Now that we order almost everything in our lives via phone or tablet, buying wine online has an obvious appeal. But relatively few of us are doing it – only 21 per cent buy wine online, though some sales probably slip through in the general supermarket shop.
It is, of course, nothing new. Established wine clubs such as Naked Wines (nakedwines.com) and Laithwaite’s (laithwaites.co.uk) have been doing it for years. Naked was one of the first businesses to crowdfund – you pay £20 a month to be an ‘angel’, wine-making start-ups receive financial help and you get 25-50 per cent off retail prices. But given the spread of click-and-collect services and same day (or hour) delivery services such as Deliveroo (deliveroo.co.uk), the trend is heading inexorably upwards, with the venerable Wine Society (thewinesociety.com) the latest to get on board. It’s even possible to buy wine on Amazon (amazon.co.uk), though the prices are rarely as favourable as a specialist merchant.
It’s also possible to personalise your delivery to a degree that would previously have been unimaginable. Through the app IFTTT (ifttt.com) – If That Then This – for example, you can set up your preferences with Tesco (tesco.com/wine) so that if the temperature hits 27°C, they will deliver bottles of gin and tonic, and ice, or add a bottle of prosecco to the basket whenever it’s on offer.
‘Wine online is not just about doing deals, it is where enormous volumes of people are now sharing their reviews and comments on wine on apps such as Vivino (vivino.com) and wine-searcher (wine-searcher.com),’ says industry commentator Richard Siddle of The Buyer (the-buyer.net). ‘Who better to tell you what wine to buy than thousands of fellow wine drinkers who have drunk it before you? Like Tripadvisor or Airbnb, we are now far happier following the crowd, which is why sites like Vivino have morphed into being major wine retail sites in their own right. The number of people now regularly searching for wine online over the five years to 2015 topped 17 million.’ Producers such as British-owned Chateau Bauduc (bauduc.com) in Bordeaux which supplies Gordon Ramsay and Rick Stein with their restaurant house wines are also able to sell direct, cutting out the middleman.
Who better to tell you what wine to buy than thousands of fellow wine drinkers who have drunk it before you?
So are there any downsides to buying online? Well, the obvious one is that you can’t try what you’re buying first as you can in a shop, and you usually have to buy at least six bottles. It can also be less good value to buy online than you think. Some money-off deals are not as good as they look – it’s always worth checking prices elsewhere online. You also need to be particularly careful of mixed or ‘mystery’ cases where the retailer doesn’t reveal the contents, as you could easily be palmed off with stock they need to shift. Although most online companies have someone on the end of a phone to talk to if you need advice, it rarely beats a face-to-face chat – particularly with a shop owner or assistant who knows you well.
That said, there can also be significant advantages. The first being that websites can be less daunting than a wine shop. And, although they carry a lot of stock, it’s generally well curated so you can easily find a style, country of origin, or grape variety and, once you have the relevant page up, obtain as much information as you need about the wine in question. Or if you’re someone who just wants to buy wine and not think too hard about it, or needs a hand expanding their repertoire, an online subscription service where you get a selection of wines to try is perfect. Similarly, if you’re interested in a particular country, region or type of wine, such as organic or sulphur-free, you generally get a better choice from an online specialist. Then, once the company knows your preferences, they can suggest the kind of wines that you will like and let you know as soon as wines of that type come into stock (though that is true of bricks-and-mortar merchants too). And finally, there’s the obvious convenience of getting wine delivered straight to your home rather than having to carry it from the shop to the car.
Online wine is here to stay – it’s just a question of how to make the best of it.
Where to shop online for wine
For value and variety
It’s hard to beat The Wine Society. A co-operative, you buy a £40 lifetime share and get £20 off your first order. Prices are keen and the choice – whether it’s everyday or more off-the-beaten-track – is simply brilliant. thewinesociety.com
For top-end wines
If you’ve a taste for the finer wines in life, Berry Bros & Rudd have a surprisingly up-to-date website. Strong on classics but with some surprisingly adventurous choices on offer, such as the fashionable Basque wine Txakolina.
For aspiring wine buffs
If you want to up your game wine-wise, Roberson’s is a tempting site to trawl with clear descriptions, attractive discounts and some on-trend natural wines, including one of the best selections from California.
Are apps like Drop Wine the future? The clever app enables you to order a single bottle to be delivered in London the same day. There’s also a daily drop – a wine discounted for 24 hours – and short, witty tasting notes too.
For the New Zealand wine lover
Lovers of specific regions will find more interesting bottles online. The New Zealand Cellar offers individual wines, cases, and a wine club where members receive regular deliveries. They also have a bar and shop at Pop Brixton. thenewzealandcellar.co.uk