It seems like everybody and their neighbor wants to be in the wine business.
Last week, we spilled the juice on Denver-based Club W's first year in the monthly wine club business. While we found their edgy-cool offerings well worth the hype, as we did our research we couldn't help noticing that the wine home delivery market is getting more and more crowded every day -- and by companies that you wouldn't normally associate with fermented grape juice.
Why the sudden interest on selling wine online? Simple: Americans are drinking more wine than ever, with wine sales in California up more than five percent in 2011 to reach a record 211 million cases sold. What's more, for the first time ever wine sales in the U.S. surpassed that of the country that's associated with vino than probably any other -- France, where recent reports have indicated peeps are down to drinking only a single (gasp!) glass per day. Add to that the expansion of approved direct-to-consumer wine channels to include 39 of 50 states and you start to understand why even the unlikeliest of retailers want to be your go-to source for wine. Here's the skinny on three not-so-expected online wine retailers:
Amazon Wine: As you've probably long been aware, you can buy pretty much buy anything on amazon.com nowadays. But we bet you probably never thought you'd be adding a few bottles of shiraz to your cart alongside that copy of Fifty Shades of Grey, did you? The launch of Amazon Wine just a few weeks ago actually represents the company's third attempt in this space after failing to find success in 1999 and 2008, respectively. For now, only customers living in thirteen states (Colorado's not one of them) can choose from around 40,000 wines, about half of which are sourced from the U.S. (mostly California, followed by Washington State). Labels from France and Italy combine to equal roughly the same percentage as American bottles offered, with wineries from Australia, Spain, Argentina and Chile each accounting for 2,000 to 3,000 labels apiece. While many of the labels struck us as mainstream or mass-produced, wine lovers will probably dig Amazon's elaborate product sort feature, which allows you to filter on unique categories like tasting notes, alcohol by volume and professional rating.
Zagat Wine Club: Zagat is a name that's synonymous with great food - after all, it's been publishing its famed restaurant rating guide for more than 30 years. They've decided to capitalize on their food industry cred by getting into the wine business, launching the ZagatWine.com wine club that delivers a full case of vino to members every 90 days. Laithwaites Wine Merchants, a U.K.-based importer focusing on indie labels is responsible for selecting the bottles included in the program, which customers also have the option of ordering individually. As with most online wine delivery ventures, you can let them decide which wines you'll receive in every shipment or choose yourself -- the program also offers two tiers: the basic Zagat Wine Club includes twelve bottles for $139.99, or upgrade to the Reserve Club and score higher-end juice for $199.99. While Zagat's allowed to ship to 31 states plus the District of Columbia, Colorado's not one of them -- yet.
The New York Times Wine Club: The best thing about Sundays in our world? Opening up our front door and scooping up that light blue bag containing the hefty tome known as The New York Times. Perusing through it a few weeks ago we stumbled upon an offer to join The New York Times Wine Club, wherein members receive a monthly delivery of six bottles -- four red and two white -- plus tasting notes and Times-developed recipe pairings for $90. The actual wine picking is done by the Gray Lady's partner in the venture, Global Wine Company, a wine sourcing and wine club fulfillment company. In addition to the standard Times Sampler club membership option, fans can choose from an interesting array of wine delivery gift packages, including the Oenophile's Selection, which contains two reds from their Reserve category and a copy of The New York Times Book of Wine, a collection of stories written by acclaimed Times wine authorities like Eric Asimov and Frank Prial. There's even a kitschy "Crosswords & Wine" package, which is billed as including "three fantastic quaffers and a New York Times Crossword Tray," an offering that brings new meaning to the term "wine geek."