Thursday, March 03, 2005

Get with the times - buy wine online

Buying wine can be an intimidating experience for anyone, especially without the helping hand of a friendly clerk at your local wine store. However, truth be told, buying wine online can actually be the easiest, least-intimidating and most importantly, the cheapest way to purchase your wine.

Given the diverse selection of wine—from vintages to varietals to appellations—there is a lot to know in order to make an informed buying decision. You can bet your ’97 Opus One that the clerk at your local wine store doesn’t have the time to educate you like your computer does. Can you imagine asking the clerk to show you all wines in stock from California; then put back all but the reds; then remove all but ’97 vintages; then put back all varietals but the Cabernet Sauvignons. By now, 7 hours have passed and the store clerk is working up a major sweat, highly annoyed, and wondering if your business is worth it. Of course, you haven't quite narrowed your choice down yet, so you then ask the clerk to leave you with the wines that rated over 90 points…and now you are ready to decide - 1997 Caymus Cabernet Sauvignon. But wait…how do you know the bottle is reasonably priced for $65.00? Well, it doesn’t matter, because if you decide against buying this bottle of wine, the store clerk will beat you over the head with the bottle, until you take it. On the other hand, if you would have done the same research online, the computer would have had an answer for you within minutes and been at your beck and call for additional requests. In addition, many wine retailers’ websites will have definitions of wine terms and descriptions of varietals, regions, and food pairings at your finger tips. Of course, a case can be made for the occasional store clerk who makes great wine recommendations – but what about all those other times when they are recommending a wine for reasons they don’t tell you?

Probably the number one reason to buy wine online is to save money. Comparing prices of wines online is easy, especially with services like WineZap, which lists all the retailers across the US who sell a particular wine and their respective prices. When you walk into your local wine store, you are only offering yourself the choice of one retailer at one price. That lesson is simple. Shopping around can make all the difference and doing it online is one of the fastest and most straightforward ways of doing it and making sure you’re getting the best deal.

And here’s something else. Research tell us that for almost any wine, its cost at the highest priced retailer is close to double that of the lowest—and most would agree to wanting the best deal out there. Here’s an example: the 1996 Dom Perignon is currently offered by a retailer in California for $89.95 and by another retailer in Illinois for $163.99. Yikes! But wait, there’s more: If a person in Illinois purchased 12 bottles of the 1996 Dom Perignon from the store in California, the price would be $1,079.40, plus shipping of $35, for a total of $1,114.40. On the other hand, if the person happened to find the 1996 Dom Perignon in Illinois for the exact same price of $89.95, they would still have to pay sales tax of 7.5%, or $80.95. The total would be $1,160.35, in short an extra $45! The lesson is, when you consider a purchase of wine, do the math. Ask yourself, "What’s more? The shipping from out of state, or the sales tax?" The answer could make a significant difference.

The bottom line is that the Internet is a very powerful tool for wine shoppers today, given the diversity in retailer’s wine prices. If you like to touch and feel what you are buying and don’t mind paying extra for the experience – stick to your local wine retailer. If you prefer to make an educated, money saving purchase in a very timely manner, buy wine online.