Buying Wine Online – Savings Tips for Frugal Sips

More than one million wineries currently operate worldwide. Each produces at least three different wines, and plenty of them stomp out 20 or more.

That's a lot of potential hangovers. But if you sip responsibly you can enjoy the taste, the history, and the geography of the grape without any concurrent headaches.

And if you have champagne tastes but a Boones Farm budget? Buy the fruit of the vine online. A discount comes in handy at this time of year, given the expenses associated with the holidays. In the next couple of weeks you might be:

  • Having people over for your only fancy meal of the year, which surely calls for a grown-up beverage
  • Making mulled wine or glogg for a holiday open house
  • Looking for a good deal on bubbly for New Year's Eve

Or maybe you're just an everyday wine enthusiast who likes a glass with dinner. No matter what your reason, there's no need to pay through the nose, so to speak, for a decent bottle. Thanks to increased competition, better technology, and smarter winemaking, there's never been a better time to be an oenophile, according to wine critic Natalie MacLean.

“I'm a wine cheapskate at heart. Why pay more than you have to for pleasure? These days you can get a wine that tastes twice as expensive as it costs,” says MacLean, author of Unquenchable: A Tipsy Quest for the World's Best Bargain Wines.

Although talking with an experienced wine seller can be a pleasure, not everyone is lucky enough to live near a wine store, or even a liquor store or a supermarket that sells wine. And let's face it: Your local booze emporium or grocery store probably doesn't have the space to devote to a truly huge selection of vino.

Online sites like Wine.com and WineExpress.com have deep cellars, and sell enough of the stuff to offer discounts. Specialty sites exist, too, with somewhat smaller lists but interesting back-stories — and competitive prices.

Kissing vinous frogs
It isn't just the discount that's attractive, but the chance to try dozens (or hundreds) of vintages you might not find in the local carafe-a-teria.

Don't know where to start? The online sites make it easy:

  • You'll see sections like “90 under $20,” i.e., bottles that have received 90 points or more from wine critics.
  • You can search by price point, by region, by type of wine — or even by clearance sales.
  • When you click on a wine title, the next screen may also include suggestions à la Amazon.com, “Customers who bought Mad Dog 20/20 also bought…”

Another way to find new varieties: Natalie MacLean and other wine critics have Facebook pages and Twitter feeds, as well as homepages. There you can learn their hottest (and cheapest!) new discoveries. MacLean tastes at least 30 varieties per day. Nice work if you can get it, huh? Yet as she puts it, “I'm kissing a lot of vinous frogs to find those princes for you.”

Or prospect at a specialty site like People's Wine Market or the Accidental Wine Company, both of which offer discounted sips with interesting backstories. The former buys overstock vintages from artisan, environmentally-friendly wineries. “Overstock” means that only a few cases are left and a wine distributor won't bother with such a small order. The producers sell it cheaply just to make back their production costs, according to company spokeswoman Ashley Sytsma.

Three varieties, “usually the last case or two in existence of that vintage,” are featured each week. The lowest price was $7; the most expensive was a 2006 Philippe Delavaux Grains Nobles for $49, which would normally retail for as much as $125 per bottle.

The Accidental Wine Company's original niche could be described as “oops”: vintages whose labels were applied crookedly or got soaked by a bottle broken in transit. If I were an oenophile I'd be all over the scratch-and-dent stock, i.e., focusing on the inside of the bottle. (Then again, I bought “slightly irregular” cloth diapers for my daughter. True story.)

Accidental Wine still sells irregular vino but also sells end-of-season stock and other special deals. Some of the best prices aren't advertised prominently on the site due to agreements made with the producers. A couple of recent examples:

  • 2006 Six Sigma cabernet sauvignon for $12 (normally as much as $50)
  • Reds and whites bought in Spain last summer, $7 to $10 per bottle. “If it was made in America we'd be getting $20 a bottle,” says David Forbes, the “grape wrangler” who did the buying.

How to find non-posted prices? Poke around on the website, or e-mail the company ([email protected]) with the types or varieties you typically drink.

Finding the best prices
If you already know which wine you want to buy, use a price comparison site such as PriceGrabber.com or CheapUncle.com. Type in “box of white zin” or whatever you're looking for, and wait for prices to pop up.

These sites have online coupons to make the offers even more attractive. Or look for coupons through aggregators like Savings.com and RetailMeNot.com.

We now pause for a really stupid joke:

Q. What did the grape say when the elephant stepped on it?

A. Nothing — it just let out a little wine.

Before you place an order, check to see if the wineseller is affiliated with a cash-back shopping site such as Extrabux, Mr. Rebates or Fat Wallet. These sites also provide  online coupons (including free or nearly free shipping) along with rebates of 3% to 7%.

Note: If shopping through a cash-back site, use only the coupons you find on that site. Any “outside” discount codes will void your rebate.

Aggregators like Cashback Comparison Tool or Cashbackmonitor.com offer side-by-side comparisons from some of the better-known cash-back sites; be sure to double-check the posted rates, which can change without warning.

Wine on wheels
About that shipping: An order might be in transit for days. You might wonder whether your order will become a winesicle (North Dakota truck version) or an expensive bottle of vinegar (Florida truck version).

But all wine has to be shipped at some point, or it would never leave the vineyard.

The folks who do this for a living use extreme care, to the point of adding cold packs during certain times of the year.

Some sellers have a “hold until safe” option, i.e., they'll store your purchase for weeks or months until the weather improves. Or you can opt to pay more for overnight delivery.

Note: Make sure your order will arrive when someone who's at least 21 years old will be home to sign for it. No, it can't be left on the back porch.

Obviously shipping adds to the per-bottle cost. But maybe not, thanks to deals and discounts like:

  • WineExpress.com ships some items free and offers 99-cent shipping for its “wine of the day.”
  • GetWineOnline.com has a “50/50 Club,” which means you can get half off standard shipping for an annual fee of $48.
  • Wine.com's “Wine Steward-Ship” program provides a year's unlimited shipping for $49.
  • UltimateWineShop.com has free shipping on some varieties if you buy in multiples of 12 (which could be a deal-breaker for some and an enabler for others).

Another way to keep costs low: Watch for social marketing deals. Recently I've seen deals like:

  • The “Holiday Gift Set” through LivingSocial, with two bottles of wine, two glasses, a gift bag and a “tasty treat” for $34
  • Four wines (three reds and a white) for $49 through KGB Deals
  • $70 worth of wine for $35 through Eversave

Watch for these deals, but be sure to do the math.

Tip: Depending on the social buying site you use, you can get credit for the next purchase or even an outright free order if friends buy using your referral code.

Haute sips or house swill?
I am not suggesting that you ignore local winesellers. But casting your net a little further than the neighborhood state store or Safeway can improve your enjoyment of wine and stretch your fun budget.

Of course, plenty of people are perfectly happy with Charles Shaw or the super-cheap Aussie vintages to be found at the local liquor locker. A good friend of mine is content with boxed wine, which she cheerfully refers to as “the house swill.”

So if you have a proletarian palate and know that good stuff will be wasted on you, or if you simply can't afford to dream past three-buck Chuck right now, then continue to do what works for you. But if you want to branch out a little, give the online vintners a try.

Myself, I never drink…wine. (Extra geek points if you got the Bela Lugosi reference before clicking on the link.) I don't know red from white or white from plaid. I don't know whether Night Train is an aperitif or a cough syrup. But vinous beverages sure are important to a lot of people. Hey, it's in the Bible that you should drink a little wine for your stomach's sake. And did Jesus turn the water into Kool-Aid, or 2% milk? He did not.

A bottle of wine is like any other non-essential treat. No one needs cable TV per se, and few of us would actually die without a piece of chocolate now and then. Knitters probably should consider using up the yarn they currently have, music lovers could back off on completing their Murray Perahia collections, and someone who owns four cats would do well to consider the cost of adding another.

But those small pleasures enhance our lives. That's why we budget for them. So go ahead: Crank up “The Big Bang Theory.” Enjoy some chocolate and a kitten (not together). Craft a scarf while listening to The Goldberg Variations. And enjoy an affordable chardonnay or merlot whenever you want. Wine: It's not just for breakfast anymore.

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lostAnnfound
lostAnnfound

I really enjoy wine. I’m not an aficionado, but I do like a glass (or two) of a good red wine. Unfortunately, even though the state of Massachusetts passed a bill that states an individual can purchase and have wine shipped to them from out of state, there are still some issues to be worked out; one of the biggest ones, from what I have heard, is that Fedex and UPS would have to get special permits for any and ALL trucks that are actually used in transporting any wine. There is also a limit (not sure of the number)… Read more »

Lee
Lee

Most wineries won’t ship to CT because of our strict laws. And make sure you don’t ship to Bridgewater, Eastford and Roxbury, which are dry towns.

Marie
Marie

I live in CT and have never had a problem getting wine delivered, regardless of the source. From what wineries or distributors have you had problems?

Reuth
Reuth

Part of the problem in Massachusetts is that if a winery (or wholesaler, etc.) sells you enough wine to put you over your annual limit, the penalty falls on the seller, not the buyer. Between that and the whole one-permit-per-truck thing, it’s going to be a while before we see mail-order alcohol in MA, I think.

Cmt
Cmt

As someone always on the lookout for a new, inexpensive wine, I’d like to point out something not mentioned in the article- you can’t buy wine online in certain states. 🙁

Jennifer+B
Jennifer+B

I was just about to comment the same. It would have been helpful to point that out in the article, and perhaps even include a link to information about what states can and cannot have wine shipped directly to consumers, and if “off-site” ordering (placing an order by fax, internet etc.) is allowed.

Here is a link to the information kept by the Wine Institute regarding each state’s laws regarding shipment of wine:

http://www.wineinstitute.org/initiatives/stateshippinglaws

Donna Freedman
Donna Freedman

You’re right: I should have mentioned that. My apologies — and my sympathies to those of you who live in dry areas.

Misty
Misty

My husband and I love to try out new wines. I agree the internet is a great place to find some nice wines at a great price. One of my favorite sites is called lot18. They find some great 90+ point wines as well as some nice gourmet food items. Prices tend to range from $15 to over $100 a bottle. I tend to like the $15 wines and have never been compelled to spend over $20 for a bottle of wine. Occasionally, they will even offer free shipping. Today they are offering several sampler half cases (6 bottles) of… Read more »

Donna Freedman
Donna Freedman

Natalie MacLean told me that “the sweet spot” for her is the $10 to $20 range. These wines taste WAY better than you’d think — the idea that wine has to be expensive to be drinkable is no longer true, she says.
I’ll just sip my Diet Coke and be the designated driver so’s everyone else can polish off the bottle. Cheers!

Well Heeled Blog
Well Heeled Blog

I find the wines I like in local stores first, and then I keep an eye on them online. But, if a salesperson has taken the time to help me the get wine in the first place, I kind of feel obligated to at least buy from that store a few times.

Even though online may be cheaper (and I shop online for most things), I prefer to pick my wines in a store.

Donna Freedman
Donna Freedman

Which, as noted, is absolutely a fine idea. Although I don’t drink, I enjoy picking out my own produce or meat for a meal. If I drank wine, I’d enjoy browsing and deciding that, and learning more from the wineseller.

honeybee
honeybee

To me, the need to be home to accept delivery is a dealbreaker. I miss 100% of the deliveries (why? because like most people I work during the day, when all deliveries are made), so getting that delivery means driving an hour roundtrip. Sometimes I’ll get there and they’ll have put the item back out on a truck for redelivery in spite of phone instructions, so I need to come back again and again until the connection is made. Generally I don’t order anything online if I’ll need to sign for it.

Peter
Peter

There are 2 things (3, depending on which state you live in) that make buying wine online not nearly as practical as most other things. 1) you can only buy online if you live in certain states 2) you have to have somebody there to sign (21, although that is not the issue). that is pretty much a deal breaker for me. we are never at our house during business hours so we could never receive wine. 3) shipping. unless you find a good deal on shipping or are buying in a quantity that makes sense, shipping will generally eat… Read more »

Donna Freedman
Donna Freedman

Shipping deals vary from site to site, but some of them do make it cost-effective to buy online. (Otherwise, they’d go out of business!)
Additionally, you could try to time your order for it to arrive on the weekend. If you have an understanding boss, you could have it delivered to you at work. At my former job, the FedEx and UPS trucks showed up all the time and the managers didn’t care.

El Nerdo
El Nerdo

Trader Joe’s, baby! Trader Joe’s… I found out they pay their suppliers cash, which is how they get those awesome prices on booze. Or so the wine lady said to me the other day. Often you can get a really nice bottle for $6, but I’ll go as low as $4 and find drinkable bottles. Actually I just got a bunch of boxes for $10 each so that’s like $2.50/bottle. w00t! It’s this one: http://www.marksandspencer.com/Red-Block-Shiraz-2008-Case/dp/B0036C6LN4 , but in a cardboard box for just $10. Also, for more details on low cost wine see video here mid-page: http://money.cnn.com/2010/08/20/news/companies/inside_trader_joes_full_version.fortune/index.htm It’s the makers… Read more »

El Nerdo
El Nerdo

PS okay I found a link to a review & pic of the actual Block Red (not red block! izzit??) wine:

http://bakelikeaninja.com/wine-wednesdayblock-red-shiraz-and-some-changes/

^^ this. nice. cheeeeeeeeepppppp. i’m stocking a bunch of them.

Triple E
Triple E

Ugh. . . If only I didn’t live in a state/county with weird booze laws. Our TJ’s doesn’t sell beer/wine. 🙁

Then again, it’s not like I don’t have other options, and less stupid states are a short drive away.

Donna Freedman
Donna Freedman

Two-buck Chuck is now three-buck Chuck — inflation, baby!
And as noted in the article, plenty of people are absolutely content with the wine they can get right in the neighborhood. (Or make in the bathtub.) Online purveyors just allow for a broader list of choices.

El Nerdo
El Nerdo

Yeah. The neighborhood just happens to be awesome.

Triple E
Triple E

Most states now have wineries (some better than others) that are fun to visit, and generally have either free or low cost tastings. That’s a great way to spend a day, often in a beautiful area. In that not every state’s winemaking is on par with Napa Valley or the Finger Lakes[0], the cost also is generally more reasonable. Also, many stores that sell wine will do tastings on a regular basis. These are great, because you can get a handle on what you like, and often a discount if you buy that day. Note that some of the best… Read more »

Donna Freedman
Donna Freedman

My sister was gifted a Groupon for a regional winery. She and her husband wound up paying $16 out of pocket (mostly shipping) for $75 worth of wine that turned out to be very good indeed. I believe they wound up with five bottles.
Re regional wineries: About 30 years ago I did a short article for the Philadelphia Inquirer about a public tour and tasting of a tiny South Jersey winery. At one point visitors were invited to take off their shoes and stomp grapes.
I tried it myself — and now I know why Lucy made those faces:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MiCwDBJB5Y0

Triple E
Triple E

I got to stomp grapes at a wine festival in Virginia. That was awesome!

babysteps
babysteps

If you’re near the Finger Lakes, the Seneca Lake Wine Trail wineries have an annual ‘bargain bash’ to get rid of odd lots & inventory ahead of releasing new vintages – it’s in January every year, Jan 7-16th in 2012. Some wineries’ deals are better than others (bigger % off or better wine). The great part is you get to taste just about everything that’s on sale (harder to do online!).

http://www.fingerlakeswinecountry.com/Events.aspx?id=836 is the link or just search for ‘seneca lake bargain bash’

Donna Freedman
Donna Freedman

True enough about the tastings. But just as a wineseller can say, “If you liked this, you will probably like that,” an online site can pull up half a dozen bottles that you might enjoy.
Again, I’m not saying that you shouldn’t patronize local shops/wineries. This is just one more way to broaden the palate. I don’t have a dog in this hunt because I don’t drink. Just putting the suggestion out there.

Samantha
Samantha

I love Donna’s sense of humor. I know I’ll laugh at least twice when I see her name at the top of an article. And it was very informative, of course, as usual. We love wine, and this might just save us on hostess gifts!

Donna Freedman
Donna Freedman

Why, thank you. Salud! [[clinks glasses with Samantha]]

chacha1
chacha1

I get most of my wine under $10 a bottle at BevMo or World Market. You can save money by learning what types of wines are similar. For example, if you’ve had a grenache (aka garnacha) that you really didn’t enjoy, a little quick reading will tell you which wines are like it … so you can avoid them. DH and I make a point of shopping at wineries when we are on vacations. This is usually expensive. But for daily drinking, it’s cheap bottles all the way. To my palate, there’s very little difference between the $8.99 Gnarly Head… Read more »

El Nerdo
El Nerdo

mmmmmm! gnarly head is awesome!

Donna Freedman
Donna Freedman

Wine names are getting to be as much fun as microbrewery nomenclature. I saw a wine called “Meat Grinder” and wondered whether it were meant to be served with large quantities of flesh. Nope: It’s named after a particular stretch of whitewater.

El Nerdo
El Nerdo

this is named after the shape of the vines (gnarly). their old vine zinfandel is brilliant! and they sell it at walgreens, ha ha. the other varietals are okay but the zin is the star! i love ittt. ah, also check out ménage à trois (yes that’s teh name). a blend of zin/cab/merlot that’s like berries and currants but mellow and with an oaky smell that’s mmmmmm……! i just had it at a party this past weekend and i will hunt it down wherever it hides. online bottles i spotted for $8. yesssss. i will bury my nose in it.

OnABudget...Always
OnABudget...Always

I am lucky to live in Northern California, so I don’t have to pay shipping, I just go and get it. My neighbor just finished his “party bus” — a shorty school bus that he rents out. I am thinking next trip to Napa is in the shortbus. Party when red lights flash! Seriously, it says that on the back. 🙂

Teinegurl
Teinegurl

Congrats Donna on your new grand arrival!

Donna Freedman
Donna Freedman

Thank you! After spending time with my niece’s two boys, I understand why people get absolutely STUPID about their grandchildren. I bore total strangers with stories of their cuteness.

BB
BB

Wine is temperature-sensitive on both the low and high sides. I’d rather buy from my local wine store; really a liquor supermarket, where the wine is kept at the right temperature. No nasty surprises then. And the local place has specials every week: bottles for as low as $4.99 of quite reasonable wine.

TJR
TJR

Where I live*, every supermarket has a selection of excellent but unsurprising $2.50 wines.

I’m just saying the economics of wine pricing are more about percieved classiness than about production cost.

* a small town in Germany

KarenJ
KarenJ

Believe it or not, at Whole Foods, where you need to go in with a shopping cart full of money, has a pretty decent CA wine for $2.99/bottle. Also, if you’re fortunate enough to live near a Wegman’s you can get several bottles of imported and domestic wines for $6.

honeybee
honeybee

This is what GRS needs more of — deeply-researched, highly informative articles about specialized topics. Not every article needs to apply to everyone. For that reason, GRS is light on articles about kids, wine, computers… and many other topics about which there are many useful hints and tips to be had. To be honest, I’m probably not going to buy wine online for just right now. But, I may do so in the future, and now I’ll remember that this article is here. Same goes for kids — none now, but maybe later. This type of article builds a storehouse… Read more »

honeybee
honeybee

Ha, I missed this:

“And did Jesus turn the water into Kool-Aid, or 2% milk? He did not.”

Classic.

imelda
imelda

OK, I’m a voice in the wilderness, and granted, I’m probably only saying this because wine is not my priority…. but do we have to buy *everything* online?

Not everything is about saving every penny possible – isn’t it also worthwhile to support your local wine merchant, and other local businesses?

Maybe the wine issue gets to me more than, say, clothes or other things bought online because it’s purely a luxury item. (in my mind, anyhow – in the States, if you’re buying fine wine, you’re probably not poor. If it mattered to you, you could probably afford to shop local)

Joanna
Joanna

Super excited for about 30 seconds. Then I remembered I am in Oklahoma. Woe is me.

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