The What Am I Drinking?! wine pros offer their best tips for online wine shopping while quarantined.
Though an anomaly in Pennsylvania just a few years ago, it is now somewhat easy to find wine online – from outside the PLCB system – that can be shipped directly to you. And while the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board and it's stores are shut down due to COVID-19 concerns, this may be a lifeline for those of us – ahem – who don’t have large, stocked wine fridges.
Of course, there are some drawbacks to online wine shopping: First, there is no brick & mortar presence. If you need a last minute bottle, you’re pretty much out of luck. If you want to have a direct conversation with a sales person or expert, you’re also out of luck (though some may offer it via chat or email). If you get a bad bottle and want to return it, that’ll be a huge hassle (even without quarantine).
The second major issue is shipping. Wine is not like clothing. It is very heavy, and thus expensive. Many sites offer shipping discounts or free shipping with a large purchase (i.e. 6 bottles, $200, etc.), but that often requires buying the featured or special-sale wine. If you seek out a specific wine, expect to pay high S&H prices, or wait around and hope you catch a shipping deal.
The other problem with shipping is exposure to the elements. Wines, especially ones meant to age, do not respond well to extreme heat or cold. Though most reputable wine merchants attempt to avoid shipping during periods of extreme temps, UPS and/or FedEx are not as careful. So almost all wine shipments have some risk of poor handling. Your best bet is to order during the spring and fall when temperatures are mild, though this, too, requires some advance planning.
ProTip 1: Order from East Coast vendors when you can – less time in transit.
ProTip 2: (Post-quarantine, of course.) Ship directly to UPS Store or FedEx/Kinkos – this way the package will not spend a lot of time in a residential truck. Especially helpful if you aren’t home to sign for it during the day. Check with your local store to see if they charge a storage fee.
Read on to find out where to shop…
Direct from the Winery
Especially right now, small wineries need all the business they can get.
Most PA wineries can deliver direct to residences, and many are offering cellar-door pickup during this quarantine period. Some of our favorites include Galen Glen, Penns Woods, Karamoor, and Galer Estate.
Beyond PA, Many US wineries have licenses to ship here. In fact, the PLCB publishes a list. It is quite long, and not all of these seem to actually offer PA shipping, but if there’s a favorite winery in California or elsewhere, they’d surely love your business during this difficult time.
Our Favorite Online Retail Stores
These ship in one day (transit time), and offer some of the best selection and shipping deals around.
Wine.com: Easy to use, always offering discounts, and a good overall selection. Ships from NY. For $49, get free shipping all year.
Astor Wines & Spirits: Wonderful shop in NYC that stocks high-quality, artisanal wines. If they sell it, it is probably good. Free shipping on first order of $99+.
Wine Library: Gary Vaynerchuk’s family business in northern NJ, always has a wide selection of quality wines. They stopped shipping to PA for a bit, but it seems now we are back in play. They also have a deal site called Cinderella Wine.
Princeton Corkscrew: Lovely boutique shop in Princeton with an artisanal selection. They just started shipping to PA; we have only been there in person so far, but it is a great store.
Other shops worth considering:
- Backroads Wine Company (PA-specific business)
- Saratoga Wine Exchange
- Empire Wine
- Wired For Wine
Flash Sale Sites:
Flash sales are websites that sell a single item (or small selection of items) at a time, for a discounted price, until they sell out. Sign up for emails or follow these sites on Twitter or Facebook to find out when the offers change. Most offer free shipping with a minimum purchase (2-6 bottles, depending on price).
- Wines Til Sold Out (WTSO): The king of flash sale sites. They’ve come under some scrutiny for inflating the savings and scores, so be sure to research wines before you buy them. Otherwise a decent place to follow for occasional deals. Ships overnight from NJ.
- Last Bottle Wines: LB tends to offer higher quality wines than WTSO, but they are based in California, so shipping is more of a concern.
- Garagiste: a cultish wine store where the only way to purchase is to sign up for the newsletter that publishes one deal at a time. Though they occasionally have extraordinary wines, the service model is not for everybody, so be sure to read up on it before committing to anything. (Not recommended for coronavirus self-medication, but an interesting site to know regardless.)
Modern-style clubs such as Naked Wines, Winc, Dry Farm Wines and others that follow a similar model do ship to PA. However, we suggest approaching these with great caution. Many of these companies use misleading marketing practices, promoting that their wines come from small farmers, when, actually, they are utilizing bulk-quality juice and labeling to deceive.
Final Note: Rules, regulations, and laws are fluid. So we cannot confirm with absolute certainty that all of these vendors will ship to PA or, if they do, that it is legal to do so (or to receive the shipment). This is merely a list that we’ve compiled through research (mostly by looking up the shipping policy on each website). So please shop at your own risk.
By Mike Madaio, WAID Instructor