The store you purchase your wine from can greatly impact your wine experiences including the quality of what you are drinking and your exposure to new things. Let’s examine places to buy wine and the pros and cons of each.
Grocery Store: In states that allow grocery stores to sell wine, this can be your most convenient option—you are going to be at the grocery store anyway on a regular basis and as an added bonus, you may already have a menu plan and can select wines accordingly. Most chain stores do not have a dedicated, knowledgeable wine buyer, instead, the shelf space is filled by brands owned by wine conglomerates. 46% of wine sold in the United States are labels owned by three companies: Gallo, The Wine Group, and Constellation. To put it indelicately, many of these wines are the liquid equivalent of a fast food burger. Take advantage of the convenience and prices when you need to but if you want to learn more about wine, you should look beyond the grocery aisle.
Boutique Retailer: Wine specialty shops can be intimidating if you are new to wine or don’t know what to look for. The main advantage of a boutique shop is its staff. Not only are they knowledgeable about wine in general but they have tasted most if not all of the wine on their shelves. A good wine shop employee will listen to your needs and preferences and recommend a bottle for you to try. Shopping at a boutique store need not be expensive. Most shops will have wines starting at $10 so they can work with your budget. Finally, a shop with good staff will remember who you are and if you give them feedback on what you liked or didn’t like about their recommendations, they can continue to suggest new wines you’ll enjoy.
Big Box Store: The main advantage of a “big box store” is their purchasing power. They are able to pull in large inventory and take advantage of quantity discounts. In the case of Costco, the mark up is so razor thin that you are usually paying just above wholesale price. Still, similar to the grocery store, there has to be adequate inventory so the wines are pretty mainstream. Stores like Total Wine and More combine the purchasing power with the knowledgeable staff (although you will have to work harder to develop a relationship than at a boutique store), and their broad selection makes them an attractive place to shop.
Online: Buying wine over the internet offers the same conveniences of other commodities purchased online: you can shop whenever is convenient for you and have your items delivered directly to your house. Online stores can offer lower prices because they don’t need to pay for a storefront but the savings need to be balanced with the cost of shipping the wine. Depending on the store, you can find wines that are hard-to-get, unique, or rare and frequently you can get more information on these wines and the producer than you could at any other shop. Unfortunately, there are only 14 states that currently allow retailers to ship direct to you.
Winery Direct: If you love wines from a certain winery, you can join their wine club and get shipments sent to you. Contrasting with the above 14 states open to retailers, 44 states allow wineries to ship to consumers. On the down side, these clubs can be expensive and take a significant chunk out of your wine fund that you could be spending on exploring something new. However, it is a great way to support your favorite winery and if the wines are of good enough quality, laying down several vintages of the same wine can be a great way to learn about how wines change over time.