Category Archives: Commercial Wine

Buying Wine Online

First the great news: you can buy wine on the internet from a variety of retailers and have it delivered to your door. This can mean access to wines that just aren’t available in local stores, and because these internet retailers post their prices, it means that comparison shopping is easier than before. Even if you end up buying at a local store, you can still get a better idea of the going rate for your favorite wine.

What’s the catch?

Shipping has got to be the biggest negative. Any liquid in a glass bottle is going to be heavy and breakable, so that will add to the cost. And in the US, each of the fifty states are doing their level best to make it as much of a hassle as possible – many different rules about who can ship what where. An adult signature is generally required, so someone of legal age must be home when the wine is delivered.

Do a lot of people buy wine online?

Not in the US. Online wine sales are only about 2% of the total here. But wine on the web is catching on in Europe where 8% to 10% of sales are over the internet – 15% in the UK.

But where can I buy wine online?

I don’t have direct experience with any particular retailer. But if (when) I buy wine online, these are the names I would start with:

These web retailers have a good selection, a track record, and they made’s Online Wine Buying Guide. Except for my top pick. Amazon is new to selling wine and doesn’t mention them, but I’ve been a satisfied customer for a long time – if they’re selling wine, I’ll probably buy!

Notes and Further Reading

These two articles go over the lay of the land in online wine sales.
Buying Wine on the Web is a New York Times piece that discusses the promise and limitations of the web as a marketplace for wine. Wine-Searcher’s Internet Wine Sales Top $5 Billion article is similar, but more analytical.

So here’s to bringing wine retailing in the 20th century – at least by the end of the 21st …

Barefoot Zin vs Ravenswood Vintners Reserve

The Zinfandel is my favorite of the Barefoot offerings, and The Lady of the house and I tasted it blind against Ravens Wood Vintners Blend 2008 Zinfandel.

Running the numbers

I measured the pH, titratable acidity, and specific gravity of these two wines and combined them with the reported alcohol content in the table below. As you can see, they’re very similar:

Measurement Barefoot Ravens Wood
Alcohol: 13.5% 13.5%
Specific Gravity: 0.994 0.994
pH: 3.4 3.5
Titratable Acidity: 5.5 6

I strongly encourage you to measure and record as much as you can about the commercial wines you drink. Why? Well, I don’t know about you, but I’m not a trained lab technician and getting more practice will improve our technique. Some wineries publish their own analysis, and you can compare your own results against theirs – that’s valuable feedback that you can’t get on your rhubarb wine!

Knowing how a wine analyzes out can help you when you’re tasting that wine. That’s because you can learn why a wine tastes the way it does (or two similar wines taste different). Write down your measurements and your tasting notes often enough and you’ll begin to see patterns. Were those full bodied reds you like finished sweet or dry? How about those bracing whites that were so good in the summer? How come one acidic white was an easy drinker but the other one was so harsh? You’ll accumulate a lot of data, it will be tailored to you own tastes, and you can use that in your own winemaking. So instead of adding the juice of half a lemon because someone in an online forum said so, you’ll learn how to consistently make wine the way you like it – start measuring and take notes!

Barefoot a better value

We both thought the Ravens Wood was more complex. I thought that made it lively and a slight favorite over the Barefoot. The Lady of the House thought barefoot had a bold taste without being harsh and was like, “one solid note.” The Ravens Wood was like an orchestra with potential that hadn’t practiced together. Even though I liked the Ravens Wood a little better, it costs about 80% more (using the best prices I’ve seen) and it’s not that much better.

Overlake Cabernet Sauvignon

Overlake Cabernet SauvignonI was happy enough with the Fetzer Cabernet from Trader Joe’s to give another of their budget Cabernets a try. Like the Fetzer, this comes recommended by Jason, and it set me back $6.

Running the numbers

Couldn’t find any information about this wine, so the only reported measurement I have is 14.75% alcohol. My measurements are:

SG: 0.994, pH: 3.72, TA: 3 g/L

There aren’t many winemaking books that tell you to shoot for a pH of 3.7 or a TA of 3 g/L. What do you get when you put that together with high alcohol and low sugar?

An easy drinking red

“Buttery.” So said the Lady of the House, but I didn’t pick up on that. She didn’t say, but I could tell she was thinking, that it wasn’t the only thing I didn’t pick up on! But getting back to the wine, this is a simple big red that goes down easy. We both liked it with spaghetti and sausage, and I’m going to add it to my list of superbowl wines.

2006 Fetzer Valley Oaks Cabernet Sauvignon

2006 Fetzer Valley Oaks Cabernet SauvignonJason mentioned this wine favorably on his blog, and I decided to give it a try. I bought it at Trader Joe’s for $6.50. That’s a good price to go along with the good recommendation. Now lets have a look under the cork.

Running the numbers

I’ll start with the usual analysis. Fetzer didn’t have information on the 2006 vintage, and they ignored my e-mail asking for it. They indicated 13.5% alcohol on the bottle and reported this for 2007:

13.49% Alcohol • Titratable Acidity (TA) 6.3 g/L • pH: 3.47 • RS: 0.6g/L (dry)

and here are my measurements of the 2006 vintage:

Specific Gravity (SG): 0.994 • pH: 3.5 • TA: 5 g/L

I like to include these measurements so you and I can compare them with our own homemade wine. If a commercial wine tastes particularly good and well balanced, I want to look at the measurements to see how they did it. The most important measurements, of course, are the ones you do with your nose and your palate. How did the Fetzer measure up?

Going back for more

Jason, I owe you one. This is a nice wine that’s great with pasta or steak on the grill. The Lady of the House and I enjoyed a bottle with dinner of ziti and meatballs. It would also make a terrific Superbowl wine. I don’t rate wines on a 100-point scale, but I can tell you that you get more than you pay for with this wine. I’m going back to buy more.

Kirkland 2007 Sonoma County Chardonnay

Kirkland 2007 Sonoma County ChardonnayI had high hopes for this wine ($9 at Costco), because the Kirkland brand is usually pretty good and I liked the Kirkland Sauvignon Blanc. So how did it stack up?

Running the numbers

When I make wine at home, I measure the specific gravity, titratable acidity, and pH. I thought I’d start doing that for some of the commercial wine I buy to see how how the pros are balancing acid, alcohol, and sugar. Since some wineries publish an analysis of their wines, it’ll also give me a chance to see how my measurments compare to those of a commercial lab.

The alcohol content is 13.9%, according to the label, and here are my measurements:

SG: 0.990, pH: 3.34, TA: 4.4 g/L

Unfortunately, I couldn’t find an analysis for this wine, and my e-mail to Kirkland Signature Wine Connection went unanswered. So I’ll just have to go on what I have, and what I have is a low TA – I would have expected 6 g/L or so. Ok, but how does it taste?


“Not unpleasant,” said the Lady of the House. We both hoped for more. There is promise, as you begin to sip, a hint of something lively. It’s gone the moment you swallow, however, and that short finish makes it a plain, disappointing wine. Next time I’ll pass on this one and pick up the Sauv Blanc or head over to Trader Joe’s for some Panilonco 2008 Reserve Chardonnay/Voignier.

A White Wine Bargain

Panilonco 2008 Reserve Chardonnay ViognierA lot of cheap wine is overpriced, so it’s a real treat to find a $4 bottle that I want to buy more of. A friend recommended Panilonco 2008 Reserve Chardonnay/Voignier and I bought a bottle at Trader Joe’s – a great place to hunt for bargains.

I like my white wines to have a little bite, while the Lady of the House prefers them sweet and smooth. So I often get excited about a wine only to see her make a face. Other times  her eyes light up after tasting one that I think was made boring by too much sugar.

This well balanced wine made us both happy. It’s  simple, in a good way, with a nice flavor that’s crisp but smooth. Our only complaint was that Trader Joe’s was out of stock when we went back for more.

My Dad’s Big Red Wine

My dad has been keeping this big old bottle of wine that none of us knows much about. According to the label it’s a 1978 red table wine from Piedmont, Italy. It also says, “Ribezzo Barbera D’Asti.” It’s a 12-liter bottle, and I was afraid the wine was past its prime. If so, it wasn’t getting any better and the thing to do was re-bottle it. Then we’d know what shape the wine was in and we’d have it in normal bottles to drink as we liked. The first thing I had to do was uncork it.

So how do you uncork a 12-liter wine bottle? A lever action corkscrew is no good because it’s too small for the cork to pass through. I tried a waiters corkscrew. It looked a little small in comparison, but I got it in as far as I could and started pulling. I thought it was working at first, as the cork seemed like it was coming out easily. I soon discovered that the 30-year old cork had split horizontally, so I pulled out the top half of the cork but the bottom half remained stubbornly in place.

Broken Cork

I was hoping to get the cork out whole and clean, but prepared to deal with cork or pieces of cork in the wine. I put plan B into action by gently pushing the cork down until it fell into the wine. So far, so good, but now we’re at the embarrassing part of the story. I began to siphon the wine into a bottling bucket, and all was going well. I made sure to keep the end of my racking cane off the bottom so as not to pick up sediment. As the wine level in the bottle went down, I lowered the racking cane until … it wouldn’t go down any more. That’s when I realized that this bottle was taller than my carboys and the racking cane wasn’t big enough to reach all the way to the bottom.

Too Small!

Lesson learned. Next time I have to deal with an unusual size, I’ll double check my equipment and make sure it fits the container. There I was with most of the wine in the bottling bucket, but no way to siphon the rest. I gritted my teeth and poured the remaining wine. From here on, it was pretty familiar. I moved the bottling bucket onto a counter, and filled 14 bottles while the Lady of the House corked them. Now we’ve got some tasting to do!

Update I took a photo of Big Red before re-bottling.

Kirkland Signature Sauvignon Blanc

Kirkland Signature Sauvignon BlancFor those of you who don’t know, Costco is a chain of warehouse stores, mainly in the US and Canada, that allows you to buy in bulk from a limited selection at terrific prices. It can be a good place to buy wine, but I hadn’t seen them sell it under there own label – Kirkland Signature – until now. I was curious, and picked up a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc.

I thought it was fruity, with the strong flavor and acidity that I know and love about Sauvignon Blanc. It was dry and acidic, but in a way that wont put off sweet wine lovers. The Lady of the House, her sweet tooth is known far and wide, liked it too calling it “grapefruit-y” and “summer-y.”

There are cheaper wines that are overpriced. This one is a bargain at $10.

Commercial Cherry Wine

I’m still trying to get the hang of cherry wine, but while I tinker and tweak I might be able to buy some from the Ten Spoon Vineyard. This Montana winery uses Lambert cherries from Flathead Lake to make a dry red wine. I always get excited when I find the pros making “fruit wine.” I got some great advice on making rhubarb wine from the Lynfred Winery, and I’m hoping the people at Ten Spoon will share some tidbits.

I haven’t looked in on last year’s cherry wine since July, when I noticed a problem with the acidity. The total acidity (TA) was too high, which I would ordinarily address by neutralizing some of it. The pH was high as well, and that made my job tougher. If I went ahead and neutralized some of the acid to get the TA down, I would also be raising the already-too-high pH. So my thought was to leave the acid alone and balance it with sugar. Maybe I can get some advice on this – and find out if any of the shops around here carry Ten Spoon’s cherry wine!

Dungeness Red: A Pleasant Surprise

I’ve written about Olympic Cellars before. They’re the winery being threatened by the United State Olympic Committee for using the word “Olympic” in their name. They also make a cranberry wine. Well the Lady of the House and I have recently tried some of their wine, and the Dungeness Red (a 2004 Lemberger) really stands out. It has enough of a tannic bite, an astringency that tastes a little bitter makes your mouth feel a little dry, to make the wine interesting without being harsh. There’s a complexity to it that makes the first sip a pleasant surprise.

What do I mean by “complexity?” I mean the opposite of some of those simple bland wines that we’ve all had. You know the ones – you taste them, and there’s nothing at all wrong. They’re not to sweet. Not to harsh. They don’t taste bad. But there’s nothing right with them either. They’re one dimensional and boring. Well, when I say the Dungeness Red is complex, I mean the opposite of that.

I’m not trying to be vague and imprecise, I’m just trying to describe the wine without resorting to phrases like, “bright cherry notes and a bit of spice.” Maybe I should just say that it’s a red table wine that’s a cut above the others in it’s price range. If you’re grilling a steak or digging in to pasta, this wine will liven up your meal and is worth much more than the $12 we paid for it.