How to Order Wine Online

The lowdown on costs and shipping


The internet has pretty much taken over my shopping. I think I’m getting frequent-flier miles on Amazon and eBay these days since I’m on their sites so much. Even when it comes to wine I am an addicted Internet shopper.

I know many people have concerns when shopping over the Net, but the selection of wine you can find -- not to mention the prices -- makes ordering wine online more attractive than ever.

Of course, there are several issues you should familiarize yourself with before diving in headfirst. By equipping yourself with the answers to these questions, you’ll be ready to begin ordering wine online with confidence.

Is it legal?

The answer to this question is very difficult to answer. Interstate wine shipping is a state-level issue, and almost each state has crafted its own unique rules governing the shipment of wine. In general, you can simply find out if the retailer you are hoping to shop from ships to your state. For more information, specifically as it relates to the ability of wineries to ship directly to consumers, visit the Wine Institute website.

Why shop online?

Ordering your wine online not only affords you greater choice, it’s sometimes the only choice. For example, wineries may offer exclusive selections to the members of their wine clubs or certain retailers in states that allow direct importing may have wines you can’t find anywhere else in the country. On the other hand, those same states that allow retailers to direct import wines are also the source of the best prices in the nation, since they have effectively skipped the three-tier systems that see profit margins added at the import, distribution, and retail levels.

Image courtesy of The California Wine Club

Will I get a bargain?

All this adds up to the all-important question: Is it worth buying wine online? Well, if you’re searching for wines that are not available anywhere else, that’s pretty much a moot point. On the other hand, if you’re looking to save money there are several questions you’ll need to answer before you will able to figure out if you’re going to end up saving any money.

How should I have it shipped?

There is no easy answer to this question, but taking a look at the weather is one of the keys that will allow you to determine what your options may be. Shipping wine in temperatures above 70F or so can be a dangerous business. It’s not the 70F that you should be worried about, but rather how hot a truck can get sitting in 70F heat while waiting to deliver your wine, or while waiting to meet a connecting truck or plane.

It’s a good idea to ask your shipper what route your wine might take if you are opting to have it shipped in weather that is warmer than recommended. I always check to see what the temperatures are both at the point of departure as well as locally when arranging the shipping of my wine. In addition, you need to also take into consideration the temperatures your wine might have to travel through, so consulting a complete weather forecasting site is essential when planning wine shipments. I always refer to the graphical forecasts created by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Weather Service.

How much does shipping cost?

I’ve included a rough estimate for shipping a case of wine from California to New York for each method discussed below, in order to give you an idea of the comparative pricing of each.

Your basic options begin with ground shipping, which I would recommend only for shipments when the weather is between 32 and 70 degrees, or for those shipments that are so short as to effectively be next-day delivery to you.

- 1 case shipped ground coast to coast runs about $50 or $4 a bottle at volume.

For more expensive wines, I recommend three-day air for shipping. It’s not that your wine will be treated with any more care, though that may be true, but the key here is that if you arrange for your wine to ship on a Monday, three-day air will make sure you get your wine the same week it is shipped, eliminating the possibility of your wine ending up in an unheated or uncooled freight depot over a weekend.

- 1 case shipped three-day select coast to coast costs around $100 or $8.50 a bottle.

Second-day air is an even better option, making sure your wine gets to you quickly and safely. This level of shipping ensures your wine is expedited through the system, moving from ground transportation to air quickly, without the possibility of sitting too long in one place. This is a viable option for shipping wine in warmer weather, though I would still caution against shipping wine even with second-day air when temperatures are higher than the mid-70s.

- 1 case shipped second-day air coast to coast costs around $150 or $12.50 a bottle.

The most effective way to ensure that your wine is delivered in a safe manner is to have it overnighted to you. The truth of the matter is that I rarely opt for overnight shipping as the price of the shipping tends to eliminate any potential savings I may have realized by purchasing out of state. For older wines, and particularly valuable wines, I would still recommend overnight shipping, if nothing else so that should you have any issues with the wine you can essentially eliminate the shipping as the cause.

- 1 case shipped overnight coast to coast costs around $200 or $17 a bottle.

So, is it worth it?

Now that you can roughly add your expected shipping costs to your order you can begin to decide whether or not having wines shipped to you makes any sense. For me, there is definitely a threshold under which I almost never even consider ordering wine from out of state.

Living in New York, I pay some 8.5% sales tax on my in-state purchases. Knowing that shipping will be at least $4 a bottle means that I would have to save at least $4 a bottle for the whole process to make any sense. In general, that means I’m looking at wines that retail for at least $25 a bottle, seeing as savings rarely exceed about 20%, though there have been some occasional sales that have doubled and even tripled that figure.

What's the bottom line?

So, the bottom line is that you’ll have to make up your own mind if ordering out of state is worth the added expenses and effort it can take to order online. You’ll also have to wait before receiving your wine. And, of course, you will remain at the mercy of the weather, which may mean that wines bought in May don’t get delivered until November! 

Even with all these issues, I still buy most of my wine online. The added selection and savings I realize have made me a dedicated convert to the online marketplace. Is today your time to join me?

A Guide to Ordering Wine Online

To view this slideshow as one page, go to A Guide to Ordering Wine Online.

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Mentioned in this article


  • Snooth User: hedrick72
    539293 18

    Basically u said nothing.

    Nov 26, 2010 at 5:45 PM

  • the answer to the question is difficult to answer?

    Nov 26, 2010 at 6:00 PM

  • Snooth User: wailuku
    573563 8


    Nov 26, 2010 at 7:13 PM

  • Snooth User: wailuku
    573563 8

    Write your comment here.

    Nov 26, 2010 at 7:14 PM

  • This guy probably drunk as ass. And what the purpose of those stupid 7 pages of 1/7th of the page each?

    Nov 26, 2010 at 7:32 PM

  • Snooth User: davinp
    246536 1

    uhh what? what a waster of six minutes of my life reading this article...said nothing, offered basic, and occasionally wrong information (I have never paid $50 a case to ship - go to the larger online wine merchants as a really rudimentary starting point...sheesh).

    can you please refund my six minutes? I'd like it back please.

    Nov 26, 2010 at 9:35 PM

  • Snooth User: jamelnt
    542974 8

    Happy Holidays to all you wineheads!

    Nov 27, 2010 at 7:37 AM

  • Snooth User: marty w
    304481 1

    Article is poorly researched,waste of time. 8 pages?
    You are best finding merchants that are within the UPS ground next day area. I live in Southern CT, that includes most of North NJ, NYC area, All of CT, Western Mass. $25/case.
    The prices online can be dramatically (30%+) better than your local merchants, if you shop. Wait for sales, there are many.

    Nov 27, 2010 at 10:29 AM

  • Snooth User: schellbe
    Hand of Snooth
    247770 225

    Five dollars per bottle to ship? Why coast to coast? There must be closer merchants than that?

    A better price comparison is the relative price of two merchants, figuring in the difference in shipping.

    Most of the time, I can find three dollars per bottle shipping, and sometimes merchants offer free shipping.

    When all is said and done, it's best to ship in October and April, before the cold and snow hit and before the heat can damage wine.

    It's best not to permit merchants to ship in the winter, especially when going cross country. When it's unseasonably warm in the east, it's unseasonably cold in the west, and vice versa. I know this because I had wine arrive from a reputable eastern merchant in February. It was -30 after a freak storm. They shipped in record heat on the east coast.

    I got lucky. No damage to the wine.

    Nov 27, 2010 at 11:04 AM

  • Snooth User: Flinter
    513223 15

    I agree the article said nothing!

    Nov 27, 2010 at 11:34 AM

  • When I have wine shipped, I must be at the address and sign for it or it will not be left at my address. A proxy singature is not acceptable. As a result, this means that I must be at the specified address for several days while waiting for my shipment. This is not acceptable so I do not like having the wine shipped as a result.

    BTW, I like your previous format better. The interuption of flipping from page to page is an annoyance. As a result, I sometimes just skip reading/enjoying your articles! Please go back to the old format!

    Nov 27, 2010 at 1:29 PM

  • Snooth User: Gregory Dal Piaz
    Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    89065 233,900

    Thanks for all your feedback folks. I'm glad you've gotten on-line wine buying figured out but many people don't, and don't realize some of the issues involved with wine shipping.

    I buy a large portion of my wine from several west coast retailers. they are able to source wines I can't find on the east coast and some are even able to offer wines at retail for less than the same wines are offered at wholesale on the east coast. Some small stores in the pacific northwest have direct import arrangements with some European producers. Wines you can't find anywhere else so going to another "big" online retailer is not an option.Factor in sales tax and the difference can be huge.

    Choosing expedited shipping will certainly bring shipping over $50 a case and some of these producers are less expensive than others exactly because they are not building in the cost of shipping materials and shipping into the price of each bottle.

    To each his own of course.

    Nov 27, 2010 at 1:57 PM

  • I would love to see a list of shipping companies that you use and trust :) I would find that very helpful.

    I for one appreciate the time you take to write your articles Greg,

    all the best!

    Nov 27, 2010 at 8:00 PM

  • Snooth User: SMFN
    466282 59

    Here's my 2 cents: If you haven't heard of Sonoma Wine Shop, you should check them out. Better yet, go there! They will have you taste so they can understand your palate. You can then order wine based on your palate that they pick for you. There are absolutely no rules to this wine club and you can order whatever you like...just tell them how many bottles, how often and a price range. You can also stray from your schedule, just call them. The best part about this club is that they have access to very small wineries and will send you things that you would never be able to find on the East Coast. (We couldn't even find them when we were in Napa!) Every bottle we have gotten from them has been fantastic! It really is like Christmas when we open the box! Shipping is $25 for the case AND they can ship to NJ...which is much easier than chasing down the fed-ex guy in NY to get your wine because wineries can't ship to NJ...but I digress... Check them out...It's worth it!

    Nov 28, 2010 at 9:48 AM

  • Snooth User: DrWine74
    275305 3

    Wailuka, There is an excellent wine shop in Kapaa. It is on the left a block after the Safeway center (heading North). His store is temperature controlled.

    Nov 28, 2010 at 10:00 PM

  • If you check your statistics "We Canadians drink more wine per cap then our wonderful US brothers" .
    Please include Canada in your ref, maps, wines etc...


    Nov 29, 2010 at 7:54 AM

  • Snooth User: 1Finecab
    257366 41

    Thank you Gregory for the useful information. Some of the blog responses are very informative as well.
    Personally I like the format where you can just click Next to go to each section. It is obvious that some pages are a prelude to the next subject matter. Too bad some of the 'whiners' choose to use this forum to digress and to appear knowledgeable or to compensate for their pathetic existence.

    Nov 29, 2010 at 9:54 AM

  • I do all my wine shopping online these days, usually shipping isn't as much as this article states. Go to all the various wine shops online and sign-up for their newsletters. They email you coupon codes and free shipping offers from time to time.

    I use and all the time.

    Dec 03, 2010 at 5:50 PM

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