With an increasing number of people staying at home due to COVID-19, now is a good time to master the ins and outs of purchasing wine online. Some small wineries ship directly to consumers, but laws vary by state. Online retailers large and small offer breadth, depth and expertise, while digital wine clubs choose the wines for you, delivering regularly to your door.
Here’s everything you need to know about ordering wine online.
Direct from Wineries
There are 45 states that allow legal direct-to-consumer shipments from licensed wineries, while the remaining five (Alabama, Delaware, Mississippi, Kentucky and Utah) make it near impossible to get wine from wineries. Residents of those states are best advised to work with their local retailers.
Other states, like Indiana, force wineries to choose between selling direct or selling through a wholesaler, adding extra hoops and limiting choices.
Some have other restrictions, like Ohio and New Jersey, where direct shipments can only come from wineries that produce under 250,000 gallons a year. Meanwhile, Rhode Island allows online orders only.
Freethegrapes.org does a fantastic job tracking ongoing legislation to allow more direct wine shipments state-by-state. WineInstitute.org also maintains detailed information on state laws.
Shipping fees vary, depending on how fast you need the wine, how many bottles you order and the size and weight of your package. Right now is a great time to find free or subsidized shipping from many producers, eager to help you buy wine.
Some domestic wineries with direct-to-consumer shipping offers include Napa Valley’s Grounded Wine Co., which charges a flat rate of $0.01 (yes, 1 cent) on orders of 12 bottles or more, available nationally (where laws allow), or 25% off shipping on six bottles of wine. Brick & Mortar provides nationwide free ground shipping on orders of six bottles or more, and Benovia Winery pays for ground shipping on orders of three bottles or more. Inglenook is offering $5 shipping on orders of six bottles or more.
Meanwhile, Hamel Family Wines in Sonoma is offering complimentary shipping and future complimentary tastings for anyone whose reservations have been canceled due to closures. And Lail Vineyards, a high-end producer of highly allocated wines, is making all of its wines available online instead of only during allocation periods, and including nationwide ground shipping on all orders of any quantity. Scribe in Sonoma is offering free shipping all this week as well.
Online Wine Stores
Wine.com is one of the largest digital wine retailers, with 19% of the online wine market. The San Francisco-based site ships to 42 states and the District of Columbia, including private homes as well as some 14,000 Walgreens (Duane Reade in New York) and FedEx Office locations for customer pick up. Shipping rates depend on the size and weight of the order as well as how fast you’d like the wine.
Michael J. Osborn, founder of Wine.com, says the site usually carries 45,000 specific wines per year. Selections, even vintages, vary by state, so a drop-down selection of where the wine will be shipped is crucial to select from the beginning. For example, choose California and 17,253 items are currently available. In New York, there are 13,918 individual SKUs at press time.
“There’s no other category like wine,” Osborn says. “It’s what e-commerce should do: equal wide assortment.”
On the other end of the spectrum lies Acme Fine Wines in St. Helena, CA. A showcase for new, small producers, Acme’s staffers work with customers by phone or email to make personal recommendations, and ships widely across the United States. (Check the site to see if your state is included.)
“If it’s well-known, you’re not buying it from us,” says owner Karen Williams. “We have to remain the launchpad for these small producers, what you find here you don’t find elsewhere.”
Wine Express, Wine Enthusiast‘s wine shop partner, sells a global assortment of wines selected by sommelier Josh Farrell and staff reviewers. The site ships to most U.S. states in two to 14 days, has free shipping for orders of $149 or more and offers a 15% discount on many wines by the case. Be sure to check out the shop’s tasting videos for expert advice on what to buy.
Northern California stalwart K&L Wine Merchants, founded in 1976, remains one of the best places to buy wine online. The company directly imports many of its offerings, with California, Italy and Bordeaux its strong suits. Its website has a dropdown menu that provides shipping rates depending on zip code and number of bottles ordered. For example, ground shipping for two 750-mililiter bottles within California starts at $13.71.
Gary’s Wine and Marketplace has four stores in northern New Jersey and offers local delivery via Drizly and curbside pickup. West coast offshoot Gary’s Napa Valley ships wine, spirits and food with free doorstop delivery in St. Helena, Yountville and Napa. The company website has real-time inventory for each of its stores and, if you choose curbside pickup, a text message will let you know when your order is complete. Then, you can text paperwriter them when you’ve arrived and a staffer will bring the order out to your car (the person doing the pickup must be 21).
Sotheby’s Wine in NYC offers free delivery within Manhattan on orders of $175 or more and free ground shipping throughout New York state on orders over $175 right now, during this crisis. It can only ship to California, Idaho, New Hampshire (with an 8% fee), New York and Washington, D.C.
Winc.com is a popular wine club that offers flexible memberships and reviews from thousands of members. Preferences are determined via a short quiz, and the standard shipment includes four bottles each month. Right now, you can buy four bottles and get $20 off.
To learn more about clubs geared toward wine drinkers’ specific preferences, like natural wine or small-production specialists, click here.