What wines are selling best on Amazon.com? You might be surprised. There's more than just the expected popular brands of Cabernet and Chardonnay.
Curious about what the top-selling wines on Amazon.com are at the moment, I approached the Seattle-based mega-company to see if anyone could tell me. After much back and forth, I got a list of 10: There are some of the expected — two Pinot Noirs, two Cabernet Sauvignon or Bordeaux-style reds, and a Chardonnay; but there are also the unexpected — a Roussanne, a Semillon, and a sweet Black Muscat.
Tasting notes take up a few sentences. The "three-word taste summary" for Robert Mondavi's 2011 ONEHOPE Pinot Noir ($18.95) doesn't even use all three words, just "strawberry, tannic." Maybe not ordinarily a strong selling point. But further down I see that half the profits for this wine are donated "to help homeless pets find their forever home," a big selling point for pet-loving consumers.
A Sonoma Coast Pinot that costs $50 is on the list, too. The 2009 Bjornstad Hellenthal Vineyard Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast rated 93 points from the Wine Enthusiast. People are doing their research.
But when it comes to Cabernet Sauvignon, consumers seem to be looking for bargains. The three listed are about $25 each. That includes the Albertina Wine Cellars Grand Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon ($26), inexpensive as California Cabernets go. It's from Mendocino County and most likely benefits from the 1-cent shipping offer. Taste summary: blackberry, plum, jammy. The jammy adjective and the 15 percent alcohol would put me off, but obviously not those for whom jammy is something positive.
Eden Canyon Vineyards' 500-case lot of 2009 Jolie Bordeaux Style Red at $25 benefits from the 1-cent shipping offer, too. Another relative bargain is the 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon Dry Creek Valley from Dry Creek Vineyard, which rated 90 points from the Wine Enthusiast ($25).
One of the two wines on the list not from California is the 2009 Brian Carter Cellars Corrida Columbia Valley Red ($34) from Washington state, a blend of Tempranillo, Merlot, Cabernet and Cabernet Franc with a taste summary that reads "blackberry, licorice, cedar." Interesting choice, a tribute to Rioja from a Washington winemaker with, oddly, only one customer review.
And then there's that single Chardonnay, the 2011 Grgich Hills Estate Napa Valley Chardonnay ($39). It's a terrific classic Chardonnay so it's gratifying to see high up on the list.
I'm also pleased to see a Roussanne present as well, a white Rhone grape that's unfamiliar to many. The taste summary for the 2009 Zaca Mesa Winery Roussanne from Santa Ynez Valley ($25): Minerality, dry apricot, honey. Production is under 2,000 cases and viticulture is sustainable, both appealing selling points. The wine is also eligible for 1-cent shipping at the moment.
The other Washington state wine is a Semillon from a relatively small winery, the 2012 L'Ecole No. 41 Semillon Columbia Valley ($14), but one of Wine Enthusiast's Top 100 Best Buys for 2013.
What can I say? Some people just love their sweet California dessert wines. Quady's Elysium Black Muscat ($22) is a consistent seller from a well-known name.
Launched in 2012, the Amazon wine marketplace acts as a portal through which wineries sell their wines. Orders are shipped from the wineries' warehouses. More than 8,500 wines are listed on the site from some 1,000 wine sellers, domestic and international.
The site supports sales to customers in 22 states and Washington, D.C., including, of course, California. A significant proportion of the buyers are from California, Amazon spokesman Erik Fairleigh wrote in an email.
FYI, customers can ship up to six bottles of wine for $9.99. Amazon Prime benefits (unlimited two-day shipping for an annual fee) are not available for Amazon wine orders at this time. One-cent shipping is available from certain participating winemakers on certain shipments.
Though Amazon offers wines from all over the world and American wines from Oregon, Washington and New York state, even Maryland, Michigan and North Carolina, California wines clearly dominate. And they're not all from big wineries. Small producers seem to be finding a marketplace here as well.
You can search by terms such as "kosher," "gluten-free," "small-lot," "sustainable," "biodynamic" or "vegan." You can search by alcohol level or price range, by ratings, by wine region, even by taste notes. You want a wine with vanilla or cherry? You'll find it. Amazon's search engine is really the genie behind the site .... That and the fact that it's now as easy to buy wine as it is to buy a book, once you're part of the site's seductive system.