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Let’s face it:  after a tough day filled with abusing employees, bickering with colleagues and pilfering office supplies, I need a glass of wine when I get home!  But where to buy it??

Since moving to The Middle of Nowhere about 5½ years ago, I’ve increasingly turned to the internet for wine purchases.  There is one decent wine store in town and I sometimes use them for purchasing daily drinkers, but more and more I opt for the interwebs wine experience.

Why buy wine online? There are 4 powerful reasons for doing so…

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.1. Research & Education

If you live near a fantastic wine shop with a broad selection of wines from around the world and a staff full of extremely knowledgeable wine experts, consider yourself lucky.  Also consider letting me move into your basement.

Most of us don’t have it quite so well.  We’re at the mercy of wine shop employees who at best are helpful and at worst are pimply faced college students who think Ripple is fine wine.  And the selection available to those of us in smaller towns can be as exciting as learning that your perfect match on eHarmony is Ann Coulter.

The internet, however, offers tremendous opportunities for learning wine basics, how to pair wine and food, and how to find wines that are the perfect match for your tastes and budget.

If you’re relatively new to wine or you know a bit about wine but want to learn more, check out these sites:

  • Love to Know Wine offers a broad selection of articles on a variety of topics including wine basics, types of wine, wine & food pairings, and recommendations for various types of wines at reasonable price points.
  • Wine Spectator is one of the stalwarts of the industry and is filled with fascinating articles on everything from wine trips to reviews to their famous “Smart Buys” series.  Subscription required, however.
  • About.com:  Wine is perfect for the novice; there are articles like “How to Taste Wine,” “20 Good Value Wines Under $10,” and “Red (or White) Wine Basics.”  The site features a straightforward layout and is easy to navigate.
  • Wine Library TV If you haven’t checked out the irrepressible Mr. Vaynerchuk’s daily wine blog and you have any interest in wine whatsoever, you need to go to Wine Library TV.  Now.  Behind the Jets memorabilia and Gary’s offbeat style is a serious wine lover with an astonishing nose & palate and an encyclopedic knowledge of wine making and wines. Try buying a bottle or two of a wine Gary loves, and then sample it after going back to watch his reactions and comments…  you’ll learn a lot about how to evaluate and enjoy wine!

Here’s a clip from a show that featured a blind tasting of 5 Pinot Noir’s; it picks up as he tries a particularly great bottle.  You don’t have to watch the entire clip – his description of this particular wine begins @ 8:50 (the video begins at that point) & ends at the 12:14 marker.  If you want to see him reveal this bottle and comment a bit more, move the slider to the 21:53 marker…

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His description of the ’06 Sojourn Cellars Pinot (among other things, “BEAST”) led me to buy a few bottles.  When we decant one of them we’ll play his comments back on our netbook prior to tasting the wine so we can compare impressions.  Why?  It’s fun – and educational – to listen to someone with a great palate describe a wine you’re tasting (BTW:  make sure you buy the same vintage!)

2.  Selection

At the shop I mentioned earlier, the staff is helpful and the prices are reasonable, but let’s face it, how broad can the selection be when the entire store has the approximate square footage of an RV?  If I’m looking for a quality Cabernet Sauvignon, I might have a choice of 20-35 bottles.  Unless I know exactly what vineyard and vintage I’m looking for AND they happen to have it in stock, how do I choose a bottle?  Price?  The 15 word label beneath some of the racks?  The recommendation of the 22 year old stoner who’s behind the counter while the owner is out of the shop?

Contrast that experience with shopping online.  If I go to K&L Wines, Wine Library (Vaynerchuk’s retail/online shop), Liquorama and similar sites, I can input Cabernet Sauvignon and search by vintage, ratings, price, & origin – and have literally dozens and dozens of options.

I like Pinot’s.  When I go to K&L, the Home Page search function returns 339 results when I search for “Pinot Noir.”  Simply scanning the first page of results, I find several highly rated choices that retail between $17.99 and $34.99.  But if I sort the list by ascending price, I can find reasonably priced bottles that K&L recommends for as little as $9.49   Looking for a California Pinot?  Click on a corresponding link – 206 options.  A 2006 vintage?  Ditto – you’ll have 150 options.  Pinot’s between $10 and $25?  99 choices…   and on and on.  You can slice and dice until you end up with a selection that fits your tastes and budget.

Finally, when you find that perfect bottle, Google the full name and vintage & “reviews” just to double check your choice.  If you find a bottle on K&L or NapaCabs or another site, go to WineLibrary and search for it – perhaps Gary V. has done a video review on that same wine.

3.  Savings

Once you know what you want to buy, there are several approaches to finding a good deal on it – conduct a search on one of the following sites:

  • WineSearcher.com You can input the vineyard, vintage, & merchant state; let’s stick with our ’06 Sojourn Cellars Pinot – click on the image below to review the search results:

2006-sojourn-cellars-pinot-noir-location-usa-currency-usd-all-matching-wines-_-wine-searchercom2

(You’ll notice that a “Pro” version of the site is available; it’s $29.95 per year, but in my experience the lowest priced options are usually shown on both the Free and Pro versions of the site; the Pro version simply provides more hits.)  Prices can vary dramatically online – it pays to check!

  • Another good site to use once you know what you’re interested in is WineZap.com. I’ve found that Wine-Searcher returns more results than WineZap, but both are worth checking out.

Find some good prices?  With this info in hand you can refine your search.  Why is any further analysis necessary?  Because shipping charges vary wildly when it comes to wine.

Be sure to check what the full price is:  wine, taxes (if applicable) and shipping.  Some online wine merchants charge considerably more for shipping than do others.

I’ve purchased wine online from a dozen or so merchants and the sites I recommend without hesitation are K&L Wines and Vaynerchuk’s Wine Library.  Of the two, K&L has an amazing selection; Gary’s operation is smaller – my search for Pinot Noir @ Wine Library returned about 160 results vs. 339 @ K&L – but his pricing is aggressive and he brings in a lot of interesting vintages.

NOTE: Where you are located versus where your online wine merchant is located will of course significantly impact your shipping costs; K&L is located in California; Wine Library is in New Jersey.  As we’re located in The Middle of Nowhere, shipping costs are about the same for these two firms. (The best online wine merchants seem to always be located on the coasts.)

A couple of other notes:  case discounts apply, so consider buying a case or going in on one with a friend. Watch for special offers – both K&L and Wine Library have email alerts for special buys and offers.  Last Friday Wine Library was offering a 90 point Italian red for ~$14 a bottle; buy 3 cases and shipping was free (you have friends, yes?)

Finally, if all else fails, check the vineyard’s site.  Some vineyards will sell direct to consumers and you’ll occasionally find attractive pricing.  For example, Sojourn Cellars is offering their just-released 2007 Pinot’s at a 10% discount as of this writing. (And the pre-discount per bottle price is similar to what online merchants are selling the 2006 vintage for.)

So:  can you save money buying wine online? Yes!  And No!   If you’re buying a few bottles here and there, you’ll often end paying about the same as what you’ll spend locally if not more.  Buying two or three bottles online usually makes little sense once you factor in shipping costs…

Your best opportunities for saving big will come from:

  1. Find something you love, use WineSearcher.com to find the best price, and buy case quantities (thereby taking advantage of the case discount)
  2. Subscribe to your favorite merchant’s email alerts and be on the lookout for special offers – including shipping deals
  3. Watch Wine Woot.com each week (see below)

4.  Convenience

Nothing matches being able to browse a virtual store with nearly unlimited choices and placing an order from the comfort of your home.  In my experience, most wine deliveries take 3-4 days to arrive.  Planning a special dinner or get together with friends?  Order wine on Sunday or Monday and you’ll be able to drink it the following weekend.

NOTE: if ordering wine in the middle of the summer you may wish to use expedited shipping; temperature extremes – particularly heat – are not wine-friendly. Factor in the additional cost when making your buying decision.

Although this post is focused on buying wine online, one other thing to consider:  if you find a wine you love, consider asking your local wine shop to order a case for you.  If their distributors can get it for you, you’ll qualify (at least you should – ask!) for a case discount.  My local guy offers a 10% case discount plus an additional point if I pay cash.

Additional Resources & Sites

A few other sites you might want to check out:

  • Wine Woot I’ve written about Wine Woot before on Practical Hacks – the site offers two deals per week (Monday – Wednesday & Thursday – Sunday).  Wines are typically from smaller producers in California and almost all offers are duos and trios.  Pricing is typically 40-44% lower than what you’d normally pay at retail or at the winery.  The site’s tone is hip and irreverent, and the forum is a hoot.  But don’t mistake the flip attitude for a lack of seriousness: some of the offerings at Wine Woot are stunners. In the last month the site featured two offerings from Cathy Corison of the very highly regarded Corison Winery.  Did I mention?  Shipping is a flat $5 ($7 during the summer) @ Wine Woot, regardless of the quantity you order!  Worth monitoring each week!!
  • Wine Anthology.com:  A division of Clark Circle Liquors.  Offers wine reviews and solid pricing; located in New Jersey.
  • Wines Til Sold Out:  deals via email- will typically issue 2-3 offers per day, good til, well, you get the picture.  Pricing is usually pretty good and shipping is CHEAP.

Have you ordered wine online?  Have an experience – good or bad – that you want to share?  Please comment.

Finally:  I have no connection to the sites listed here other than occasionally giving them my money. Enjoy!  …and let me know about that basement.

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2 Comments on 4 solid reasons for buying wine online

  1. Bilybob says:

    I agree with all your comments about wine. I’ fortunate enough to live in a Chicago suburb where there are so many shops that it comes down to price, not availability.

    What would be wrong with having Ann Coulter as your perfect match?

    [Reply]

    Kevin Reply:

    Bilybob: I’m jealous that you have so many choices – must be great! As for Ann Coulter, just not a big fan!

    [Reply]

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