I frequently search for wine on the internet. Not to buy of course, but to find pictures of the labels so we can include them in our weekly wine special, the “Friday Night Flights,” or for tasting notes from the producers to see if the winemaker got the same things from their wine as I did. I also search to find wine for our customers when they request we special order some of their favorites that we don’t have on our shelves. All of this and other reasons lead to a lot of internet searches.
Most of us have noticed that once you search on a particular item that our Facebook feed and visits to websites will start to be peppered with ads for goods or services related to our recent searches. There is an element of this that I don’t particularly like, but as a wine professional it also provides me the chance to see what everyday wine consumers see as far as internet wine purchasing. It is many times amusing and other times alarming. Here are some items to watch for.
One that pops up on my Facebook page from time to time is an ad for something called First Leaf. This one is a complete fraud. It states that wine you purchase from anywhere, other than their website of course, is marked up three times over what the winery originally charged for it. This is a total fabrication. I know this not from being in the business, but from doing the research on what they offer. None of us here in your local North Idaho community would be in business if this was the case. The wine world is too competitive and global for us to charge what First Leaf claims we do. You should avoid this website all together.
Another vital item to watch for when you are not looking right at the bottle you intend to purchase is wrong or older vintages. Vintage matters a lot. Many internet sites will sell older vintages that can be past their prime. Unfortunately, once you get the wine shipped to you, if the wine has gone past the point of being good you are likely stuck with it.
Another common problem is with vintages when you go online looking for one of your favorite wines. The really great years for U.S. wines, for instance — from 2007 and 2008, or 2012 and 2013 — sell out quickly. But many internet sites will leave these great years up on their sites to generate interest. If you have found that a particular vintage of a wine you are searching for suddenly pops up as available on an internet site, do some further research. If you can call the purveyor you should, and verify the vintage they are showing is actually what they have in stock. If not, don’t buy the wine until you have an opportunity to try the vintage they are selling.
Remember that sometimes, no wine is worth it, regardless of how inexpensive it is. Many websites will put a wine out there for sale at what seems to be an amazing price, but what is the wine really? Check it out thoroughly before you buy. Is it a winery you know, or is it just a negociant label or perhaps a private label with no history and no way to find reviews of the wine? Is it an appropriate vintage? By appropriate, is it within three years of the vintage date for white wine? If it is a red, what kind of year did its region of origin have?
The best piece of advice is to know how much value your favorite wine professional adds to your wine experience. By having a trained and experienced professional who not only knows wines, vintages and appellations, but more importantly — knows your palate and preferences — is worth far more than some savings that you may or may not find from a website.
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George Balling is co-owner with his wife, Mary Lancaster, of the dinner party, a wine and gift shop in Coeur d’Alene by Costco. The dinner party has won the award for best wine shop in North Idaho twice, including for 2018. George is also published in several other publications around the country. After working in wineries in California and judging many wine competitions, he moved to Coeur d’Alene with Mary more than 10 years ago to open the shop. You can also follow us on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/#!/dinnerpartyshop.