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.”

Buying Wines in France

Ever wonder how the French, who consume 4 times more wine per capita than we do, buy  wine?  One logical answer is that since they tend to visit the market every day to buy food, wine is available for purchase at even the smallest grocery store in the smallest village.

Good guess but when they want to replenish their cellars with enough wine to get them through the fall and winter month and also stock up on long-aging wines, they go another route: the “Foire aux Vins” provided by the major markets. 

Each year over the last week of September and the first week of October, the giant supermarkets, Carrefour, Auchan, Leclerc, and Super U, put on a super sale of wines from all parts of France and other regions.

Each “Foire” or Wine Fair organizes a large number of wines to be sold at discounted prices with an additional discount to club members that carry over to all wines.

During a recent visit, our wine-loving friends in Bordeaux invited us to join them at a special tasting at a Leclerc to kick off its “Foire aux Vins.” Crowds lined up before the doors opened at 8:30 pm to get a chance to sample wines from 36 different producers and to have first dibs at all wines up for sale.

This is France and of course there was food. Excellent finger food and they never ran out. The seasoned veterans headed directly to the oyster bar to go with the glass of Champagne, and then located the fois gras table before turning their full attention to the wines.

Now, if you are thinking there’s nothing to wash these down but ordinary supermarket wine, you would be blown away

by the overall quality. Sure, there were many under $5 bottles but the pleasant surprise was the number of beautifully made white and red wines for under $10.  

Two personal favorites in the tasting were the 2014 Ch. Verriere Bordeaux Superieur and 2014 Chateau Pitray, wonderful red wines for about $6.25. The latter is from the Cote de Castillon, one of several  Bordeaux sub-regions that Americans should get to know better. There’s also Bergerac for red and white wine, but that’s another story.

Many of the famous Bordeaux chateaux offer second label wines in off years. And, as expected, there were several second labels like the 2011 Petit Cheval from Cheval Blanc for $160 and the 2013 Carillon D’Angelus for about $60. My indifference to second label Bordeaux was more or less reinforced.

The biggest surprise of all was the number of high-end, high-priced wines on the shelves. The superstars that caught my eye were the 2012 Chateau Palmer ($250), 2011 Chateau Haut Brion ($460) and 2011 Chateau Lynch-Bages ($100). So not every bottle of fabled Bordeaux is exported to the US or China as some may believe.

The wide variety of wines at discounted prices, the food, and the festive mood converged to produce the desired results: supermarket carts were loaded with wine boxes and cash registers were busy over the next few hours.  It was amazing to see how many cases could be stuffed into one shopping cart.

The check-out lines were long, and we had to wait to find an empty cart. Once located, it too was filled up with a few bottles. Well, make that quite a few bottles.

When in France, do as the French do. And we did.

Harvest Time In St. Emilion

Enjoying a beautiful, warm sunny Sunday in St. Emilion. The tiny streets are crowded with tourists from everywhere making it more difficult than ever to find a parking place. And although the wine bars and restaurants are packed and the noise level is high, the surrounding cellars and vineyard areas are quiet.

No tractors are bumping along the numerous roads rushing from vineyard to cellar and spilling red juice along the roads as they were last week in the Languedoc region to the South.

In St. Emilion growers are playng that annual and risky waiting game as they hope for sustained warm, dry October weather to yield another miracle and make 2016 a surprising following act to 2015.

A noisy thunderstorm blew through here late last Friday dropping considerable rain for about 2 hours.

But Saturday was dry with slight breezes to dry things. Dark clouds were visible in the distance until the skies cleared in the early evening. The waiting game was on.

A few raindrops fell the week before. But this is France and nobody panics when rain arrives during the harvest season. Not here, at least. One grower suggested the vines would benefit from the rain so long as the thin-skinned Merlot grapes didn’t begin to split open from the added moisture. That would be a disaster because Merlot plays a starring role in St. Emilion wines.

But the red grapes are hanging, looking ripe and juicy to the untrained eye. The vines are still green, looking healthy. That’s an old Merlot vine carrying a small crop in our photo.

Merlot will be the first variety harvested. Possibly later in the week. Then the two Cabernets with Malbec and Petit Verdot coming in  to end the harvest.

Meanwhile, the waiting continues.

 

 

 

 

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

Are Wine Corporations People Too?

A recent article on Forbes.com caught my attention: ”How Wineries are Getting Sold and Still Keeping their Soul.”  Unfortunately,  The author tip-toes around this timely subject by asking what two sommeliers think of the subject and then turning to the CEO of Jackson Family Wines for the company’s talking points and a stock photo.

Since many online wine merchants pitch their sales through narratives and background stories, what happens when a family winery is bought by a large company or multi-national corporation is a crucial piece of information.  The subject merits more than a puff piece from Forbes.

After being sold, does the winery remain true to the original philosophy, vision or whatever, or does it increase its production to become a totally different, unrecognizable winery?

Or, as often happens, does it simply morph into a brand.

For wine consumers, the distinction between a real winery and a brand or virtual winery is key. Brand building is the way the business world works…just ask Trump. But in the wine business, there is a clear distinction to be made between brand building for a wine producer and a brand that is nothing but a brand.

Charles Shaw is a brand.  The original Chuck Shaw, the Annapolis graduate who founded the Napa winery which no longer exists, has nothing to do with “two buck chuck”wines. Similarly, Lyeth today is another brand whose current wines have no connection to the founding family, the winery and vineyards which are now part of Silver Oak.

A few weeks ago www.wineexpress.com went through the Lyeth history to sell a new Lyeth wine which, incidentally was cheaper at Trader Joe’s. And www.wineaccess.com often goes way out of its way trying to tie in irrelevant history to a current brand.

Now back to the Forbes piece.  As Bill McIver, who founded Matanzas Creek in 1977, posted on the Forbes Forum: “I seriously doubt that the style of any wine from a winery sold to a large company remains the same.  In my opinion it is totally absurd to believe that any multi-million gallon producer would continue the cost required to make superior wine. Today Matanzas Creek wine is not even made in our 50,000 case facility. It is made in a 500,000 manufacturing plant in Alexander Valley. Meanwhile the expensive stainless steel tanks and winemaking facility is idle and Matanzas Creek Winery building is used only as a tasting room that consumer believe is a real operating winery.”

Clearly, Matanzas Creek which was bought by Jackson Family bears little resemblance to the original,. Now with production greatly expanded, and the winemakers dismissed after the sale, one could say it has lost its soul. Few would argue that Arrowood Winery without Dick Arrowood, and Murphy-Goode without a Murphy or a Goode on the scene have also changed since being purchased by Jackson Family.

Other companies  go to extremes to alter the winery’s image after buying it. Anyone who ever met Walt and Roy Raymond, kind and down-to-earth founders of Raymond Vineyards in Napa Valley, must wonder what they now think of Raymond Vineyards under the ownership of J.C. Boisset. Production has expanded, and the tasting room has been redesigned so that one room seems more like the interior of a bordello (see the accompanying photo).  Sure Raymond is now pet friendly… but does seem to have lost its soul.

To be fair, today’s Arrowood Cabernets are fine, the Murphy-Goode Fume is a good by the glass restaurant wine, and the Matanzas Creek Sauvignon is okay at Costco’s current price.

In the Forbes article, the author concludes, “But when these business marriages are done right, the potential for both parties to benefit, as well as consumers, is tremendous.”  The question that should be raised is: “have these so-called marriages ever actually resulted in real benefits all-around?”

Maybe. But not often. The Louis Martini winery, in my mind anyway, seems to be on the upswing under Gallo ownership. Is that because Michael Martini is still involved and now has the tools he needs?

And across the board, I’m happy to say that Sebastiani wines are doing well under Foley ownership. The recent vintage of Sebastiani Barbera, the pride of the Sebastianis, is absolutely terrific.

But most morph into brands cranking out more wines that line the shelves of supermarkets and chain stores.

Good Wines, Good Neighbors

Attention all wine lovers: Here’s a genuine “insider tip” about two fabulous wine collections soon to be available. Why am I alerting others? Well, stupid me, I truly believe that wine is something meant to be shared.

And maybe I’m hoping to be invited to share a bottle by the new owners.

So hoarders, brand collectors who never enjoy the wine in their cellars but display them on tours, and hedonists who babble on about how great a wine was that they drank last night, and tell you about its point scores… this tip isn’t for you.

But back to my insider tips. The first collection is a 24-bottle vertical of Chateau de Beaucastel featuring the best vintages from 1978 to 2010. Yes, the great Chateauneuf-du-Pape.

Collection #2 is another 24 bottle vertical, this time of the Joseph Phelps Insignia, 1990-2013.

While both verticals contain the best vintages what brings us to the “insider tip” is the provenance of these wines. They have been cellared under truly ideal conditions and the older vintages have been babied over all the years.

The labels are all in excellent conditions and the level of fill is high on all bottle, confirming the perfect cellaring.

I know these things because the owners are my neighbors, and like the best of neighbors, they share fine wines. Yes, the 78 Beaucastel is alive and well, and you can enjoy the other great like the 83, 89, 90, 95, 97, 2001 and on and on.

As a longtime Chateauneuf-du-Pape fan who visited Beaucastel and other estates, I’ve tasted and enjoyed an ungodly number of CNP and can verify that the finest vintages are included in this collection.

Not to be overshadowed, only the finest vintages are included in the Insignias. I’m not teasing…it too has all of the great, long-lasting vintages of Insignia from 90, 94, 95, 97,2000, 02, and on and on. The just released 2013 Insignia is a perfect finale.

So now you are asking, “Where are these too-good-to-be-true wine collections available?” The answer is they will be headliners at a charity wine auction on September 10th. Winesong is the auction held on the Mendocino Coast town of Ft. Bragg. You don’t have to be present to bid.

Check out www.winesong.org

And yes, full disclosure, I was closely involved in this auction, but have not been since 2010.

Winesong benefits the Mendocino Coast District Hospital.

A Real Happening App

 

 

Vivino.com,  now the most popular wine App, began simply as a resource tool and has evolved quickly into an all-purpose site.  

It caught my attention about 3 years ago as a clever, useful App that allows you to take a photo of a wine label and get instant feedback and reviews of that wine.

The App is free to download on the apple store, google play, and windows phone. Other sites now have a similar app but these guys started it.

Headed by a couple of techies from Denmark, Vivino is the brainchild of Heini Zachariassen who was joined by co-founder Theis Søndergaard in 2010. The Founding Fathers, as they call themselves, simply saw a need for making information readily available to wine consumers.

Et Voila Vivino! Or whatever they say in Copenhagen.

Vivino now employ 80 people and even have an office in San Francisco to help it deal with its over 18 million subscribers. Yes, 18 million!

As it fine-tunes its own direct wine sales department, Vivino offers wines no other site has. Many are from California, and it is now featuring the 2013 T-Vine Grenache, 2012 Elizabeth Spencer “GPS,” 2012 Seltzer Stags Leap Cabernet,  2012 Lateral Napa Red, and Marietta Cellars Arme.

Vivino is also the only website offering wines from the cult-like Alpha Omega and other hard-to-find wines such as Sbragia  Home Ranch Chardonnay.

Imports, when offered, are equally fascinating, such as a Pomerol, the 2010 Gombaude-Guillot, and the 2013 Ornellaia Serre Nuove.

You also know how many bottles remain for each wine offered and how much time is left before the deal is removed.

New wines are added daily.

As A Search Engine

In the early days,  it occasionally failed to deliver reviews of older vintages or under the radar wines.  But recently, it had reviews of every Cabernet, Pinot or French wine I could think of because it now elicits reviews from its members as well as published reviews from experts.

These reviews from members follow the Tripadvisor 5-star format, and some reviewers are then followed by other reviewers on Facebook.  Several subscribers, mainly sommeliers, have reviewed over 1,000 wines.

According to the Founders, its “users contribute ratings for millions of wines from around the globe, and collectively, this database makes up the largest wine library in the world.”

To make your decision-making easier in this social media world, Vivino now lists the top wines rated by subscribers in specific states. So you can see the top 25 wines from $20 to $40  from Texas or Mass. Washington State, or whatever state you live in.

But the list of lists continues with 11 Malbecs, 10 New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs or 2 California Syrahs. Or maybe that was two turtle doves.

Well, the point is these people like compiling lists.

Admittedly, I was intrigued by the top ten wines sold at Safeway and Whole Foods. Seriously, do people buy Opus One and Dom at a Safeway?  There’s also a top 100 wines list.

As an Online Merchant

Recently, Vivino ratcheted up its own list of wines for sale using a third party retailer for fulfillment.  This exciting development is spearheaded by Peter Ekman who judging from the selections, knows where to find excellent wines at good discounts. Shipping is normally free for 4 or 6 bottles and the discounts range from 25% to 60%.

These wines are offered through a local retailer, Vintage Berkeley which ships out of San Leandro.

A Crash Course in Flash Sales

Hold onto your hat or whatever may blow in the wind, because on Tuesday, July 19th, WTSO (Wines ‘til Sold Out) is conducting its day-long marathon for wines priced at $19.99.

The kick-off is 8:00 am, East Coast time. A new wine will be for sale every 15 minutes or sooner. 

 

To sweeten the deal, they are offering free shipping with no minimum purchases and they will store your purchases for free, should there be concerns about high temperatures.

You can follow the sales online at www.wtso.com, download the app, or use your twitter account for notifications.

So, are you ready for some Flash sales?

If you are a newbie at this, it can be a bit unnerving with the time pressure. But if curious, this could be like a crash course in flash sales. You can be a spectator or a player.

I’ve followed WTSO for about 4 years and reviewed its 1,359 offers over the last 10 months to get a feel for what might be up for sale. At $19.99, there were a few exceptional deals, most were decent enough, and there were some wines I wouldn’t want if they were given to me.

Overall, the best deals were wines from the Rhone Valley, off-brand Champagne, Tuscany, and Australia, along with Pinot Noir and Zins from California.

If you are game and ready to tune into to this upcoming marathon, we are happy to offer a little pre-game advice and pep talk along with a game plan. Go to

www.bestonlinewineshopping.com

 

 

Wine Clubs Without Commitments

Joining a Wine Club without any membership fee or contractual obligation is like dating without any commitment. In other words,  quite appealing. That is so long as you don’t waste your time and encounter bad experiences on your first date or wine purchase.

In addition to almost every online wine merchant that offers some kind of club, we also have wine clubs from major publications like the New York Times and big businesses like American Express offering special wine deals through a club.

As is true of all online wine purchases, the key points to consider are quality, discounts, and shipping costs. We have recently been reviewing the field and found two that offer special 15 bottle deals that you might want to check out. Each promise major discounts.

But the most attractive feature you want is to be able to enjoy the introductory offer, and then cancel your membership. 

First, and this blew me away is the wine club offer from Virgin America Airlines. The current offer is a 15 bottle collection of Dry Rose wines from around the world. The price is $79.99, plus any applicable taxes. So no shipping cost.

The deal is you have to fill out a lot of paperwork and become a member of The Club from Virgin Wines. If you continue, they will ship a case 4 times a year. But you can cancel at any time. There is a mention of a money back guarantee. You also can earn 3,000 Elevate Points for future flight purposes.

All Roses are from 2015, so nice and fresh. The selection is excellent. Their origin ranges from European regions to South Africa, New Zealand, California and Long Island. Yes, good wines are made there.The 3 extra Roses are from the cool Edna Valley and made by a top local winemaker.

The learning opportunities are intriguing because the Roses are made from a variety of grape varieties. So you can judge whether you prefer Pinot Noir, Syrah, Malbec, Sangiovese or a few blends.

If you like Rose, this is a fantastic deal.

www.virginwines.com

Secondly, The WSJ Wine Discovery Club has “Special  Introductory offers” that merit your attention.

Here’s the deal: 15 bottles for $69.99 plus $19.99 shipping, and any taxes. You can choose red, white, or a mixed selection of 15 bottles.  So, we are talking $6 a bottle.

On the plus side, you can cancel anytime and there is even a reference to refunds and money back guarantees.  

Here’s the Inside Story:  The wines are billed as “World Class” which of course is far from the truth. And the producers are said to be “Small Estates” which is open to debate. Expert tasting notes are included which really doesn’t sweeten the deal much.

Of the three  choices,  the collection of red wines is a slightly better deal than the wines. The Cabernet and Zin from California are good, and the Chianti, Aglianico, and Tempranillo are also from reliable producers.

The whites are good enough, if you prefer whites. The White Bordeaux, Ch. Le Coin, the Spanish Albarino and California Chardonnay are very good.

The mixed case includes most of the better reds and whites. So this is an excellent way to go if you like reds and whites equally.