Surfing to shipping to sniffing

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As someone who hates shopping, the Internet has significantly improved my life. I no longer battle crowds or disrobe in dressing rooms. I even ordered my wedding dress online. However, the one thing that I can’t get used to buying online is wine. The feel of the bottle and the look of the label doesn’t translate electronically. That’s to say nothing of the personal recommendations you get from a local wine merchant. But, there’s a time and place for everything and with House Resolution 1161 (which would place a ban on shipments from out-of-state retailers) rearing its buzz-killing head again, now is the time to buy wine online while it’s still just a double click away.

 

Even though direct-to-consumer shipping is currently legal in Virginia, many small wineries opt to ship only within their own state rather than keep track of varying state laws. Popular sites like wineweb.com, wine.com and mywinesdirect.com make it known from the start whether they ship to your state.

If you’re after a particular wine, you can compare prices at wine-searcher.com. Enter in the wine and vintage and you’ll get a list of every retailers’ price (they offer 4.5 million wines from 23,500 retailers), along with tax and shipping. You find the best deal, even if it’s in Slovenia, and then order directly from that retailer. Many offer 10 to 20 percent discounts on the half-case or case (and you can usually mix and match) as well as free shipping to compete in a crowded marketplace. So, if you’ve gone online to find a wine that isn’t at your local wine shop, you’re still supporting small business, even if it’s in another state. About 20 of our local wineries and retailers sell wine on wine-searcher.com, so out-of-staters line our pockets too.

If you’re uncertain what you want, plonkwinemerchants.com makes browsing fun, carrying what it calls “the world’s best cheap wine under $30.” You can search by wine type or country. An interactive video review accompanies each wine. The site specializes in obscure, diamonds in the rough, which makes a trip through its shop feel like shopping for vintage clothes. You get something with character that you didn’t know you needed for a steal of a price.

Some sites, like zachys.com and winelibrary.com, are known for extensive selections and futures (see Winespeak 101). Other high-end sites, like vinfolio.com and 2020wines.com, specialize in hard-to-find wines.

For those of us with wine tastes but a beer budget, flash-sale sites like winestilsoldout.com and wine.woot.com, offer premium wines at a 30 to 70 percent savings from your local retailer, along with a chance to chat with a rep from the winery on offer. But, you have to act fast—once the wine du jour is sold out, you’re out of luck until tomorrow.

Make certain that whichever online retailer you choose has a temperature-controlled facility and holds shipments during extreme temperatures (usually below 30 degrees or above 80 degrees). This can generally be confirmed on their shipping info page, but call if you are unsure.

I’ll never make the full switch to online wine shopping, but I do love browsing the virtual aisles in my pajamas. And, since I can track my shipment, I’ll have time to change out of my wedding dress before the doorbell rings.

Local deals on- and offline

Many of our favorite local wineries (Barboursville, Blenheim and Linden among them) sell wines online directly from their own websites, but snooth.com has one of the largest selections of Virginia wines for sale. You can even search for wines sold specifically at our local retailers. Sign up to receive a daily e-mail with recommendations and pairing advice, read millions of wine reviews, and connect with other wine lovers in chats and virtual tastings.

You’ll want to put the computer down for this deal: Kluge Farm Shop has its 2007 Albemarle Red priced at $50/case. At just over $4 a bottle, we’ll keep this bargain to ourselves.

Winespeak 101

Wine futures (or en primeur) (n.): The practice of buying wine after it’s made, but before it’s bottled. Journalists and buyers sample barrelled wines in the spring following the vintage. Brokers and retailers then sell the wine to their customers and the wine is generally bottled and shipped two years later. 

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