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.
Filed under: General Wine Information