Monday, February 1, 2010
One of my primary intentions when I started this blog was to notify readers about great wine deals. In this respect, 2009 was a great year for bargain hunters. More and more retailers are selling or broadcasting their deals online, and limited time offers were increasingly compelling. It was enough to make me hesitant to buy all but the hardest to find wines at full retail pricing.
What I'm Looking For in a Wine Deal
- The wine has to be from a category I'm currently interested in. For me that includes staples like domestic Cabernet and Pinot Noir, but I'm always exploring new categories.
- Percentage savings vs. next-best viable option.
- Confidence level in merchant. I'd rather pay a little more from someone I've done business with successfully in the past.
- All else being equal, I like buying a wine from a well-regarded producer in an attractive bottle.
- Quick clarity in terms and conditions. It's annoying to investigate a deal for 10 minutes only to find you can't take advantage of the offer.
- Only one offer per E-mail please. E-mails mentioning multiple wines not bundled together in a meaningful way tend to make my eyes glaze over.
- Free shipping, in-store pick-up -or- reasonably priced shipped on an unbeatable deal.
- The first place I look is CellarTracker. Although the name "cellar tracker" implies cellar management, I find CellarTracker to be a one-stop shop for wine purchase decision making with its community tasting notes and targeted links to the resources I'll mention below.
- Oftentimes, a retailer will quote a percentage discount that's artificially inflated by puffing up the retail price. To verify the release price, and to get an idea of what the pros think of a wine, I usually look at Wine Spectator.com (subscription required). Even if you don't believe in professional ratings, I think it's good to know what publications like Spectator and Wine Advocate are saying as it tends to influence wine scarcity and therefore pricing. They also reliably list production levels for wines they rate.
- An alternative to subscribing to Wine Spectator and Wine Advocate is to use a site like Wine.com that has a pretty large ratings repository. Just be aware they tend to cherry pick and publish only the best ratings which may paint an unrealistically positive picture about a wine.
- The next place I look is Wine-Searcher.com. There are a lot of sites that compare prices of specific wines, but Wine-Searcher is the gold standard. Bare bones visually for sure, but it gets the job done. Their free version lists only the retailers that pay for their listings to appear on Wine-Searcher. Wine-Searcher Pro lists all retailers they track. I've been tempted to upgrade to Pro but there are a lot of retailers whose wines show up without Wine-Searcher Pro so for me the free version seems good enough.
- If it's an older wine, I'll pay closer attention to current CellarTracker ratings as well as auction prices from Vinfolio.com. Vinfolio has recently gone through some financial restructuring but they provided good service and value in the one transaction I conducted with them as a buyer.
- Cinderella Wine 2004 Cigliuti Vigne Erte Barbaresco
The Deal: Free shipping on 3 or more bottles.
Why I liked it: Deep discount on small production (500 cases) wine in a category I've been exploring.
What to expect from their E-mail list: Home of the once-nightly short-burn deal. Transparency abounds with an active comments section, inclusion of ratings from relevant publications, mention of the latest Wine-Searcher and even a direct link to the CellarTracker page for the wine being offered. Do what they do if you're looking to set up an informative E-mail offer or short-burn deal site.
- JJ Buckley 2007 Two Hands Shiraz Bella's Garden
The Deal: Ultra-low price on 6 or more bottles. Shipping not included as I recall.
Why I liked it: I was really surprised to see a wine with this ratings pedigree at such a great price. Perennial Wine Spectator Top 100 (if not Top 10) and a wine I've wanted to try. Didn't see other retailers going nearly as low on this one- even Costco.
What to expect from their E-mail list: 2 or 3 E-mails a week, with the deals more compelling if you're able to pick-up locally (Northern CA) and save on shipping.
- Wine Cellar of Stoneham 2007 Paul Autard Châteauneuf-du-Pape
The Deal: Razor-thin margins in response to our call for retailers to offer us a great deal on this wine.
Why I liked it: This was the most pure of our case club deals. Highly rated by Spectator, Advocate and Vaynerchuk. Highly appreciated by me, and we had a lot of people go in on this one. Read more HERE.
What to expect from their E-mail list: They have an E-mail list, but no website yet. Visit their stores in Danvers or Stoneham, MA or ping them on Twitter to sign up.
- Cinderella Wine 2006 Ridge Lytton Springs
The Deal: More than half off what I see this on retailer shelves in Massachusetts. Free shipping on 3 or more bottles.
Why I liked it: Not only was this a great deal, but it triggered what looked to me to be an online price war as a competing retailer temporarily lowered their price to compete with Cinderella. Read more HERE.
- JJ Buckley 2005 Mondavi Oakville Cabernet Sauvignon
The Deal: Unbelievably low price on a straight case of this solid Napa Cab.
Why I liked it: This is Mondavi's mid-level offering and usually sells for just under $40 when it's priced well. Even with shipping costs included, this provided a great way to stock up on a nice wine from famous brand.
- Table & Vine 2005 Cakebread Cabernet Sauvignon
The Deal: Competitive pricing on a straight case of this hard-to-find-in-Massachusetts steakhouse standard.
Why I liked it: Found this custom deal via Twitter. Read the full story HERE.
What to expect from their E-mail list: Haven't been on it too long, but mostly alerts of savings on categories of wines rather than deep discounts on individual wines.
- Blanchards 2004 Carmel Road Pinot Noir/2005 Dutton Estate Pinot Noir
The Deal: Buy 6 or more of either of these two wines offered at 60% savings off retail.
Why I liked it: Significant discount in a category that interests me with easy in-store pick-up. Appreciated only having to buy 6 bottles with 2 to choose from. I thought the Carmel Road was freaking delicious.
What to expect from their E-mail list: One of my favorites. When I get a E-mail from Eden Stone at Blanchard's I pay close attention because they're usually deals worth considering.
- Bin Ends Wine 2004 Tiz Red
The Deal: Normally priced around $10, they were able to threaten Charles Shaw pricing levels when buying a straight case.
Why I liked it: This is a great example of how you can do better than Trader Joe's if you have the patience and interest in following deals from retailers like Bin Ends. This wine is the perfect extra bottle to open up when most people in the group are done drinking for the night but one or two glasses are empty.
What to expect from their E-mail list: They have a couple of options- once daily or less frequently. Highly recommended especially for folks in Massachusetts.