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Updated Thursday, November 8, 2012 at 10:16 PM

Amazon Wine opens for business

As if shopping on Amazon.com needed to get any more dangerous: The online retailer will now start selling wine in a dedicated section on its site, just in time for the holidays.

Visitors to Amazon Wine will have access to more than 1,000 wines from wineries nationwide. Bottle prices range from less than $10 to more than $100, plus shipping costs of $9.99 for up to six bottles.

Amazon will serve as a sort of middle man and discovery center, partnering with wineries that provide the wine and use the online marketplace to raise awareness for their brands and make sales.

The wineries will provide tasting notes, recommended food pairings, alcohol-content data and other information on the site. Customers can fine-tune their wine searches by filtering results for winery location, professional ratings and more.

“It is rare to have detailed information and opinions located all in one place,” Tom Hedges, of Hedges Family Estate on Red Mountain in the Yakima Valley, said in a statement from Amazon. “What Amazon has done with their new wine store is take the experience of hundreds of tasting rooms and put them online.”

For now, wines will be shipped to a dozen states, including Washington, as well as to Washington, D.C. Each winery operates under a distinct set of permits, which determines the states to which it can ship.

And underage drinkers can forget about using the service for an illegal binge. Amazon Wine requires both buyer and recipient to be over age 21 and will deliver only to adults, not to P.O. boxes or Amazon Lockers.

Wine has been available online for years through purveyors such as Wine.com, Winex.com and more.

This week, as if preparing to compete with Amazon Wine, Wine.com announced the similar Wine.com Marketplace after a soft launch earlier this year.

U.S. wine sales totaled about $32 billion last year, said Barbara Insel, president of Stonebridge Research Group in Napa, Calif. About $200 million was sold online by U.S. wineries, she said.

Four years ago, Seattle-based Amazon pulled back from an effort to sell wine online after California’s Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control implemented new limits on third-party marketers, causing the company’s partner, New Vine Logistics, to run into financial trouble, Insel said.

She noted that Amazon is the first national retailer to navigate state-by-state rules and make wine “accessible to a potentially very large number of consumers.”

“The wine market is still pretty small,” she said. “Only about 14 percent of consumers drink wine regularly.”

Seattle Times business reporter Amy Martinez contributed to this story.


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