How to find value when you buy wine on-line
This is the first of two parts looking at how the coronavirus pandemic has changed the way we buy wine. Today, part I: finding value when buying wine on-line. Friday, part II: Will the pandemic lead to changes so it’s easier to buy wine on-line?
More of us are buying wine on-line than ever before – Nielsen says e-commerce alcohol sales increased an unimaginable 291 percent in the 52 weeks ending in March. And direct sales from wineries were up by 40 percent over the same period.
But how do we know that we’re getting value when we buy wine on-line? Never fear; that’s why the Wine Curmudgeon is here. I’ve spent the past month buying wine on-line to see whether it’s a practical alternative during the duration. The answer, not surprisingly, is that it all depends, and it’s not necessarily about how much the wine costs.
Know, too that not all on-line wine retailing is the same. Buying wine directly from the winery has almost nothing in common with buying wine from a retailer — limited selection and different laws among them. In addition, your neighborhood wine shop is likely to offer better value than a chain retailer, if only because they’ve seen you in the store and don’t want to tick you off. To most chains, you’re nothing more than a digital account floating in the cyber-ether.
Keep these five points in mind when buying wine on-line:
• Vintage. Some retailers list the vintages for the wines; some don’t. If they don’t, there’s no guarantee you’ll get the current vintage. A Total Wine in Dallas sent me the 2016 vintage of a white wine; the current vintage is 2018. The 2016, not surprisingly, let much to be desired.
• Substitutions. Make sure you don’t allow the retailer to substitute its choice if what you want is out of stock. I was offered a California red for my Spanish tempranillo, which are hardly the same thing. Yes, the retailer is supposed to tell you about the substitution when they make it, but this doesn’t mean it always happens.
• Selection. Some retailers, like Spec’s in Dallas, only offer part of their inventory on-line. The Spec’s near me has one of the best wine assortments in the U.S.; on-line, though, it’s mostly supermarket plonk.
• Retailers vs. delivery services. Companies like Drizly and Instacart are delivery services that contract with retailers. This means limited selection and almost always higher prices. It should say on the website if a third-party delivers for the retailer.
• Shipping and delivery. Two things have traditionally slowed on-line wine sales – restrictive laws and the high cost of shipping and delivery. Sometimes, I think the latter is the bigger stumbling block. I bought 17 bottles from wine.com in March, and the shipping charge worked out to almost $3 a bottle. My order from Total Wine cost me $10 for delivery plus a 15 percent tip, again adding about $3 a bottle to the total. Is the convenience worth the extra money? Only you can decide that.
Image courtesy of The Healthy Voyager, using a Creative Commons license
More about wine buying and value:
• The cheap wine checklist
• How to find a good wine retailer
• Follow-up: Just because it’s a cheap wine doesn’t mean it’s worth drinking