Friday, June 12, 2009

Chasing Down Cheap Wine

Economic downturns affect wineries as they do wine drinkers, but quality should never take a downturn. If a portion of your budget is tied to buying and enjoying wines, how do you maintain quality, and perhaps even increase it, without sacrificing your diminishing resources? There are ways to make this happen.

Taste Before You Buy

There are many good wines under $10 that can serve for everyday drinking, but your guide is not price as much as quality. There are also many great wines under $20 to satisfy your palate. How do you find this out? Wine tasting is the best way, obviously, but how do you do this cheaply? Close proximity to wineries whose wine you enjoy is optimal because tasting their product is built in. Often special discounts are available that can further the wine budget.

When tasting wine, save asking about the price until you’ve tried everything. It is too easy to be misled by price, thinking a $40 reserve Merlot must be better than its $20 cousin. Most likely more labor went into the crafting of the reserve, and the grape quality was probably higher, but the end result may not be the wine for you.

The law of diminishing returns suggests that the incremental increase in quality may not be worth the two-fold increase in price, as in my example. The bouquet and palate results the winery was aiming at may not have translated to your palate, so don’t try to convince yourself that you should enjoy the reserve more.

Discounted Wine

Wine may be discounted for a number of reasons and not all of them translate to inferior quality. The wine might not be characteristic of the varietal, which is often a negative, but if a Cabernet Sauvignon tastes more like a Zinfandel, and you prefer Zins, this could be a good deal.

Label-damaged wines are another good bargain unless you prefer pristine appearance. I bought a case of water-damaged Chardonnay from a winery for less than half price. All I said was, “I really like this Chard, but it’s out of my price range.” (All us wine guys call it Chard.) Another possible bargain is buying older wines the winery or distributor has to move out for the current vintage. Storage costs for a winery can be very high, and unless the wine has shown noticeable improvement over its shelf-life at the winery, they may be willing to part with it for less than list.

Wine tasting at a wine store is another good possibility. They need to move stock, and setting up wine tasting is a good way to do that. If a placard lists the wines and price, try to ignore it until you’ve rated the wines yourself. The same thing goes for the high ratings tagged on some wines. Remember, it’s your palate, not Robert Parker’s that you need to satisfy. Buying a wine that’s been “discovered” by a wine critic is like buying stock when you hear how well it’s performing on the evening news. It’s way too late. Why not discover great wine bargains yourself? It’s much more fun!

Once you’ve found wines you like, particularly at a wine shop, check the lowest prices on the internet, and estimate the shipping costs as well. I have many California wines shipped to me, and what I save on sales tax often covers the cost of shipping. Many internet-based distributors are offering very good bargains including free shipping to help lagging sales. Alternately, if you form a relationship with a local wine shop, you’ll probably get first call on bargains and special deals. Lastly, cheap wine should not taste cheap. You’re only cheaping yourself. Salud!

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