How much can Brown do for you? From the slothful comfort of my couch, I can order shoes, clothes, guns and, of course, various illegal drugs. A friendly, and invariably hot, UPS guy brings these desired items to my door with a Playgirl-worthy smile and a "Have a nice day." And these days, with relaxed alcohol regulations in many areas, Brown can also bring me wine. But with so many variations in quality and value, I wonder how valuable these services are? You can choose from winery clubs, national companies that sell club memberships or cases, or local companies that deliver wine to your door. It's a diverse bag, one you will want to open and inspect carefully.
When mixing alcohol with the Internet, crooked legislators and their inveterate wholesaler lobbyists worry that 18-year-old drunks will illegally order $50 cabernet. I don't know about you, but I had to scrape together $4 in change for a six-pack of Old Milwaukee when I was 18 (OK... 16). And my parents didn't exactly trust their raging teenager with a credit card.
But, thankfully, the Supreme Court ruling in 2004 loosened the wholesalers' grip on Internet alcohol purchases (for more info, check out freethegrapes.org), and wine websites can now provide decadent access to obscure and coveted labels. But there are two caveats: 1) You have to rely on your own experience, or their propaganda, to choose what to buy; 2) high shipping costs. Shipping two bottles can exceed $30 for many states, so the decision comes down to how badly you crave the newest and greatest.
But rare isn't all they vend. At California Wine Club, one of the best in the industry that ships everywhere but Utah, about 50 percent of the "Little Known Gems" selections were available locally in Florida, but the "Signature Series" featured some exceptional, small-production wines. Most other clubs -- Wine.com, Wine of the Month Club, A Taste of California and My Wines Direct -- continue to have shipping issues with many states, Georgia being the worst. No bother, though; their lackluster selection isn't worth the hassle.
Practically every winery in California has a "wine club" that sends out yearly, quarterly or monthly shipments of its popular wines. If you or a wine-geek loved one admire a particular winemaker's style, then this option can be appealing. Again, watch the shipping costs and be judicious in choosing worthy juice. Without tasting the wines, you might be disappointed.
But like a Pleasure Party where people can ogle the newest and oddest in vibrator technology, wine party companies allow sampling of their products in the most intimate area -- your living room. If you like what you taste, they will deliver right to your door with no Brown involved. The convenience is undoubtedly attractive and the experience fun, but they hawk some shitty, overpriced products.
I recently tried an assortment of 15 wines by one of these companies, PRP International, and only two of them were palatable. Some of these companies sell "private label" wines, meaning they ask a winery to label the bottle under a different name. In this system, sales rely on face-to-face contact rather than traditional marketing, so the living room experience is key. But not even batteries and new technology can make the wines better.
Abadia Retuerta 2001 Sardon de Duero. SW = 2. $20. Fascinating quality from this Spanish producer, with an earthy, buttery aroma and cinnamon, cassis, black licorice and sweet caramel on the tongue. So much going on, you're almost overwhelmed. Wow. 4.5 stars
Hanna 2002 Two Ranch Red Sonoma Valley (California). SW = 2. $22. Powerful dark cherry laced with sweet, fragrant vanilla. Has a gorgeously smooth, long, sultry finish. Sexy wine. 4 stars
Sweetness (SW) rating is out of 10, 10 being pure sugar. Star rating is out of 5, 5 being wine nirvana.
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