I’m just old enough to remember when e-commerce was little more than an idea—when the notion of buying online was the exclusive realm of early adopters and other zealots. Yet now just about anything can be bought online and delivered to your doorstep, and that’s certainly become true in the world of wine. Right here in Seattle we have at least three competing outlets for online wine sales, with the perks and perils thereof.
Jon Rimmerman’s Garagiste offers an appealing model for would-be wine connoisseurs: wine as a story, a bridge to a specific place and time, something made through struggle and strife. Seeking unknown wines from all corners of the globe over the better part of two decades, he’s helped bring grapes, regions, and styles of wine to the public consciousness that otherwise would languish in obscurity.
Yet his approach is almost charmingly quaint: There’s no website. Instead, offerings are sent via a mailing list, described in florid and fanciful prose that can make even a relatively innocuous rose from southern France sound like a once-in-a-lifetime bottle you’d be a fool to pass up. Over the years I’ve ordered a number of wines from Garagiste, and while they’ve all been interesting, one or two have failed to live up to Rimmerman’s rather grandiose claims. His commitment to an ideal is admirable, and he stands in stark contrast to the first truly famous American wine writer, Robert Parker, in his dedication to natural, handmade wines.
If Parker proved that Americans were desperate for wine guidance and Rimmerman further demonstrated that they’d be willing to spend on wines they’d never heard of, Yashar Shayan’s Impulse Wine shows that what we love most of all is not having to work much to get our wine. Offering free delivery within King County, Shayan has been able to build a business by combining thoughtful selections and discount pricing. His write-ups focus more on factual data and technical specs, yet they’re still laden with bits of romance and exotica.
When we talk about free shipping, we can’t ignore the elephant in the room: Amazon. Like just about everything else, Amazon will mail you wine. Yet interestingly, its selection is far more limited than that of almost any other section of its website. Coupled with an impersonal nature, I wonder just how successful it can be. After all, it might be fine to order toilet paper or clothes or books online without much more guidance than customer reviews, but both Garagiste and Impulse Wine have shown that with a name to trust, buying wine online can be about more than just the lowest price.