On tap online

Are you a wine collector who fancies a rare drop? Eager to stock up on that favourite red but can’t find it in your local bottle shop? Or do you want to know which beverage to serve at your next dinner party, or how to make a Hazy Shade of Winter cocktail? Perhaps you’re just after a hangover cure?

With Australian households spending an average of over $20 each week on alcohol-related goods (according to the Australian Bureau of Statistic’s 1998/1999 Household Expenditure survey), alcohol is a major factor in our social life and culture. It’s no surprise there’s a proliferation of online sites dedicated to helping you source the right drop.

Buying alcohol online
Wine is the predominant alcoholic beverage available online. Connoisseurs will be happy to hear the major online alcohol stockists offer a selection of red, white and sparkling varieties, while wine-specific sellers feature new, old and rare brands from Australia and abroad.

Buying beer isn’t as easy, but you can still find a reasonable selection of local and internationally brewed brands from the ‘all-purpose’ e-tailers. We recommend that if you’re going to stock up for your Christmas BBQ, get in early. Most sites promise to deliver within five to 10 working days, but advise that special and regional orders could take longer.

Generally, most alcohol e-tailers feature basic information on each product, as well as online shopping trolley and search functions.

And it’s all about membership. Almost all online e-tailers offer a rewards scheme or club (many of which are free to join), promising member discounts and newsletters. If you do buy your wine in bulk, this could be a way of saving dollars at the checkout.

Alcohol e-tailers

Liquorland Direct
Clear information icons across the top of Liquorland Direct’s homepage make this site easy to use even if you’re not confident about shopping online.

Primarily targeted at wine drinkers, the site has a limited selection of spirits available, but does feature a range of around 20 beers, including imported brands. Consumers must buy products either by the dozen or case. The site offers a free Flying Wine Club, linked to the Coles Myer Fly Buys promotion scheme. Club members earn Fly Buys points for signing up, as well as for buying online, which can then be added to points already earned in Coles Myer stores. The club also offers its own super savers, value and premium selections, which is a good way to get a variety of wines without having to buy a dozen of each. There’s also a range of ‘mystery dozens’ for wannabe wine buffs. Liquorland Direct delivers nationally, with charges starting at $7.95 per case for Sydney and Melbourne metro areas. Regional consumers and residents of WA or NT can expect to pay a flat $9.95 fee, and Tasmanian residents $12.95. Deliveries are available Monday to Friday.

Vintage Cellars
Despite its overwhelming selection of wine, beer, spirits, gifts and gadgets, the Vintage Cellar site is quite straightforward to navigate. In particular, the product search facility is spot on for finding specific items by either name or price range (per bottle or dozen).

Product availability is listed alongside each item, as well as delivery options. Prices are dependant on the type of delivery (standard or express), as well as the number of cartons (as a guide, 15 bottles of wine will fit into one carton). If you buy two or more cases of wine or spirits and live in Sydney or Melbourne metro areas, you are eligible for free home delivery.

You can buy products individually or by the dozen, and track your order via the site’s online tracking service. Like most online stockists, Vintage Cellars offers a 10 per cent discount for purchases of 12 or more bottles of wine, and has a members rewards scheme and wine club, which offer members discounts and specials offers. Those who take an interest in alcohol awards, national events or industry gossip can check out the site’s Cellar news section.

Liquorlink Australia
This site has links to 11 city and regional online liquor stockists in NSW and Victoria.

The best feature of each of these sites is the stacks of alcohol information, including a ‘fun stuff’ section with whisky notes, colloquial alcoholic expressions and hangover cures. For more adventurous drinkers, a well-stocked cocktail glossary and drinking games section is also accessible on every site.

Another selling point is the selection of free food recipes, divided into various cuisines. All information sections are listed in a bar menu running across the top of each site.

Delivery charges depend on individual stockists, but you can generally expect to pay anything between $6 and $8 a case for metro and city deliveries from a stockist in your state, to around $12-$15 for regional or country areas nationwide. If you live close to the physical retailer, you may get delivery free.

This site is devoted to finding you the best price on the wine of your choice, and has a list of 14 suppliers spread across the country to help you in this mission.

To find the wine of your choice, you can search by name, type of wine, region or year it was made, and the price. WineRobot then checks its online suppliers, and provides you with a list of possible matches to your requirements.

Once you’ve picked an item to buy, you will be redirected to the online stockist’s site to finalise your purchase. Unfortunately, once you get there, you may have to search for the specific product all over again, as some links will direct you only as far as a stockist’s homepage. When we checked for a variety of products, however, which we had requested on the WineRobot site, we found that they were available from the e-tailer. Delivery charges vary, depending on the stockist supplying your order, but you can find out an approximate price by entering your postcode into the delivery fee calculator on the homepage.

It’s in the mix

Now you can put that bar to good use over the coming Christmas season! Check out these sites for cocktail recipes:

The Webtender
www.webtender.com: Has a great tool that recommends recipes based on what’s in your bar.

www.epicurious.com: This reliable site has recipes for 1300 drinks as well as a wine guide and other useful info.

www.cocktail.com: Fun vibe at this site with the perfect URL.

www.cocktail.uk.com: Find recipes for cocktails, shooters and non-alcoholic drinks — rated by other visitors — at this site.

Special interest sites

Not ready to buy a case online? Looking for something really special? These sites may point you in the right direction.

You can buy wine here from Vintage Cellars, but Winepros is more about news and information from the world of wine. You’ll find reviews from noted winemaker Len Evans and wine critic James Halliday, as well as the opportunity to sign up for newsletters and read articles. Winepros is currently assessing its business. At the time of writing, a planned shareholders meeting at the end of October was set to determine its future. Hopefully the site will be still standing — it features a great depth of content (there were over 23,000 searchable reviews when we visited) and is well designed.

The Champagne Information Centre
This site isn’t as glamorous as you’d expect of an education outfit for one of the world’s most covetable wines. Get past the front page and you’ll find some useful tips, particularly on how to serve and enjoy French champagne — and given the investment some vintage champagnes demand, this is helpful stuff. There’s also some information on the region in France.

This emerald elixir was banned for many years after it achieved notoriety in bohemian Paris. Now absinthe is back and eAbsinthe has details. The Absinthe Buyers Guide (www.absinthebuyersguide.com) has more advice on the green fairy. Like all alcohol purchases from overseas sites, it’s best to check any restrictions and taxes with Customs first.

Robert E. Parker Jr is famous (or infamous, depending on your standpoint) in the global wine world. His scoring method (giving wines points out of 100) has been criticised, but the newsletter that catalogues the reviews has found willing subscribers who appreciate Parker’s pro-consumer stance. His critics, on the other hand, say his reviews contribute to the homogenisation of wine production as winemakers try to create wines that will score well — and thus sell well on the lucrative US wine market. Parker’s site is mostly limited to subscribers, but there is a free trial area. For more, read “The Million Dollar Nose” at the Atlantic Monthly (www.theatlantic.com/issues/2000/12/langewiesche.htm).

The Wine Anorak
It’s hard to beat the enthusiasm of self-confessed wine anorak Jamie Goode. Novices will find advice on treading the road to “wine geekdom” and there’s a good section on controversial topics (cork taint, for example). Jamie’s blog is also worth a read. And, if you’re wondering, the anorak term comes from the world of trainspotting and is used to denote an obsessive hobbyist.

The Beer Hunter
Michael Jackson (not that one!) is well-known as a connoisseur of beer and writer of guides to beer. Jackson updates the site with stories and new articles — often concentrated on why wine snobs look down on beer. The tasting notes of beers from around the world is a highlight, as is the beer culture section with its articles on food pairing, beer styles and the history of brewing.

Australian Craft Brewers
Fancy brewing your own beer? This site has loads of information on the subject plus general links and material on beer. Australian Craft Brewers aims to help like-minded brewers share information and take an experimental approach.

Whisky Links
This site lists links to Whisky sites around the Web, including distillers, magazines, associations, and Irish and American whiskey sites. You can also try the Whisky Portal (www.whiskyportal.com) for listings of producers from around the world.

Ministry of Rum
This site proclaims that it’s “dedicated to the understanding and appreciation of this noble spirit, rum”. If your only introduction to this spirit is a rum and coke, you could be in for a surprise reading about rare and aged rums.

Help for the day after

There’s a price to pay for tasting all those cocktail recipes and wine and beer imbibing: the dreaded hangover. Now you can turn to the Net for some help with those headaches! Just be warned that, as with all health advice online, some of these cures can be worse than the ailment. Plus, visitor discretion is advised: some of the creators behind these sites play hard.

www.hungover.net: The sickly green background at this site may have you feeling worse, but make it past the front page and you’ll find visitor-suggested cures, vitamin advice and the Painometer, which rates drinks on hangover potential.

www.soyouwanna.com: This site specialises in guides to different topics and features one for curing hangovers. The tips encompass what to do before a big night, while drinking and the morning after. There’s also information on what alcohol does to your body.

All About Hangovers
www.all-about-hangovers.com: No flashing text and whirling icons are present at this site for hangover help, which debunks old wives’ tales and lists some recipes for popular remedies.

Southern New Mexico Online
http://southernnewmexico.com/snm/hangover.html: The cure could be worse… Menudo, a Mexican soup made with tripe, calf’s or pig’s feet, green chillies, and seasonings served for breakfast, is said to ease the morning after.

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