Before you can buy any wines, you need to find the best place to buy the wines from. As wines have grown in popularity, so have the number of stores selling ever greater varieties of wines. Whereas people were once content with cheap blended wines, now even relatively unsophisticated palates demand some specific varietals and wineries. Where you buy your wine will therefore depend in part on what sort of wine you happen to be shopping for. Take advantage of the options available to you.
Specialty Wine Stores
Some of the best wines and best selections will probably be found in specialty wine shops. A local store owned by a local wine enthusiast is more likely to stock unusual wines, small wine runs, and better vintages than a nation-wide chain that sells wine according to a master buying list. The big stores buy in large quantities for the sake of big discounts and focus on products that will sell to the most people. Smaller, specialty shops focus on wines that the wine expert can recommend and sell based on those recommendations.
In addition to a good selection of wine, specialty wine shops are also likely to sell a variety of utensils like decent corkscrews and perhaps even snack foods that go especially well with wines. The experts on staff should also be able to help you find the right wine for any occasion, any meal, and in your price range as well.
Wine at Supermarkets and Big Box Retailers
Some people actually object to the presence of wine in supermarkets and other consumer outlets because this removes so much of the mystique surrounding wine. When wine is purchased alongside breakfast milk, breakfast cereal, and diapers, it really doesn't seem very special anymore, does it? Objections to the wider availability are best described as wine snobbery on the part of people who don't want to let others into an elite "club" of wine enjoyment.
For the average person, the elimination of a false mystique around wine is a great boon because it also eliminates the various social and contextual cues which help produce the anxiety people feel when buying wine. There's no point in feeling insecure when buying wine in a supermarket, though at the same time you probably aren't faced with a lot of options, either. You'll likely be faced with only those labels and types which sell in large amounts, which is good because there probably isn't anyone there to help you if you have questions.
In some cases, you'll be able to buy good value wines — wines that aren't great or complex, but that are decent enough and which can be purchased for a good price. In many other cases, though, you'll find wines that are relatively nondescript — wines that don't merely lack complexity, but which in fact lack anything beyond superficial flavors that start weak and finish fast. They will be little more than an alcoholic beverage rather than something to enjoy on its own terms.
Specialty Wine Supermarkets
Some areas are served by stores that are a combination specialty wine store and big-box retailer or supermarket. They specialize in wine and spirits, but they do so in a large, impersonal retail location. These wine emporiums have the advantage of a relatively large selection like wine shops and relatively low prices like supermarkets. This doesn’t mean they are the best of both worlds, though.
Big wine emporiums tend to focus on casual wines that aren't as good as those which might be found in smaller wine shops, so they probably aren't the best place to go if you need a very good wine for a special occasion. They may not have a cold room where better wines are stored and they probably don't have experts on hand who can help you make a good purchase. They are about big volumes and tight margins. However, if you know what you want and they happen to carry it, the price is probably worth the trip.
Wine Clubs & Wine By Mail
There are more and more ways of buying wine without ever having to leave your home. There are internet sites where wineries sell their own wine across the country and wine clubs which automatically deliver a variety of wines from different wineries. Internet orders direct from the winery can be a great deal and wine clubs can be very expensive, but both are useful ways of discovering wines that you can't otherwise obtain in local wine shops. They are also a good way to browse through wines without anyone noticing just how nervous and insecure you are.
One significant disadvantage of having wine delivered to your home is the fact that wine probably isn't being shipped and stored under optimal conditions: temperature, humidity, orientation, and vibration will all be playing havoc with your wine. You can minimize these risks by having wine shipped quickly and not ordering it during the middle or winter or summer. You won't eliminate all problems, but your wine will be safer.