You dined at a friend's house, and she served a terrific Zinfandel that you just loved. You'd like to get a few bottles. The problem is that your friend bought the wine several months ago and can't remember where she found it. How do you track it down?
Finding any wine on the market
First, get all the information you can off the label. Write down the producer's name and/or brand name, such as "Robert Mondavi Coastal" or "Miguel Torres." Look for the grape varietal ("Cabernet Sauvignon") and the region or state and country of production ("Clare Valley, South Australia"). Note the vintage year and any other information such as a vineyard name ("Sangiacomo Vineyard") or description such as "reserve."
Also -- and this is important -- look for a back label or strip that tells the distributor or importer name, and note any contact information. This is a critical piece of information, particularly for imported wines.
Armed with the data, you're ready to make inquiries. If you are a regular customer at a good local wine shop, that's probably your best bet. Even if the wine shop doesn't carry the wine, they may be able to order it for you, although you'll usually have to buy a minimum number of bottles, from six up to a case of 12. Alternatively, you can contact the winery or distributor directly. They should be able to tell you if the wine is available at retail in your area, and where to find it specifically.
The Internet is another resource for tracking down wines. By typing the producer's name into a search engine, you may find the producer's web site, which might offer a phone number or leads on where to find the wine locally. Or, you may find an online retailer that carries that producer's wine. There are also search engines that locate specific wines, such as the London- based wine-searcher.com. Keep in mind when buying online that many states forbid interstate shipping.
Don't be discouraged if the specific vintage of the wine you want is sold out. Like death and taxes, it's inevitable that another vintage will come along. Odds are that the next vintage will be just as good, if not better than the one you liked initially. Talk with the winery or distributor to learn when the next vintage will be released. If you do wait for the next vintage, always taste it before you commit to buying several bottles.