Wine & Food

Snooth User: citywineceller

What I Should Know About Buying Wine Online?

Posted by citywineceller, May 26, 2011.

Hi, I want to buy some wine online. Please tell me What I Should Know About Buying Wine Online?


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Replies

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Reply by sparks1093, Jul 5, 2011.

I'm hoping someone can answer this because I would also be interested in the answer.

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Reply by Richard Foxall, Jul 5, 2011.

I started a huge post on my experiences with different sellers online but the editor function ate it.  I will try it again soon.  In the meantime, the MOST important things are knowing where the wine has been--provenance/storage conditions--and how it's going to be shipped, assuming you are ordering it online so you don't have to actually go somewhere to pick it up. Wine is not as fragile as some folks think it is, but it's waaaay too fragile to ship in warm weather in a truck where it will sit in the heat and sun for even a little while.  The "convenience" of shopping for wine online runs contrary to the best practice, which is to either ship in refrigerated containers (expensive!) or to wait to ship when the weather is suitable.  Garagiste (they get good reviews from me) only ships twice a year for that reason.  So you can order wine there and not be able to drink it for months (or a year or more if you don't have an even case).  On the other hand, they import under strict conditions and store it in even better conditions, and they always know the provenance of the wine--they pretty much only buy from the winery.

You also have to research price and how the company obtained the wine.  It may not be a great value if it's a special bottling with a slightly different name (or it may be a really great value if the winery and online retailer have an exclusive bottling, like WineAccess and Stolpman recently did). It may not be the wine you think it is.  It may have been bought from a soon-to-be belly-up distributor who stopped paying his electric bills.  Ask friends who have used the service.

I buy wine online but I am very leery of online sellers.  The free shipping of WTSO is no bargain if the wine gets cooked on the way. (I've bought from them successfully, but the timing is definitely worth thinking about.)

Why do you want to buy online?  See a particular deal or just want to build up your cellar without leaving your desk? Do you have a question about a particular seller?

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Reply by sparks1093, Jul 6, 2011.

Foxall, The only reason I would buy online is if I couldn't find a supplier locally for something that I wanted to try. Your point about the temp when it is shipped is a good one, and not one that is painfully obvious to a neophyte such as moi' (although it's very obvious once it's mentioned). I have the wine list from the cruiseline we sail on and I'm trying to sample as many of their offerings as I can before we cruise, and I may not be able to find all the ones I want to try locally.

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Reply by Richard Foxall, Jul 6, 2011.

Sometimes the online price is so attractive that you can't say no.  Some people also live in areas that aren't well served by wine shops.  Some of the online folks have relationships with wineries (Wine Access was my earlier example) that allow them to find a market for a particular wine that the winery would like to make, or that the "distributor" likes but the winery doesn't offer.  The Stolpmann SB with no oak at all was a great example--Sancerre-like wine from California, but then there would be three versions of the wine and the regular distribs and retailers aren't interested.  I've met winemakers who would love to sell an oak-free chardonnay, but too many of their customers want oak to make it profitable for them to make two cuvees.  Shame, 'cause the best chardonnay I have had in years, from anywhere, was a barrel sample from stainless at a winery, sipped with the co-owner and my wife, that the co-owner lamented would never be bottled just like that.  If a mail order company could find a market for it, it would be available, and I would buy it, assuming they shipped properly.  Garagiste carries a lot of stuff that is exclusive to them and, if you like Rimmerman's taste, you can find stuff that really opens your eyes.  It's a little bit of a cult of wine personality, but count me in: I've really liked everything I've bought from him, although I can't say the QPR has always been the highest.  Still, no regrets, but it's not convenient compared to other online wine sellers, and the selection is limited.

Finally, a few mail-order places purchase cellars or library wines extensively, which means you can find something you missed on the first go-round or, in my case, pick up birth year bottles for your kids when they are already older. BPWine is big there, although they also carry newly bottled wine.  Kand L has expanded their auction/cellar purchase program.  The caveats about shipping (remember, it had to get TO BPW or K&L, too) and provenance are twice as important here.  BPWine often delays receipt (got some Italian I am still waiting for!) because they insist on refrigerated shipping.

I say support your local wine shop (and not the chains so much, but the independents) but there are lots of reasons to buy online.  Just be careful. 

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Reply by gregt, Jul 6, 2011.

Not much to add but the number one issue is find out how and when they ship. Many people will keep the wine until temps are right.  I dont' know if you have a way to get deliveries during the day - in NYC a doorman will do it, but if you aren't around to give an adult signature, the wine goes back to the truck.  UPS charges you money if you call to ask that it be delivered to a different address or different day.  FedEx home delivery goes from Tues thru Sat, so that's great if you can get the wine shipped mid-week and you're home Saturday.

May, June, July, August, Sept can be really hot, so if it's not a local place, your wine can be cooked.  Shipping cross country, from CA to NYC, for example, means you go over mountains.  So the wine may go from extreme heat to extreme cold back to heat if it's done ground.  Should be about $36 a case to ship ground.  Price doesn't go down linearly - shippers are made in one, two, four, six, and twelve packs, but it's around $12 - $15 to ship a single bottle by ground. Worth it if you're saving $60 or so, less if you're saving $5.

Air shipment is obviously faster, but it's a lot more money and not necessarily better in terms of temp.  If the wine is on the tarmac for hours, or in an uncooled warehouse, the fact that it's nice and cool during the flight doesn't mitigate that.

So the most important thing to keep in mind is the temp.

But you mentioned the cruise - I don't know which line, but most of them have pretty pedestrian wine lists that are overpriced.  Find out what the corkage fee is and bring your own.  I've done it on every cruise I've taken.  Why drink Rosemount Shiraz for $35 when I can drink my own wine?  If you give the somm a taste, they may even waive the corkage fee.  So even if they charge you $10 a bottle or so, you're paying more than that in excess price for a lesser wine that you won't like as much. If you're bringing $19 wine, that's different.  But make sure you don't bring something on their list and that it's something worthy.

 

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Reply by Flamefighter, Jul 6, 2011.

I guess the question is do you want to buy directly from the winery, an online wine club or from an online wine retailer?

The winery will take the most care in shipping because it is their wine and their reputation that is on the line. I get a lot of my wine (40%) direct from the wineries and it is always shipped correctly and arrives in good shape. I ship to the office so there is always someone there to sign for the shipment. Of course, I share a little with the office manager just so she doesn’t feel like I am taking advantage.

Some of the online wine clubs look like a good deal but the couple I have tried weren’t. I suppose if you live where there are no wine stores or big liquor stores it might be a better deal, but here in So Cal not so much.

As for retailers – that is really a wide open question. I haven’t had to resort to online retailers because there are a lot of wine merchants near me but I have done business with one here that ships nationally. They are NAPA Cabs. I buy from them and their prices are very good but I pick it up since it isn’t very far from home and that cuts the shipping cost.

Best of luck!

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Reply by Richard Foxall, Jul 7, 2011.

Good point: ship to the office.  I have all my wine shipped to my wife's office.  (I work for a government office, so wine deliveries are a no-no.) Her employees (she's the exec dir of a non-profit--complain about non-profit owners who can drink like we do, or featherbedding govt employees at your own risk) think it's hilarious that Snooth, wineries, etc., ship wine to us and the UPS driver is a personal friend.  But they don't complain when the annual conference comes around and I choose the wines!

Of course, most of the wineries that we deal with are less than an hour away, so we can drive there or the time in the truck is pretty short. 

My folks (also in the SF Bay Area) were sent a gift sub to a wine club and one of the bottles arrived with the cork pushed out from the heat--the wine got so hot that I can't even describe the chemical processes it underwent.  I'm convinced that wine clubs run by newspapers (WSJ, NYT, etc) are the worst offenders.

Quite a few online sellers will not ship to arrive on Saturday, so you pretty much have to have it sent to the office.  The danger is they miss Saturday and it's stored in their truck lot until Monday.  One well-known Snoother l had a problem along these lines b/c she can't receive wine at work and her neighbor wasn't around to sign for the wine when it arrived. Yet another wrinkle--now she shops in my neighborhood, even though it's a 25+ mile drive.  Good thing her sister lives nearby and she has an excuse to visit.

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Reply by gregt, Jul 7, 2011.

You would HOPE that the wineries themselves would take precautions when shipping but unfortunately, some don't.  And I'm talking about top end Napa wineries - Schrader for example.  Most, if not all of the wineries, outsource their shipping business and you end up getting things in June.  I got wine shipped to me that was $100+ a bottle and I was livid. Next time I saw the owner, I let him know why I wouldn't be buying any more wine from him.  He apologized and they changed their shipping policy. Then he sold out at a nice profit. 

Most of the better online stores will take precautions for you.  Winex, Wine Library, J.J. Buckley, Brown Derby, MacArthurs, etc.  There are hundreds of reputable merchants that know what they're doing and who will hold wine for you during summer.  And you can always ask!  In fact, you SHOULD ask!  If they balk, then don't buy there. 

Sometimes they'll charge you $5 a case or so to hold your wine.  That's OK and at least it's honest.  But do a little research first - some spend the summer with their doors open so it's kind of a waste to have them keep your wine. None of the places I've mentioned falls into that category however.

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Reply by Richard Foxall, Jul 7, 2011.

BPWine will store for 6 months free.  Recently, I convinced them to hold some things a little longer because my wine coming from Italy had not arrived yet.  If you have to store it longer, the charge is $2 a case, I think.  One should always check.  I think that both customer and retailer need to make it clear if the wine is for immediate consumption.  Wineries or others might assume it is.  Of course, anything but temp controlled shipping is a risk any time, since you can have Indian Summer, short heat waves in spring in California, so even fall and spring can get dodgy. I think many people don't really stop to think that their wine is going to be on a truck for days, they just think how convenient it is to not have to leave their home office to buy it, receive it, or even open it.

BTW, GregT, here's another reason for you to retire here:  JJBuckley will deliver the wine to your home in the Bay Area, same day, in time for dinner.  Say you are cooking and drop the bottle of Cos you were going to serve.  They'll show up at your house with the replacement bottle in time to serve it to the guests and you don't have to lose precious cooking time. As they say, some restrictions apply.  Haven't used it, but a friend researched it just in case.  Of course, we also work 10 mins from their warehouse, and 40 mins from Napa, so wine pickup on Internet orders is yet another benefit of living here.

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Reply by gregt, Jul 7, 2011.

Hmmmm. 

My wife would be thrilled.  She wants to move back home out west. My uncle lived in Napa - was a builder and built himself a nice house on the southwest part of the valley. Buckley is just one nice perk but I'm not sure I'd even care if I lived there!

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Reply by Richard Foxall, Jul 8, 2011.

Yep, GregT, it's an embarassment of riches out here.  By the time I convince you to get here, I'll be living somewhere in Europe, I am afraid. Or not.

But we have the wines, the wineries, the wine shops.  It's a good life, and no snow or humid summers. Just a lame legislature and roads that make you wonder how the home of the most technologically sophisticated population on earth can fail to pay for asphalt to fix the potholes.

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Reply by dmcker, Jul 8, 2011.
Edited Jul 8, 2011

Don't remember Freeway potholes since the younger Brown was governor.

And same day delivery is fine, Fox, but I prefer no bottleshock. Need rested replacement bottles on hand at home. Doesn't take that much thinking ahead.

BPWine, K&LWines, Benchmark, Garagiste, Rarewineco, NorthBerkeley, Kermit Lynch and even the Napa Valley Winery Exchange have all served exceedingly well. And all (except the idiosyncratic Rimmerman operation up in Seattle) are within a very small radius from Redwood City up to Sonoma and Napa and over to Berkeley. The SFBay Area lifestyle is definitely something I still long for from time to time. Think it'll be the NorthBay for me when I finally make it back over there at whatever point in the future. Though Santa Barbara also pulls....

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Reply by Richard Foxall, Jul 8, 2011.

Rimmerman may be idiosycratic, but so far, I like what I have purchased from him.  His "high acid" wines are much more like balanced wines than the recommendations of Asimov, IMO. Some of the stuff that Asimov likes his own panels wrinkle their noses at.  Points for putting them on the panel.

All those retail outlets and a number of places that almost exclusively sell at the winery... it's pretty hard to beat. Santa Barbara is idyllic and I love to visit, but I think I would be bored living there full time.  I do think you were right that the Central Coast is the place to study wine at university--SLO is just a lot prettier and has much better weather than Davis or Fresno. So maybe a couple years when I change careers.

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Reply by dmcker, Jul 8, 2011.

Not sure how wine studies are at Cal Poly. Would be curious. As locales, Davis is certainly more boring, even with the Sierras nearby and towns like 'Paradise' bordering, and Fresno is a nightmare.

So no more legal bar, but rather the zinc kind in your future, Foxall?

I also have no problems (rather the opposite) with Rimmerman's selections (and thanks for pointing to my spelling error which I just edited away; hey it's 5am over here, no coffee yet and there was definitely too much vinho verde and madeira last night...).

Santa Barbara isn't boring if you can cultivate community relations and like ocean sports. Much better for the latter then the Bay Area. Even a lot more decent wine these days. If you want quick access to a faster pace you could always helicopter to LA. ;-)  But that would probably start to feel like 'work' after awhile, too. Larger groupings of smart and interesting people in communities around the Bay, without a doubt. I just love Spanish Colonial by the right architect (the one Jobs hates) and that heat and the hills at my back, ocean at my front and the Channel Islands across a bit of that sea. And Ojai always adds some quirky artistic flair in its community, too. Have a friend there now who's excellent at yoga and her husband does Amerindian sweatlodge events. Don't often run across that level in those two areas even up in your neck of the woods.

 

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Reply by Richard Foxall, Jul 8, 2011.

Nope, no zinc bar.  I always swore I wouldn't make that mistake.  I don't have enough money to helicopter to LA and I sure don't have enough to go broke in the wine biz.

Maybe not the sweatlodge end of it--although my neighborhood is named "sweatlodge," in Spanish, but there's plenty of yoga, including a studio at the end of my street.  (d, you have to visit more often--potholes, yoga, it's all changed so much.)  But no theosophists that I am aware of.  Ojai kills us on that. Even after he denied being the avatar of the New Age or whatever, Krishnamurti decided to stay on because it's so lovely there.  And they mix tennis--world class--in with all that.  But we kill them on meditiation--is that too paradoxical?--with Tassajara a few hours south, SpiritRock and Wheelwright/GreenGulch, whatever, in Marin, and I'm sure I am missing a lot.  Of course, Ojai is going to be obliterated when the Matilija dam fails. Not by water--but by all the silt that has built up behind it.  Or so some residents of Ojai told me back in 1998 or so.

For sailing in decent weather, SB is great.  But our surf--if you don't mind blue lips and thick neoprene--is actually better.  The beaches aren't as scenic, I grant.  And a really good point break like Rincon, well, that would be a nice addition to our occasionally punishing beach breaks. 

Not trying to convince you to move or retire here--after all, it'd be nice to have another excuse to visit Santa Barbara!

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Reply by dmcker, Jul 8, 2011.

This thread will take on real legs if you want to get into a serious comparison of these things.;-)

The yoga I'm talking about is world class, not like the irregular range I've encountered in Berkeley or Oakland or San Fran over several decades (though of course some of it there is very good; and I'm also half a decade from being current). I'm talking teaching in centers in India, and since she's not at all bad on the eyes, plenty of TV-ish spots, too. I used to make my own sweat lodges back up in the Sespe when I was a young, foolish wildchild, after a stint on a SW indian rez as an anthropolgy student. Also built them in Big Sur. And I learned how to bake bread at Tassajara with Espe Brown.

Have been to Mavericks, and sailed out of the Santa Cruz harbor, sailboarded in the area, etc. Too cold for one thing, and gotta love the great whites, I suppose, but honestly there's regularly better glass and lovelier spindrift feeling from even Refugio down through the Rincon to the Ventura point. You should try a winterstorm 20footer there... ;-)  I'll accede on a Hawaiian comparison, whether Oahu or Maui or even Kauai, all northshores of course, but not hypothermia central closer to you.

I used to frequent the theosophist library at Ojai quite a bit before surrendering to wanderlust. Think I read both the Egyptian and Tibetan books of the dead there first. Not too fussed about Matilija, but winter floods (and September fires) from the Sespe down into Wheeler Gorge are more of a concern. That drive up to Cuyama hasn't changed all that much even (other than the fact that a restaurant appeared in that village that was actually an epicurean event), and still can almost be psychedelic on a given summer day. Would've loved to see what someone like Picasso or rather another of his mates from his Collioure days would've done with the light and landscape there.

Oh yeah, and the wife of my best friend from jr. high and h.s. who moved up to be a dentist in Los Gatos (she in San Jose; they have both income levels of the Valley covered) and used to spend half his time sailboarding off Santa Cruz rather than in his office, even loves the Ojai Valley Inn, because aside from the de riguer spa and tennis, someone like Duchovny will likely be at the next chaise lounge over beside the pool.

All that being said, if I needed to keep my hand in any kind of work and cityvisiting, I'd probably prefer Marin. That view across the bay with the Golden Gate on the right and the alabaster city straight ahead knocks the socks off even Manhattan viewed from Jersey. Plus you're in a much, much nicer place than Jersey. And with more plentiful, cheaper, better wine...

OK, how many people have I offended today?

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Reply by gregt, Jul 8, 2011.

Not me. The move is definitely in the future as long as I stay married to the same woman and I agree w you about Marin.  At some point in your life, you just go for nice.

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Reply by Richard Foxall, Jul 9, 2011.

Not me, either.  I think you summed up both the SB to Ojai stretch and this area pretty well, and I agree--the best view of Manhattan is from Weehawken.  That says it all. 

I've always said that if I had enough money to retire in comfort but still wanted to work, I would live in Tiburon or Belvedere on the side that faces SF. Only other contender would be a little street in SF that I won't mention because the former neighbors would kill me.  Like living in the country in the middle of the City, with views, too. 

I've surfed all up and down the coast of CA, but haven't hit Rincon when it's big and glassy, only when it's average or less.  Tougher up here--the waves are much thicker, the water much colder--but the shark business is overrated. The best surf spots (except perhaps Salmon Creek near Bodega Bay) haven't had a ton of sightings, never mind attacks.  Stinson Beach isn't a great spot to begin with, and that's where the most sightings have been.  Including Hawaii and Tahiti, I'd still say the two most memorable barrels I've scored were just north of the Golden Gate. North shore Hawaii is probably out of reach for me, can't really imagine trying to deal with the localism at this point of my life. 

I wandered around the Ojai Valley Inn a few years ago and didn't see anyone famous, but we checked into Calistoga Ranch as Babs Streisand was checking out.  That has to count for something.  And I just ran into Paul Kantner outside Caffe Trieste in North Beach the other day.  But, of course, that's one thing that never changes...

 

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Reply by Richard Foxall, Jul 9, 2011.

dmcker, I stumbled across this: http://travel.yahoo.com/p-interests-40447719

A list of the most shark-infested beaches with the most attacks.  Nothing above Monterey, but at the top: "Surf Beach North of Santa Barbara," up by Vandenberg.

I know that doesn't settle anything, but pretty funny, and it was you that raised the shark issue.

Now what was that OP about?  Something to do with the evil influence of Parker, or whether Cali Cabs can ever be good again?

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Reply by dmcker, Jul 9, 2011.

Plenty of 'urban-myth' spreading-type activity in the surfing and fringe communities, too. Was a time back in the '80s and into the '90s when I couldn't have a conversation with anyone in the Santa Cruz area without the subject of great whites, their breeding grounds near the Farrallons, etc. coming up. Well wait, I was once on a pretty famous IT entrepreneur's yacht in Santa Cruz yacht harbor and all he could talk about was the internet and coming browser wars (yeah, that was more than 15 years ago). Guess he didn't mention the sharks, but then again he rarely took his boat out. The guy he hired on the boat that day (out from under a friend) is now running a well-known VC firm, and I doubt he talks much about sharks, ever, either. We were drinking lots of Mt. Eden and Ridge and Kathryn Kennedy that day....

I know that beach near Vandenberg. Never the best breaks when I or friends were near it. But back to the sharks, perhaps a big part of the mystique of the NorCal coast is that it's great whites being talked about. Far more human attacks are by tigers, for example. The scaredest I've been diving has been when a bull was circling, definitely another wellknown maneater. It was built like the linebacker of the shark world, nearly 12 feet long, and had an expression on its face that would've made Lawrence Taylor in his prime look like Frodo. Knelt on the seabottom for 10 minutes that seemed like two hours and waited for it to bugger off. If Stephen shows up to our campfire here, he'll undoubtedly have a story or two to tell about southern Oz and great whites, because down there is where I've heard the second most stories about the beasts. Then we have those related from S.Africa, like this:

Fish Hoek Beach, Cape Town, South Africa

The waters off Cape Town, South Africa are known for the frequency of shark encounters (there were eight attacks last year, two resulting in death) but one particular attack last year was different in that it was the first attack to be tweeted moments after it happened. A vacationer from Zimbabwe, Lloyd Skinner, was standing in chest-deep water near Fish Hoek Beach when he was attacked by a large great white shark that witnesses described as “longer than a minibus.” His diving goggles and a patch of blood were all that remained in the water.

In Hawaii, the most aggressive sharks I've seen are makos, several of them tearing into a humpback calf carcass off Na Pali coast on Kauai. We got a little too close in our catamaran and the adrenalin count rose at one point.

Nice choice of the most pertinent Marin community to our discussion, Fox: Tiburon.

If you're going for film celeb sitings, other than a few places in LA (or a party in Montecito), the best by far is back near where the Gregs live. Was staying in a hotel across from the Metropolitan Museum of Art (that has since gone condo) several times last decade, and every time I sat at a table in the streetside cafe, something like six times in a row, there was either a DeNiro or a Pacino or a Glen or a Streep or a Parker or someone else no further than two tables over. However Tokyo often works well, too, and there's a bar or two in one part of it where I've variously shared drinks with everyone from Connery and Nicholson and Sting and Grant and even Seagal to Theron and others in the music, business and sports worlds.

 

 

Regardless of the sharks and celebs, anyway, and back to the OP, the vendors we've mentioned here are all pretty reliable. My wine life would be a lot more boring without them...

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