Amazon Wine went live today, in time for the important fourth quarter of wine sales.
The site appears very similar to what had been discovered previously (read how it works for wineries) and offers exclusively domestic wines with orders fulfilled by wineries. Shipping is $9.99 for up to six bottles and you can only order from one winery per order. Customers in only 12 states can order wine at this time. As of this second, there are 1,054 wines available for purchase, sortable by point scores, price, and even alcohol level. External links to retailers are also available, greatly expanding that number and adding imported wines.
It will be interesting to see how the program does. In general, wineries do not offer the best prices for their wines; retailers do. A quick search of a few wines plugged into wine-searcher, a database of wine retailers, revealed pre-shipping prices 10-25% lower than those offered on amazon.
While the pricing may be underwhelming, one area that Amazon Wine could have an enormous impact is in the user wine reviews. Right now, the space is dominated by CellarTracker, which has more community and a generally wine-savvy crowd. But amazon has mastered SEO, so if their wine listings start appearing at the top of organic search results, wine geeks could be drawn to post (or cross-post) on amazon. If they can find wines of interest…
The NYT magazine has an extensive profile (and terrific photo) of Jon Rimmerman, owner of Garagiste, a wine retailer that operates exclusively by email. The article says that he has over 136,000 subscribers to his emails and that he does “on average” $30 million of sales each year out of his office in Seattle. Even though his “florid, self-mythologizing” emails go out daily, he only ships twice a year in the cooler months. Since he doesn’t have a traditional storefront and is able to source the wines directly and often pre-sell the wines months before delivery, he has some efficiencies that can either increase his margins or decrease the price to consumers, sometimes both.
I don’t subscribe to his emails but I’m glad that he has been able to make a successful business connecting consumers with wines from the far-flung corners of the wine world (in this 2009 video, he said he has 3 million air miles). His style is akin to the erstwhile J. Peterman catalogue. But just as you might have gotten caught up in prose of J. Peterman and end up with a sun hat you might not ever wear, so too Read more…
If I owned a wine shop, I’d stock it with wines from importers such as Kermit Lynch, Louis/Dressner, and Neal Rosenthal with a dollop of Burgundies from Becky Wasserman and a smattering of Spanish wines. I’d throw in some classic domestic wines and nouvelle vague ones too and aim for a few back vintages in the mix.
So I was like a kid in a candy store when I stopped by the new Flatiron Wines yesterday. Opened just over two weeks ago on Broadway between 21st and 22nd, the team comes from Uva Wines in Williamsburg. Uva is shop with serious natural wines chops, but manager Dan Weber told me “we’re passionate about terroir. We’re grower-driven and not dogmatic.” If he likes a wine, he stocks it, which is why he has all the wines of estates like Domaine de la Pepiere in Muscadet and Sylvian Cathiard in Vosne Romanée. Really, it’s the rare wine shop I walk into and would buy almost every bottle on the shelf but Flatiron is such a shop.
The large room in the front has various displays on custom wooden racks. The back room has Eurocaves and a farm table where Dan says they have official tastings Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays–but unofficially, every day after five there will be something open. When I was there yesterday, there was the savory De Forville Langhe Nebbiolo 2009 available. Jeff Patten, owner of UVA, and Beau Rapier, buyer, were also in the store, offering good commentary and advice.
Check out the store before word gets out. Then you can score some of the mature wines available, such as seven back vintages of Domaine Tempier from Bandol, 1985 Huet Vouvray, 1991 Ridge Monte Bello, some coveted Clos Rougeard of Saumur-Champigny and more.
“We want to foster community,” Dan said. With wines like these, they’re on their way.
929 Broadway (bet 21st and 22nd), New York, NY 10010
Massachusetts is a state coveted by wine retailers: with strong tech and finance as well as other industries, major research centers and the jet-set destinations of Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket, it’s fair to say there’s a large population interested in wine. However, the state is one of the hardest for retailers to ship wine into. Fortunately for the locals, this lack of external competition doesn’t lead to a poor selection and high prices; some of the state’s wine shops offer some terrific wines and, even reasonable prices can be found. And as of last year, there’s no sales tax on wine (and beer and spirits) in the state, so that helps stretch the consumer’s wine dollar seven percent farther than other states. When I’m traveling, I always love to check out the local wine stores; here are a few that I have visited in my wanderings in and through the state in the past year.
The Wine Bottega, 341 Hanover St, Boston.
This terrific, small shop seemingly ripped out of Brooklyn and placed in the North End has a “manifesto” for “real” wine and is a points-free zone. The well-curated selection of the delicious esoterica of the wine world makes it a great stop for cru Beaujolais, wines of the Loire, sherry and more. Offers 10% discount on mixed cases as well as 15% on solid cases. Definitely worth a stop if you’re in the North End but they also ship.
Vintages, 53 Commonwealth Ave, Concord, MA
Owner Eric Broege clearly doesn’t get tired of talking customers out of obvious, big name wines in this well-heeled town because he doesn’t stock many. Instead, he offers lots of enticing wines from small Italian growers as well as some great domaines and estates in the Loire, Burgundy, Jura, Germany and the Left Coast. He has a small selection of craft beers too and even a few box wines from vignerons stashed beneath the counter. If every town in America had a shop like this, the nature of our wine discussion would be a whole lot different.
Gordon’s, 894 Main St., Waltham, MA
A bigger store, the list prices on some items appear to be a very full markup. But case purchases receive a 20% discount, which really gets your attention. I bought a mixed case of wines here while driving by last winter and was happy with the selection (including a few bottles of the rare Do Ferreiro Cepas Vellas, possibly one of the best two best white wines from Spain). One note: if you see a wine such as the Marcel Lapierre Morgon on the store’s website that might make you want to stop off of 95, call first to make sure it’s in stock. Good craft beers too, some at super-low prices.
The Brown Jug, 1 Jarves St., Sandwich, MA
The Cape, for all its charms and attractions, remains surprisingly underserved by good wine stores. Through the thicket of package stores selling beer, plonk and lottery tickets on the Cape, the Brown Jug in Sandwich (pictured above) stands tall as the best that I have found. They have Vouvray etched into the plate glass window at the front of the store; inside, there are quite a few enticing selections ranging from Chablis to Domaine Huet and several Spanish wines from importer Jose Pastor. Good craft beers too. And several epicurean delights at the sister shop next door.
If you live in Massachusetts or go there a lot, which are some of your favorite stores and why? What do you think of the selections and prices in the state?
So if a sleek wine shop opened in the arcade under the new Goldman Sachs building, you’d expect it to have oversized bottles of first growths and Napa cabs, right? Well, Vintry Wine and Spirits has plenty of trophy bottles, but it also has some reasonably priced and very drinkable ones.
Nestled among the magnums and imperials on the sleek shelves are the wines of Arianna Occhipinti from Sicily, Ar.Pe.Pe in Valtellina, and Chateau Thivin from Beaujolais among the shop’s 2,500 bottles. Clearly whoever assembled the selection thought about serving the area’s residents as well as the Masters of the Universe in the tower above. And that decision fell to Michael Martin, general manager, who told me that most of the purchases thus far have been between $20 and $40 a bottle–although one customer did buy a $2,000 bottle on whim on his way to the register. One of the store’s owners, Peter Poulakakos, comes from a fine wine background as his father owns Harry’s Steak, which has a lengthy wine list.
Customers who care to probe the shop’s inventory can talk to the staff or tap on one of the iPads mounted throughout the swanky shop. Mike told me that he’s most proud of the Champagne and Burgundy selections, and they are particularly deep, with many grower Champagnes (though the only Selosse is the Initiale!).
But there’s one wine that customers won’t find here: Yellow Tail chardonnay. Time for those who want it to get familiar with Chablis…
Just across the West Side Drive in Tribeca are three other stores that are also worth noting: Chambers Street Wines, a national leader; Frankly Wines, the most charming 300 sq. ft. wine shop in Manhattan; and New York Vintners, which has many events with winemakers among other charms. This area gives the locals plenty of choice and makes it wine destination neighborhood for the rest of us.
An item on Bloomberg yesterday detailed how Spaniards are drinking less wine, which has prompted Spanish wineries to pursue export markets more. From this perspective, it’s partially understandable why Spanish wineries might want to pay a fee to invite Wine Advocate critic Jay Miller to their regions. They want to crack into the US market and they figure the best way to do so is to get a score from the Wine Advocate (even if one document from the regional organization referred to the scores as “Parker points”).
But that sales strategy is sooo 1990s! In my view, many American wine consumers have moved beyond scores, and an increasing number of wine shops have too. What do you think: should the wine industry move beyond scores? Are scores less relevant today to consumers in your experience than they were five or ten years ago? It seems to me that today the trade clings to scores more readily than consumers do. But one importer I spoke with recently Jose Pastor, has said no to scores.
Coming back from a terrific weekend in Maine, where blueberries are fresh and the lobsters still pair as well with white burgundy as ever, I steered the Dr Vino mobile into the last exit for the New Hampshire State Liquor Store off of I-95. (Incidentally, the state store is also paired at the rest area with a “Made in New Hampshire store,” as opposed to the “Christmas Tree Shops” along the way that might as well be called the “made in China store.”)
My curiosity was piqued: was this state store a wine lover’s nirvana, delivering on the promise of great prices thanks to their bulk buying? Or was it a dreary place, with low inventory, poor selection, surly or ignorant staff? Read more…
I’ve never actually heard a wine store broadcast that message over a loudspeaker. But that’s the message some are sending with their pricing.
The other day, I found a great wine at the sharp price of $18.39 a bottle via a local wine store’s web site. When I dropped by, the wine was on the shelf for $22.99. I mentioned that I had seen it online for the lower price and the staffer, without hesitating, rang me up at the lower price, punching in a 20 percent discount. That’s the equivalent of the fifth bottle free!
We have discussed this issue before. Contrary to some perceptions, New York’s State Liquor Authority does not regulate the prices that retailers charge. Thus the dual pricing phenomenon persists, so consider this a friendly reminder: check the store’s website if you think the price looks high, are making a large purchase or buying an expensive wine. Internet shoppers tend to be more savvy thanks to the price-leveling power of google and wine-specific search tools such as wine-searcher.com. (Full disclosure: I make a tiny amount of money–-pennies, literally–-as an affiliate of wine-searcher.com.)
On the one hand, I understand why stores do this: An internet customer is a self-service customer who doesn’t tax the staff’s resources whereas an in-store customer might want to chit chat about which wine goes with chicken and take up the staff’s time. But it somehow feels a little dirty to have the dual price structure. Caveat emptor!