Buying wine the easy way. Tips and tricks on how to buy 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.
First, direct to consumer (DTC) wine shipments are a big deal. Shipments from wineries alone totaled $3 billion in sales in 2018. Add in sales from retailers that are shipped to customers and you've got multiple billions of dollars of sales, growing at a much faster rate than sales made at brick & mortar wine stores. So how do you join in on this revolution?
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 (thanks to our convoluted alcohol laws), 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. And while very few states allow wine to legally be shipped in from out of state retailers, the list of states that allow wine shipments direct from wineries continues to grow. The Wine Institute has lots of helpful information on the latter here. With longtime holdout Pennsylvania now joining the revolution the count of states that allow at least some form of shipments is up to 44, covering about 90% of the U.S. population.
How To Buy Wine Online Step 2:
Determine how you are going to receive the shipment.
Wine (or any alcohol for that matter) requires a signature by someone over 21 for receipt. Receiving these shipments at work can be a problem for many of us and in most areas UPS/FedEx will not deliver alcohol to a neighbor's house. It used to be that the shipment actually had to be physically signed by someone at the recipient address but luckily that is no longer the case! Both Fedex and UPS offer services that allow you to hold packages at their offices or in the case of Fedex, retail locations like Walgreens for pick up even before the first delivery attempt.
This is a lifesaver for people like us who get a ton of wine shipped to them. To sign up for these services (which offer a ton of great info and options such as notifying you of all inbound packages), here are the current links to the UPS MYChoice service and the Fedex Delivery Manager.
Assuming you have cleared Step 1 and decided on your strategy for Step 2 then you most likely fall into one of two groups:
- You're willing to try lots of different types of wine and are just trying to find the best deals.
- You know the wine you want and just want to find the best price.
Let's discuss the best strategies for each group.
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 our INSIDER DEALS as well as the various other "flash" wine sites. With the "flash" sites 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.
One note of caution: shipping cost can be killer. To the extent you can, take advantage of large quantity buys to lower the shipping cost per bottle – or better yet buy during promotional free shipping periods some sites offer.
You Know What You Want
In this case, you can get a lot more specific with your search. Wine-Searcher.com is a great resource for finding the lowest price online sellers (as well as local retailers). Most of our reviews here on the site include a link to the Wine-Searcher results page to make this super easy. These links are generally located just above our ratings box near the end of each review.
Beyond this, probably the best advice I can give to the “Know What You Want” group is simply to go direct to the winery when you can. While the opportunities to do this are limited, many wineries have member clubs that gain you special privileges such as discounts on wine or free shipping.
Perhaps the best part about going direct; however, is that you know you are supporting a winery you love. The wineries themselves make more money on these orders, so you’re helping to ensure they prosper and make more of their delicious vino!
A couple final thoughts when considering how to buy wine online:
- Temperature — Heat is wine's worst enemy. You'll want to avoid having wine shipped when the temps are over 85 degrees or so unless the shipper is taking precautions to protect the wine. (There's a great article on that here which also includes info on how to spot the tell-tale signs of heat damage even before you open the bottle.) And remember, it's not just your temperature that's important but also the areas where your wine will travel. One helpful hint is that even if you will be home to receive the package, to have it held for pickup using the UPS MyChoice and Fedex Delivery Manager services we detailed in Step 2. This way your packages will be waiting for you at their air conditioned locations rather than sitting on a hot delivery truck all day.
- Buy from a reputable source – The last thing you want to worry about is paying for damaged shipments. Check out consumer reviews before you buy to make sure your chosen retailer is legit. Saving a couple dollars isn't worth it if the store doesn't stand behind their product.
- Let your wine rest once you receive it – While I'm not sure there's any science behind, bottle shock is a real thing in our experience. While many bottles seem to endure the stress of shipping just fine we occasionally find bottles that are quite negatively impacted. Out best advice is to let wine that has been shipped to you sit for at least a week and preferably two before consuming. (You can read more on bottle shock here.)
We hope our article on How To Buy Wine Online has been helpful. Happy shopping!
You may also want to read my article on "Where To Find The Wine I Recommend In 5 Easy Steps Or Less".