Should I buy wine online?

Apparel, travel, jewellery, food, cosmetics, furniture – there’s nothing we don’t buy online these days. Yet apparently, some people still don’t like using a screen to buy their wine. But is buying wine online really that much different from buying it in-store? Or is wine simply taking some time to catch up to the rest of the e-commerce world?

While reputable online wine retailers do abound, it’s still a bit of a jungle out there. Here is how to prevent disappointment when buying wine online.

  1. Make sure they deliver to your address. Many US retailers of all kinds still do not deliver to Canada or international locations; online wine purveyors are certainly no exception, and it won’t do you any good to call them and explain you live in a metropolis of 9 million people, not an igloo on a deserted shore. Other concerns include exorbitant shipping rates or confusion about currency and exchange rates.
  2. When you find a good site, sign up for their mailing list. While you might feel already inundated with sales emails, the whole point of buying wine online (besides, of course, convenience) is to take advantage of small-batch wines and special offers that may not be available at your local store. Stay in the loop and reap the benefits of increasing your collection with potentially great finds.
  3. Look for a site that offers a carefully curated collection of wines, complete with valuable and accurate information on vintages and professional pictures of the labels. If they sell the exact same stock as your local LCBO, is it really worth buying online? Certainly not if you’re paying for shipping.
  4. Look for a site that sells mostly…wine. Unlike some other stores we love, like chain bookstores where shoppers can be hard-pressed to find an actual book, online wine stores should feature wine prominently as the main offering. Beware of wine sites that try to distract you with too much fancy etched glassware, chocolates, gifts, liqueurs, and other non-wine items.
  5. Ask your sommelier for a recommendation. Next time you’re at your favourite fine-dining establishment, ask where they obtain their wine. After all, an impartial professional opinion can be invaluable.
  6. Ask questions. What will the company do if they don’t have the wine of your choice in stock – have they made provisions to obtain the wine from a different distributor, or could you visit a store location? What is the time frame for delivery? Serious collectors can, of course, wait, but if you’re having a weekend party and want to impress guests with a certain vintage, find out how long it will take to arrive at your door before keying in your credit card number.
  7. If you aren’t looking for obscure or small-production wines, don’t hesitate to shop the behemoth sites like ca – while you won’t find a boutique experience complete with wry and whimsical descriptions, you sure can’t beat them on price.
  8. Who runs the site, and what are their credentials? Knowing that a site represents a location near the Napa Valley can boost credibility, but even if a wine site doesn’t have a direct pipeline to wine country, sites run by reputable, experienced buyers are certainly preferable to those just trying to make a quick buck. Tip: if the reviews and descriptions of bottles are taken straight from the winery, you aren’t dealing with someone who is overly invested in their offerings.

In summary, buying wine online can be a great place to find rare, organic, natural, biodynamic and artisanal gems that just aren’t available within your local sphere. Beware, however, of rushing in too quickly; make sure the site’s palate matches your own and try individual bottles and mixed cases before having a large shipment delivered.

Papro Wine Cellars