For a long time I was a high volume, frequent buyer of wine. My collection at one point swelled to over 11,000 bottles and between on site and off site storage I never had a need for more wine. So even today, with my collection and the wines I make, and what is now a more modest sized stash, I find that buying wine in state is just not cutting it for me, as the wines I like are often not found on local retailers shelves, or when some are, the distributor has chosen not to stock the entire book of a producer, making wine buying more of a game of "hunting" than "farming."
With that in mind, I decided to put together a list of my favorite online wine merchants. Some are well known, but others are a bit more obscure.
Kermit Lynch Wine Merchant - as both an importer and a retailer Kermit Lynch straddles the line between wine hunter and merchant. Originally only known for French Country wines and Burgundy, they have expanded to include more Italian and Spanish wines over time. The biggest factor in buying from KLWM is the quality. Not only are the wines some of the tops from each region, but the way they are handled from winery to customer is cool, as they only ship in refirgerated containers and insist on that with all transportation.
Wine Exchange - For almost 30 years I have been a regular buyer from WineX. First in their original location in Orange, CA, and then as they migrated to online, as a customer virtually. No one shop offers better deals, in a list where the objective is sell the wine fast, move on to the next wine flash sale approach. This flash offer approach means the early bird gets the deal. That said, now that they have expanded more into direct imports, they are bringing in more undisovered gems that the mainstream importers and distributors don't alway touch. This means great deals for the customer, but is bad news for importers and distributors.
K&L Wine Merchants - a long time Bay Area stalwert with a Hollywood annex, K&L has become one of the larger boutique buyers of wine. They were one of the first to put their buyers in the regional curator role, moving them from unknown online to front and center. Like Wine Exchange they do a large portion of direct imports. What makes them a really good go to source for wine is their pioneering style buying. Long before Greece or Portugal were en vogue, K&L was there. Smart buyers know that they can often find gems at fair prices as well. Between their staff's knowledge and friendly nature, you can't go wrong buying from K&L.
Full Pull - Full Pull is a small Seattle wine curator, aggregator, sometimes producer of wine. While their offers are mostly about Washington wines-and they do have the best pricing on them-from time to time they offer up some French and Italian gems. The catch is you have to sign up for their daily newsletter of offers. The good news is unlike Wine Exchange you have a very good shot of getting what you want, as they take orders, then buy the quantity requested, often going back and getting more when there's enough inventory to be had. Given how Washington State wines are on the rise, having a go to source like Full Pull is enough reason to be on the list.
Garagiste - Like Full Pull, and also based in the Seattle area, Garagiste has been a list only online retailer for many, many years. Their offers, which follow the flash sales offer approach means they are selling hard to find wines at the lowest pricing around on many gems, mostly from across Europe and Argentina. In many cases the wines they offer are high scoring, but not often imported widely into the United States. The newsletter along is worth receiving even if you just want to have your wine knowledge level raised. They also offer limited production olive oils from time to time too.
Echelon Wines and Wine Commune - Lovers of California, Oregon and French wines will enjoy the regular newsletter from proprietor Sam Chen. While billed as a private list, all you need to do is ask to be on it. What makes this unique is Sam goes out and finds new producers who are on their way up, and doesn't gouge the customer base. Instead he builds a loyal two sided model that insures that future releases are made available to his customers, and the wine price that he buys at isn't "advertised" but instead offered to customers at a fair mark up.
Moore Brothers - started by a former sommelier at Le Bec Fin in Philadelphia, Greg Moore, he and brother Terry run three shops along the east coast in NYC, NJ and DE. They also ship. They are a bit like Kermit Lynch as many of their wines are pretty much only sold through their retail operation, and are one time arrivals. Gems from French producers like Saint Amant, L'Effet Papillion, Magellan, Barmes-Buecher, Xavier Vignon are found here so buy quick, before they are "discovered." Prices are more than fair, especially if you buy as the wines are arriving as they sell at early bird prices once the wines hit the shops.
Timeless Wines - A Virginia based merchant who is the best source of wines imported by Fran Kysela, Timeless offers wines on a daily basis. While never the least expensive, their customer service and thoughtfulness can't be beat. Call it southern hospitality and common sense. Given the uplift in interest in Rhone wines, Timeless has many of the most well known bottles from the now sought after producers, but they are unlike many reatilers, as they are also willing to go deeper into the portfolios and offer the lesser known regions like Lirac and Vinosobres in the Rhone or even some unknown producers who you should know about.
Robert Panzer's List - a lot like Garagiste but with a dash of Kermit Lynch meets Terry Theise in writing style, Panzer operates via Down To Earth Wines. He is a kindrid spirit who travels the wine roads, gets to know the winemakers and provides incredible insight into the wines he offers. What makes Panzer's list so good are his copious notes that detail each wine in a no b.s. style, without being a flag waving cheerleader.
MacArthurs - When I first moved to California I was unable to buy many of the Rhone wines I was finding along the east coast. Thankfully, there was MacArthur Beverage then, and now. Because of some grandfathering with licensing MacArthurs, like a few other D.C. merchants they can also direct import wines and bypass the wholesale channel. This means better pricing and better availability. Their annual Rose selection for years is perhaps the best on the east coast, as they seem to buy the better wines and in greater quantities. They also have a fantastic customer relations approach, where their buyers actually take time to talk to customers over the phone, providing an almost bespoke wine merchant approach at more than fair prices discount prices.
Wine House Los Angeles - If Wine Exchange has a west coast rival in the Los Angeles area, it's Wine House. As a customer both online and in the expansive shop, the team there takes time to choose wisely. They also listen to their regulars, and will order in wines for you on a special order basis, something any shop can do, but most don't. This extra special feature, plus their extensive list of wines available makes them a sure shot go-to etailer as well.
North Berkeley Wine Merchant - Importer. Retailer, Mailing list merchant is how to best describe North Berkeley Wines. Operating a few blocks away from Kermit Lynch's retail store means a pretty good local customer base rivalry, much like Pat's vs. Geno's in Philadelphia for a cheesesteak. A heavy importer of French wines, they tend to offer more custom blends made only for them from some of the better producers. This means you get a wine only available from their retail or wholesale channel. They also bring in high value, well priced wines from regions like Les Baux des Provence, Cotes de Provence, the Ventoux, Loire, Roussillion and others.
Some Good Wine - Another NYC wine shop with a very eclectic bent, the team there is perhaps the best at finding wines from places like Portugal, the Canary Islands, Azores, Corsica, Germany and Italy. Their sales are often worth taking a very close look at, and most of all, they like to educate.
Vinopolis - This Oregon shop brings a merchant tone to what they have to offer. Like many of the shops on the list, Vinopolis has the knack of finding and bringing in wines that are about to become the next big thing. Pricing is more than fair, and their flat rate shipping approach is very noble.
Wine Access - a pioneer in working within the shipping laws of various states on a nationwide basis, Wine Access direct imports wines, sources from other importers and distributors to bring wines to consumers often first, if not as soon as they hit land. They even offer some pre-arrival pricing (i.e. futures) and their buying clout insures you actually receive them.
At various times over the past 25 plus years I've been a customer of all of these shops. In some cases it was well before e-commerce came to be where orders had to be phoned in. In other cases after the dawn of the Internet and online shopping. I've also shopped with other online merchants, and while they may have provided excellent service, the etailers on this list have shown over time to be consistent in what they offer, super responsive to customer requests and will never deliver wine out of the shipping season. While pricing plays a part in deciding where to buy, my experience with some other more widely seen online shops doesn't measure up to the 14 shops listed here.
Take a look at what they offer. Sign up for their newsletters, and use them as a resource when your local shop doesn't have the wines you want.
You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.