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You may be comfortable buying clothes, electronics, or even groceries online, but what about wine and spirits? These days, more and more collectors are turning to online auction houses, ordering direct from wineries, and reaching out to web-based retail outlets to purchase their favorite vintages and spirits. While Christie’s and Sotheby’s start online bidding at $100, other auction sites, such as WineBid, start at price points as low as $10, opening up significant opportunities for younger, newer collectors to get in the game as well as more experienced collectors who are looking for a bargain. Before you click “purchase” for the first time, however, here are a few tips to help you understand the process and what you’ll be getting:

  1. Make sure you can receive it. 
    Not all states allow alcohol to be delivered to you directly. Some allow intrastate but not interstate shipments, some allow shipments from wineries but not retailers, and others will force you to buy from a brick-and-mortar business to get the wine or spirits you want. Check to see the direct delivery laws for alcohol in your state here

  2. Figure out how you’ll receive it.
    To receive a shipment of wine or spirits, someone who is 21 or older needs to sign for it, and it typically can’t be a neighbor. Luckily, UPS and FedEx will hold your shipment at their office or a retail location, until you’re available to sign for it yourself. If you’re not sure you’ll be around to sign, just let them know ahead of time where you’d like it to be held.

  3. Keep the temperature at 55-60 degrees F and humidity at 60-80%.
    Heat and humidity will quickly spoil wine. So, make sure that your wine is packed and shipped by a professional company that is familiar with this type of valuable cargo and uses trucks with temperature controls. Avoid shipping wine when temperatures are over 80 degrees F. If you need to hold the wine for pickup at UPS or FedEx, ask them to keep it in a climate-controlled location.

  4. Understand how much you’ll pay.
    The price of purchasing wine or spirits online will include a buyer’s premium on top of the actual price of the bottle – typically around 20%. Keep this in mind when you’re bidding on your favorite lot.

  5. Know that you can’t return it.
    When you’re buying wine or spirits online, what you get is what you get. Auction houses will evaluate the bottles for you, based on where and how they were stored and what condition the bottle and label is in, but they can’t guarantee that you’ll like it once you buy it. That’s a chance you’ll have to be willing to take.

    Bottle of wine in a shipping crate

  6. Feel free to ask questions of the auction house.
    If you’re not sure about something, email the auction house with your questions. Every auction house has a specialist on staff who can answer your questions, such as how a specific wine might taste or how to best navigate their site during the auction. Many sites will allow you to use filters to arrange your selections by price, distillery or region. As online auctions may last several days, you may also be able to create a watch list to monitor your bids throughout the sale.

  7. If you’re buying older vintages, ask about the condition.
    Before you purchase an older vintage of wine, ask about its provenance and the condition of the bottle, because not all mature wines are valuable. That said, online auctions are a great way to collect hard-to-find older wines at a fair market price.

  8. Shop around first.
    Don’t assume that the auction house has the best deal in town. Before you buy, do your research and see how much the bottle you want is selling for elsewhere. For example, wine-searcher.com is a good tool for looking at the broad markets as well as specific prices.

  9. Insure it.
    The right valuable articles insurance policy will allow you to protect your new wine and spirits from the moment you click “purchase”. Chubb offers worldwide, all-risk coverage that protects your new bottle(s) against breakage, damage, spoilage due to mechanical failure, and other causes of loss.