Even as we start to ease out of lockdown, there are a few habits we’ve picked up in 2020 that we’re keen to continue with – and getting just about everything delivered to our door is definitely one of them. Online wine shops have really come into their own this year, with more of us wanting to stock up the home bar while our favourite drinking dens were closed – and online wine retailers have seen a dramatic increase in sales as a result. Winebuyers reported its sales increased by 817 per cent over the period of March, April and May, against an industry average of 400 per cent.
As much as we love geeking out about the latest releases in person, the online experience can often be (dare we say it) even better. Not only can you confidently set your budget and filter your preferences, without having to justify any of it to another human being (except perhaps, the postman) there are often loads of added extras for you to devour too.
From online tastings to special discounts, in-depth learning portals and hassle-free memberships, these online wine shops offer so much more than a simple transaction.
Alongside the main players you’ll perhaps already recognise, we’ve also tried to shine a light on the smaller independent stores also providing a fantastic service. You’ll often get a more personal experience, with many being able to source specific wines for you or advise if you’re feeling a bit lost – while still offering fast nationwide delivery.
We found the selection from these renegade independents tended to be a touch more risqué, as they don’t feel the need to play it quite so safe with the tried and tested commercial styles favoured by some of the big guys.
Many we spoke to reported a renewed public interest in organic, biodynamic and natural wines this year, so if that’s important to you, we’ve highlighted where to find the most focused selections.
If you’re quietly confident in differentiating your pet nat from your en primeur, you should find yourself gagging at the bit to delve into the fabulous wine lists we’ve uncovered. Just here for the value bulk-buying? Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered too with multi-buys and discounts galore if you know where to look (which you will by the end of this article). And at the other end of the spectrum, if you’re looking for something extra special, we’ve discovered the best places to find rare bottles and irresistible vintages.
When putting our wine shops through their paces we had a strict judging criteria, looking for breadth and quality of the range offered, user-friendly navigation, rich content including useful tasting notes, ease of ordering and delivery, special events and tastings and of course, value for money. We believe this selection has all of that in spades.
You can trust our independent reviews. We may earn commission from some of the retailers, but we never allow this to influence selections, which are formed from real-world testing and expert advice. This revenue helps to fund journalism across The Independent.
The team at Honest Grapes are particularly good at bringing the story behind the bottle to life. With super helpful food and wine pairings and a friendly line-up of “wine gurus” ready and waiting to give personalised advice, you’ll be able to find the perfect bottle whether you’re just looking for something to go with tonight’s dinner or are a high-end collector. If you still don’t know where to start we’d head to the Sommelier Selection – a list of 120 great wines, more like a carefully considered list from your favourite restaurant.
If you like to get more involved, their interactive wine club brings members into the decision making process of which wines make it onto the focused list and you’ll find hundreds of fun wine tastings on offer each year, including “wine therapy” – a tongue in cheek Zoom meet up for members. Prices start from around £11 and upwards, with free nationwide delivery over £75.
The Wine Society
Business is booming at The Wine Society, with active membership up by 10,000 since the beginning of the year. Dating back to 1874, The Wine Society is a co-operative, meaning the business doesn’t need to worry about pleasing external stakeholders. In practice this ensures some of the lowest margins in the business – so you get a great deal on every bottle, without the need for additional discounting.
So how do you get access to these fabulous prices we hear you cry? A lifetime membership costs just £40 (and you’ll receive £20 back to spend straight away). Quite the no-brainer, we’re sure you’ll agree. The range starts at £6 right through to pricier fine wines and limited vintages to help you celebrate special occasions.
If you need a little help, the wine selector will narrow down the 1,500 strong collection in a few quick questions. The events calendar is packed with mini virtual masterclasses and winemaker events and they offer various subscription models. Delivery is free when you buy 12 bottles or spend more than £75.
This independent local wine shop, based in Walthamstow, East London has a beautifully tactile online offer that manages to convey all the community spirit found in the IRL experience. Specialising in organic, biodynamic and natural low intervention wine alongside local craft beers and a small selection of spirits, Forest Wines is run by a dedicated husband and wife team who are passionate about connecting you with the perfect bottle for every occasion.
Reporting huge growth in orange wines this summer, their beautifully curated edits currently include “local wines” where they’ve rounded up the best English drops and “best under £15” where you’ll find excellent value.
To further sweeten the deal it has recently launched a loyalty rewards scheme, whereby customers can collect points for every purchase and redeem them against future orders (as if we needed another excuse). Taking the pain out of choosing wine, it also offers an expertly curated mixed case selection delivered to your door once a month via their subscription service. Shipping nationwide, delivery is free over £70.
We might not be able to travel as freely as we once did, but, Wanderlust aims to itch that scratch with its thoughtfully curated selection from both new and old wine regions. A haven for small producers, if sustainability is your thing you’ve come to the right place – all of Wanderlust’s wines are organically farmed, organic or biodynamically certified.
We also thoroughly enjoy the blog posts which cover interesting topics, such as food pairings and complete guides to lesser-known grapes.
Alternatively, we’d recommend leaving it in Wanderlust’s capable hands and signing up to its wine club where you’ll receive a selection of exciting wines on the regular. Next day delivery is free with orders over £100 when placed before 11am and enjoy money off when you refer a friend.
Berry Bros & Rudd
Steeped in history, with two royal warrants under its belt, Berry Bros. & Rudd is Britain’s oldest wine and spirit merchant, having traded from the same shop since 1698. Despite this impressive heritage, great value options abound and its own-brand selection (where it works closely with esteemed winemakers to create its own exclusive bottles) a particularly good place to start.
Their “ordinary claret” being a prime example, priced at just £11.95 a bottle. The website is regularly updated and a joy to shop, including insider tips on new releases, mixed cases for when you’d rather not make tough decisions and an exhaustive fine wine area for those wishing to spend a little more.
The online events are a classy affair – they’ll deliver wines, glasses, a corkscrew (and even cheese if you wish!) to every guest taking part in their intimate virtual events. UK-wide delivery is available and collection is free for customers who can visit the company’s 320-year-old premises on St James’s Street or its warehouse shop in Basingstoke.
With all five wine bars temporarily closed for business, Humble Grape took its vast selection of organic and sustainable wines and popped them online for your viewing pleasure. If you’ve ever dined at Humble Grapes in person, you’ll know the staff love to regale you with stories about the producers while pouring each glass (it’s rare we’d leave without learning something new).
It’s a quality they’ve translated to the online experience with live winemaker chats every Tuesday. They’ve put together cases that represent two wines from each of the next three producers taking part, so you can get involved.
Not only that but if you’ve found yourself with a little extra time on your hands, you can even earn your WSET levels 1 & 2 from home, getting the wine for each class delivered to your door. Download their app to join the loyalty programme & gain bespoke rewards.
Winebuyers’s mission is to connect the customer to vineyards, distilleries, and specialist merchants that we might not have otherwise discovered. By championing the little guy, this enables producers and independents to reach a wider audience and with over 85,000 different wines and spirits online from 40 different countries, there’s plenty to choose from.
The wine club is free to join, with customers paying the same price as you would by going direct to the vineyard. So prices are as low as £5 for a Spanish red or £10 for a Provence rose. Members also receive special offers from wine experts, including savvy information about new grape trends that often cost less than the usual suspects.
As the name suggests, this modern digital bottle shop specialises in wines that have had minimum intervention, including organic, biodynamic and natural styles. The original Low premise, alongside selling wine, was to host events with leading chefs, sommeliers and musicians around the world (the first of which were held in the Balearic Islands and the South of France).
Obviously this summer’s events (planned in Australia, Indonesia and Holland) had to be cancelled, but it’s hopeful these will resume in 2021. It stocks a super exciting selection from independent makers all over the world, with the price of a bottle starting at £12 (up to £450!). Low Intervention also offers a monthly curation of selected natural wines starting at £50 for 2-3 bottles delivered to your door.
Thankfully the team at Gnarly Vines had just set up its online shop, weeks before lockdown hit. Since then it has seen orders come in from all across the country, with the small team able to deliver anywhere on the UK mainland in two working days which is free for all orders over £50.
In terms of what it sells, it’s definitely at the more natural end of the spectrum with the vast majority of the wines made by smaller producers who work organically or biodynamically in the vineyard and bottle their wines unfiltered, (making them suitable for vegans) with little or no added sulphur. Within this, it has developed a particular speciality with orange or skin contact wines and also pet-nats which have proved really popular on the site since it launched. Helpful categories include “wines under £15” and “gnarly top picks”.
Despite the fact all 200 Majestic stores are now back up and running, it’s online where you’ll get the clearest overview of the best deals to be had, alongside special features and a subscription model. It couldn’t be easier to search for wines by price, region or offers, or alternatively put your trust in the thousands of submitted reviews and buy by most popular. One of our favourite sections is the “wine fitting” test which will determine your wine profile and enable you to navigate your suggested wines using a simple colour-coded system. It was so clever it picked out our wedding wine!
The range has expanded even further over the last couple of months, with 200+ new wines hitting the shelves and plenty more to come this year. Majestic has also recently rolled out Deliveroo to more than 100 sites nationwide for in-app purchasing. Delivery is free when you buy any six bottles or more.
The Finest Bubble
For your fizziest needs, there really is nowhere else to look. Originally founded to provide a same-day champagne delivery service in London, The Finest Bubble now stocks more than 500 sparkly little numbers, with non-vintages starting at £29 a bottle. If you live in London, they’ll deliver your emergency bubbles by bike within two hours and for those living outside of the city, you’ll only have to wait until the next day.
Covering grower champagnes, blanc de blanc and limited edition cases, you’ll find all the big names alongside some hidden gems which might just become your new go-to. It has even snuck in a section dedicated solely to the best home-grown UK fizz. Keep your eyes peeled for regular (presently virtual) tastings where topics have included the lowdown on zero dosage and often feature special guests.
Working with growers from all over Europe, who strictly adhere to organic and biodynamic principles – the bottles you’ll find stocked at Modal Wines are all made with a “less is more” philosophy. The collection may still be small compared to some of the big guys we’ve listed but you’ll find it spans a wide variety of regions, styles and price points – from the accessible and familiar to the more “out there” and unusual.
We love the idea of grabbing a couple of good value easy-drinking styles and throwing in a curveball. This smaller scale means you’ll receive a truly personalised service, with the owner Nicholas able to source specific wines for you or even create a bespoke selection based on your budget and preferences.
We’re big fans of his mixed cases and descriptive categories such as “easy peasy” where you’ll find the mid-week easy drinkers or “keeping it cool” with styles perfect for the summer months. Delivery is £10, or free on orders over £175 with a minimum order of £75.
Perhaps most well known for their environmentally friendly, refillable wine on tap, this independent wine merchant has successfully translated the in-store experience to online. There’s an extensive collection of mixed cases geared up for everyday situations – the perfect picnic trio anyone?
And we love the fun and affordable micro cases designed for tasting sessions containing six minis – a brilliant way of trying a selection before committing to a case. Of all the virtual wine tastings we’ve taken part in (and trust us, there has been a few!) Borough Wines was by far the most fun.
Teaming up with restaurants and sommeliers, the blind tastings bring together a maximum of 15 households for an informative but ultimately entertaining evening. The well-priced selection contains organic, biodynamic and natural wines as well as a small selection of beer and spirits. Delivery is available nationwide.
Based in Banbury, this online wine retailer is another good place to pick up a great deal with regular “offers of the month”. Featuring an ever-evolving wine list with new and exciting wines alongside old favourites, prices start out at as little as £6 through to the more aspirational £300, across 800 lines. Offering next day UK delivery, seven days a week, there’s no minimum order value but if you spend over £100, weekday delivery is free (although single bottle delivery costs a very reasonable £3.95 if you don’t feel like stocking up or want to send as a gift).
Mixed cases offer great choice from around the world and have proved very popular for them during lockdown. Looking for something a bit special? Slurp stock a range of wines exclusive to them in the UK – make sure they’re perfect for your dinner plans with their easy to use food pairing filter.
You’ll find all the big name brands under the Virgin roof, with deals to be had on cases and another helpful wine selector tool to make sense of the sometimes overwhelming selection. With thousands of reviews submitted for each bottle, along with succinct tasting notes and a sliding barometer from sweet to dry, the whole experience is very customer friendly.
Whether you choose to sign up to the wine club or not, everyone has access to a free wine advisor – similar to a personal shopper but for all your vino needs – and the wine hub is packed with guides telling you everything else you could possibly want to know.
The verdict: Online wine shops
If you don’t mind the (admittedly very small) initial outlay, The Wine Society is a fantastic all-rounder taking the stress out of selecting wine from their vast collection with a simple three-step selector.
For a somewhat smaller but no less impressive range of wines (particularly for those interested in natural low intervention styles) we were smitten with the Forest Wines offer, particularly the exciting yet affordable mixed cases. However, we’ve awarded our overall Best Buy to Honest Grapes where you’re able to get super specific with various filters for the ultimate control.
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