Buying wine online: Six months of virtual shopping during the pandemic

buying wine online

“Hmmm.. what does the WC say about buying newer vintages?

Seven things I’ve learned while buying wine online during the pandemic

Buying wine online during the pandemic has not necessarily been difficult. Aggravating in many ways, certainly, and especially for anyone who likes to visit wine shops. Virtual shopping is just not the same as holding a bottle in your hand and waving at the employee in the next aisle.

Having said that, there’s something to be said for buying wine at the keyboard instead of masking up and braving a retailer in a state where not everyone believes in science. So, seven things I’ve learned to make buying wine on-line easier during the pandemic:

• Retailer websites are what they are, and that isn’t Amazon – and there’s nothing you can do about it. When the pandemic started, several analysts told me that most retailer e-services weren’t prepared to handle the traffic they would soon get. So when national e-tailer Wine.com has to apologize because it’s having trouble filling orders, imagine how much trouble smaller retailers are having. Consider one Dallas retail site advertising 15 wines for $15 or less – three of which cost more than $15.

• Pricing is all over the place. The La Vieille Ferme French rose, long a Wine Curmudgeon staple, costs $8.99 on Wine.com and at Whole Foods; $6.99 at Total Wine; $14.99 for 1.5 liters, the equivalent of two bottles, at Kroger via Instacart; $8.95 at Central Market, the Texas version of Whole Foods; and $7.34 at Spec’s, Texas biggest retailers (but it isn’t for sale on Spec’s via Instacart).

• Bookmark the LCBO website – the government owned retailer for Canada’s Ontario province. It includes alcohol levels, something many retail websites don’t list. Because they don’t, I’ve bought too many whites and roses at 14 ½ percent, which is not what I want in a white or rose.

• Scores and winespeak dominate, which does most of us – since we aren’t looking for trophy wines – no good. How about a wine that “expresses citrus and floral notes reminiscent of hawthorn and vine flower. “ Oh yeah, hawthorn and vine flower. On the other hand, I’ve had decent luck with the star ratings on Wine.com; less than 4, and I know to stay away.

Where’s the wine?

• Availability is just as goofy as pricing, and not just for the wine made with weird grapes that I like. It’s even true for mass market products like the La Vieille. I bought it on Wine.com on Sept. 10, but when I checked the price for this post, about two weeks later, it was sold out. This vanishing act happens on other other retailer sites, large and small. Much of it stems from increased demand, as more of us buy wine online, as well as pandemic-related supply chain problems. Plus, as one retailer told me, they’re keeping less wine in inventory to cut costs. My advice? If you see something you like, buy more than one. No guarantee it will be there next time.

• Given this limit in selection, I’ve been forced to try different wines and different styles. Which has been terrific – who wants to get in a wine drinking rut? That includes a variety of South African wines, several from the New World, and even Italian sparkling.

• If the site doesn’t list a vintage, good luck – and many don’t. I’ve had wines as old as 2013 dumped on me, with not unexpected results – oxidized, spoiled, or vinegary. In addition, if the e-tailer is out of one vintage, it will substitute another (check the fine print on the site, which says whether they do this). That’s a problem when I’m buying a 2019 to review and get a 2016 instead. Hence, I’ve started leaving notes, specifying which vintages I’ll take, Otherwise, I tell them to skip that wine.

Finally, make sure to uncheck all the “We’re going to send you e-mails, e-mails, and more e-mails” boxes in the permissions in your account. Otherwise, you’ll spend more time deleting email than buying wine. And, no, Instacart, I don’t want to rate my delivery experience with Eric, no matter how many times you ask me.

Photo: My Friend’s Coffee by John Beans is licensed under CC BY 2.0

More about buying wine online:
Is the coronavirus pandemic the beginning of changes to the three-tier system?
The buying wine on-line checklist
Winecast 45: DCanter’s Michael Warner and wine retail trends during the duration

$10 Hall of Fame wine Falesco Vitiano cuts distribution in the U.S.

falesco vitiano

No, no, no… . not the Falesco Vitiano.

More bad news for cheap wine: Only the Falesco Vitiano red will be generally available

Italy’s Falesco Vitiano, one of the great cheap wines in the world, has cut its U.S. distribution. Only the red will be generally available; the white is being sold ”by special order” and the rose will no longer be sold in the U.S., according to a spokesman for the importer.

This is a shocking blow to those of us who care about cheap wine. The Vitiano has been in the $10 Hall of Fame since its inception, and the brand won the best cheap wine poll in 2013. Each wine is everything great cheap wine should be – in fact, what great wine at any price should be. That means varietally correct, terroir-driven, and interesting.

The winery didn’t respond to an email asking about the cuts. Reportedly, the brand was still selling some 200,000 cases a year, although not all of that was in the U.S. The spokesman for the importer, Winebow, e-mailed me that “the rosso (red) has been the driver of the Vitiano line.” Which, to the rest of us, seems to mean that the importer and producer didn’t think the white and rose sold enough to make it worth their trouble.

This is yet another blow to anyone who loves wine, but doesn’t want to pay $15 or $20 for focus group plonk aimed at aging baby boomers. The Cotarella brothers, whose family-owned company makes Vitiano, are winemaking legends. One of the great moments in my wine writing career came in 2008, when I interviewed Riccardo Cotarella and we talked about the need for great cheap wine.

One other thing to know: The current vintages are older than usual – the red is 2016 (and there seems to be a lot of 2015 available, too), and the white is 2018. I drank the 2016 red the other night, and it was still enjoyable, though starting to fray around the edges. I haven’t tasted the white since the 2015 vintage, which I had in 2016. I haven’t seen the white or rose in stores since, and now I know why.

Wine of the week: Sokol Blosser Evolution Lucky No. 9 2019

EvolutionHow about a white wine from an Oregon producer in a 1.5 liter box that works out to $9 a bottle?

We’ve heard lots about the west coast grape glut, but we haven’t seen it translate into much in the way of lower wine prices. Sokol Blosser’s Evolution white blend, the Lucky No. 9, might be the first of many.

That’s because it’s unusual to see a wine like the Evolution, a white blend that usually carries an Oregon appellation, in a box at this price. The 1.5-liter box works out to $9 a bottle; typically, the wine costs around $15. So what’s the catch here? It may well be all those grapes. The box has an American appellation, which means 75 percent of the grapes didn’t come from any one one state. My guess, from tasting it, is that it’s Oregon fruit with more than a fair share from California’s Central Valley, the center of the grape glut.

Which is is not say the Evolution white blend ($18/1.5 liter box, sample, 12%) isn’t worth drinking. Because it is – the kind of wine to chill, keep in the fridge, and drink when you feel like a glass. Look for the slightest hint of sweetness, and not nearly as much as I thought there would be. Plus, it’s hidden among a variety of white fruit flavors – some tropical, maybe some peach, and a pleasing sort of apricot stone bitterness.

This is a fine value, and I’m not the only one who think so. Give Sokol Blosser credit – it saw all those grapes sitting there waiting for someone to be creative and figured out how to make a quality cheap wine and still turn a profit. What a unique concept for the post-modern wine business.

Winebits 665: Restaurant wine, intellectual property, legal weed

This week’s wine news: High-end restaurants are selling their wine collections to raise cash to say in business. Plus, an Argentine winery may have stolen an artist’s work and more woes for legal weed

So long, wine collection: Nation’s Restaurant News calls them “great wine cellar sell-offs of 2020.” High-end restaurants, which often spend years putting together award-winning wine lists, are selling their wines to stay in business during the pandemic. One New Jersey chain sold as much as 40 percent of its wine; a New York City restaurant turned its wine into $50,000 when it was closed in March and April. Said the restaurant’s wine director: “For us, if it’s between saving the cellar or the restaurant, save the restaurant. Product can be replaced, but you can’t replace the loyal staff members who have been with you for 10 years. A well-stocked wine cellar is of minimal value without the staff who sells it.” Restaurant wine pricing has come in for a lot of criticism on the blog over the years, but no one likes to see this going on.

Give me back my art: An Argentine winery has allegedly stolen a drawing from a well-known U.S. artist, using the art work to decorate its box wine. ArtNet.com (bet you never thought you’d see that link on a wine site) reports that Shantell Martin says Bodegas San Huberto lifted the label for the company’s Aminga Malbec from drawings she made for a work she created for a 2017 show at the Albright-Knox Art Gallery in Buffalo. There’s a picture of the box and the drawing at the link, and they do look quite similar. The story also says Martin’s work appears to be ripped off regularly, and once by retailer Lane Bryant.

More losses for legal weed: One of Canada’s biggest legal weed companies says it lost C$3.3 billion (about US$2.47 billion) in its 2020 fiscal year. Aurora Cannabis saw net revenue fall by some 30 percent and the company laid off thousands. In other words, more bad news for legal weed. And I’m not the only one who feels that way – the comments to the story, posted on the CBC website, wonder how it’s possible to lose billions of dollars selling marijuana. That’s a fair question, eh?

Expensive wine 136: Bellavista Vendemmia Rose 2014

Bellavista Vendemmia roseThe Bellavista Vendemmia rose, an Italian Champagne-style sparkling wine, provides value and lots of quality

Most Italian sparkling wine is Prosecco, which rarely costs more than $15, offers a bit of sweetness, and has decent bubbles. Franciacorta, which is made in the Champagne style and uses the same grapes, is much less common; Italian producers make 200 times more Prosecco than Franciacorta.

Hence, Franciacorta is pricey and not always easy to find. I got to taste the Bellavista Vendemmia Rose courtesy of the Italian Wine Guy, who apparently took pity on me for having to drink wine like this.

Still, the Bellavista Vendemmia Rose 2014 ($44. sample, 12.5%) is well worth the effort to find, and it’s certainly worth its mid-double digit price. It’s a nuanced, sophisticated sparkling wine, and much appreciated after all the stuff I’ve had to plow through the past six months in the pursuit of wine journalism. Look for some brioche aroma, lots of berry fruit (strawberry? raspberry?), those wonderfully tight bubbles that show top-notch Champagne-style wine, and a long, clean, and minerally finish.

Highly recommended. Drink this on its own, but it’s a terrific food wine – socca, anyone?

Imported by TMT USA

Mini-reviews 137: Bota Box rose, Adelsheim, Matua, Angels & Cowboys

bota box roseReviews of wines that don’t need their own post, but are worth noting for one reason or another. Look for it on the fourth Friday of each month.

Box Box Rose NV ($15/3-liter box, sample, 11.5%): The dry rose that showed just how far pink wine has come is more off-dry this time; no, I don’t know why. But the price works out to $3.50 a bottle, so it’s more than acceptable if you like the “hint of sweetness” style. But it’s not the award winner from the past couple of years.

Adelsheim Pinot Noir 2018 ($25, purchased, 13.5%): Very ordinary Oregon pinot noir, and not especially Oregon in style. It’s missing the fruity, brambly zip it should have, and especially at this price. Instead, it’s just dull berry fruit. Very disappointing, given how much great pinot noir Adelsheim makes.

Matua Pinot Noir 2018 ($13, purchased, 12%): This New Zealand pinot noir usually offers terrific value and pinot character. But the 2018 isn’t as pinot-ish as in past years – lighter in body, and less fresh and lively. It’s OK, but there are lots of OK pinots at this price. Imported by TWE Imports

Angels & Cowboys Rose 2019 ($12, purchased, 12.5%): This California pink, like the Bota Box, was once exceptional. Now, it’s quite ordinary, and can cost as much as $18. This vintage is thinner with less bright fruit — more like an $8 rose from Big Wine.

Wine and food pairings 10: Lemon rosemary roasted turkey thighs

turkey thighsThe Wine Curmudgeon pairs wine with some of his favorite recipes in this occasional feature. This edition: three wines with lemon rosemary roasted turkey thighs.

The Wine Curmudgeon’s favorite holiday is Thanksgiving, which is uniquely American. How lucky are we, in the history of the world, to have what we have? And, given my appreciation of the holiday, I’ve never been able to figure out why we save turkey for one dinner a year.

Turkey is also uniquely American. In this, it’s plentiful, almost always inexpensive, is versatile, and is delicious when it’s cooked properly (something my mom mastered early on, which helped me appreciate turkey that much more). This recipe fits all the categories — it costs maybe $6 for three or four four adult-sized servings; the lemon and rosemary complement the thighs’ gaminess; and it’s a welcome respite from chicken.

Click here to download or print a PDF of the recipe. This is lemony and herbal white wine food (even rose, if it’s not too fruity). These three suggestions will get you started:

• Granbazan Etiqueta Verde Albarino 2018 ($20, purchased, 13.5%): This Spanish white is more nuanced than the albarino I prefer, the ones that are savory, practically salty, and taste almost lemony tart. The lemon fruit is still there, but it’s softer and much less savory. Having said that, it’s very well done and a fair price given the tariff and how much so many ordinary albarinos cost. Imported by Europvin

• CVNE Monopole 2019 ($11, purchased, 13%): Spain’s Rioja region is best known for red wine, but quality has improved considerably for its whites, often made with viura. The Monopole is a wine to buy, drink, buy again, and drink again. This vintage isn’t as quite as tart and lemony, but remains a  tremendous value. Imported by Arano LLC

•  Kruger-Rumpf Pinot Noir Rosé Dry 2019 ($13, purchased, 12%): This German rose may be difficult to find, but it’s intriguing: A bit of fizz, bright berry fruit, and refreshing acidity. Imported by Skurnik Wines

Blog associate editor Churro contributed to this post

Full disclosure: Once again, I forgot to take a picture of the dish; the one accompanying the post is from the Life Jolie blog. Imagine a little rosemary and lemon garnishing the turkey thighs.

More about wine and food pairings:
Wine and food pairings 9: Mushroom ragu
• Wine and food pairings 8: Not quite ramen soup
• Wine and food pairings 7: Classic roast chicken

Slider photo: “Rome Elite Event: wine, food and nice people” by Yelp.com is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0