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Online Wine Shopping, Part 2: Best Websites for Daily Wine Deals
By Norm Roby
Oct 6, 2020
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With so many now working from home and not concerned about “NSFW” issues, websites offering daily wine specials have upped their game in response.  In fact, if you are looking for good deals on hard-to-find wines normally sold in restaurants or winery direct, daily deals are where the action is.  Just this morning I was surprised to see wines from Ridge, Spottswoode, and Rombauer being dangled before my eyes.

If you are a serious wine shopper, my best advice is to have a list of your top needs because the best deals sell out quickly.  If you are simply curious about wine trends and want to see what’s out there, or just want to learn more, then several of these sites are surprisingly informative.
 
Whatever your motive, remember that the pace is a bit upbeat and buying decisions can’t be put off till another day.


Best Daily Flash Sale: lastbottlewines and firstbottlewines

Based upon the flash sale model, lastbottlewines 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.

If you order too late, you get an empty wine case image with the not-so-subtle “snooze you lose” message.  If you happen to buy the last bottle, they give you a $25 credit.  Shipping is free on 4 or 6 bottles or more.

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 references to a Killer Vintage or "Rockstar Winemaker.”  Then you usually encounter more exclamation marks and 3 dots than your English teacher ever thought possible in one paragraph.

So many ROCKSTARS, so little time.  The 2018 Ridge Lytton Springs quickly sold out.

Other recent examples of wines offered that’ll rock your world are Newton Chardonnay, Amavi Cabernet from Walla Walla, Pine Ridge’s Carneros Chardonnay, Lang & Reed’s Cabernet Franc, and a lovely 2016 Rioja from Bodegas Casa la Rad.
 
Yes, they have an importer's license and can offer super discounts on imports as well.  It just offered a fabulous 2015 Brunello for $29.  I couldn’t resist the 2019 Sauvignon Blanc from Matahiwi Estate, New Zealand, for $10.  The 2018 Rivetto Langhe Nebbiolo for $18 was so tempting.

If you are looking for a fun, crazy day, you should be ready for one of the all-day Marathon sales on this site.

The Harvest Marathon at the end of August this year was a wild ride and—for me—cheap entertainment.

As for firstbottlewines.com, this is the young sibling of lastbottle, and it is more like a normal store, not a flash sale.  It does offer one deal a day, but stocks about 400 wines, with the mix slighted slanted toward California.

Discounts are more modest in the 10-25% range, and prices on this site start at $14.95.  This year it is coming up with much more interesting, hard-to-find wines than its sibling.  Headline names at firstbottle include Von Strasser, Turley, Three Sticks, Lail Blueprint, Matthiasson, Peter Michael, Ridge and Scherrer, among many others.

Sad to note it just sold out of the 2008 Calera Jensen Pinot Noir, a classic.

The French selections are not to be overlooked. Recent Châteauneuf-du-Pape such as 2017 Domaine Serguier “Cuvée Revelation” for $39.95 caught my eye.


Best Rising Star: winespies.com

Headquartered in Santa Rosa, California and founded in 2007 by Jason Seeber, winespies.com presents one new wine a day.  The offers expire at midnight or until sold out.  Recent selections are often selling out fast.

With new staff additions, Winespies is now one of the hot websites of 2020 as it finds wines from all parts of California and a few top-notch imports.

While the language and emphasis on “Spies “agents, and “operatives”...may seem silly, these guys are serious about wine sleuthing.  So, about the “agents” and “operatives,” get over it.

So far in 2020, winespies has offered wines from cult-like names such as Arietta, Amuse Bouche, and David Arthur.  It has uncovered excellent wines from small producers like Aaron
 
Wines in Paso Robles, Hawk & Horse in Napa, Two Sisters in Santa Barbara, and Annadel Estate in Sonoma.

But the 2018 Schrader Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon Oakville Double Diamond was a major addition, pushing winespies to the top.

It was the first to offer the Groth Reserve Cabernet.  The iconic Beekeeper Zinfandel is still available as is the Erik Kent Russian River Valley Pinot for $25.  And there are a few off the wall discoveries such as the 2017 Red Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon from The Walls, a rising star.

To get on the Rosé parade, winespies hunted down the Monticello Rosé, Spy Valley Pinot Noir Rosé from New Zealand and an Austrian Rosé in a one liter bottle.

Then it came up with a real wonderful surprise: La Sirena 2018 'Rosato' Amador County Rosé of Primitivo for $18.  La Sirena is Heidi Barrett’s own label.

The wine descriptions are lively and entertaining most of the time.

Excellent discounts, often 50%.

Delivery is on time.

Strong on California wines, especially Russian River Valley, Sonoma Valley and other Sonoma regions.


Best Flash Sales; Multiple Offerings:  WTSO (Wines ‘Til Sold Out)

This is a major player I’ve been following and using since 2012.  The concept is based on a “flash-sale” model and a featured wine remains available until sold out.

Each day at least 4 wines are offered; when sales are brisk, the number could be as many as 10.

WTSO is on East Coast time, so sleepy West Coast folks could miss out on a few early specials.

Having survived a lawsuit related to misleading suggested prices, the site was upgraded and slightly reformatted in early 2017.

Now relying less on numerical ratings and wildly inflated prose, the site is much improved both in terms of its wine selections and its wine commentary.

While still emphasizing Italian and Spanish reds, it has vastly improved its selection of Bordeaux, Burgundy, Sancerre and Beaujolais.  But its strength is in Rhône wines as typified by the 2016 Châteauneuf-du-Pape by Domaine Benedetti for $32.99.  A Gigondas I’ve enjoyed is a best buy here: 2016 Domaine du Grand Montmirail Gigondas Vieilles Vignes $22.99.

But there’s good depth in the Spanish offerings as typified by the 2016 Diez-Caballero Rioja Vendimia Seleccionada $16.99, 70% below retail.

Even the CA wines now show better selectivity.  Recently good for Sonoma Pinot Noir and Napa Cabs.  The Dutton-Goldfield's 2016 Dutton Ranch/Freestone Hill Vineyard Pinot for $29.99 was recently offered and snapped up.  Another winner, 2018 Robert Stemmler Pinot Noir Nugent Vineyard Russian River Valley, sold for $19.99.  As a Syrah fan, I was surprised to see the 2013 Hall Napa Valley Darwin Syrah at $19.99.

Sad to say I missed out on an attractive $14 Languedoc, 2016 “Le Coeur” by Domaine de Fabregues.  Sometimes with WTSO a wine will re-appear, so I will not hesitate should this one return.

We have purchased wines from them, mostly French, and they arrived on time and in good condition.  But I’m a little uncomfortable when it comes to those California wines that are unknown to me, can’t be verified by others, and may be private labels from bulk wines.

I regularly check the “Last Chance Wines” listed for bargains and free shipping.

The annual magnum marathon is a major Cyber Monday sale.  Several double magnums are included.

One of my favorites is the popular “Cheapskate Marathon” held twice a year.  The price range for this marathon is $8.99-18.99


Best for High-End, Luxury Wines:  wineexpress.com

winexpress.com tries to balance “value and service” which suggests it is neither a giant warehouse nor a down-and-dirty discount site.  It is the exclusive online wine shop partner of The Wine Enthusiast catalog and website.  So, it is well-financed and has an excellent facility for storage and shipping.

So far in 2020, it has risen to the occasion and has picked up many once allocated wines from California and has vastly improved its high-end imported selections.

It really leads the field in upgrading to big-named wines like Gaja, Dominus, Sassicaia, Shafer, Caymus Special Select, and, yes Perrier-Jouët and Dom...all slightly discounted with the Sassicaia 25% below retail.

I’ve not yet seen anyone else offer Quintessa, Phelps Insignia or Cakebread’s Reserve Chardonnay or Cabernet Sauvignon.  And recently it secured an allotment of Orin Swift “Abstract,” Andy Erickson’s “Leviathan” in magnums and the luxury Corton-Charlemagne from Louis Latour and a 2017 Puligny Montrachet, Les Folatieres.”

Add the 2016 Château La Nerthe Châteauneuf and the Pahlmeyer Merlot and Chardonnay to the recent offerings and the point is clear: wineexpress.com is getting first dibs on many wines once exclusive to top restaurants and/or sold direct from the winery.

The site works through the usual sorting procedures with click on searches by variety, price and region. It also offers several wine club options and gift packages.

One special touch is a series of videos taking you through tastings that are conducted by Josh Farrell, its Wine Director.

He often runs through the daily wine special which can then be purchased.  He is one excellent swirler, BTW, and he encourages decanting and/or aerating young wine.

You can learn a lot about judging wine by watching a few of his videos.  And it continues to offer several good value wines under $20.

But overall, this online site sticks to the high road ($50 and up) and allows some wriggle room for choices within each category.


Best Under-the-Radar Site:  invino.com

Coming on strong, this site focuses on special direct imported wines, Napa and Sonoma Valley wines, and on super values from many other regions.

And also to its credit, the shallow hype, thick BS, and silly background stories, common to so many sites, are absent here.  Being so low-keyed, it seems to slip under most people’s radar.

But there is an Impressive list of Napa Cabs from Von Strasser, Turnbull, Juslyn, and Sullivan Vineyards.  It snagged 10 cases of Lail’s Blueprint Cabernet for $70 and Ridge’s Lytton Estate for $37.
 
Pinot Noir fans can enjoy 50% off the 2015 Jigar Russian River Valley Pinot, offered at $23 and the 2018 Anthill Farms Sonoma Coast for $29.

There’s no loser in the stock list.  I highly recommend checking this site out for yourself.  Let me explain why I like it.

First, I prefer more than bargain wines, I want wines with some excitement and sizzle.  I also look for wines that before discounts, I would normally find way over my budget.


Best for Esoteric, Little-Known Gems: sommselect.com

This is the must site if you are looking for wines that are not available either in traditional wine shops or on most websites.  Would you believe a Foxtrot Pinot Noir from Okanagan Valley or a Guy Amiot 2017 Chassagne-Montrachet or a 1966 Remoissenet Burgundy?  Or the rare 2016 Christoph Edelbauer, Grüner Veltliner “Neuberg” Reserve Kamptal from Austria?  Or a red Alto Adige made from a rare local grape, Schiava (a.k.a. Vernatsch, a.k.a. Trollinger)?  This was billed as “The World-Class Red You’ve Never Heard About” … and they were right about that.

Headed by two sommeliers, Ian Cauble and David Lynch, who are based in Sonoma, this site is dedicated to finding unusual, limited production wines that are true to their type.

Discounts are modest.  Occasionally, there’s a deal.  But overall, you are paying full price.

This site will offer an outstanding wine from Greece, Austria, or Slovenia as well as unheralded or overlooked wines from California, Germany, Italy and France.

The magic touch extends to New Zealand for a rare Central Otago Pinot or to Willamette Valley for the scarce 2017 Nicolas-Jay Pinot Noir.  They even tracked down a rare Pinot Noir from Humboldt County made by Briceland Vineyards.

However, I sometimes wonder about the provenance of wines like the 1966 Burgundy and the recently offered 2003 Le Dome, St. Emilion.  Where have they been all these years?  They also unearth some wild and strange wines such as the 1946 Roussillon Rivesaltes.  Yes, that was 1946, and the bottle price was $250.

But I also learn more from this site than any other.  There are wines that I’ve never even heard of such as the 2013 Château Simone which Cauble describes this way: “Despite coming from some of France’s oldest vines, being run by the same family for 200 years, and maturing in a historic 16th-century cellar, Château Simone’s beguiling wines lie in relative obscurity.  What’s clear, however, is that these rare beauties always yield an enchanting experience.”

Part of the enjoyment of wine is to discover a lovely wine that comes with a rich and exciting history.  And make no mistake, you get tons of background information from these Sommeliers.

The strengths here are not only wines from Italy and France, but also wines from Germany, Austria, and Portugal.

The curated, themed 6-bottle collections are typically unusual, and come with reliable, insightful information.

In fact, I recommend this site to anyone studying for WSET.


Best Comeback Site:  wineaccess.com

For mythology fans, this is your phoenix in the online marketing world.  Wineaccess started in late 1997, stumbled during the dotcom crash by web hosting wine shops, and barely survived until 2006.

The turnaround began that year when the company which was an online portal based in Philadelphia connecting consumers with retailers rose from its ashes to develop a new direct to consumer marketing program.

Then the company was bought in 2015 by Northwest Venture Partners, a venture capitalist firm.  Now based in Napa, it is run by Vanessa Conlin, MW, along with other relatively young people with an MS or an MW candidate.  With her team running the ship, it is smooth sailing, easy to navigate with good background commentary for each wine.  You can check to see what each Somm recommends, go to the “Under $30” list, or see what the daily deal is.  The deals are available for 3 days or until the wine is sold out.

“Wines direct from the source” is the slogan.  Its mantra is that fine wines are made in small quantities, and its goal is to find them and offer the best deals.  They say on average only one wine out of 18 they consider as candidates makes the cut.  They say they taste 20,000 wines a year.

But let’s return to the online “discoveries.”  Each day at 10:00 in the morning, an email announces the wine of the day.

The morning message consists of a detailed background narrative of the wine and the wine producer, and you sense that the story presented is the key to this online marketing.  Prices are spelled out for fewer than 12 bottles, but discounts are deeper for a case or more.

Shipping is free for 6 bottles or orders of $120.

First, the good news is that many wines are worthy of our attention and the choices are keeping up with the times.  From Napa it offers wines from Vermillion, Vine Cliff, Grgich Hills, Dalla Valle and Bevan Cellars.  From other places, there is Foxen Pinot Noir, Bedrock Zinfandel, Meyer Family Syrah, and County Line Rose from Anderson Valley.

The 2017 Provenance Napa Valley Cab for $39 is indeed a steal at 40% off.

Among imports, the 2018 Château Croix d’Aumedes is a great find in a Corbieres selling for $14.95.  It also has Château Parenchere, a Bergerac red I often enjoyed when living in France.

From Bordeaux, I’d also stock up on the Château du Glana very attractive at $39.  But it came with a long essay/background going over the 1855 Classification.  BTW: That château was not involved.

That leads me to the biggest problem here: way too much information for each wine.  There is no way in the world anyone other than a member of the immediate winemaker family needs all of the information about a particular wine.

The site charts prices and suggests you routinely save 30% to 50% on a full case.

Good news is that despite a pandemic and fires, it delivers on time with no delays or excuses needed.  And the enclosed printed material is concise information.



More wine columns:     Norm Roby
Connect with Norm on Twitter:   @RobyWine67