Like the venues themselves, local wine stores' websites come in all sizes and formats, even if the shape remains pretty much the same.
Some of the better stores where the business is built around low prices and a loyal customer base have no website (Hennepin Lake, Thomas Liquors and Solo Vino). Others are pretty bare-bones, providing no hint of just how stout their stores are: Aurora (www.aurorawines.com) and Zipp's (www.zippsliquors.com).
Some sites do one thing well, which happens to coincide with every retailer's basic mission: sell wine. Among the places where customers can point and click to their wallet's content: 1st Grand Ave. Liquors (www. 1stgrandaveliquors.com), BrightWines (www.brightwines.com) and Sam's (www.samswineshop.com). Sutler's (www.sutlers.com) does likewise and also has some other useful info at its site.
Now, for a case of 1982 Latour, which local store has the quickest, easiest-to-use ordering system? Why, it's Chicago Lake (www.chicago lakeliquors.com), which also boasts a great glossary and suggestions on hundreds of suggested food pairings; might want to take Fhima's and Goodfellow's off your list of recommended hangouts, though, guys.
Interestingly, a trio of stores owned and operated by couples have done a splendid job of making their websites spot-on electronic embodiments of their stores. Prospective customers can get a strong notion of whether they should check out these stores by perusing the websites.
The Little Wine Shoppe's site (www.thelittlewineshoppe.com) is lean, clean, vibrant and easy to maneuver around, reflecting the welcoming ambience of Jeffrey and Chris Huff's cozy jewel. The Wine Thief's version (www.winethief.net) bears the imprimatur of co-owners Paul and Trina Wentzel: hip, literate, playful and passionate about wine and food (with some swell recipes). The web page for the Wine Markets (www.thewinemarket.us) is romantic and refined without feeling stuffy, just like proprietors Bob and Kristen Kowalski.
Also reflecting its in-store approach is Buon Giorno (www.buongiornoitalia.biz), where there's just a link to a price list.
Meanwhile, two local chains with splendid overall selections and wide-ranging sites, WineStreet Spirits (www.winestreetspirits.com) and Haskell's (www.haskells.com), are making them even better. Look for the enhancements to arrive soon.
But the big news on this front is today's launch of the Wine Company's www.artisanvineyards.com page, where consumers can choose from the local distributor's 2,000 or so selections and have the wines delivered.
CEO Larry Colbeck has ensured that it's a win-win scenario: Each customer selects a local wine store, which gets its cut of the revenue, but since virtually no retailer carries more than about 10 percent of TWC's inventory, the selection is unprecedented. There's a ton of other info at the site, plus a blog and Q&A option with a colorful character named Marcus Mansavage.
Read Ward on Wine at www.startribune.com/blogs/wine.