Online Wine Websites by Category

Making Sense out of Wine Online Sellers: Step One

Because there is a confusing array of websites, each claiming to be the best, we have first of all divided the field into seven different types.

Secondly,  at our website: www.bestonlinewineshopping.com we provide an in-depth evaluation of the major sites within each category and offer our unbiased opinions on which ones are successful. And which ones are lagging behind or should be avoided.

The Seven Categories are:

Mega-Sites: One-stop shopping with around 10,000 wines listed. The average wine shop carries about 600 wines, btw. Marginal discounts, but numerous shipping options.

Flash Sales: Timed sales; heavy discounts. Some sites offer one wine daily, while others two or more. Whatever, there’s pressure to act before the deal disappears. Good shipping options on smaller orders of 4 or 6 bottles as well as case deals.

Hybrids: Combine store fronts & online sales. Kind of a safe haven. You can order online and then either have the wine shipped to you or pick the order up at one of the real stores. You gain a sense of security but the trade-off is price since discounts are rarely significant and shipping costs can add up.

Specialists: Limited focus on CA wines, Bordeaux, Champagne, etc. This is a big category, but generally each specialist is limited in the number of wines offered. There’s one that’s perfect if you prefer Oregon Pinot of Washington State Reds, and another for Loire Valley wines.

Sites for Collectors: Focus on Cult & Rare wines. We’re talking high-end, expensive; you need to do your homework if you want to play in this arena.

Winery Direct Sites: Wineries with special deals and no membership requirements. This is an exciting category that is sure to expand. Some offer special deals on holidays or will offer good stuff at a special price. A few will hold a special sale with a 1 cent shipping per case deal.

Sites for Clubs, Gifts & Samplers: Like personal shoppers.  Or, like highway robbers. Your pick! Several sites work hard to offer excellent membership deals or gift packs. Others want your money and will send you wines that aren’t worth half the price.

Vintage Guides, help or all hype?

If you research “vintage wine guides,” you’ll find a dozen or more available to download. There’s Robert Parker’s vintage chart for Bordeaux, another writer’s for Australia and The Wine Spectator’s and Wine Enthusiast’s all-encompassing guides, to cite just a few.

One can only assume they are so readily available because some, perhaps many, wine drinkers need something to assist them in their wine buying decisions and in deciding when to drink certain wines.

Although most vintage guides downplay themselves as mere generalizations about a region’s overall performance, they still suggest we need experts to advise us because wine is too complicated for mere mortals.

The Wine Spectator’s 2016 vintage chart unknowingly undermines that argument as it rates the last ten vintages from every wine region and only one is rated below 85 out of 100. And by the way, 85 is a “very good” vintage. So it’s all good, right?  Or, good enough.

Not quite. Hyping a vintage is one thing that several online wine merchants painfully overdo. One of the tricks is to trot out an average quality wine and then hype it by focusing on the vintage’s star quality as if that carries over into every wine made that year. It does not.

It is even more devious when the vintage rating is based on the 100-point system. The site will rave about the 95 points somebody gave the vintage and then imply the wine for sale falls within that score by some sort of magic.  It does not.

Critics who seem to enjoy ranting on about different vintages are living in the past holding to the flawed concept that ageability is the primary component of a great wine or vintage.

Now before you delete your favorite vintage chart or tear up the printed version you carry with you at all times, hold on. Some information about vintage conditions can be extremely useful when you shop around for wines.

The conditions that made the 2010 vintage in the Medoc, St. Emilion and Pomerol merit a 98 or 99 rating are weather-related. That means the rains came when needed, and the sun shone evenly most of the time and everything was hunky-dory during the harvest days. But those conditions were present everywhere in the Bordeaux region, not only over Chateau Lafite in Pauillac or Petrus in Pomerol.

Our conclusion: in highly rated vintages, look for great values and bargains from lesser known producers and from those regions that are close to the upscale neighborhood.

Flash Sale Sites

 Of the several active flash sales websites, I’ve found lastbottlewines to be rapidly improving in its wine selections and to be the most fun to follow on a daily basis. 

www.lastbottlewines.com

Rating: 41/2 stars

trending up

 

Based upon the flash sale model, http://www.lastbottlewines.com is headquartered in Napa Valley and has been gaining momentum and clients since its humble beginning in 2011. Its Three partners (Cory Wagner, Stefan Blicker and Brent Pierce) are young-ish with good connections in the wine world.

Each day, one wine is offered, and the site gives you 3 prices: the current retail price, best web price of the day, and their buy it now price. Discounts vary with each wine, but are usually deep.  If your order is too late, you get an empty wine case image with its not so subtle snooze you lose message.

Most of the wines are from California, but recently they have expanded their scope and are coming up with many wines from France and elsewhere.Two finds in April were great deals in Cotes du Rhone reds. Sometimes a magnum or double magnum of wine pops up. A double magnum of Grgich Hill Cab was the star of a Leap Year mini-marathon. That was preceded by an excellent Bordeaux from the Fronsac appellation and an exciting 2012 Spanish red from Elias Mora.

Earlier, Zinfandel lovers pounced upon an offering of 2011 Elyse, Napa Valley, Morisoli Vineyard for $16.00. The site  also recently featured a  2013 Luna Merlot for $13, a super Russian River Syrah, the 2011 Martinelli for $22, an Oregon Pinot Noir, the 2011 Et Fille, and somehow the guys wrangled some of Sterling Vineyards’ 50th Anniversary Red. And talk about creativity, they found the Rangeland “Mistletoe” Red, a blend of Paso Robles Cab and Syrah,  to offer at Christmas.

Suffice it to say, you never know what’s coming next from these guys and, well, that makes you wait for the net offering, doesn’t it? Last Bottle makes no effort to disguise its appeal to an audience that grew up  on social media.  The comments are obviously aimed at millennials with an overuse of CAPS, preponderance of buzz words from awesome, bang, boom, wow, and “killer Vintage” or killer wine” along with more exclamation marks and 3 dots than your English teacher ever thought possible in one paragraph.

However, I like the fact that they don’t rely too much on reviewers’ point scores, reinforcing the feeling that they know what they are doing. Some people may not be comfortable without reviews from the pros or their peers. But you will still enjoy the sheer enthusiasm conveyed here and the fact that these folks enjoy what they are doing. Nothing wrong with having fun while you make a buck, is there?

Seeming to enjoy surprises, lastbottlewiness.com broke the daily pattern and offered 6 attractive wines on Black Friday.They also has fun with several Leap Day offerings on February 29th. And no surprise, there was an April Fool prank. There will likely be other surprises in the months ahead to keep you guessing. You can download their app to keep informed.  

Last bottle shipped about 1 million bottles in 2015 or close to 300 cases a day. Local buyers in Napa and Sonoma enjoy free shipping, and that is as cool as the refrigerated delivery van they use.

lastbottlewines.com  is an emerging KILLER online wine seller. (BOOM! I nailed it!!!!)

Pros: Shipping is free for 4 bottles or more. Good discounts.  Checkout is simple and clean. Delivery was on time. Free local deliveries.

Cons:  Wines are offered at different times of the day so you have to be on alert and some disappear quickly.

Styrofoam shippers, really?

For Collectors

 

www.2020wines.com

***

2020 Cotner Ave. – West Los Angeles CA 90025 – 310.447.2020

Owned by Robert Golbahar, this LA wine merchants claims to provides wines to the hollywood stars and mentions Sandra Bullock among others as clients. Whether that impresses you or not, the facts are that Twenty-Twenty Wine Merchants is a well-known store with over 4,000 square feet of refrigerated wine lockers kept at 60 degrees F, which can accommodate up to 400 cases of wine each.

“Now with our new racking, we can store thousands of bottles in the refrigerated showroom, ” Golbahar says. Many clients have wine lockers at Twenty-Twenty; indeed, for $500-700 a year, a collector can rent a 25-case locker.  It is natural enough to envision Barbara Walters having her own wine locker here, isn’t it? Or Hugh Downes.

Moving on to its website, 2020 offers over 300 Cabernets and 118 Pinot Noirs including a few half-bottles. Among the Cabs you might want to hail is a 1997 Screaming Eagle for $5,500 and a rare double magnum of Phelps 1997 Insignia for $3,395. If you are looking for only one Screaming Eagle and not working on a vertical, you better off looking at the 2009 Screaming Eagle which is still in its prime and sells for just under $3,000.

The real surprise here are the Three Shafer Hillside Select Cabs, 2001,  2002 and 2010, all of which are 100 point wines and quite attractively priced at around $650 a pop.

This site has most of the other big Cabernet names…Dalla Valle, Hundred Acres, Checkerboard, Tor, and Pride Mountain Reserve.

Of the 200 Bordeaux reds listed by 2020, they range from incredible new vintages to incredibly old and probably over the hill older fare. I’m assuming the older wines are selected for for customers looking for a particular birth year or those wanting to experience a 1928, 1929, 1948, 1955 or 1961, all fabled Bordeaux vintages. I have to admit being just a little intrigued by the magnum of 1947 Chateau Canon, and only wish I had $8,000 in spare change.

Without question, there are truly great Bordeaux wines  available here. But keep in mind that when a Parker note says the 1928 Chateau Beychevelle, tasted in 1988, could easily live another ten years, he probably tasted the wine at the Chateau where it has been cellared since 1928. Also, keep in mind that other older wines such as the 1966, 1985, and 1989 Chateau Lafite were most likely purchased from a private collection and then you have to be ever so mindful of the wine’s provenance.

The Specials include wines that are less well known but high scoring such as the 2103 Etre Chardonnay from the Sonoma Coast. This 93 point unknown is a super Chardonnay for $29.99. The 1999 Beaucastel seems to stand out in a list with Catena Malbec and Concha Y Toro wines. But if there a method in their madness, the specials try to include many wines listed in The Wine Spectator’s Top 100 of the year. Since quite a few are priced below $50 a bottle, you can visualize Sandra Bullock adding several bottles of 2010 Quinta do Crasto Old Vine Reserva at $44.77 because she knows this is a great wine to serve to friends.

The most unpredictable list and well-worth your time, if you are not a Hollywood celebrity,  is the Featured Wines. It includes a 2001 Chateauneuf-du-pape from Vieux Donjon for $70, a 2010 Calcareous Syrah for $42.00, a 2010 Rombauer Zin for $24.95 and 2010 Melville Syrah for $29.75. These are excellent wines, reasonably priced, and the kind of wines you can drink over the next few years without dipping into your cellar prematurely.

Pros: Offers most of the top-tier producers from CA and France.

Good selection of older vintages

Cons: No discounts and no shipping breaks