Best Places to Buy Wine
Buying wine can be super simple, such as dropping a bottle in your cart at the grocery store, or much more elaborate, such as participating in a fancy tasting at a vineyard and shipping home your favorites.
In every setting there are pluses and minuses to the experience. In the grocery store example, you are on your own, perhaps picking bottles based on what you’ve had before, or the information on the label. In the winery, you’re actually tasting them, most likely with a representative of the winery, maybe an owner or winemaker if you’re lucky. It doesn’t get more personal than that. Or more expensive. Direct at the winery is probably the most expensive place to buy a bottle where you’ll pay full retail. Sure, you might get your tasting compted but the price you pay for the wine is going to be high.
So let’s look at some of the most popular places to buy wine and discuss the pros and cons of each.
Grocery Store: Grocery stores are beginning to carry more wine so the selection is ok, but like we mentioned above, there is no one to walk you through the wines or make suggestions. Pricing is moderate overall at most of the Publix, Kroger, Safeways that I’ve shopped at (watch the sale prices they advertise, as they will increase the retail price, then knock off $10 to make it look like a bargain but still come in where they should anyway).
Raleys and Whole Foods are a bit more more expensive but they usually have a great selection and you can find the occasional 30% sale which is a good time to stock up. Sometimes they have deals if you buy six or more bottles at a time, so consider buying in bulk to maximize savings. Overall, I give grocery stores a C+ for wine buying.
Costco/Trader Joe/Sams Club: It’s no secret that I started a whole website about buying wine at Costco and it remains one of the best places to buy wine in my opinion. Trader Joe’s isn’t far behind, and Sams is ok but the selection is typically lacking.
The key to Costco (and the others as well) is price. The prices are just unbeatable, about 10-25% below most outlets on most bottles. But the catches are big.
First, there’s usually not an employee in sight. Sure, at Costco, they occasionally bring in wine stewards, but not everywhere and not all the time. Next, is a big issue. The wines (and vintages) might be there one day, only to be gone the next, and never coming back. At Costco you have to buy when you see what you want, and buy a lot. The selection can vary every trip which makes buying your favorites hard to count on. Lines and holidays can make it tricky too, but I love shopping for wine at Costco, and will rate it (and Trader Joe’s/Sams) a B+ primarily due to the extreme cost savings that comes with their vast purchasing power that is passed down to the customer.
Online, WineLibrary.com, Wine.com, Amazon.com, KLWine: I’ve been buying more and more of my wine online in the past two years, and I think the reason is that it solves “the trifecta” of wine buying: 1. Great selection, 2. Great prices, 3. Personal touch.
Many of the best online outlets, send daily emails with staff picks, insider tips, exclusive imports, holiday suggestions, etc. WineLibrary in NJ is one of my favorites. I love to receive their emails every day and as a result I make quite a few purchases through the site. The prices online are almost always unbeatable, and if you wait until they offer free shipping deals, you can really get some great wine delivered right to your house. I give online buying an A- if you are lucky enough to live in one of the states where wine shipments are allowed.
NOTE: the minus here is the delivery. Wine can’t be shipped to every state, and someone 21 or older has to sign for it. But here’s a little trick that works wonders for me.
Ask your online retailer if they can ship via FedEx, and then give them a Kinko/FedEx store address near you. That store will receive the wine and call you when it arrives. You simply pick it up and sign for it there at your convenience.
Retail Giants, i.e. Total Wine, BevMo!: The giant retailers and wine warehouses aross the country, such as Total Wine, also have their positives and negatives. On the positive side, the selection is enormous and they may even carry multiple vintages of the same wine. Another bonus is they carry accessories, liquor and craft beer, or cigars, whatever you need. It’s one stop shopping and you get all the selection you might get online with the ability to walk away with the bottle in your hand right away. These stores also will conduct tastings and offer a personal touch which is really nice.
The big downside that I’ve been noticing to shopping at huge retailers like Total Wine, is that the prices have increased, in some cases dramatically. They simply have too much overhead and inventory to compete with Costco and the online retailers and that cost is passed to consumers. I buy occasionally from these stores, but usually when I’m in pinch and need something that day. Rating for big retail wine stores: B-
Neighborhood wine shop: The last place to buy wine that I want to list here is your local neighborhood wine merchant. Many of you probably have a small storefront near you where the wines are curated by the owner who has tried them all, and he knows you by name along with your wine preferences. He or she is almost like a friend to you, and you trust their recommendations and the prices they charge.
Some hold wine tastings or events for their customers. These are the upsides. The downside is pricing again as they are generally smaller stores with less volume to create their profit across. But I’m a fan of supporting the local guy, and belong to a wine club near me where I am always welcomed when I walk in the door, and I look forward to a friendly experience every time. Rating for local wine shop: B+
So there you have it, a few different ways to acquire your juice. Let us know in the comments below where you prefer to buy your wine, and why.
Where do you buy your wine and what are the things you like or dislike about wine shopping? Let us know in the comments below.