Finding Wine Spectator's Top 10 by Seeking out Dusty-Bottled Retailers Off the Grid

Monday, November 19, 2012

Looking to find wines from Wine Spectator's Top 100 list? Especially for wines in the Top 10 I've found Wine-Searcher.com -- usually the most convenient and efficient way to find specific wines -- to be less effective than usual due to listings that lag fast changing inventory. A better approach, I think, is to seek out dusty-bottled stores off the grid and make phone calls.

Some might call the pursuit of the Top 10 wines to be a fool's errand. I disagree. In choosing their Top 10 wines, their senior editors get together and taste a bunch of candidates wines and come to a consensus on the Top 10. This is different than how they normally taste whereby a single editor determine's a wine's rating. So you've got a lot of respected palates agreeing on the top wines, so as long as you don't pay a premium for the Top 10 wines you're getting some of the better values in wine today.

But how do you find them? You've got to act fast and, I think, you've got to employ unconventional techniques. You've got to look where deal hounds aren't looking.

A friend tipped me off that a retailer about 20 miles away had the #7 Shea Willamette Valley Pinot Noir for $44.99 before 15% off a case. $38.29. I wonder how he found it because the retailer does have an e-commerce site, but it's not listed on wine-searcher. Making matters worse for this wine, Shea supplies grapes for a lot of other producers so listings for other wines make it hard to perform a precise string match.

They did indeed have a listing on their site for 11 bottles of 2009 Shea Pinot Noir, but during the course of the week the listing changed to the 2010. Vintage variation being a real thing in Oregon I thought it was a mistake that was corrected after they got a lot of calls about the 2009. But they also had a listing for the 2009 Anderson's Conn Valley Reserve for the impossibly-low price of $23.99. I had to go down there and see what was going on.

So I get there and wouldn't you know it, there's 11 bottles of 2009 Shea Pinot Noir on the shelves for $44.99! I load up a basket and start eyeing other bottles to round out my case. The 2009 Anderson's Conn Valley was, sure enough, a listing for another wine - the Prologue. Good thing I didn't order a case for delivery and then have to get into an ugly discussion about returning it (including shipping costs).

Then I spotted a stack of 2009 Beringer Knight's Valley Cab for $21.99/btl before discount (not the reserve, but still a 91 point WS wine). High volume retailers are on to the 2010s by now so it was great to see the 2009 still for sale. Again Wine-Searcher doesn't turn this one up, but it's because the wrong vintage is listed on their site. They list the 2006 but it's the 2009 they've got stacks of!

I asked the wine director there what the heck was going on with the inconsistencies between the store and the website. He says he runs the bricks and mortar wine business and someone else runs the website.

So I'm thinking I may be on to something. Even for a retailer with an e-commerce site there's all kinds of hidden gems popping up because of inconsistent vintages being listed. Imagine the gems that might be out there for retailers without e-commerce sites. Heck, without websites! The way to find these wines is to look in wine shops off the beaten path. Off the grid. Away from Wine-Searcher types like myself.

Of course, just as I say this I happened to find a bottle of 2008 Shafer Relentless via Wine-Searcher at a nearby MA retailer for $35.99. A $60 release price wine, it was correctly listed as being Wine Spectator's Wine of the Year. But also, incorrectly, from France. (?) After some quick back and forth with the retailer we discovered quite a mix-up of SKUs. They actually had the 2009 Relentless (not the 2008) but it was $74.99. The $35.99 listing was for a bottle of 2008 St. Cosme Gigondas (hence the part about the Relentless being from France). Crazy stuff.

I don't get mad about mix-ups like these at this point. I actually find it interesting. So long as I don't get into a sticky situation where a jerky retailer ships me the wrong stuff then get contentious about rectifying the situation.

One strategy this makes me consider: Use Wine-Searcher to find retailers who list availability of back vintages who might not have updated to newer vintages yet. Then pick up the phone and call them. You never know what a retailer has, and neither do they it seems, until you have it in your hands.

Wine online: What a fun and chaotic circus.

Wine Spectator is set to release their Top 100 list today (in addition to their reveal last week of the Top 10). They have free site access through November 27th, 2012 so check it out.

Question of the Day: What tips and tricks have you found work well for tracking down hot wines like these?

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