A Wine Superstore Goes Online

More About Hybrid Sites

A hybrid site is a category I made up, so I guess it can be defined anyway I want it to be.

Logically, a hybrid should have more than one real store with a sales staff and cash register.  

Another key part of the definition is to offer buyers the choice of buying online and either shipping the wine or picking it up yourself at a real store.

So this category covers the giant totalwine with its multiple stores and the little guys with at least two.

To date, we have studied two other real hybrids and will publish our reviews soon.

One is a major retailer, klwines.com with three stores in California.

The other is the oxbowwinemerchant with stores in the town of Napa and in San Francisco.

All, regardless of size and location,  have not yet ventured into the world of free shipping.

They also share a knack for finding great wines and great deals that generally fly under the radar.


Type: Hybrid
Size: over 8,000 wines
Focus: Wines in every price bracket
Strengths:  Ca, New Zealand, Bordeaux
Discounts: 10-15%
Shipping: costly; store pick-up available

Pros: wide selection, many stores
Cons: low discounts; slow navigation

Rating: ***

This recently renovated site for Total Wine & More, www.total wine.com is likely to become a major player in the online wine field.

Founded in 1991 by two brothers, the parent company is headquartered in Maryland. Total Wine today consists of 135 stores in 18 states. It recently entered the San Francisco Bay Area with a new store in Fremont.

Proud to label itself a “superstore,” Total Wine  is rumored to be  buying the BevMo group. But that’s another story.

As an online seller, total wine is set up to  immediately recognize your physical location and connects you with its nearest storefronts in your area. So the basic premise is that you can shop online and then decide to have the wines shipped or, if a feasible option, pick them up and drive them away.

Looking over the wines offered, one could be blown away by the sheer numbers, as each store is said to stock over 5,000 wines. The total for Total Wine is over 8,000 wines.

Wines are  listed by country and variety, but it is refreshing to see regions like Columbia Valley, Mendoza, Marlborough and Willamette Valley recognized.

Most wines are accompanied by an expert rating as well as by reviews submitted by normal people. These latter reviews follow the  5-star system and it is fun to check out (well, maybe if you have nothing else to do) and read that Randi from Tulsa enjoyed a Syrah at a family cookout, even though her husband was flirting with her neighbor and the burgers were overcooked. (Note to self: never name your child Randi.)

Back to the wines available. The lengthy Bordeaux list of 650 includes First Growths from 2012 and a Cheval Blanc for $1,199. The well-priced 2009 Ch. Giscours was intriguing at $44.99 a bottle. You can buy the rare 2005 Petrus for $4,499 or the 04 Petrus for half that. But this well-chosen list does include a good number of inexpensive Bordeaux.

Totalwine.com also wins high marks for its deep selection of New Zealand Sauvignons. It goes beyond the usual names ...Cupcake, Cloudy Bay, Villa Maria, Brancott...to include my favorites, Spy Valley, Drylands Estate, Matua, Dog Point and Framingham.

But both the Brancott and Nobilo are priced right at $8.99.

The Rhone section is also impressively deep with the obligatory Cotes du Rhones and Chateauneuf-du-Papes along with a dozen or more from Costieres de Nimes, red and white. There are several fine Gigondas, especially the 2013 Vieux Clocher at $20.99.

Regarding prices: in general, this is not a discount house. Usually it offers 10% off six bottles or more. It is expanding a list of “Winery Direct” brands that generally are 10% off retail. This lists includes several interesting California names such as Chappellet, Melka, Balducci and Moone Tsai, brands generally not widely available.

Otherwise, discounts reach 15% for special promotions which recently covered 850 Italian wines.

Overall, Total Wine remains much more of a store than a website as it pushes promo codes and themed events at various stores. For Father’s Day it featured wines from Josh Cellars which are widely available in most supermarkets.

But the selection is better than Amazon’s.

Finally, the website is not the easiest to get around for normal shopping and browsing. I like the shop by brand feature, but not everyone knows what they want to buy.