|"Hawkes Bay Chardonnay is on special"|
In a discussion at the tennis club this morning I explained to a couple of people how I buy my wine.
I was amazed at the lack of understanding of wine quality and value that there is out there and then thought that yes, my industry experience does give me an advantage when purchasing wine.
I mix up my buying process depending, obviously, on the type of wine I wish to buy and the occasion.
For day to day wine I'm looking for the best possible deal (value) but for celebratory wine I'll look for the best quality wine I can find that I can afford (also value).
My shopping channels are:
- On line retailers
- On-line producers
- Fine wine stores
In supermarkets I tend to limit my purchasing to wines that I know something about the provenance of - region, style, producer, vintage and have a list in my head that I 'shop' from. I tend to wait until a wine is on special before buying and, if it is on a very deep cut special I'll buy several or even a case.
With on-line retailers I usually stick with The Fine Wine Delivery Company and www.Blackmarketwines. I stick with wine styles, regions and producers I know but these websites provide a lot of information on the wines and sometimes I feel comfortable to experiment. I look for wines with the biggest discount and then research why this might be - failed export order (which is often an overused rort), winery going out of business (this happens), over-production (usually happens) or failing sales (very common particularly if the producer refuses to deal with or has been cut out of supermarkets).
With on-line producers I generally know what I'm looking for and will buy direct from them if I cannot find the wine or vintage I want through retail channels. There is rarely savings to be had here.
I use Fine Wine stores like Glengarry or The Fine Wine Delivery Company (yes they have a couple of tremendous retail stores as well as on-line delivery) for special purchases like a good vintage champagne for a birthday or anniversary, fino sherries that are not sold in supermarkets and special vintages of great wines. Sometimes, especially with Glengarry there are great specials to be had.
When it comes to looking for value I employ different methods with the different channels.
Note: Cleanskin wine (wines sold without a normal label and only the mandatory things like alc/vol, country of origin etc) is a minefield and very rarely offers a bargain - certainly not in value terms anyway. I prefer to know who produced the wine I'm buying. Cleanskin in its initial days (started up in Australia) did provide good deals as producers tried to turn stocks into much needed cash but has since become just another marketing tool with some pretty ordinary wine being offered for sale.
The two main ways I buy the biggest quantity of wine is on super special deals from supermarkets or from on-line retailers.
Simple, I wait for the big wine sales not just the week to week stuff.
An example is with Countdown's 20% off sales for any mixed case of 6 wines. As long as you buy 6 of any mix then a 20% discount is automatically applied at the till. Often I'll buy 2 or 3 cases worth if the deal is good enough. So, how do you get a better deal than the 20%? Simply only buy wines that have already been discounted by the producers with a say $5 off deal. Some wines can be up to $10 off. As long as you buy wines that fit the criteria of style, producer, vintage etc then you cannot go wrong. Sometimes if I don't know much about a particular wine then the old standby of Trophy, Gold Medal or 5 Star review sticker on the bottle is a safe bet.
Note: The Sale of Liquor act makes it illegal for retailers to discount alcohol by over 25%. By buying my wine at the 20% mixed 6 deal on wines that have already been reduced the total discount can be as much as 40% off. This is illegal but I get a damned good deal and will strip the shelves for particular wines. Look at this scenario. A wine has a normal shelf price of $25.95. There is an $8 off deal going as part of an occasional promotion bringing the price down to $17.95. With the additional 20% off the price comes down to $14.36 being 43% discount. Beauty!
As I said I buy most of my volume by waiting for these supermarket special sales.
I buy a lot of wine by the case (12 or 6 pack cases) and have it delivered to my home. I select wines that I know well or that have great provenance with good reviews. They are always good deals but sometimes even better deals can be had. These are the 'mystery wines'. These are not like cleanskins as they have the full normal packaging but are a mystery to the purchaser as the producer's name is not stated. The on-line retailer promotes the wine as an extra special mystery deal of an outstanding wine at greatly reduced price. The purchaser will see the packaging and label once the case is delivered. Why does the producer sell his wines this way? It is because there is overproduction and something has gone wrong with sales through the normal channels. The producer needs to move stock quickly as he has a bank manager breathing down his neck but doesn't want to upset his current retail and on-premise stockists who are selling the wine at the normal price. Using the 'mystery' approach hides this. The deals I look for are for wines that are 'normally $40" and are sold as a mystery for say $15 to $20 a bottle.
So, how do I know what I'm getting. I generally limit my buying to chardonnay or pinot noir. Chardonnay only from Hawkes Bay or Gisborne and pinot noir from Waipara, Central Otago or Martinborough as first choice (before Marlborough). The wines will be described by the on-line retailer even though the name of the wine is hidden. The description might be of a celebrated producer with a trophy winning wine and some detail of how the wine tastes along with a glowing review by a good wine writer. It is here when I cut and paste a few select words from this review and do a Google search. Often the exact wine will come up in the search list so that I can check it out against other reviews and prove whether the 'usual' price as stated is correct. I have bought some absolute bargains doing this and haven't been disappointed.
I hope that this is helpful and happy hunting.