Is Wine Shopping Online Worth the Effort?

I seldom buy a case of wine without first tasting a bottle. A case of wine is a big commitment, monetarily and space wise. Besides it would suck to be stuck with eleven bottles of wine I didn't appreciate. However we do purchase a lot of wine on line, some of it from flash wine sites as well as traditional online wine retailers. There are so many wines I have acquired a taste for that are just not available at retail stores where we live. Consequently I am a subscriber to several flash wine sites. It takes a bit of getting used to the daily emails urging you to "Act Now!", on this incredible deal or lose out. The sales psychology of scarcity and hyperbolic wine descriptions are the norm in this arena. Oh and if your boss frowns on wine deliveries to your office you'll have to figure out other ways around the an adult signature is required BS.  If you're unsure about a wine you're considering purchasing, remember the internet is your friend. Searching for reviews and checking or to verify pricing will go a long way toward helping you make sound decisions.  As much as I like going to the wine shops in person, browsing the store and having chats with the wine guys, I must admit shopping online is a huge time saver. I do most of my online buying from October to May. To avoid the chance of the wine being cooked to death by heat, don't have your wines shipped during the summer. Buying wine online can be a hit and miss proposition. Your best chances  for success are dealing with a trustworthy retailer and knowing the producers or importers.

Here's how flash wine sites work. Wineries are juice factories and sometimes the juice is not selling fast enough. Storage is costly and if the wineries' banker is calling wondering where their money is, flash wine sites can be a quicker way to raise cash. Perhaps the harvest is around the corner and the vintner needs the space for the incoming crop. Wine that's held in tank or in unlabelled bottles offers the producer more flexibility. If the wine is still in tank, once a price is agreed upon the winery can bulk it out to another bottler, or bottle it for a flash seller at a discount. This is the business model that of Costco fame discounter Cameron Hughes used for years. Once the U.S. economy improved and the excess juice dried up, the company struggled with solvency. Cameron Hughes was recently purchased out of bankruptcy by Santa Rosa based Vintage Wine Estates. If the wine are in unlabeled bottles the winery can put a different label on it, as opposed to using their primary brand label. Same wine different label is a fairly common practice in the wine business. For example, in the U. S. the term 'private reserve' on a wine label may signify a wine of distinction, from a special vineyard or barrel lot, but in reality, and legally, two wines from the same vat can have different labels.  When there's lots of extra juice around there are bargains galore. Everybody loves a bargain and flash sites move wine quickly. Depending on how aggressive the discounts are, sometimes in just hours. If the wines are already bottled and labeled it becomes a little more problematic for the winery. Putting a wine in the market place at a discount in places where it is already being marketed at full retail could violate an agreement you have with a distributor and also erode your products perceived value to the consumer.

Several months ago I received an offer from Last Bottle, a Napa Valley based flash wine vendor offering a 2015 Côtes du Rhone for about a ten spot, with free shipping if you purchased eight or more bottles. Last Bottle usually sources predominately California wines. It's fascinating to me how many unheard of $100 California Cabernets are available at a 50% discount.  Being a sucker for CDR and having tasted so many wonderful Rhone wines from the 2015 vintage already, I decided to pull the trigger and order a case. Last Bottle's fulfillment operations are an hour to the east of us so we usually get our order in two to three business days. I typically let any wine that's shipped to us rest undisturbed for several weeks before I try it. Maybe it's the fact that the shipping distance is so short, but I like that  Last Bottle doesn't  use styrofoam shippers when sending us our wine. Where does all that styrofoam go anyway?

When I received the wine and checked the label I didn't recognize the producer, but when I turned the bottle around I was pleasantly surprised to see the shipper Jeff Welburn's name, prominently displayed on the back label. As I was already familiar with Jeff's  high quality selections from other areas of the Rhone Valley, Saint-Joseph and Gigondas, I stashed the wines in the wine cooler confident that I had made a good purchase.

Before trying the wine I did a little research and discovered that the wine was made by Frédéric et Benoit Lavau Vinificateurs. It's a family operation that has three winemaking cellars in the southern Rhone Valley. They work with over 350 grape growers and make wine from nearly all of the appellations in the southern Rhone Valley.


              Our all purpose BBQ red for the month of May

What's the wine like? The 2015 Réserve Des Galets Côtes-du-Rhône is 60% Grenache and 40% Syrah with 13.5 % alcohol. The wine is medium ruby in color and the nose exhibits black and red fruits, lavender and a  hint of iodine. On the palate, bright red fruit flavors, light acidity and soft tannins. It has a simple clean finish. It's everything a $10 CDR should be. Easy drinking and you don't need to think about it.  Just enjoy. It's barbecue season and this wine is the perfect accompaniment for just about anything that comes off the grill. Last time out we had it with grilled spicy Santa Fe chicken thighs and a lightly dressed Caesar Salad.

Is online wine buying worth the effort? Based upon my experiences over the last several years I'd say yes. What are you waiting for? Get in the pool the waters fine. And remember there really is no need to act hastily. Do your  research and know what you want before the offers even appear. Because after all wine is like buses. There's always another good one coming down the line.