Wine.com Top 100 of 2009 and the Not-So-Changing Tide of Wine Sales

Vinted on December 4, 2009 binned in wine buying

This week, Wine.com – the largest on-line wine retailer, and still everybody’s “love-to-hate-‘em” choice for performing their own self-serving wine distribution ‘sting’ operation last year – has released the third annual list of their top 100 best selling wines.

The top 10 in that list potentially tell us a lot about U.S. consumer wine buying preferences, because of the size of its business (exact numbers are a bit difficult to come by, as the company is still privately held).  Here they are (click the image to embiggen):

What those top 10 wines tell us is… well, a bit of something old, and a bit of something new

At first, some of the selections might seem a bit surprising.  Cava at #7?  And a Tuscan IGT at #10?  But they all have two quite telling aspects in common:

  1. They all scored 90+ points by one of the established wine print publications (The Wine Advocate, Wine & Spirits, Wine Enthusiast, Australian Wine Companion, Wine Spectator, etc.) – that’s the “something old”…

  2. They all retail for under $20 – that’s the “something new.”

Not that consumers haven’t been budget-conscious for quite some time now, but this list underscores the fact that wine consumers (myself included, though I don’t shop at wines.com) are looking for the highest bang-for-the-buck factor out of their wine purchases, probably more so now than at any other point in modern wine buying history.

That’s not exactly “new” news, but it’s newer than the other insight that we can glean from this list, which is that points and printed publications continue to significantly influence wine purchasesFor better or worse, the assumption on the part of the consumer is that a high points score + a low retail price = big value for money.

Are there implications for this about wine buying and the influence of social media and non-print wine publications? I certainly think so.  While a sea change has already taken place in how consumers get their information about wine (away from traditional media and towards on-line and social networking recommendations), that sea change has not yet dampened the socks on the feet of those to whom wine consumers turn to solidify their buying decisions.

In other words, points still rule the game for most when it comes to buying wine in the U.S.

Let’s discuss in the comments (you know you wanna on this topic!)…

Cheers!

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    Comments

  • RichardA


    Do you have a copy of wine.com's top ten list from last year or 2007 for comparison? Though you claim that it is something new that all the wines are under $20, you actually have not offered any proof of such. My own suspicion is that the prior lists probably also contained most, if not all, wines costing under $20. I think the average wine consumer has always primarily sought wines under $20. They might occasionally splurge, but it is more a rarity.

    • 1WineDude


      Good point but I still think that it's significant that all are under $20 and above 90 points…

      There is a synopsis of the previous 2 years' top 100 lists here:
      http://www.wine.com/customercare/press/press_rele
      http://www.wine.com/customercare/press/press_rele

      In 2009, 82 of the wines were rated 90 points or higher 75+ wines were priced under $20.
      In 2008, 94 of the wines rated 90 points or higher and 70 wines were priced under $20.
      In 2007, 84 rated 90 points or higher & 75 were priced at $20 or below.

      I'm not sure we can draw much from those three years *in comparison* especially when all three are economic downturn years. However, the value for money focus seems to be consistent between them.

      Cheers!

      • rckr1951


        The point that you're making is being felt my just about every rating scource. The amount of higher priced wines in then Wine Spectator Top #100 from last year nose dived. It has dropped a little every year.

    • 1winedude5036


      Whoops – forgot to mention that I haven't been able to find the complete lists from `07 and `08 to compare them (and so far I've been too lazy to contact wine.com to get them :-).

      • RichardA


        With that general info for 07 & 08, it looks like maybe their top ten wines were also under $20, so it is not really "new." I don't disagree that it is important, but people have been seeking value for some time now. And I certainly agree points still have a great impact with many consumers.

        • 1WineDude


          You may be right, it might only be "new" to me or new in the general sense of the looooooong historical tail of the wine industry.

          I see it as a bit of a wake up call as well to those who are touting the advent of social media a bit too much – certainly it's important and will continue to be more important, but we're still at the beginning of this in terms of market impact.

          • RichardA


            In regard to your second paragraph, I am in also in complete agreement. The impact is there, but still have a very long ways to go.

            • 1WineDude


              Indeed…

  • @suburbanwino


    Joe, interesting stuff. I do think RichardA brings up a good point for the sake of comparison. Another interesting trend I noticed is that (provided my count is right) 20% of the wine came from South America. Seems like (and I've had a gut feeling on this) that Chile/Argentina have become what Australia was 5 years ago. Lots of good value coming out of formerly "fringe" players in the international wine scene. I'd love to see the previous lists and see if that has truly been a growing trend.

    • 1WineDude


      I was really (pleasantly) surprised to see a Cava in the top 10 – those are capable of delivering ridiculous value. Of course, it could be argued that Spain is acting more like a 'new world' wine country like Chile than an 'old world' country in terms of reinventing its wine regions.

    • Katie Finn


      Am I looking at the right list? None of those wines are South American! In fact its Australia that's represented 20%.
      It's true that now more than ever people are looking at the quality to value ratio. Prior to our economic slump, the highest rated wines also came with hefty price tags. For example – Beaucastel, Quilceda Creek, Chappellet, Ornellaia, etc.
      There have always been a few moderate priced "gems" in the mix to even the playing field, but let's be honest – with a high score usually comes a big advertising budget. It's no coincidence that big glossy ads from high profile distributors and wineries garner better press. Besides, by the time scores come out the wine is usually sold out, on another vintage, or so highly allocated no one can get their hands on a bottle anyway. The consumers who care about scores are novice wine drinkers who need validation for thier choices.

      • 1WineDude


        Good points, though I'd argue that top-scoring Burgundy and Bordeaux wines spend little on that type of advertising since demand has historically been through the roof anyway.

      • @suburbanwino


        Katie: I counted 20 that were either from Chilean producers or Argentina (unless there was some Malbec from elsewhere that I missed). Hope I was looking at the right list (there was Crios de Susana Balbo, Catena, Bodega Norton, Santa Rita, and Veramonte…I think).

        Joe, I agree that Spain is stepping out from the old-world mold (why not?). Cava is an absurd value, as is Reserva and Gran Reserva Rioja (even the old stuff). Lots of new-world-style wines coming out of Spain too (and many more bottlings saying "Tempranillo" or "Garnacha"). Whites are great values, too. I buy an easy-drinking white from Catalunya (probably made from Parallada/Xarel-Lo/Macabeo) for under $5 for cooking. It destroys many "marketable" whites for twice or three times that price.

  • Richard


    Joe,

    I can't say I agree with "sea change" as the appropriate term to use to describe the migration from traditional media coverage of wine to blogging or social networking. Puddle change is how I would describe it. I have seen no serious evidence, at the retail level, to support your sense of the magnitude of this change. As you yourself state, at the end of your post, points still rule. These points are still being supplied by traditional media and I don't think that anyone would consider that breaking news. I think those that have been tolling the death knell of traditional media have been mostly pulling the rope of self-promotion, by which some, will most definitely hang themselves.

    That said, I look forward to my first customer asking for a wine recommended by the Wine Dude or any wine blogger (myself included). Now, that would be cool! I actually have a little idea along those lines, but not ready to disclose.

    Also, thanks for the link to the blog about Wine.com's sting operation. I had not read that before. It solidifies my negative attitude towards wine.com.

    • 1WineDude


      I a way, you've stated (more eloquently than I did) one of the points I was trying to make in the post, which is that the move towards heightened relevance of alternative media in wine has not materialized results at the retail level (at least, not as far as Wine.com sales are concerned).

      Cheers!

  • Phil Vogels


    Not to try to make more work for you or anything, but what do we know about the rest of the list? I see that #11 is also a 90+ point wine, do we know where this trend stops?

    • Phil Vogels


      A bit more info on this (for those interested): 82 of the 100 have a 90+ point rating to boast about and "over 75" were less than $20. This compares to 2007 (84 90+ points and 75 $20 and under) and 2008 (94 90+ points and "over 70" less than $20).

      • 1winedude5036


        Thanks, Phil – I'd posted the same info. in a comment response above, but it looks like Intense Debate is having some issues and some of the replies were delayed or didn't show up properly (including yours). :-(

    • 1WineDude


      For 2009 we do – the entire list is available in order at http://www.wine.com/v6/winemarketinglist.aspx?N=4

      That shows scores, prices, etc.

      According to Wine.com, in 2009 of the top 100, 82 of the wines were rated 90 points or higher 75+ wines were priced under $20.

    • 1WineDude


      For 2009 we do – the entire list is available in order at http://www.wine.com/v6/winemarketinglist.aspx?N=4

      That shows scores, prices, etc.

      According to Wine.com, in 2009 of the top 100, 82 of the wines were rated 90 points or higher 75+ wines were priced under $20.

  • Phil Vogels


    Looking around the site provides a pretty clear answer as to the 90+ under $20 combo, it's a featured option (in fact the first one you see in the "Shop for Wine" menu.

    • 1WineDude


      Thanks, Phil!

  • Tim


    I'm surprised that their prices are not cheaper. The Kim Crawford sells for $12.99 at Costco and the Cambria Pinot Noir sells for $16.99, and thats in Arizona, which isn't even as cheap as California

    • 1WineDude


      I guess they need the extra cash to fund those sting operations?

  • @nectarwine


    1WineDude – Looks like you've started some good dialogue. Since the list represents what the consumer is buying (at least the online consumer) it definitely merits paying attention to. Do we know what type of market share or demographic is represented by wine.com? I would be curious in a production of a similar list from GaryV's winelibrary and cindarella wine. We could put them all together for some really good numbers.

    Points both score and price still do rule the game – if they didn't make a difference then wine makers wouldn't bother trying to come under $20 or trying to get reviewed in Spectator, Enthusiasts, Advocate, Gary V, You, Me, etc.

    Josh @nectarwine (twitter)

    • 1WineDude


      Great idea o do a comparison between on-line retailers… sounds like another paper opportunity for vintank!

  • 1WineDude


    Hey all – FYI, just received this from wine.com via twitter:

    "@1WineDude for your comparison purposes: 2007 list is here http://bit.ly/6YoUh7 and the 2008 list is here http://bit.ly/4N05nc "
    A quick check of the lists shows some countries performing better in the bast (Australia) in sales. Looks like in 2007 it was a VERY budget-conscious list, though 2008 saw some slightly higher prices and at least one wine in the Top 10 over $20…

  • Steve Heimoff


    I was glad to see the Cambria 06 Julia's Pinot Noir #1. It's a wine I scored at 93, which wine.com showed up front. The fact that wine.com got the price under $20 also helped drive sales.

    • 1WineDude


      Thanks, Steve. This post has taken on some interesting significance after your piece today on your blog.

  • Lauren


    I agree with this article and in order to reinvent your business you need to come up with dynamic ideas from time to time

  • rckr1951


    Hi! I'm new to the Wine Dude experience, but I've been doin' this wine thing for about 40 years now. Part of the problem with the "seeing" that difference – the emerging wine market sales – is that the the big marketing/distribution companies have it in their interests to NOT include those wines in their catalogues. Those of us that use the internet for our "source" for wines order a little more discriminately and will order wines from those places, I do everyweek. I hardly shop at the local shops – once in a while to show my support, but 75% or of my wines come to my house from and on-line shop.

    • 1WineDude


      Thanks – I *wish* I had that direct-to-home option!

      • rckr1951


        What we really need is an underground wineroad.

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