If you’re looking to stock up your wine cooler, there’s no more convenient way to do than buying wine online. There are probably hundreds of merchants selling wine over the Internet these days – from major retailers like Amazon to mom-and-pop wineries and everything in between. Whether you’re looking for rare vintages you can’t find in your local shop, or you are hoping to save a few bucks on a great deal, there are a lot of advantages to shopping online for wine.
Of course, as with buying anything online, there are a few tips and tricks that can help make the experience less frustrating, and more rewarding. We’ve gathered some of our favorites here that are particular to buying wine online.
1. Check state shipping laws
The laws for shipping wine vary greatly from state to state. Make sure it’s legal to ship wine to customers in your state before you start shopping. This reference from the Wine Spectator
2. Choose a reliable merchant
This is good advice no matter what you’re buying online – check out merchant review sites like Yelp.com and ResellerReviews.com to make sure the seller is a reliable one. If you discover a lot of dissatisfied customers, it might be safer to steer clear.
There are a couple particular things to watch out for with wine merchants. One is “phantom inventory” – some wine sellers will list wine as in stock, but don’t actually have it in their warehouse. They’ll wait until a sale is actually made, then try to acquire the wine in question for less than they sold it for. If they can’t find it, you might find out after the fact that your purchase is no good.
You’ll also want to investigate what sort of storage facilities they have for the wine in their inventory. A reputable seller will have climate controlled cellars.
3. Flash sales
One of the best reasons to shop online for wine is the great deals. One of the most popular – and exciting – ways are flash wine sales. Online retailers will acquire a limited amount of wine at bulk rates and then offer it for sale at deeply discounted prices – say $100 for a fine Bordeaux that normally goes for $250. The catch is that the sales only last about a day, or until the merchant’s supply is gone. Some offers are so popular, you have to make a purchase in the first 15 minutes or you’re too late. Popular flash sale sites include Cinderella Wine, Wines Til Sold Out, Wine.Woot and Lot18.
4. Wine clubs
If you like to leave the “discovery” portion of your wine drinking habit to someone else, then you might enjoy joining a wine club. For an annual fee, you’ll get a selection of wine delivered to your door monthly or quarterly. All you have to do is unpack, uncork and enjoy. There are all sorts of wine clubs you can join, so you can pick one or more that suits both your budget and your tasting preferences. They can be specialized by region or varietal. If you’re just starting out in the world of wine, a club is a great way to try new and unexpected things. The Wine of the Month Club, Zagat and wine clubs from major merchant sites like Wines.com are good places to start.
5. Shop with small merchants
While it’s tempting to succumb to the large online merchants for your wine purchases – great deals on a large selection can be hard to resist – don’t ignore the smaller wine sellers. Since many of these independent wine stores are outgrowths of brick-and-mortar wine shops, you’ll find a degree of personalization in the offerings that you can’t get from the big guys. These merchants offer carefully curated selections, usually with personal tasting notes as opposed to marketing blurbs provided by the distributors. Plus, a big bonus, if you have questions about the wine you’re purchasing, you can probably call and talk to the proprietor for first hand recommendations.
6. Shop directly from winery
If you are a fan of a particular winery, then you can probably buy from them directly. The benefit in knocking out the middleman is two-fold: you’ll probably pay less than you would from a retailer, and the winery gets more profit from the sale, which helps them secure their future. Wineries often have wine clubs, too, which ship new vintages to preferred customers as they become available.
7. Sample sizes and collections
One of the biggest drawbacks of buying wine online is that there’s no way to try a wine first to see if it suits your tastes. That’s why some online wine sellers offer sample and half-size bottles (a “split” or 375 ml bottle). For less financial risk, you can afford to be a little more adventurous when trying wines this way. Some merchants will even put together sample collections, so you can invest in a variety as you refine your taste preferences.
8. Researching tasting notes
There is a seemingly endless supply of wine reviews available on the Internet. Whether you follow the Twitter feeds and blogs of prominent wine experts or belong to a wine community where members share their opinions, take the time to find out if a wine is going to be to your liking before you buy it.
9. Will-call options
If you want the convenience of shopping online, but can’t have wine delivered in your state, or you don’t want to pay high shipping fees, consider shopping online with a local merchant, but picking up your order up in person. This combines the convenience of online shopping with the (almost) immediate gratification of an in-store purchase. Plus, it’s great for your local economy.
10. Take control of shipping
Before you click the final button, make sure you understand the shipping policies for the site. How much are you going to pay? Shipping can be expensive for wine, so try to look for a deal where you can, without going cut rate. If at all possible, opt for overnight shipping, as this will reduce the time your wine is spent in transit – and in transportation facilities and vehicles that have poor climate control.
It can be risky having wine shipped in extreme heat or extreme cold. Many vendors will hold shipments for you until weather is more temperate, to avoid potential damage to the wine. You can also arrange with the delivery service to pick the package up from their offices, to avoid having your wines traveling all day in a delivery truck.
And don’t forget, when the wine is delivered it must be signed for by someone who is 21 years or older.
BONUS TIP: Be sure to let your wine sit for at least a week before you open it, to give it time to recover from the “bottle shock” of shipping.