Why Buying Wine on the Internet Makes Sense

Readers may discount today's blog as self-promoting filthy commerce. So shoot me. The point of posting it here is to illuminate the way the market for artisanal wines has become seriously screwed up at all price levels.

Dear Clark: I really enjoyed your CheapSkate 2003 Cabernet Franc, but I can’t get my local retailer to re-order it. I know I can buy it off your website, but doesn’t shipping cost defeat the whole idea of CheapSkate? – Tom from Santa Rosa

Dear Tom: You would think so. But in today’s crazy wine world, the net is actually hands down the best place to find rare wines and for bargains. Don’t get me wrong. You can’t beat the benefits of a personal relationship with a knowledgeable local retailer who can recommend products tailored to your personal taste and budget. But if you’re looking for a specific wine, your chance of finding it on the local shelves is less than 1%.

Looking for a boutique wine in your local shop is like expecting a garage band to play the Concord Pavillion. In 2007 Federal label approvals were issued for 140,000 wines. Your average wine shop might have 300, and the biggest retailers carry as many as 3,000, half of them the corporate McWines.

I’m guessing that about 10% of those 140,000 wines are the usual suspects like Kendall Jackson Vintner’s Reserve Chardonnay, Mondavi Woodbridge Cabernet, or Sutter Home White Zinfandel. These national brands are pretty easy to find and to comparison price shop. Outside of these mainstream products, forget about it. When it comes to artisanal, hand-crafted limited production mini-boutiques, even your giant retailer can stock one wine in a hundred at best.

The only easy place to find a specific wine from a small producer is on the net. Thanks to the 2005 Supreme Court decision that cracked open interstate commerce, wineries can now ship to 40 States. Since these direct sales have a much higher profit margin for the winery, there are often deep discounts for case purchases in order to defray the cost of shipping.

If you’re interested in a varied diet, my advice is to supplement your regular purchases from your local guru with some sampling off the web from winemakers you like and trust. Joining a wine club will get you extra discounts. Through their websites, winemakers will shower you with information about their techniques and artistic vision, putting you in better touch with why that glass tastes the way it does.

The best wine deals around are the closeouts from partial pallets left over at the end of a vintage. Wineries will often discount these substantially to wine club insiders. It happens that CheapSkate 03 Cab Franc is one of these. We just have a few cases left, available through our Pantry Club at $72 a case. Even when you tack on $25 shipping, you can’t beat that for value.