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Wine availability: How to find what you’re looking for when it’s not on the shelf

Wine availability: How to find what you're looking for when it's not on the shelf

So much wine, but so much that never seems to be available.

Wine availability is the bane of any wine writer’s existence. Even the Wine Curmudgeon, who only writes about wine that I see on a store shelf or am assured is on a shelf on pain of my considerable wrath, gets emails all the time asking why something I wrote about isn’t available.
There are a variety of reasons for this, most of which are discussed in the link above. The point of this post is to help you find wine when your local retailer doesn’t have it.

The caveat in all of this is that wine availability varies from store to store, city to city and state to state. As Michigan State’s Phil Howard noted in his landmark study of the wine business, there are no national brands, and availability is one confused mess.

So these pointers should work – but it doesn’t mean they always will:

• Ask the retailer to check his or her distributor books. More wines exist than any retailer can possibly carry, so just because they aren’t in the store doesn’t mean they aren’t available. A distributor book lists every single wine – often thousands for the biggest distributors – that can be sold at retail in that market, and many markets have at least a half a dozen distributors. If the wine is in one of the books, a good retailer will get it for you.

• Check with the winery. Obviously, if you can buy it from them, so much the better. But if you can’t (thank you, three-tier system), send an email, and there’s a decent chance you’ll get a reply. The best solution: Some producers have database apps on their site, like this one from Terlato, that let you search for their wines in your area.

• The importer should know. If the wine is not made in the U.S., there’s a line on the back label that says “Imported by such and such.” Look for the importer’s web site; sometimes, they’ll have a database app. More likely, you’ll have to send an email.

• Look for on-line retailers like Wine.com. This comes with the proviso that on-line wine sales are notoriously annoying, what with shipping charges and state laws designed to restrict on-line sales.

• Use Wine-Searcher.com. Plug in a wine, and this site will tell you who carries it (as long as the retailer has paid to be listed in the results). Despite its limitations, which include results that aren’t consistent from search to search and outdated retailer availability, it can be quite helpful. And the free version is usually sufficient. One visitor to the blog used Wine-Searcher to find a wine I had reviewed that wasn’t available in her market, but was at another retailer in her state who shipped it to her.

• Send me an email. Believe me, I don’t mind forwarding it to the producer or importer.

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