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Dan Berger: Some cautions about buying wine online

Most people buy wine conventionally. They go to a supermarket or a package store and peruse the shelves, lifting bottles, looking at labels, seeing what's new and then making a choice.

Some people are a lot faster at it: They just walk to a shelf, grab a wine with a brand they know and head for the check-out counter.

Increasingly, however, we are seeing more and more buyers sitting at the computer, searching websites that sell wine. The lure is The Bargain that everyone seems excited about — though once other factors enter the picture (taxes and shipping costs among them), there may not be much if any savings.

Moreover, the people who do most of the internet shopping for wine are those seeking expensive wines at discounts deeper than they can get at their local vinous emporia - such as a $70 bottle that a deep-discount wine seller has for $49.97.

If you wanted six bottles of that stuff, you could save roughly $120, which should make up for any shipping costs.

It could get even better. Assume you are looking for a case of 2005 Chateau Lynch-Bages, and your local store has the wine for $150. But an internet search shows that this wine is available for just under $100 a bottle at three different wine shops.

Buying from one of the wine shops instead of your local store would save a cool $600, less the cost to ship it to you.

Then, you may ask, why isn't this being done more than it is?

There are a number of answers, many of which are extremely complex and include this: It is being done a lot and savvy buyers are the beneficiaries. But some of the shipping across state lines is being done illegally, since various states have yet to define what retailers can and cannot do.

Then there are wine collectors who have declined to save money since they are never sure what shape the wines they order will be in when they get them.


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