Buying Wine Online
Let’s face it, online shopping has become a huge part of our lives. And while buying from Amazon has become the norm, you may still be hesitant about shifting your wine buying online – after all, this is precious cargo we’re talking about here! But buying wine online doesn’t have to be intimidating. It can; however, take some work and has some caveats. Here are some tips and tricks that should help you begin the process painlessly.
Buying Wine Online
Slow delivery. This is sometimes related to the phantom inventory issue because stores might be waiting to see if they can actually get a wine from the distributor, a warehouse, another store location or Mars. But the bottom line is that, too often, it takes a week or more for a wine to leave the store after it’s ordered. Most wine bought in America is purchased for immediate consumption; even getting people to take the leap to order online and wait a day or two is a stretch and if it’s going to take even longer — a week or more — forget it. That will leave online shopping only to wine geeks and serious collectors, and there aren’t enough of them to support a whole online industry. Much of the attraction of the Web, after all, is its immediacy.
Buying Wine Online
Finally, we would urge even smaller stores that can’t deliver — either because of local laws or because they don’t have the resources — to create a vibrant, updated Web site. It’s interesting that one of the giants of online wine retailing, K&L Wine Merchants in California, says a large part of its online business is “will-call” — people who order online and then pick it up. These days, people do an awful lot of thinking, fantasizing and buying of wine during work hours. You want to make sure the site they’re looking at is yours.
Buying Wine Online
Tedious “drill-down” menus. It appears to us that many wine stores now are buying off-the-rack Web sites designed by people who have never shopped at a wine store. Instead of giving us a feeling that we are browsing through a store, we have more of a sense that we’ve dialed into one of those endless voice mail prompts on the phone. “If you want red wine, press 1. If you want 2005 red wine, press 2.” This is not fun. Other search screens are simply antiseptic. When we’re searching, we want to get to the “virtual shelf” as soon as possible.
Buying Wine Online
How To Buy Wine Online Step 1: Make sure you’re in a state where you can receive wine shipments through the mail! For most states this is an all or nothing proposition, but there are a few states that will allow intrastate shipments but not shipments from other states, or even where the rules are different by region within a state. The Wine Institute has lots of helpful information here. Luckily the list of states that allow wine shipments continues to grow. With longtime holdout Pennsylvania now joining the revolution the count of states that allow at least some form of shipments (usually those direct from a winery but not necessarily retailers) is up to 44, covering about 90% of the U.S. population.
Additional Resources:Here are four wine retailers that do online right, from robust sites that are stylish and clean to information, education, communication with customers and delivery. Some other sites to look at are chambersstwines.com, sherry-lehmann.com, wallywine.com and zachys.com. We like the energy at haskells.com and surdyks.com, and there’s only one Gary Vaynerchuk at winelibrary.com. Go to bottlerocketwine.com and we dare you not to smile at the home page — and then explore. Laws differ on delivery, but these sites are fun to visit anyway.klwines.com The Web site of California-based K&L Wine Merchants.winemonger.com A California-based Web-only store.astorwines.com The Web site of New York-based Astor Wines & Spirits.wine.com The granddaddy of Internet wine sites, based in San Francisco.
Despite years of shopping for wine on the internet, I still can’t quite get used to the idea. Wine, after all, isn’t like a book or CD. Holding a bottle, inspecting its label—you just can’t replicate that experience inside a browser window. Yet I do most of my wine buying online. Why?
Looking For a Deal In this case, you’re not so much concerned with the varietal or the vintage, you’re just trying to score some great wine at a great price. If this is you then you’ll definitely want to check out the “flash” wine sites as well as wine clubs like Club W or NakedWines.com. (P.S. New sign-ups get discounts through these affiliate links!) It may take a bit of waiting to find the right deal, but these sites typically buy large amounts of a given wine at special pricing passing on at least a portion of that discount to you.
I’m admittedly a difficult customer, being a slightly delusional wine lover/collector, someone without deep pockets but who favors older, mostly European wines. Not being a hedge-fund manager, I can’t touch superstars from the classic regions, but sometimes the wines of slightly less-renowned producers, especially in underrated vintages, can be great values, especially when you’re guided by a good adviser. Once we do begin to connect, I might ask how he or she got into the business, if there was a pivotal “wine moment” (there often is), try to see if I’ll be able to rely on her for advice in the future. Once I chatted for nearly a half an hour with a nice fellow (I never got his name) at the Rare Wine Co. about the differences in style between Conterno and Borgogno Barolos, then about respective trips we’d made to Italy. And while I’m sure I’ve been thought a nuisance or even a bit creepy, I’ve almost always found the person on the other end to be more passionate about her work than she has to be, maybe even a touch messianic; someone who’d much rather drink good wine and share notions about its glories than merely sell it.
Yet sometimes, I simply can’t deal. Maybe I’ve been writing all day, and my head feels as though it’s been pummeled, and I can’t quite bear someone hovering. Or an unfamiliar salesperson will descend and push a wine because it just received “a monster Parker rating.” Or, perhaps worst of all, a normally trusty staffer will excitedly suggest a bottle, and when I taste it, I’m sorely disappointed; I’ll be loath to go back and have an awkward, fitful conversation, its implication being, “No offense, but I despised that wine you dearly love.” Things can quickly get too personal, especially in matters of taste. I enjoy delicate, mature wines exponentially more than their youthful, exuberant versions, and online retailers tend to have a wider selection of older wine, while most brick- and-mortar shops only have enough room to carry the latest vintages.
In recent years, like a lot of people, I’ve been buying more of my wine online. Frankly, I feel guilty about it, for I abhor living too much in the techno-cave, with all these meager, glowing implements; I love a lively fire in the hearth, and snuggling in beside my sweet-smelling wife, and drinking wine so tasty that it makes me think I can sing. Who wants to make virtual any of this life’s pleasures? Really, nobody.
California Wine Merchants cawinemerchants.com Founded by Sherry-Lehmann vets Taylor Senatore and Jennifer DiDomizio, California Wine Merchants was meant to fill an obvious gap: the lack of small-production domestic wines in the Europe-centric New York market. Now the site is the place to go for eclectic and under-the-radar wines from the West Coast, and it has a great track record for discovering talent. (It stocked bottles from star winemaker Steve Matthiasson long before he became a Food & Wine Winemaker of the Year in 2012.) For a sense of the shop’s palate and ethos, try the wines from Chris Brockway of Broc Cellars. His fantastic, unusual bottlings include wines made from obscure grapes like Valdiguié.
franklywines.com Before she opened her New York City store, Christy Frank spent about seven years working for Moët Hennessy USA, most recently managing the company’s Australia and New Zealand portfolio. Part of her job was to crisscross the country, visiting more wine shops than she cared to count—which meant when she finally opened her own, Frank knew exactly what to do. With wine descriptions that are quirky, accessible and fun to read, her website offers great browsing. Try the Smallfry Joven Barossa Valley, a Tempranillo-based blend that will surprise anyone who thinks Australian wines are all big, jammy Shirazes. Frank loves the wine for its red fruits, autumn-like spice and fresh acidity. “After visiting the beautiful, biodynamically farmed vineyard where the grapes are grown,” she says, “I love it even more.”
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