Buying booze online isn’t the headache it once was years ago, but having bottles delivered to your door remains an awkward experience in the age of Amazon — like surfing the capital-W Web on dial-up when the rest of the world is browsing with seamless fiber optic. The root of the problem lies in America’s three-tier system of alcohol distribution, and 50 complex, unique state laws that never quite align.
Still, buying wine online has without doubt improved significantly in recent times. An ever-increasing number of states now allow winemakers to sell directly to drinkers, and large-scale retailers such as Wine.com have found ways to service customers in almost all 50 states.
What may come as a surprise is: It’s not just big-box retailers and exclusively online platforms that offer such convenience. Many smaller brick-and-mortar stores have recreated the charm of neighborhood wine shops online, and ship bottles to consumers in almost every part of the country. While the major players gain from extensive selections, these retailers compete with carefully curated portfolios that highlight the preferences of their wine buyers and enforce the value of building relationships with neighborhood wine shops, IRL and online.
Between them, the five retailers listed below have almost every inch of the country covered in terms of delivery area. Many of them ship to more than 40 states on their own. But what really sets them apart is their focus, specialization, and dedication to providing wine lovers with the world’s best bottles — pandemic or not.
New York City
Discovery is the name of the game at NYCs Bottlerocket. While it’s not home to the largest inventory on this list, this store presents the most innovative form of navigation for online wine shopping.
Users can browse Bottlerocket’s collection by grape variety, region, and price point, or instead navigate custom-built collections that group wines by different food pairings and occasions. It’s like having an on-call somm — one who can conjure a list of 100 different options to pair with Chinese takeout at the click of a button.
Bottlerocket also emphasizes value and alternative packaging. The store’s canned wine selection is among the most extensive we have ever come across, but that doesn’t mean classic styles and regions have been overlooked. From Burgundy to Bordeaux and beyond, Bottlerocket has it covered.
With same-day delivery offered in NYC, and shipping to more than 40 states, this store is revolutionizing buying wine online.
In Spanish, cata means both “taste” and “tasting” — as in, una cata de vinos. It’s a choice name for this D.C. retailer whose mission is to offer a tour of Latin America through the glass, with its extensive collection of wines.
Co-founded and -owned by Pedro J. Rodríguez and Julio R. Robledo, the company operates two storefronts: one in Washington D.C.’s Shaw neighborhood; the other inside the contemporary Latin American market La Cosecha, in the city’s NoMa district.
Among the retailer’s 1,000-odd bottles are the types of wines that have come to define Argentina, Chile, and Uruguay: classic expressions of Malbec, Carménère, and Tannat. Then, there are those that promise to challenge preconceptions of South American wine, from once-forgotten, now-newly embraced Criolla Chica (Argentina) and País (Chile), to esoteric Peruvian white blends.
Brazilan brut rosé sparklers and Alvarinhos from across the Atlantic offer something for those who fala português, while bottles from Mexico, Italy, and Spain further push the geographical boundaries.
Few retailers in the U.S. can challenge Grand Cata’s dedication to raising the profile of Latin American wine stateside. While its shipping capability isn’t as broad as the other retailers on this list, those who can take advantage absolutely should.
With a focus on organically farmed, minimal-intervention bottles, Henry’s Wine & Spirit is your archetypal Brooklyn neighborhood natural wine store. The neighborhood, in this instance, just happens to be the 40-plus states that it ships to nationwide.
The 1,000-strong bottle selection spans lesser-known regions (Mexico, Vermont) and highlights unconventional styles (still wine from Champagne?). With large-format bottles and a “rarities” section, the store has special occasions covered. And for those ordering from within New York State, there’s an esoteric selection of craft spirits also available for delivery.
Henry’s helps bring natural wine beyond the boundaries of major metro markets, and its selection will intrigue even the most well-versed wine drinkers. For up to date information on new arrivals and partnerships, keep an eye on the store’s Instagram account.
Portland, Ore.’s Liner & Elsen showcases the mystical “sense of place” of wine, with more than 2,000 terroir-driven bottles. The store focuses primarily on European regions, and ships food-friendly wines of balance, drive, and character to most states in the U.S.
In recent years, Liner & Elsen’s buyers have leaned heavily into the winemaking superstars of Spain and Portugal, Raul Perez and Luis Seabra. The growing selection captures one of the most exciting narratives in European wine right now: producers rediscovering old, abandoned vineyards and reclaiming the bounty of the ancient vines found within.
Liner & Elsen’s gaze stretches beyond the Iberian peninsula. The store’s German and Austrian selection is continually expanding, and there’s more than enough space in its cellar to offer the best wines from Croatia, Hungary, Slovenia, and Georgia. Once again, the common thread connecting the bottles from these nations, and those from the store’s Mexican, Argentine, and Chilean producers, is a tale of revitalized vineyards and a re-embracing of old-school winemaking techniques.
New York City
Francophiles with a penchant for fine wine need look no further than Millesima. Headquartered in Bordeaux, the company’s flagship U.S. brick-and-mortar store opened in New York’s Upper East Side in 2006. This retailer calls on more than 40 years of experience delivering some of France’s finest wines direct to consumers’ doors, first through an accomplished European mail-order business and now as an international online retailer.
For U.S.-based drinkers, Millesima has all the major Bordeaux appellations locked down, with back vintages from the region’s finest producers offered in multiple sizes, from standard 750 milliliter to Nebuchadnezzar (15 liter). Outside of Bordeaux, there’s an equal focus on quality and prestige. Think: Domaine Leflaive from Burgundy, Sassicaia from Italy, Opus One from the U.S., and Egon Müller from Germany.
The store’s detail-orientated service befits the luxurious bottles on offer. Millesima contacts customers at least twice following purchases, confirming their order and arranging a delivery time to fit the customer’s schedule. For special occasions and holiday purchases, Millesima assists with inquiries for sourcing specific wines, and can arrange corporate gifting and personalized notes. The team has in-depth knowledge, extending beyond the store’s inventory to vintages and ideal drink dates. With 6,500 SKUs and counting, it’s an invaluable resource for high-end buying.
Published: November 12, 2020