As you head to your local wine seller to stock up on holiday wines, here are 10 tips for smart wine shopping.
1) Find a shop that offers a mixed case discount. Most wine shops, especially when independently owned, will offer a 10 percent discount for a mixed case of wine (12 bottles). There's a good reason for this: The more wine the retailers move off the floor of their shops, the more storage space they save and create for new products. Be sure to ask that the case discount be applied and politely check to make sure that the sales person has entered the discount at the register. And don't forget to add that special bottle of Champagne to the mix: The discount should be applied across the board so this is the ideal time for the splurge (see tip number 4 below).
2) Ask your sales person if there are any specials, discounts, or offers available on the floor of the shop. Keep in mind: Retailers don't discount wines because the wines are defective; they discount them because they need to move them off the floor of the shop and in some cases, they discount them because the wine's distributor has offered them an incentive. A healthy dialogue with your sales persons can lead to great deals.
3) When possible, buy "solid" cases (12 bottles) of a favorite wine. Throwing a holiday party? Need bubbles? Ask your sales person if they will give you a deeper discount for a solid case (and if she/he doesn't know the answer, ask her/him politely to ask a manager). Retailers like to sell solid cases because it means they don't have to unpack and display the wine. It saves everyone time and money and everybody wins. At our house, we often buy our "Monday-Thursday" wines in solid cases, in part because it also saves on storage space at home, since the wine is so neatly packed.
4) Create a wine budget based on your weekly, yearly, and holiday needs. During the last three months of the year (the so-called "OND," i.e., "October-November-December" season), the wine business cranks up for the bulk of its yearly sales. Retailers offer their deepest discounts and most appealing incentives during OND. This is the best time of year to shop for wines that you plan to drink throughout the course of next year, and it's the ideal time to pick up what I call our "Saturday night" and "special occasion" wines, in other words, that bottle of Burgundy or Brunello di Montalcino that we'll reserve for a weekend dinner with close friends or family.
5) Forge a relationship with your wine seller. Keep in mind: Although there will always be some dishonest folks out there, most retailers -- especially your independent wine shop -- are just people like you and me, trying to make a living. They're not out there to screw you over. In fact, most people join the ranks of the wine business because they love wine and the socialization that comes along with it. Your sales person is your gate-keeper, and she/he will look out for good deals for you, especially as she/he gets to know your palate and your drinking needs.
6) Be an informed shopper. When looking for good deals on higher-end wines, use sites like WineSearcher.com to compare pricing. At nearly $40, the yearly subscription isn't cheap, but the free service also allows users to locate wines and view pricing.
7) Read wine blogs. (Of course,if you're reading this, you probably already do read wine blogs.) If you've been following along here at Wine Time, you already know some of the wine blogs we consult before we head out to buy wine here in Houston: Blue State Carpetbagger's Red State Wine Blog (great tasting notes and value shopping); Wine Thoughts (coverage of a wide spectrum of price points and solid wine education); Vintage Texas (leading resource for info on Texas wine); and there are many others.
8) Store your wine correctly. When you buy wine, part of what you pay for is proper storage of the wine (and temperature- and humidity-controlled storage is one of the elements that goes into wine pricing). Be sure to store your wine in a cool place that is not exposed to direct sunlight. And, people, please, please, please: Do not leave your wine in the car: Even during cooler winter months in Texas, the sun can heat the interior of your car and damage your wine; and a freeze will also damage the wine. On the way home from the shop, try to keep the wine in the car with you and not the trunk.
9) Let your wine rest before you drink it. Especially when it comes to fine wine, bottles need to rest to achieve their best expression. Buying a special bottle of Barolo to drink with the love of your life on Christmas Eve? A special bottle like that will show much better if it's had a week to rest in its new home.
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10) Drink good wine. There's no point in spending money on wine if you're not going to enjoy it. There's no wine that pairs well with buyer's remorse.
Next week, I'll post my top picks for Thanksgiving. Stay tuned!