Wine Questionary:

Online wine buying: Why and why not?

I recommend buying wine locally rather than on the Web or by mail order if at all possible. In my opinion, buying online or by phone makes sense only if you're looking for expensive rarities that you simply can't get any other way. There are several reasons for this, but it mostly comes down to three:

  1. Even if you find an excellent discounter online, the costs of shipping and handling and insurance add substantially to costs.

  2. There's some hazard in shipping, not only because of the possibility of loss or breakage but because wine may be overheated or frozen during shipment, and this kind of damage may be difficult to prove or to collect damages on.

  3. Depending on where you live, receiving wine from out-of-state sources may be an impossibility. Under pressure from the wine and liquor distribution lobbies, many states are criminalizing Internet alcohol sales, and most merchants will only ship to the relatively small number (13 at last count) of states that specifically permit it.

All that being said, I think the best online merchants are those that have already established a reputation for service and price as traditional wine shops. Two such merchants (both of which, I should disclose, are advertisers on The Wine Lovers' Page) are K&L Wines in the San Francisco Bay area ( and Garnet Wines in New York City (

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