Eric Asimov and the New York Wine Dilemma
Eric Asimov regularly reminds us why his 2004 ascension to “Chief Wine Critic” at the New York Times was a good idea. The reminder almost always comes in the form of the enthusiasm that is exhibited in his writing on wine. But just as important, Asimov possesses an almost intuitive sense for what is the right question to ask.
This important aspect of Asimov’s approach to wine reporting was on display today when the headline over his weekly column read: “Why Can’t You Find That Wine?“
His answer to the question is the right one:
“First, wine distribution in the United States is regulated by an irrational patchwork of laws, and second, small producers often create wines that are more intriguing and distinctive but less available.”
His response to this dilemma of not being able to find the wines you want was to suggest that the wine lover be willing to try a replacement suggested by a talented wine clerk at a retail establishment or a sommelier in a restaurant. This is a good idea.
His second suggestion was to use services like wine-searcher.com or snooth.com or cellartracker.com to search the various online retail outlets to find the wine you want. Another good idea. However, there is something to be said here:
If you live in New York and if you find that wine you want from a retailer on the Internet and if you have it shipped to your from outside New York…That’s illegal. New York law makes it illegal to have wine shipped into the state from out-of-state retailers.
Now if you are buying wine from an out-of-state winery and having shipped into NY, that is legal. But if you want an imported wine (French, German, Spanish, Italian, New Zealand, etc.) shipped to you in New York from out-of-state that is illegal because only retailers sell and ship imported wines.
In fact, to make it simple, only in the following states is it legal to have a French wine shipped to you from out-of-state retailers: AK, OR, CA, NM, NV, NE, WY, ND, LA, VA, WV, DC, NH, MO. Everywhere else: Illegal.
Why is this the case? Why will Mr. Asimov’s New York readers be involved in law breaking if they use his suggestion, find the wine they want on Wine-Searcher.com, then order it from out-of-state? It’s a complicated question with a complicate answer. So, let’s break it down in a very simple way:
1. Lazy Judges
2. NY liquor wholesalers made powerful through campaign contributions
3. NY Politicians corrupted by campaign contributions from powerful liquor wholesalers
4. NY retailers who, while willingly shipping outside their state, want competitive protection and are unwilling to go to bat for their local customers who might want to buy from out-of-state sources
However, if you are a wine lover in NY or just about any of the states not listed above, despair not: You can probably easily find an out-of-state wine retailer with the wine you want who will ship it to you, despite the law prohibiting that. The simple reality is that there is very little enforcement of the laws that prohibit the direct shipment of wine into states where that practice is prohibited.
Despite the recent call by the New York State Liquor Authority (NYSLA) for New Jersey’s great wine shop, Wine Library, to stop shipping into New York, the NYSLA really has no interest in enforcing the state’s ban on out-of-state retailers shipping into NY.
All that said, if you are interested in helping bring an end to the various anti-consumer shipping law across the country, I recommend joining The American Wine Consumer Coalition.