Finding the Right Place to Buy Your Wine



By John ~ November 5th, 2010.

If you know exactly what wine you want to buy, then the only issues are availability and price. A big box store like Costco or Sam’s, a wine mega-store like BevMo in California, Spec’s in Texas, Davidson’s in Denver, or Total in the Southeast (if you have one of those in your area) may fill the bill for you perfectly. Most wine merchants try to move their excess stock twice a year, many in January and August, so those are usually especially good times to buy.

If you are a little more adventuresome and are buying in enough quantity to offset shipping costs, you might prefer to shop online. Our experience with online buying has been generally very positive. We’ve ordered many, many cases from numerous online vendors without incident. We’ve also found great stores with terrible websites and vice versa. Over time, we’ve found a number of online vendors that we believe stand above the others in terms of ease of use, selection, price, and reliability:

We have ordered wine from each of these vendors—in most cases, multiple times. Of course, we cannot promise that your experience with these vendors will be as favorable as ours or that they will be able to ship to your state. We’re sure that we have also omitted some other great online vendors.

Garagiste and Full Pull Wines are also online vendors, but they both sell exclusively through offerings sent via email. It’s a good way to find wines not generally in wide distribution, but they work differently than typical online stores. If you haven’t already, check them out. We recommend them both, Full Pull for Washington wines and Garagiste mostly for Old World wines.

If you would like personal assistance with deciding which wine to buy for a certain occasion and/or learning more about wines from different regions, or if you prefer to buy local, then you need to find a good wine shop in your area.

“A clue that you’re buying wine at the wrong store: The proprietor gives samples in a Big Gulp cup.” –Malcolm Kushner

For this endeavor, look for a wine shop, not a supermarket or liquor store. Notice the temperature when you walk in the door. Make sure it almost feels a little cool to you. Also, notice whether the wine stock looks fresh, not dank and dusty. Ideally the shop will organize its wines by country or region or varietal. Ask the wine steward what their system is for displaying wines. That will also give you a clue as to whether the staff really knows wine and can answer questions intelligently. Fortunately, many independent wine shops are owned and managed by bright, wine enthusiasts who are happy to assist you on your wine journey.

Suggestion: Start with one section of the shop (Washington Cabernet Sauvignon, California Zinfandel, French Bordeaux, or whatever interests you) and get comfortable with that one type of wine before moving on to a new section. Also, tell the wine steward the price-range that fits your budget and ask when they usually run specials. Keep in mind that once a wine merchant has invested a lot of money in a particular wine for his inventory, he or she needs to sell it. Your best protection against being ripped off is experience. Start with some of our recommendations here on Wine Peeps and then venture out by trying new wines that your wine steward recommends as a comparison. Be sure to keep good notes, keep tasting, and see how fast your wine confidence grows.

Also, give your wine steward feedback based on your notes. Don’t just say, “I didn’t like that last bottle you sold me.” Be more specific. Say something like, “That ABC Chardonnay was too oaky and had a buttery taste I really didn’t enjoy.” That way he or she can steer you in the direction of another wine that you may enjoy more.

Hopefully, we have given you some good ideas for finding the right place to buy your wine. Be sure to let us know about your experiences with any of the vendors that we have recommended.

Enjoy!


Filed under: General Wine Information

Reader's Comments

  1. Rick | November 5th, 2010 at 8:12 am

    I’ve had good experiences with Flickinger Fine Wines in Chicago and Wally’s Wine and Spirits in Los Angeles, as well.

  2. Jennifer | November 5th, 2010 at 8:21 am

    As the owner of an independent retail shop, I would like to add that most wine shops offer free tastings, usually twice a week or more, that allow customers to learn more about wines and about their own palates. Typically the big chains only do tastings as special events and even then, they’re staffed by the wines’ reps, not by the shop’s employees. Tastings are typically offered in what can only be described as plastic cough medicine cups, hardly adequate for determining a wine’s nose, palate, color, etc.

    Also keep in mind that wines you may recommend here are not always available in every shop in every state. Most states with a three-tier system still in place will restrict which wines are available to retailers. That’s why it’s in the buyer’s best interest to establish a good relationship with a local retailer who can recommend similar wines as well as wines the retailer knows a customer will like. You may already know what you like, but why not let a retailer help you discover new wines??

    This is the differentiation upon which an independent wine retailer thrives: we know our wines, we know our customers, and we know which wines our customers will like. You will NEVER get that from an online retailer or a big box store. Never.

  3. John | November 5th, 2010 at 8:41 am

    Rick,
    Thanks for the suggestions.

    Jennifer,
    You make some good points. Thanks.

  4. Heath | November 5th, 2010 at 12:31 pm

    Just curious how you order from K&L and Wine Library since I have tried to use them and neither will ship to WA.

  5. Heath | November 5th, 2010 at 12:38 pm

    I have also had great experiences with discountwinebuys.com. They have good pricing and if you live in the Seattle area you can pick the wine up at their retail store Cellar 46 on Mercer Island.

  6. John | November 5th, 2010 at 1:23 pm

    Heath,
    Re: K&L, I just bought from them recently with no problem. You’re right on Wine Library today, but that hasn’t always been the case – and I haven’t always lived in WA.

    Re: discountwinebuys.com, thanks for the suggestion.

  7. Brian White | November 5th, 2010 at 2:12 pm

    I love this post!

    I am a big fan of both Garagiste and Full Pull up in Seattle. Even though I live in Houston I love my NW wine. Paul at Full Pull is awesome and the customer service is great. In fact I am heading up to Seattle either next week or the week after to pick up two cases of wine and “escort” them back to Houston. Sadly in my opinion it is still to warm to ship wine to Houston…sigh!

    Good post John!

  8. John | November 5th, 2010 at 2:16 pm

    Thanks, Brian. I always enjoy hearing from you, and especially about your experiences with Washington wine.

  9. Catie | November 7th, 2010 at 12:47 am

    I’ve always been a fan of the online store – Wild Walla Walla Wine Woman. And now the store has gone 6-day a week retail in beautiful downtown Walla Walla, two doors up from the Marcus Whitman Hotel. The largest selection of Walla Walla wines and imports (including the KL Portfolio) in the area — and growing.

  10. John | November 7th, 2010 at 6:07 am

    Thanks Catie. We’ll stop by the next time we are in Walla Walla.

  11. Jenny | November 7th, 2010 at 6:46 pm

    I agree hit the local wine stores.

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  13. David | November 9th, 2010 at 8:11 am

    When in Spokane, there is none better than John Allen and Vino! A Wine Shop. Fabulous selections, knowledgable staff, and wonderful Friday and Saturday tastings in a well-appointed back room. As someone who makes his livlihood with working with independant retailers, I firmly believe in supporting locals.

  14. John | November 9th, 2010 at 9:06 am

    David,
    Thanks for the heads-up on the Spokane wine shop. We’ll have to check it out the next time we are in Spokane.

  15. Melinda | November 10th, 2010 at 9:28 am

    I am very fortunate to have Compass Wines in Anacortes, WA near me. They have an extensive selection and their inventory is available to search on their website which is nice if I am looking for a particular wine. The staff is very knowledgeable and helpful. The store temperature is a little on the cool side, which it should be. Most times I go in there they are tasting the wines that they are featuring on special at that time and those tastings are served in a nice big wine glass.

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  19. Old Vine Zin | November 22nd, 2010 at 6:05 am

    We’re currently giving the Steward-ship program at Wine.com a try: $49 for a year of “free” shipping. Their prices aren’t great, but when they have a sale it can be a good deal.

  20. John | November 22nd, 2010 at 6:11 am

    Old Vine Zin, Keep us posted on how that works out for you.

  21. Old Vine Zin | November 22nd, 2010 at 6:27 pm

    I sure will, John. I’m a huge fan of the Prime program offered by Amazon.com — $79 annually for “free” 2-day shipping, or $4/overnight. Amazon is so much more than books now. I’ve ordered gas grills from them that way a ton — on my doorstep in two days for free.

    So far, I’ve done 2 shipments with Wine.com — a 3-bottle box and a 2-bottle box. Both arrived the next day via UPS.

    I’m in North Carolina and my orders ship from Durham. A CSR called the first time to check on a vintage substitution, and he said they have different shipping stations for different parts of the country in order to minimize travel time.

    Plus, you can select a ship date from a calendar when you place your order. That way, you can order on a Friday but select Monday to ship and avoid having your wine sit in a hot warehouse over the weekend.

    Not affiliated with them. I’ll just leave no stone unturned in my quest to find the best Zin at the best price!