is a new line of wines from the well-known Parducci Winery in Mendocino County.

Hard to go wrong with a Chilean Cab for $5.00.

Free shipping makes this a super deal.

For insider information and a detailed review of first leaf wine merchant click here: www.bestonlinewineshopping.com

Reds

If you prefer red wines for your Thanksgiving weekend, there is great news.

Forget Black Friday hype, I’ve checked out the major wine sellers and saw reds all over.

The best online sale today , by far, is from http://www.wineexpress.com which is offering dozens of reds at discounts ranging from 20%-60%.

Free shipping is offered on orders of $99 or more.

When trying to select the best wine for turkey, I bypass Cabernet and Zinfandel and look to Pinot Noir and other reds, especially Rioja.

So, for what it may be worth, here are my top picks from wineexpress.com

2010  Reserva 2010 Bodegas Montecillo, $10.97, deeply discounted and captures the best of Rioja.

2014 Director’s Cut Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley, $21.97. This is a star from Coppola’s new line of wines. Smooth and sleek.

For more about wineexpress.com and its reliability see my detailed review and rating at

www.bestonlinewineshopping.com

Reverse Snobbery

If Champagne is the ultimate snob wine, then here is my candidate for the ultimate reverse snobbery.

Maybe you should sit down first.

The best under $20 bottle of bubbly is a real Champagne. And it is the Kirkland Brut sold at every Costco. It is authentic is every detail…grape varieties, bottled within the region, and, yes, taste.

Sorry snobs, but it truly smells and tastes like Champagne with persistent, tiny bubbles, yeasty overtones and good balance, The most remarkable thing is that it displays Champagne’s typical yeast aged complexity.

There is no Cava and especially no Prosecco that comes close. You will likely find more fruit in California bubbly priced below $20, but not the typical and lovely Champagne character.

Try it over the holidays.

November Wine Sales Kick Off

The November online wine blitz began on a high level as 2020wines.com announced its special web only deals.  And if you love Syrah, you will go crazy wild over the offerings from 2020 Wine Merchants.

2020’s new list includes just about all of the cult Syrahs and most other high scorers. Topping the list is Saxum, even the normally impossible to find 2007 Saxum, Booker Vineyard which will set you back $245. And, BTW, that’s 35% below the full retail price.

Happily, most of the November specials are discounted an average of 25%.

That includes the Epoque Syrah which along with Alban is a personal favorite. Epoque’s 09 Syrah Blend “Ingenuity” is one wine that is truly close to perfection.

The 2020 list continues as a who’s who in the world of Syrah with vintages from  Roar, Paul Lato, Lagier-Meredith’s Mount Veeder, Novy, Carlisle “Cardiac,” and the JC Cellars Rockpile Vineyard.

From the exciting region of Walla Walla, you can check out the 07 Tyrus-Evan Syrah, a Wine Spectator favorite.

If you want to explore a rising star, then consider the 09 Olson-Ogden Syrah, recently discovered by Connoisseurs’ Guide. Only 172 cases were made, and the bottle price at 2020 is $39.00.

2020wines.com was rated one of the best sites for wine collectors by www.bestonlinewineshopping.com  For a detailed review, click on“Best sites for collectors”

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.”

The Dirt on Limestone

Kermit Lynch, based in Berkeley,  is still tops among wine merchants. That’s my conclusion after following 3 dozen wine merchants with an online presence over the last 18 months.

The September offerings at www.kermitlynch.com feature a brilliantly selected case of wine. From Champagne to Cassis, the wines share one thing, all were grown on limestone, that mystical chalky stuff the French call “calcaire.”

Anthony Lynch provides background theories about limestone soils. Then he suggests we taste these and  draw our own conclusions about the influence of limestone-rich soil on wine.

Creative selection, refreshing soft sell, intelligent, commentary, and no point scores: Kermit Lynch is highlighted on www.bestonlinewineshopping.com for these and other good reasons.

5 Best Values for Labor Day

2014 Hahn Winery Pinot Noir Santa Lucia Highlands,, $19.99, 30% discount.

This is the SLH Pinot (not the Central Coast), and it is every bit as good as the 2013 that played to rave reviews. Maybe better.

Dark cherry-plum fruit, smooth, with lovely silky texture. Hahn is one of the best these days for great value. Available from: www.wine.com

2014 Mulderbosch Sauvignon Blanc, South Africa, $ 11.39, 30% discount.

Bright citrus, mango  fruit and lively flavors are delivered in a fresh and refreshing style. Like the better wines from South Africa, this Sauvignon also has its own distinct, and very pleasant character. Available from: www.getwineonline.com

2014 Caymus Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, 1,000 ml bottle, $79.97, free shipping on 6.

No need to describe the wine except to say it is classic Caymus Cabernet which will age very well.

But this bottle contains 1 liter or 25% more than the standard bottle. As such, a decent deal. Available from: www.wiredforwines.com

2013 Luna Merlot, Napa Valley, black label, $13.99 (60% off) with free shipping on six.

This top of the line Merlot from Luna showcases classic herbs and berries with the telltale Merlot rich, smooth texture. Available from http://www.wineaccess.com

2012 Quivira Vineyards Syrah, Dry Creek Valley, $18.99, 40% off with free shipping on 6.

This big, spicy Syrah is back to help start this week. If you love Syrah, this is for you.

Available from: www.vivino.com