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Jun 14, 2011 12:23 PM

Ordering online

How do you guys feel about ordering online? There's a shop in NJ which I assume is "respectable" as Zacky's is on this list as well...

Or do you recommend always going in-person when possible especially when buying a valuable bottle of 1st growth Bordeaux?

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  1. BDD, you've mentioned buying this special bottle now a few times. This is slightly off-topic, but may I ask why you're so attached to the idea? Not trying to knock you, but you don't seem to know much about wine. Don't you think your (large chunk of) money would get you a lot further if you bought a solid/mixed case of +/- $100 bottles for the same price? You'd still likely be drinking phenominal wines and learning a lot more than one overhyped bottle is probably going to teach you.

    Just my $.02.

    22 Replies
    1. re: invinotheresverde

      I've already (sort of) asked this, and hinted at it strongly . . . thank you for being so concise, as well as explicit and tactful. It is a question I know I have, and I suspect others do, too.

      The way to learn about wine is to taste. And taste. And taste. And the OP would indeed learn much more about wine with a mixed case of $100+ bottles than a single bottle costing $1,200 . . . (prices used for illustration purposes only).


      TO THE OP:

      When you come to California, I will happy to help you put together a case of wine that will teach you something -- REALLY teach you -- about wine . . .

      If you want, just ask.


      1. re: zin1953

        That's an interesting offer you're making.

        Since BDD888's indicated on the red wine with steak thread that he's a novice and has consistently already allocated a budget of around $1250 for two bottles (1 bottle of the 1996 Margaux is averaging about CAD$1000, a recent Cristal is about $250), would it not make sense to start in the $15-25 range to first demonstrate typical varietals and regions rather than progressing directly to the $100+ range where one would demonstrate varietals under unique terroir and vintner idiosyncrasies? Part of being able to taste is to be able to access the volume to be able to taste, and then ramp up from there when one decides what one likes and what one doesn't.

        And as for the original question, I've never purchased mail-order in the manner that you can do in the US (the SAQ wants its cut), but even if I could I don't think I would do that for rare bottles. I'd rather be able to inspect the bottle first.

        1. re: wattacetti

          I never said EVERY bottle in the case would be $100+ . . . ;^)

          Seriously, to "do" this case right, I would prefer to focus on (e.g.) Bordeaux -- say perhaps 8 bottles of Bordeaux, and 4 wines from California (maybe three Cabernet and 1 Merlot?). OTOH, since the OP will be in Los Angeles, perhaps we should just make it a case of California wine -- six Cab and six Merlot, from six different wineries to show both the regional terroir AND the winemaker's signature . . . of course 24 bottles would be better, both from a budgetary standpoint *and* from an educational one -- but that depends upon how long the OP will be in LA, and if he's drinking alone or has company.

          Additionally, while here, I hope he carves out the time to visit some wineries . . . do some tasting . . . make some discoveries . . . .

          1. re: zin1953

            The budget for the two bottles equates to 24 bottles averaging $50 each, which while not necessarily being the top offerings of some of the Cali wineries, wouldn't be plonk either. There are some nice non-classé Bordeaux in that range too.

            I'd suggest a case of red and a case of white, throwing in a bottle of Kendall-Jackson Vintner's Reserve Chardonnay just to show that particular exemplar (I like Montelena, Kistler, Hansel and Trefethen Chards myself but I digress). Winery tasting would be great - I remember my first run through Napa; would love to do the wineries specializing in Pinots.

            And wine should be shared. I think it's sad to drink alone if you don't have to.

      2. re: invinotheresverde

        HAH! Ok here we go again. Yes I am a novice. I don't even have 2 weeks worth of tasting under my belt. HA!! Hugh Lipton has 47 plus years!! :) Once in a while I would order a glass of red or white wine with a meal. Not like the rest of you who might go through 3-5 bottles a week? :)

        The reason why I'm looking to buy either a bottle of 1996 CH Margaux (or 2005 Cheval Blanc) is for the reason Zin mentioned below. To "taste, taste, and taste". :) To have a variety of worthy choices. Regardless of varietal or price. As well, if I were to buy a bottle of 1st growth Bordeaux, it would cost me more than 2x locally compared to the cost in the US. Buying this $800-900.00 bottle is not my entire budget. I have no idea how much I'll be spending on wines during my stay in LA. This one expensive bottle of Bordeaux will be stored til the time is right to uncork. Which I believe is roughly 10 years after the release. Minimum.

        So, if Zin wants to suggest a case worth (12 I'm guessing) of wines to "learn" to hear your recommendations. Thanks for offering... much $? No idea. I'll let you know in 20 years. :) This is part of the fun. The quest for your favorite bottles. Running into bottles you can't stand for whatever the reason. Comes with the territory no? But I don't see how ordering online is a crap shoot if you order from reputable shops.

        Btw...I ordered 5 books on wine yesterday. Arrived today. Hugh Johnson's "2011 Pocket Wine Book", Food & Wine's Wine Guide 1011 by Anthony Giglio, and 3 Jancis Robinson books (Atlas, Wine, How to Taste).

        1. re: BDD888

          You like coffee. (You own a Technivorm; I presume you like coffee.) Now perhaps you are the kind of person who thinks ***I want a coffee maker; I am going to go out and buy the best!*** OK. But a lot of people who just start out appreciating coffee may start out with a Mr. Coffee or a Breville, but as they get more and more "into" the subject, they realize that a Mr. Coffee or a Breville is -- well, let's just say "far from the best" and leave it at that. They want to get "deeper" into the subject.

          Maybe they start out with coffee at Tim Horton's or with Folgers at home. Then -- maybe -- they "fall in love" with Starbucks, or some equally dark roasted coffee beans (bold, intense). Finally comes an appreciation of lighter roasts -- true to the origin of the coffee itself, be it Ethiopian Sidamo, Brazil Daterra, Costa Rica "La Minta," and so on.

          * * * * *

          If you think that, by purchasing a bottle of 1996 Château Margaux or 2005 Château Cheval Blanc is *my* idea of "taste, taste, taste, " you are VERY much mistaken. I'm sorry, but I think it's a complete waste of money at this point. I think that any -- no, not "any"; MOST -- of the subtleties and complexities that the wine has to offer will be completely missed . . . I think it's far more likely that --

          a) In the case of it being served blind to you, say in a flight of six, you wouldn't recognize it, prefer another wine, and forever wonder why such $#!+ was so expensive; or,

          b) presuming that you know what's in the glass, you will subconsciously feel "compelled" to "oh-and-ah" over the wine.

          You will learn far more about wine by tasting a dozen different Bordeaux than one bottle of Margaux or Cheval Blanc . . . .

          Sorry. Just my 2¢ -- probably worth far less* -- take it for what it's worth.


          * I will say that -- in addition to spending 35 years in the wine trade, and 25+ years as a wine writer -- I have also spent some 25 years as a wine educator, teaching people with all levels of prior knowledge (or lack thereof) about wine at various colleges, universities, and through various other institutions.

          1. re: zin1953

            Regarding my purchase of the TechniVorm....I didn't buy it because "I wanted the best..." and could afford it. I don't do things that way. I bought it back then be cause it was highly regarded as a well made and a coffee machine in it's purest form. Made properly (e.g. no warming plate, water boiled at the "right temp"...etc.). And I have had various coffee's from various machines, establishments, instant...etc. And while I don't claim to be an "expert" or "geek" I feel I am narrowing down the taste of coffees I prefer. And those I don't (overly "fruity"...preferring a roast near the "middle"....called a "Dark Roast"). Which I think we can apply to wines. Similar criteria it seems.

            My goal for drinking and learning about coffee as well as wines is not to be an expert. Don't plan to find a job in the industry or to be a writer for a trade magazine. All I'm aiming trying to do is to is to be an "educated" consumer. To be able to look at a wine list and know exactly which wine I want to match with that meal. To know I chose that exact bottle of wine for the "right" reasons. That's it. Nothing more. :) Not because it's the most expensive bottle in the restaurant. :)

            And regarding your comment about missing the nuances...if I drank it at this point sure. I bet I would miss a lot of it. Making the buy a waste and maybe giving me a negative impression. Again, if I buy I would be saving it for years. Letting it age. Open the bottle during the recommended period (e.g. after a minimum of 10 yrs...or what ever the recommended time should be for Bordeaux). And not before. In the meanwhile giving me time to sample enough wines to see if I do pickup on the nuances and find out what I like in a wine.

            I do lack experience (something I've never hid). But I'm not an idiot. Buying any bottle blindly just to look the part (e.g. celebs & rappers with Cristal). I am making an effort to learn when I find the time (not in a rush at all).

            And I appreciate your 2 cents. :) All good advice as long as it's not put in an offensive way (of course..."I'm not trying to pick on you but"...hehe...come on...any time some one says that it's as if they think it's their ticket to say something they shouldn't). Like any novice I'm here to learn. Pick out good advice from the bad...etc. This is the net. Never know who is handing out advice is qualified or some one pretending to be an "expert" seeking attention. Happens in any type of forum as you probably know.

            About recommending x# of Napa Chards to sample and then x# of Bordeaux...etc. Be my guest. I'll look them over. Consider them. But please don't be offended if I don't go with those choices. Like any beverage or food the only way to tell if we like it is to try it. Blindly sometimes but with some what of an educated approach (choosing from a group of highly recommended representations of that say varietal).

            I already have compiled a lists of recommended Chards, Cab Sauvs, Merlots (from Oregon, Napa...etc.). The only thing I might want to know is which choices might be too "strong" on the tannins. Making my mouth pucker as if sucking on a lemon on the first sip.

            Ii suppose I should start with wines that have "fine tannins"? Not astringent. Balanced.

            1. re: BDD888

              Who ever said "Napa Chardonnays"??? ;^)

              You tell me what level of knowledge you feel comfortable at . . . give me some examples of wines you have had that you've liked, and why (if you can) . . . even better, give me some examples of wines that you have NOT liked, and why (if you can) . . . in other words, the more detailed a "picture" you can give me of your preferences, your likes and dislikes, the better the list I can create for you . . . .

              Think of it this way -- were you to start for absolute scratch, having never tasted a wine before in your life, and you wanted to learn about (for example) Sauvignon Blanc, I would choose:

              One classic example of a Sancere (Loire Valley, France); one classic example of a Pouilly-Fumé (Loire Valley, France) -- these two will contrast micro-climate with similar soil types.

              One classic Entre-Deux-Mers (Bordeaux, France); one classic Pessac-Léognan (Bordeaux, France) -- these two will contrast soil types but with (roughly) similar micro-climates.

              One classic Sauvignon Blanc from Marlborough (South Island, New Zealand); one from Central Otago (South Island, New Zealand) -- cool vs. even cooler climate.

              One classic Sauvignon Blanc, fermented in stainless steel and bottled unoaked (Sonoma, or perhaps Napa Valley, California); one fermented and aged in oak (same appellation) -- same general climate/soil type with the obvious contrast of oak vs. no oak.

              One classic Sauvignon Blanc, produced as a 100 varietal (Sonoma, or perhaps Napa Valley, California); one produced as a blend with Sémilion (same appellation) -- same general climate/soil type with the obvious contrast of pure varietal vs. a blend.

              One Sauvignon Blanc from Winery X; one Reserve Sauvignon Blanc from Winery X -- same appellation, same winemaker . . . what's the difference?

              So you get the general idea. All 12 wines of the above wines would be classic examples of the type; all 12 would be delicious; all 12 will illustrate different flavor profiles of the grape from around the world.

              Now . . . if you want to focus JUST on Bordeaux, for example, or JUST on American Chardonnays . . . obviously the comparisons and contrasts will be more sharply focused, illustrating ever finer points of style, winemaking technique, origins, and so on.


              >>> Never know who is handing out advice is qualified or some one pretending to be an "expert" seeking attention. Happens in any type of forum as you probably know. <<<

              While this happens, I admit, I would suggest that you type the following into a Google search:
              "Jason Brandt Lewis" wine

              (By adding the word *wine* to search, you will eliminate any references to "coffee.")


              1. re: zin1953

                Unfortunately, as I said, my "experience" comes from blindly ordering "house wines", "red wines" and "....a bottle of your white that you would recommend". So I never knew exactly what I was drinking. Never cared...till now. Just keep in mind that I probably shouldn't start with wines that would make my mouth pucker too much (e.g. "high" in tannins).

                I am planning to try merlots like those from Pride, Paloma and Duckhorn in addition to any recommendations you might give me. A Chardonnay from Cakebread. Etc.

                And while your sample of A-B testing sounds like a good pay to go to learn (which I might try). I think we can still on our own find out what we like just by going to wine sampling days at wine shops or wineries. And by simply picking up bottles that come heavily recommended by "expert" reviewers or your average internet wino.

                Though one might not get as good an understanding of 2 wines from France with different "micro-climates" but similar oil types. Which I think can be good knowledge to have but not truly necessary to find out which wines you enjoy.

                Again, if you still want to suggest wines (I can buy readily in LA) based on your listed tests examples please feel free. Just don't be disappointed if I end up not trying them all.

                Also, I wasn't saying that you were one of those jokers that hang around various forums pretending to sound knowledgeable to novices. Not sure why I mentioned that really. ;) Maybe I was tired...It's now 3:30 AM here...couldn't sleep...Idiot neighbour above (condo).

            2. re: zin1953

              And while (as I've said) it is true that a novice like me might end up missing certain details...who is to say that a novice won't pickup 3/4 of the details? Or who is to say that a wine connoisseur with 30 plus years of experience will do any better? We all have different palates. Or better yet why must we be able to detect ALL or most nuances to enjoy the particular bottle of wine? I don't think we do. It doesn't hurt in some cases but I sure most of us will immediately know what we like and don't for whatever the reason. Even if it's not the text book explanation.

              1. re: BDD888

                The most important thing one can ***EVER*** say about a wine is "Yum" or "Yuck." Period. Everything else is irrelevant . . .

                UNLESS, of course, you wish to communicate your likes and/or dislikes with others. Then, detecting those subtleties, understanding them, and being able to describe them becomes crucial. It isn't of any help to say, "I like X. You will like it, too." Why will I like it? What is it about it that you like? What does it taste like?

                Ah, there's the conundrum. Try to describe a taste. You cannot . . . and yet it's something that wine writers, critics, winemakers, and wine drinkers attempt to do daily. (Try to describe "chocolate" to someone who has never tasted it before, and you'll see what I mean.)

                Certain wine may be frequently cited as being filled with "cherries" or "plums" or being "buttery"; as having "tobacco" or "cedar" or "pencil lead"; as being "earthy" or "chalky" or like "wet slate." But obviously there are no cherries, plums, or butter, etc. truly present in the wine . . . NOR is there REALLY the smell of cherries, plums or butter, etc. in the wine. There is something there that is ***reminiscent*** of those characteristics, AND those characteristics are not detected in a vacuum. In other words, you can smell a ripe cherry or plum, smell a stick of butter, and those components will never be in a wine. But if you add, for example, a bit of cherry Jell-o into a glass of red wine, or a bit of diced plum and let it macerate in the red wine . . . if you add diacetyl to a white . . . . a) those will smell DIFFERENT than if you smell the ripe fresh fruit; and b) they will make it EASIER for you to detect those specific components in a wine later on . . . .

                >>> why must we be able to detect ALL or most nuances to enjoy the particular bottle of wine? <<<

                Emphasis on the word "must"? You don't. But let me suggest something to you: take a three-year old to a Michelin Three Star, and that child will probably not get the most out of it, even if they eat more than buttered pasta (probably with Red Cow parmesan and white truffle oil). Take a 21-year old to the same restaurant, and he/she will certainly appreciate it more, but if this is the very first time in a Michelin-starred restaurant, he/she may not appreciate it as much as if he or she has been to several other restaurants of this type . . . Same thing with sushi, for example, and the average American palate: some people won't touch it because it's raw; others may eat only tekka maki or a California roll. But with an appreciation of the ideal, as well as for the food itself, one will not only fall in love with uni and more "esoteric" offerings, but will also understand and appreciate the differences between the neighborhood place where the sushi floats by on a boat, or is offered as a part of the buffet, and a restaurant like Masa or one of Morimoto's places, or . . . you get the point, I think.


                1. re: zin1953

                  Guess it comes down to a lot of experience and learning. Perhaps I never realized how throughout my years tasting various foods and drink (obviously not wine) for example. That I had been picking up on a lot of the nuances, learning about and the vocabulary to eventually truly appreciate certain foods and drink. In which ever ways I was doing that.

                  Any how let's move on....maybe you could start a new thread titled "Wine Appreciation 101"....setup some wine tasting tests novices like me can try...listing a variety of wines most of us can find. Of course quality wines you would also buy yourself. Wines that are good representatives (e.g. Duckhorn Merlot as a merlot, Cakebread Chard when doing a taste test for Chards).

                  On a side note...regarding "3 Star Micheilin restaurants"...doesn't sound appealing to me. To have to spend any time around Beverly Hills type "d-bags". Had enough of those types back in my high schoo yearsl. If I could sample and maybe enjoy those same kinds of foods in a different setting.... And I have stayed in many great hotels (4 Seasons, Hiltons....around the world). Perhaps some of their restaurants were "3 Star M" and I didn't know it.

                  1. re: BDD888

                    1a) There are no Michelin three-star restaurants in Beverly HIlls, California. The only cities in the US to have that honor are New York, Chicago, and in the Napa Valley.

                    1b) I grew up in Beverly HIlls, CA, and there are no greater concentration of "d-bags," as you call them, than anywhere else I've lived on this planet.

                    2a) I would never recommend Cakebread as a "good representative" of Chardonnay. It is a very good wine. But being "a good wine", and being representative of Chardonnay, of California Chardonnay, or even a Napa Valley Chardonnay, are two VERY different things. You continue to refer to Château Cheval Blanc. OK, there is no one (at least no one I have ever met) who would question that Cheval Blanc is a GREAT, indeed truly exceptional wine (given a great vintage, etc., etc. -- in other words, "with all else being equal"). But it is atypical for St.-Émilion -- atypical for Bordeaux! -- because its blend in comprised of significant majority of Cabernet FRANC, rather than the "normal" for the Right Bank (Merlot) or the Left Bank (Cabernet Sauvignon). Great wine, a classic in its own right, but were I teaching a novice, or even a beginner, about Bordeaux -- regardless of budget -- I'd never start out by selecting Cheval Blanc. So . . . given its level of oak, while not unique, Cakebread is not typical of Napa Chardonnay.


            3. re: BDD888

              "Yes I am a novice. I don't even have 2 weeks worth of tasting under my belt. "

              This is key. I've seen so many people get "into wine" and then get bored with it and move on. Also, you don't know what you like yet. Many people only like young, in your face, high alcohol fruit bombs, and never graduate from that. Aged wine is a completely different beast. Isn't it logical to at least taste some aged wines before you drop a g on a singular bottle? Hell, I'm in the trade and it's foolish for ME to spend that. I know I'd get so much more out of many bottles for the same loot.

              Same goes for Old World wines in general. Generalization here, but they're higher in acid, with less fruit and oak. Lots of wine drinkers hate that style. I mean, have you ever even tasted a Bordeaux before? If not, it's kind of like buying a Mercedes without taking it for a test drive, just so you can say you own one.

              Anyhow, I hope it doesn't sound like I'm telling you what to do. It's just that, in my humble-but-experienced opinion), you will gain so much more spending a thousand dollars on, say, a case of '06 Brunello or '04 Barolo (I'm a sucker for Eye-tie) and watching it age. Drink a bottle every few years and watch how they change and develop. You will learn, and enjoy (!) so much more.

              P.S. Good on you for getting some books. Reading, to me, is almost as important as tasting when you're trying to learn.

              1. re: invinotheresverde

                Thanks invino. Makes good sense. I just thought that one day I might be ready to appreciate a Cheval Blanc (waiting till it matures), want to buy a good vintage to try but not want to pay our overly inflated Canadian pricing. So while I am in LA.... Could always return to t he US later and pickup a bottle I suppose.

                And no it didn't sound like you were telling me what to do. :)

              2. re: BDD888

                <<<But I don't see how ordering online is a crap shoot if you order from reputable shops.>>>

                It IS if you don't know how to buy aged wine. I think a novice will have better luck with an older bottle by being able to see it in a store, learning about what it should look like first and then asking questions in the shop. Questions about the fill, the capsule, the cork level, the marks on the label (or lack of), etc. Look at the other aged wines in the shop and *talk* to the person selling them to you.

                Even "reputable" internet wine shops will sell aged wine in *dubious* conditions. It is buyer beware- no returns. They expect you know what you are doing and you are expected to take the risk. They are not under obligation to teach you anything. Many people will throw down $1,000.00 on a 25 year old wine with upper shoulder fill. They are stupid, they just don't know it.

                1. re: sedimental

                  Good points. I'm probably going to hold off on it for now. Decided maybe it would be better to try enough variation of let's say Bordeaux (regardless of vintage and price) to see what house style I end up preferring. Could always pickup a few bottles of 1st growth Bordeaux from the US later. When I've gained "enough" experience to make a more informed choice...

                  1. re: BDD888

                    I forget, are you still in California, or have you gone back to Canada?

                    If you are still in California, then you might want to sample some half-bottle offerings. You might not find the ultra-rare in that format, but can sample some interesting wines, for several regions. Remember, a half-bottle is about 2 glasses. Two restaurants, with some good, and interesting half-bottle selections in the San Francisco area are Farallon (240 Post St.) and Luce (888 Howard). Use those to get an introduction, and work up from there.

                    If you can get by one of the K & L sites (one in SF, and others in California), then ask about their tastings. If you get near Redwood City (outside of San Francisco), ask for Ralph Sands, for Bdx. wines. Put yourself in his hands, and let him guide you. You will not be disappointed.



                2. re: BDD888

                  <Btw...I ordered 5 books on wine yesterday. Arrived today. Hugh Johnson's "2011 Pocket Wine Book", Food & Wine's Wine Guide 1011 by Anthony Giglio, and 3 Jancis Robinson books (Atlas, Wine, How to Taste).>

                  Interesting selection. The book I use in my classes, and that I recommend first and foremost, especially for neophytes, is "The Wine Bible," by Karen MacNeil. Among Ms. MacNeil's impressive credentials is that she runs the Wine Education Program at CIA Greystone.

                  1. re: ChefJune

                    Will keep that title in mind. Perhaps I'll pick up a copy of that as well later. Have a good week! :)

                    1. re: ChefJune

                      June??? Uh -- well . . . email me, if you wish (check profile)

                      1. re: ChefJune

                        For one, just starting out on the journey of wines, I would also recommend Andrea Immer's (later Andrea Robinson) "Great Wines Made Simple," though I have mentioned that book to BDD888 in another thread. The "homework" is the really fun part... [Grin]


                  2. I would never order something old and rare online; I would prefer to inspect the bottle first. That said, I have and do order wines online with some degree of frequency, although most of my purchases are face-to-face in a wine store. While there arecertain stores from which I would *never* order online . . . depending upon where you live . . . .

                    -- there are certain times of the year when I would *NOT* order wine online;
                    -- some stores will not sell to you, as it is illegal to ship into/out of some states, or across international boundaries;
                    -- some international freight companies will not accept shipments of wine or other alcoholic beverages, while others will;

                    AND . . .

                    -- it is ALWAYS illegal to ship alcoholic beverages of any kind using the United States Postal Service.

                    1. Ordering online is terrific- if you know alot about wine. If you don't know about wine, it will be even more of a crap shoot than just walking into a store and buying a random bottle off a shelf.

                      Based on your questions here- it seems that you are in the "just learning" phase and you want to find some nice bottles to play with. That is great.... but wine is consumable- you don't just bring it back if you don't like it. You are likely to find many wines that you really don't like much. Right? That is how you figure out what you like and don't like. How much are you willing to spend on wines you don't like? THAT is the question :)

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