My parents were not big wine people and in the 1960s and ’70s there were not a lot of options for buying wine. In Massachusetts at the time, the only place to buy wine was at a state licensed liquor store, known as a package store, or locally and colloquially, as a packy. My parents would go in, check out a limited selection in their modest price range and buy. There was little discussion with sales clerks about structure, length or fruitiness. It was more like, “This should do the trick.”
Today, most every wine store is staffed by knowledgeable and probably wine- and spirit-certified owners and salespeople who can guide the buyer to a satisfying purchase. Many stores offer small sample tastings to fine-tune preferences, or at least they did pre-Covid. They also have written wine descriptions and perhaps a rating for most wines in the store. As Dean Morretta, career wine & spirits guy and proprietor of Vintology Wine & Spirits in Scarsdale, told me, “We taste and select every wine in the store. We offer great wines at a very attractive price. We work hard at it. We are tough tasters and must agree on each bottle. We truly care about what we sell. We have relationships with our customers and they trust us. I like to steer someone to something they might not choose but that I know is right for their palate and flavor profile preference.” (Vintology, at 2 Palmer Ave., also offers curbside service and same-day delivery.)
Buying wine online directly from the winery is a relatively new concept and it cuts out a middle supplier or two. Most stores and winery-direct purchases will offer a case discount, but shipping costs could undo the discount. And now there myriad wine clubs to discover to meet your interests. The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal both offer wine-buying clubs at NYTwineclub.com and WSJwine.com respectively. In each of these clubs, you can choose your wine preferences, your pricing and your monthly bottle amount desired. Their experts will assemble a package to meet your desires, complete with tasting notes and food pairing recipes. Most of these clubs have a teaser welcome pricing to familiarize yourself with their concepts. And most clubs have a money back guarantee if you’re not satisfied. Many universities and colleges have their own wine clubs, too, developed as fundraisers for some type of program.
And then there are online wine buying websites that tend to morph from humble beginnings to a more dynamic site in time. Wines Till Sold Out (WTSO.com), wine.com and winemag.com are a few sites that will offer great deals, often discounted well below what a store can do, but then again, delivery costs approaching $50 per case might offset online savings. The site I am particularly attracted to is undergroundcellars.com. It offers catchy names for wine groupings like Red Blend Maestros, Influential Italy, Unbeatable Cabernets or Globe Spanning Grenache, and you can purchase a bottle or two or a six pack or a case. Early on you create a profile with your color preferences, grapes desired and regional interests. When you buy, the site will upgrade some or all of your picks to better (sometimes much better) and higher priced wines. It will store up to 500 bottles in its climate-controlled warehouse for you and provide free shipping for 12 bottles. When I am ready for another batch of wine, I go to my account on the site and choose the Quick Pick option where it will randomly assemble a case of wine I have purchased. Or I can personally select the wines I want from my e-cellar. I find it to be educational and fun as I often taste wines I wouldn’t be able to find or likely would not have chosen.
So however you manage to purchase your wine, maintain an open mind on other options. In these Covid times all purveyors of wine have had to reinvent themselves to some degree and introduce new buying concepts. Your computer is a quick and easy way to buy. But if you find yourself passing through Scarsdale, stop in and meet Morretta at Vintology Wine and Spirits. He will ask a few questions and match you up with something well-priced and special. Tell him Doug sent you.
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