Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Buying Wine Online....Good or Bad Idea?

If I had to name my top weaknesses (this may end up being a month-long series!)  I would have to start off with caloric overindulgence.  That phrase is just more interesting way to say that I eat way more than I should. I have battled this most of my life, and have lost more often than I’ve won. I do try and stay healthy by exercising, eating good quality food, and visiting various medical professionals on a regular basis.  

Coming in second place on my weakness list is the fact that I really, really, (really) like to buy stuff.  With moving toward a second career and starting my own business I have had to find ways to control this desire… but I can’t deny the pleasure I get from being a consumer. This weakness is complicated by the fact that I hate to shop.  I don’t like to go to the mall, I may consider amputation of certain non-essential body parts before going into any Walmart ever again.  Christmas time? Forget it; you won’t see me inside any store except a grocery store from mid-November through mid-January.

How can one like to buy, but hate to shop? OK, so I am referring to my dislike for brick and mortar shopping… my preferred method to spend is on-line shopping.  My Christmas shopping is done in one or two days, with my buddy the UPS man dropping off the goods – good times and no stress.  The fact that our UPS guy knows us so well attests to the amount of on-line shopping we do.

For purchases of any significance I prefer to do my own research, compare features, read professional reviews are user comments, and look for the best deals. All this is a breeze when shopping online. In a brick and mortar store, you are sometimes relying on others to “sell” you something, convince you what you should get or provide the information for you to decide.  I earned much of my money throughout college selling shoes, and I know I had no desires other than to have a happy customer, but I didn’t work for a commission!  Even for a major purchase that I ultimately make in a store (like a recent Dishwasher purchase from Lowes), I go in having already researched and made some decisions.  In this case the store staff had some additional information and was able to demonstrate some things about the product that helped us decide, but I felt comfortable that with the extra research we ended up with the best choice for us.

What? Buying Dishwashers? Isn’t this supposed to be wine blog or what???  FOCUS!!! Well, yes it is a wine blog – and my real topic today is purchasing wine on-line. Is it a good idea or not? The answer to this, as to so many questions is… it depends.  Buying on-line has some definite advantages, but also some things to keep in mind when deciding where to spend you hard earned wine-buying dollars.

For me, the greatest advantage to on-line buying is the access to many more types of wines than sticking to my local wine shops.  I am on a quest to try new things in the world of wine on a very regular basis, so selection and variety is very important to me.

Also, online shopping is a way to look for a bargain.  For one of our go-to everyday wines, a Spanish Rioja, the last time I actually saw it on a shelf in Arizona was in a grocery store for almost $20.  Last year I purchased this wine twice online for less than $10 a bottle, and this year I just ordered some and it has skyrocketed to $11 a bottle.  The wine is great for $10 or $11 bucks, but for $20 it would be a pass.

OK, who can argue with the intrigue of shopping for wine while lounging in your pajamas? OK, maybe it’s just me. If I’m in search of a particular wine I can search for the sites that carry it, compare prices, and look for other wines that I may want to buy. Just like my Christmas shopping, I can shop on my schedule – and start browsing one day and actually purchase days later if I like.

While the shopping is convenient, if you are looking for a wine to go with tonight’s spaghetti dinner, online buying is not so convenient.  Depending on how much you are willing to drop for shipping, you will need to plan from a few days to a week or more for your wine needs.

Great selection, convenient shopping at your schedule, and delivered right to your door – what could possibly be better? I may never leave the house again! Shipping to your doorstep is a definite benefit, but also where you need to take a look at a couple of things when deciding whether or not buying wine on-line is the right move for you.

Important considerations for shipping wine:

  • Shipping laws.   Having become a wino while living in Arizona, I’m not familiar with the laws in other places, but I know they can be confusing and are ever changing.  The easiest thing to do is to check the shipping information on the website where you are shopping to see if they ship to your state.  Some states require special permits to ship directly to consumers, some don’t allow it at all.  Need more info about your state? One source of information I have used often is
  • Shipping costs. Ever hoisted a case of wine?  Heavy, right? Shipping costs can be a deal breaker and something you need to factor into the cost of your wine purchase. I tend to buy one or two cases, because there is usually an extra discount for cases, and also the per-bottle shipping cost usually works out much better than only buying a bottle or two.  Also, be on the lookout for free shipping deals, but don’t get stuck buying a lot of a wine you are not familiar with just for free shipping… there may be a reason that certain wines have free shipping. Unless you can find a much better value, like our Rioja for $10 instead of $20, it’s best to only buy stuff you can’t easily get locally unless you get a much better value.
  • Delivery.  Shipments of wine will require an adult signature, and not on the post-it note left on your door. Someone of drinking age will need to be home when the wine is delivered, and be able to sign in the presence of the delivery guy.  Nice notes with smiley faces won’t make any difference… believe me I’ve tried.
Weather is a consideration that is directly related to shipping, but important enough to get its own section.  High temperatures are a definite enemy to wine, but so are big, sudden shifts in temperature. So anytime the weather is much outside a 50 – 80 degree window, you should avoid shipping wine.  There are some shipping services that utilize temperature controlled vehicles all the way to delivery to your door, but these are rare.  We have one wine club that uses this method, and while nice it does add significantly to the shipping cost.  
Living in Arizona, weather is one of my biggest considerations on if and when to buy wine online. Each year, my wine shipping window is typically from October through May, with danger zones at the beginning and end of that window depending on the whims of nature. So, you will need to know your weather, and the weather of the spot from where the wine will be shipped, otherwise your beautiful bottles of wine may be adversely impacted – and that would be, well just sad!!!

Support the Little Guy
Wine shopping on-line is definitely an option to consider, but I believe a more important factor is to support local, family owned wine shops. If you are a wino, or have aspirations to become one, building a relationship with a local purveyor is a very important step.  If it wasn’t for my great experience in a family owned wine shop all those years ago, this website may be called ProjectManager4Life, and really, who would want to read that???

Smaller wine shops can offer you a greater level of personal service, (hopefully) a knowledge level you may not always find in the chain stores, and may have ways to get wines through distributors that they don’t regularly carry – but that may be of interest to you.  Imagine walking into a shop, and having the owner say – hey, did you like that Pinot last week? If so, I’ve got another wine in mind for you.  Congrats! You’re a regular… they’ll soon be calling your name when you walk through the door!

Where to Buy From
Who sells online? – lots and lots of places. When looking on-line for information on wines I come across many liquor stores that have added online ordering.  I have a few that I use, and there are many I haven’t tried. But here are a few examples, and whether or not they are Wino4Life tested. If you have any good or bad experiences with on-line wine stores – let us know about them in the comments below:
  • Any Wino4Life purchases: No.  This site has an incredible selection, and the most straightforward URL of the bunch.  Originally they were not able to ship to Arizona, so I’ve never tried them – but may someday.
  • Amazon. Any Wino4Life purchases: No. Wine delivered by a drone – I have to try that at least once in my lifetime. After getting over some hurdles regarding guess what… shipping to various States, Amazon now has wine.  If you like the convenience of buying a book, a TV, a blender, groceries, and your wine all at one spot – then Amazon may be for you. 
  • Ultimate Wine Shop. Any Wino4Life purchases: Twice a Year.  This is the spot where I’ve been able to find my everyday Rioja, plus they have an amazing selection. I typically order two cases from them, once in the Fall and once in Spring to last us through the long hot summer in Arizona. I have always had good luck with them, and they have very good prices that help offset some of the costs of shipping the wine all the way from Jersey.
  • WTSO. Any Wino4Life purchases: Once so far.  "Wine Til Sold Out."  Pretty simple concept, they offer one wine at a time until it is…wait for it…sold out!  Incredible discounts, usually wines that somebody has rated highly, and free shipping with an order around $100 (you may get 1 bottle or four bottles for that $100, depending on the wine and the deal).  I have made one order from here and was pleased enough to try it again someday.  They seem to have a pretty good variety, but if you’re not interested in a certain offer,
  • Winery. Any Wino4Life purchases: Occasionally.  Here I am not talking about wine clubs, but about other purchases directly from a winery website.  In the past, Arizona had a law that you could only get wine shipped from a winery if you physically visited the winery at some point and signed up to get wine. Then you could get wine shipped, many times if you want. I’m not even sure if this law is still on the books, but check the winery site and they will tell you if they can ship to your state, and what hoops you may need to jump through.  The laws are slowly becoming more reasonable, but you always need to check!
The Wrap Up
On-line wine buying is an option you should consider if you would find benefit in the convenience and the potential of a wider selection. I buy wine both on-line and from good old brick and mortar stores – and a good balance works best for me.  Even though I fully believe in supporting the family owned shops, at this point there just isn’t one convenient enough for me to frequent, so I often end up at Total Wine & More.  When the store isn’t too busy, I often find myself very much enjoying wandering the aisles in search of the familiar and the new (although seldom in my pajamas, as the store’s frequent request).  So all you can do is look at your wine buying needs, your options to fulfill those needs, and if on-line shopping may be something that works for you – even to just supplement your regular brick and mortar shopping.

After all, as long as we find wine we want, pay a reasonable price for it, and ultimately enjoy drinking and sharing our wine – those are the ultimate goals, regardless of how or where we buy it. 

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