Where to Find Screaming Wine Deals on the Internet

Best way to consistently get a great bottle of wine? Make friends with your local wine shop. If luck falls your way, you'll find an unpretentious wine nerd at the helm who is eager to meet your needs. Unfortunately, not all of us have easy access to a small and cute neighborhood wine shop that sells boutique natural wines, hence the necessity of this article.

I buy the majority of my wine at local shops in Denver (Proof Wine & Spirits, Cask & Craft, Mondo Vino, Argonaut, Boulder Wine Merchant), but I also spend a good amount of time scouring the web for wine deals. Denver's wine game has improved significantly over the last few years (we even have a Natural Wine Week!), but it is a long way away from being New York City or San Francisco. There is still a lot of great wine that isn't making it to Colorado. 

A quick caution before we get to the recommendations. BEWARE OF FAKE WINE DEAL SITES, e.g., super discounted wine clubs. A number of opportunistic wine clubs claim to offer ridiculous savings on first shipments, anywhere from 50-90% off. Don't believe it. Most of these clubs, like Laithwaites Wine and Heartwood & Oak, are merely crappy wine with nice labels and aren't worth more than a mediocre $5 bottle from Trader Joe's. The business model for these clubs is to "custom" label otherwise mediocre wine. They claim they are saving you 80% off of retail, but those wines are rarely sold at retail. It's often tough, or impossible, to tell which club is actually offering value, which is why, again, I recommend talking with your local wine shop, many of which now have their own clubs. With that being said, here is my curated selection of the best places online to find great deals on wine.

Garagiste
My favorite online wine dealer is not really online at all unless you count good ole' email marketing. I'd be surprised if you read my blog regularly and didn't know about Garagiste, but in my opinion, the best wine deals online are sold through a 100% text, old-school email run by a guy named Jon Rimmerman in Seattle. It is tough to explain just how amazing the wine deals are that he offers, but he has spent the last 20 years building up relationships directly with growers all over the world and he genuinely wants to pass the savings onto customers. He focuses on small, independent, and sustainable producers that make terroir-driven wines. But not only that, he offers everything from $8 quaffers to $500 verticals of Brunello. Given my status in Denver, he is the closest I get to 1948 Rivesaltes, crazy funky Chinon, and small cutting edge producers on the West Coast.  His selection is wide and vast and he sends anywhere from 1-2 emails a day, each offering a different wine. I encourage everyone I know to sign up for his "newsletter", but beware, your bank account may be in a world of pain once you see what he has to offer.

For a more in-depth take on Garagiste, check out this New York Times Magazine article.

Last Bottle
Last Bottle has a great app and is one of my favorite deal sites. They run through several wines a day, which can be tough to keep track of, but if you pay attention, you can find a ton of great bottles in $10-20 range. They offer free shipping if you order four bottles at a time. Download the app and give them a shot.

Wine Till Sold Out (WTSO)
WTSO is one of the original wine deal sites, if not the original, and consistently has outrageous deals. I love their selection of French and Italian wines, many of which are hard to find in the US. Generally, the wines offered have been reviewed and scored 90+ points. They also offer community feedback in the wine has been sold before so you can be confident that the wine you are getting us truly discounted and worth ordering. Download their app and see what you can find!

Wine Spies
Another great website that has been in the online wine deal game for awhile. I've ordered from them several times and they generally offer very high quality wines with a focus on domestic. 

Last Call
Last Call has a similar model to all of the sites above but they offer multiple wines at a time. I haven't ordered from them but I check the site regularly and there are some great wines on offer.

Winecrasher
Winecrasher takes the Hotwire/Priceline approach to selling wine with crash pricing. Wines are offered at deep discounts but you don't know what the exact wine is, just the year, region, varietal, etc. The model doesn't make as much sense with wine but the site has some great deals. I was sent two sample wines for free at no cost by their team but I haven't tasted them yet. I can confirm they were very high quality and good deals for what they were listed for on their website.

Cinderella Wine
Cinderella's approach is very similar to WTSO. One wine at a time and the deals are usually very solid. Nothing special here but another site to keep an eye on for great finds.

Lot18
I've followed Lot18 for several years now and have ordered from them multiple times. They've had a rocky past, with expansion and then lay offs, but they kept to the core of their business and seem to be afloat. While you won't have the biggest discounts on wines, their deals are consistently good values. They've also got an intriguing "Tasting Room" wine club that is unique in its approach. Check it out!  

 

Santa Barbara Wine Country - Delicious Drought-Stricken Wines

On a recent work trip to California I spent a few days in Santa Barbara with some good friends of mine (Tyler + Jamie). Not surprisingly, we spent our Saturday driving around wine country in Santa Barbara. I wasn't too familiar with the wine region but there were a few wineries and tasting rooms in the area that have been on my bucket list for a while: Stolpman Vineyards, Beckman Vineyards, and Au Bon Climat. 

Santa Barbara is stunning. Boulevards flush with lush palm trees and green ivy, ocean views from every vantage point, and mountains cozying up to the edge of town, no wonder this is where celebrities go to retire. It's too bad California is experiencing its worst drought in centuries though, because once you venture off the coast, the desert feels like it's slowly taking over every inch of the landscape. Trees are graying and dying, if not already dead. The land is so fucking parched that it is unbelievable at times. The transition to a drier climate is no pretty thing. It is not as if the vibrant yet stark beauty of a drier, desert-like environment is already on display. It is so damn... gray and brittle... everywhere.

Most winemakers for smaller, independent wineries I've spoken with downplay the negative side affects of the drought, noting that viticulture is one of the few major agriculture industries that utilizes drop irrigation or is dry-farmed. Compared to other cash crops in California like lettuce, vineyards consume significantly less water per acre. Grape vines are also incredibly resilient, assuming you have the right varietal for the climate (Rhone varietals may take over California in the coming decades), but it is still scary to think about what California's wine industry will look like in 10-20 years. To some degree, drought (and dry farming) can concentrate flavors and lead to higher quality wines, but vines can't survive forever without water. Barring a miracle, it's not going to get any better. 

Beach in town looking out at University of California Santa Barbara.

Beach in town looking out at University of California Santa Barbara.

Looking west into the mountains from the top of the Santa Barbara courthouse.

Looking west into the mountains from the top of the Santa Barbara courthouse.

aubonclimattastingroom

With those doomsday thoughts in mind, we started our day off at Au Bon Climat's tasting room in downtown Santa Barbara. I have always been a fan of Jim Clendenen's effort to make more restrained California pinot noir but the visit was far more interesting than I expected. I'd first come across Jim's wines at the International Pinot Noir Festival in Oregon and I thought they always competed well with the best from Burgundy and Oregon. Not only did we get to taste his classic California pinot noir and chardonnay, he had a healthy selection of aged wines and a bunch of of Italian-varietal wines under the Clendenen Family Vineyards label. The tasting fee wasn't cheap but that's to be expected when you are in the heart of Santa Barbara. 

Biggest takeaway from this tasting was that restrained California pinot noir is absolutely phenomenal at 5-10 years of age. My favorite was the 2008 Santa Maria Valley Nielsen Vineyard pinot. Absolutely amazing and super well-integrated because of the age. If cost was no issue, I would have picked up a case of this, as it was one of the more memorable California pinot noirs I've ever had. 

There were a bunch of Italian varietals for tasting. We tasted a Tocai Fruilano, a refreshing, tasty and incredibly rare varietal from northern Italy that is rarely grown in the US, a nebbiolo that was true to form, and my favorite, an aged Supertuscan blend called 'Vita Nova' that was from all the way back in 1999. I couldn't believe this wine was only $30 so I bought up a bottle to take up to San Francisco. $30.... for a nearly 20-year-old wine from a great producer in California. Where can you find deals like this anymore? Clearly Clendenen is focused on releasing the wines when they are ready, a simple but all-but-forgotten principal in a lot of California wine country these days. 

On the road to Beckmen Vineyards to have a tipple of some damn fine Rhone wine.

On the road to Beckmen Vineyards to have a tipple of some damn fine Rhone wine.

A quick 45 minute drive over the Santa Ynez Mountains landed us in the Santa Ynez Valley near Los Olivos, California. Our stop was Beckmen Vineyards, one of the top five producers of Syrah and Rhone varietals in the US. Beckmen's wines have a blend of pure fruit and old world funk that I can't resist. They also happen to make one of the best pink wines in America. I've never had the opportunity to taste their smaller production bottlings though, so with three of us tasting, I made sure we got through every wine they had available that afternoon.

Beckmen's standby Rhone blend is 'Cuvee Bec' and is available in most areas around the country for $17-25. Cuvee Bec is a syrah-dominant blend that is always lively, full of fresh fruit, and painfully gulpable. It's a great introduction to what's possible with Rhone grapes in California. The 2014 Estate Grenache was equally delicious and classic take on the varietal with bright red fruits. If you like grenache, you will love their effort with the grape. We tasted several very small production bottles of Cabernet Sauvignon from the estate, which I thought were very good, as were the Marsanne and Chardonnay, but jesus, the 2013 Purisima Mountain Vineyard Syrah and the 2013 Purisima Mountain Vineyard Syrah 'Block Six' were the stunners of the tasting. Apparently, every wine coming from that vineyard is gold. It's not surprising that it's farmed biodynamically and located in the famed Ballard Canyon AVA, a relatively new AVA that is all about the syrah. These wines were lively but also had a concentration, density, and depth of flavor beyond any syrah I've had in ages. Can't complain about our visit to Beckmen. Outstanding!

Entry to Stolpman's tasting room in the heart of Los Olivos

Entry to Stolpman's tasting room in the heart of Los Olivos

This is probably my favorite one of the day. Pure Syrah fruit but with some old world funk on it as well. Very reasonably priced at $30 too.

This is probably my favorite one of the day. Pure Syrah fruit but with some old world funk on it as well. Very reasonably priced at $30 too.

Our last stop was Stolpman Vineyards in the middle of Los Olivos' cute-as-shit downtown. From what I could tell, the heart of Los Olivos really has nothing in it but a bunch of tasting rooms, restaurants, and kitschy wine country shops. Not the worst combination in the world and certainly pleasant to walk around in, but damn, this must have been a ghost town 20 years ago. Stolpman first came on my radar while I was living in Chicago and frequenting the free Saturday tastings at Vin Chicago. One Saturday, they were pouring Stolpman's entry-level red blend called "La Cuadrilla" that clocked in at just around $20. I liked it so much it was the first review I posted on the blog, almost 2 two years ago (!!). It was phenomenal and incredibly alluring with a dark and spicy palate but a lightness and liveliness to it that I hadn't tasted in many domestic syrahs. Even more, profits from La Cuadrilla are given to vineyard workers. 

So, with that introduction to their wines, I was understandably excited about tasting more of their offerings. Their tasting menu wasn't huge at just six wines but the fee was reasonable at $12. Our first wine was a Roussanne, a varietal I'm not ecstatic about but was well-made. Reds filled out the rest of the menu. The 'Para Maria' was a super intriguing blend of syrah (93%) and petit verdot (7%), which had a portion of the syrah carbonically fermented. This enhanced the fruitiness and adds a high-toned and lively note to the palate. Immensely drinkable, nearly gulpable, and a wine that I would proudly call a house wine.  

The wine of the tasting was the 2014 Estate Syrah. After coming from Beckmen Vineyards and being near the end of our day, the bar was set damn high but this wine absolutely delivered. The Estate Syrah was $30, far more affordable than most of the other reds on the tasting menu, but it was easily my favorite. This wine was fermented in concrete tanks and was incredibly dark purple in color but was lively and fresh on the palate. The linear, pure blue and black fruit burst out of the glass on the nose and on the palate. The key with this wine, and several at Beckmen earlier in the day, is that they seamlessly meld a richness and freshness on the palate. This seems to be the underlying similarity between wines from the Ballard Canyon AVA. We've got to consider this AVA to be one of the premier in all of California. 

Go visit Santa Barbara.