While online wine sales are growing at a fast rate, it may surprise you to learn that they represent only a very small percentage of overall wine sold. There are some nuances to shipping wine that help contribute to that. It's important to familiarize yourself with the potential challenges of buying wine online and then pick one of the best online wine retailers to start ordering.
Know Shipping Policies and Laws Before Buying
The first thing to know is that some states do not qualify for wine delivery. After the repeal of Prohibition, each state was left to create its own system of alcohol regulations. As a result, some states do not allow out-of-state wineries to ship directly to consumers.
If your intended address qualifies for wine shipments, there are still a couple other challenges to consider. Because it's alcohol, a signature of someone 21 and over is required. If you work during the day and have your wine shipped to your residence, you'll need someone of age there to sign and accept it.
Hot temperatures are the death of fine wines, as they can turn to vinegar if left on a delivery truck or outside too long. If you belong to wine clubs, you probably already know this as many clubs won't ship during the summer months just to avoid the risk.
Sometimes retailers don't necessarily stock all the wines they list for sale; they wait for orders and get the bottles from the fulfillment houses. This can create delays, or finding out the wine you want is not actually available. By picking one of the best online wine retailers, this issue of phantom inventory is far less of a risk.
The Best Online Wine Retailers
When choosing an online wine retailer, consider a website that has been recognized as one of the best and has a great reputation for wine quality and shipping times.
- Search features: Searching is easy on Wine.com. Choose from a variety of search options like specific varietals, great deals, new arrivals, top rated, price range, or region. There is also an option to search by specific criteria like screw caps or eco-friendly options. Wine.com also has a special section devoted to finer and older vintage wines for specialized shoppers. Want to learn what's popular with other wine drinkers? Search top-rated trending wines to see what others are ordering.
- Inventory: You can shop from over 10,000 wines each year that are sourced from over 100 appellations and 50 different varietals. At any given time, Wine.com says they have over a million bottles available in inventory.
- Shipping policies: Wine.com operates its own fulfillment centers, which means they have an invested stake in ensuring wine reaches the consumer quickly. They offer same-day shipping, date-certain delivery so you can ensure you have a 21 and over person available to sign, and even local pick up at FedEx offices. A big bonus is the offer to hold shipments during bad weather -- for up to six months free if needed! If you plan on ordering lot of wine, unlimited delivery is available all year long for a flat fee of $49.
- Other perks: Wine.com offers a lot of educational content on its site to learn more about wine and the products they are selling. Look for posts on everything from wine regions to what the staff of Wine.com is drinking. There are tools to help plan wine parties and pair wine with food.
K&L Wines is another wine retailer that boasts a pretty impressive history with accolades from many top wine publications, including Wine Enthusiast. Eddie Osterland, Master Sommelier, also recommends K&L Wines as one of the best websites to buy wine -- one he personally uses to make his own wine purchases. The family-owned business was founded in Northern California back in 1976 and has stores in San Francisco, Redwood City, and Hollywood.
- Search features: Search by variety, country, sub-region, or just general red or white wines. They also offer spirits and beer. The home page is easy to navigate with categories like new arrivals, top picks, and best sellers highlighted.
- Inventory: Wines are sourced globally with buyers traveling to Europe several times a year to buy direct, which helps keep prices reasonable.
- Shipping policies: Wines are not housed in one place so they may transfer all your wines to K&L Wines' Northern California warehouse and prepare one shipment, sent directly to you. If items are located in their Hollywood store, they will ship direct. If you opt for will-call, they will create individual orders and ship to the final pick up location. They do not monitor for weather issues so they recommend not selecting ground service if you live outside the western US.
- Other perks: K&L Wines offers various wine clubs you can join, including a personal sommelier service wherein they tailor a personalized monthly wine program. If you're interested in older and harder to find wines, K&L runs online auctions where you can bid.
Last Bottle is not your average online wine retailer. Located in Napa Valley, the guys behind Last Bottle are fine wine purveyors and, get this, they offer only one wine per day. The wines are high-end and offered at a huge discount, sometimes up to 70% off. Food & Wine Magazine counts them among the ten best online wine shops.
- Search features and inventory: With just one wine a day, you are saved the time and trouble of searching through various options.
- Shipping: Wine Ships within 2-5 business days. If you purchase during May through October, they will hold the order if you hit hold at checkout. If you choose to ship during the hot summer months, Last Bottle won't be responsible for it in any way.
- Other perks: If you are the lucky one who actually purchases the official "last bottle" of the day's wine, you'll get $25 in credits. Everyone gets 2% back on all purchases as well. Have a smartphone? Download the Last Bottle App so you don't miss a single deal.
Bottlerocket is one of the most interesting online wine shops around. The founder, Tom Geniesse, created a unique browsing structure after he became frustrated with how traditional wine shops organized inventory. When you open the Bottlerocket homepage, you're greeted with options like Poultry, Green, or Take-Out. Geniesse's wines are organized by what foods they pair with. Looking only for biodynamic/organic wines? Click the "Green" category. Grabbing pizza or Chinese take-out? There are recommended wines for those foods as well! With such an innovative approach to wine shopping, it's no surprise that Food & Wine Magazine named Bottlerocket one of the best online wine shops.
- Search features: In addition to browsing by food type, Bottlerocket has traditional searching features like by red or white, new wines only, and even by critics, wherein wines are broken down into sub-categories for each of the big wine review bodies like Wine Enthusiast, Robert Parker, etc. Interested in organic and/or biodynamic wine only? Search the "Green" category from the home page. Scroll down a little further and some in-depth search options await -- characteristics like "jammy," "spicy," or "earthy" are a few options you'll find.
- Inventory: Bottlerocket stocks a number of domestic and international varietals. They have two brick and mortar stores -- one in New York and one in Connecticut, with plans to open more.
- Shipping: They offer free local delivery for the Manhattan area for orders over $150, otherwise all wines are delivered via UPS.
- Other perks: Bottlerocket has updated events listings and a special section devoted to their own calendar of classes offered.
- Search: Like the regular Amazon site, there is an extensive search menu. Search by style, varietal, professional rating, country of origin, reviews, price, vintage, brand, and even size. You can choose your shipping state to refine your search as well. At the top of the menu, you can also search by wines that qualify for one-cent shipping.
- Inventory: There is a heavy focus on domestic wines, but you will still find international regions like Italy, France, Spain, South America, Australia, and more.
- Shipping: Sadly, Amazon Prime members don't get free shipping on wine. However, select orders will qualify for one-cent shipping.
- Other perks: Amazon offers a variety of video shorts on wine basics, like proper temperature to store and serve wine at, or what wines pair with which cheeses.
Looking for specialty French and Italian wines? Peruse Astor Wines, the online site of New York based Astor Wine and Spirits, which was founded back in 1946. Both renowned sites like Wine Folly and wine experts like Jancis Robinson recommend Astor Wines.
- Search features: Search by any keyword or criteria, but note that it truncates any search results over 100, so if your search is too broad and yields more than 100 results, you won't see them all.
- Inventory: Wine Folly notes there is a focus on affordable French and Italian wines, but there are other regions represented. They also sell spirits and sake.
- Shipping: Free shipping within some parts of the state of New York, and if you are out of the state, free shipping on your first web order over $99. If you're in New York City, there are specialty delivery options like 3 hour windows and PM delivery.
- Other perks: Astor Wines offers tasting notes and educational resources on the website. If you're in New York City, they have a brick and mortar store where you can do tastings.
Chambers Street Wines
Chambers Street Wines is recommended by Food & Wine as one of the 10 best online wine stores. Chambers Street Wines offers a large selection of biodynamic and organic wines, along with some interesting Old World wines. According to Wine Folly, all wines are personally vetted and tend to cater to current trends and tastes in New York City.
- Search features: Search by country/region or keyword, and filters like organic, biodynamic, or low sulfur.
- Inventory: Inventory changes regularly and you'll even find wines acquired from private cellars, including from places like Piedmont, Italy.
- Shipping: If you live within NYC, there are some options for same day delivery and free shipping. Shipping rates are calculated at check-out based on current FedEx Ground rates, or you can note a different shipping method and they will calculate the cost when processing your order.
- Other perks: Chambers Street Wines has a sidebar listing local wine events taking place in and around NYC if you're going to be in the area. There is also a menu heading for articles to learn more about other events, the wines they carry, and stories about the producers they source wines from.
Accidental Wine Company
The Accidental Wine Company is not your average online wine retailer. As its name suggests, this is the place to pick up a great wine that might not be fit for the regular retail store. Maybe it has a bruised label, a bent foil cap, or a smudge on the bottle that keeps some consumers away, mistakenly assuming the wine is not good. The Accidental Wine Company has been mentioned by multiple resources as one of the best places to buy unique wines online, including by Forbes and Deal News.
- Search features: Search by wine color, country, or varietal, or you can browse their entire inventory.
- Inventory: Wines vary based on closeout options they acquire, but expect a good selection of both domestic and international wines.
- Shipping: Shipping varies, typically sent via FedEx, and should arrive within 5-10 days of your order. You may select overnight and two-day delivery options as well.
- Other perks: Check out their blog which includes company news and noteworthy items.
Why Buy Wine Online
While the idea of buying wine online may seem daunting, it's actually a great way to make an educated, rather than impulsive decision. With many online retailers including professional wine ratings or scores, educational resources to read up on, and the ability to compare prices, consumers now have a library of information right from on your computer screen at home. Other bonuses like free shipping options, unique monthly wine clubs, and with access to a greater selection of wines than the local grocery, it's no wonder that online wine purchases are on the rise.