Wine — Shopping for wine bargains

You don’t have to buy in bulk but keep an eye out for tips and sales

By Tim Protzman

A few years ago my friend and business partner received crushing news. Her favorite warehouse outlet was closing. You see, we ran a theater group that did murder mysteries. How cliché, right? But I swear we were different. We were good. We drove all over New England. Wherever we went, we’d shop. She taught me all her secrets. The outlet was one of them.

I was a commando shopper. Decide what you need, and hit the ground running. A quick dash to the target area and back out once the objective is acquired. Debbie lingered, she savored the items, she compared prices. She asked if stuff was going on sale. Then she’d go back and get the discount. She asked about discounts for cash. Slowly, I learned to linger, to take in prices for comparisons, to be bold and ask for discounts. And her tips hold true for all items, including beer, wine and spirits.

We all want a deal. We wanna buy low and sell high. But with the price of gas it doesn’t pay to drive all over looking for a 50-cent saving. This is where buying in bulk comes in. When the kids were little and I was married, we’d go on Friday nights to one of those big-box retailers. Our favorite was Cost Killer. The kids could run around and break stuff and we’d save money by buying a 24-pack of toilet paper, which came in handy around Halloween. I don’t buy much stuff there anymore because I don’t need a 24-pack of anything. Every so often I go shopping on Friday nights for adult things like expensive meat and martini olives just so I can lord it over the young marrieds pushing shopping carts full of diaper boxes the size of TV sets. Sometimes when I’m feeling really bitchy I wear my tuxedo.

Buying wine in bulk will get you a discount, especially if you like a certain brand. I surveyed several supermarkets on the price of Yellow Tail Shiraz. Two had it for $6.99. Two had it for $7.99.

The state stores usually sells it for $7.99. Now they’re having a Yellow Tail Summer Program and it’s $5.99. I like the Shiraz’s vibrant fruit; tasting of licorice, plum and scuppernong grapes, but the Shiraz/Cabernet Sauvignon blend was one of the worst pairings since Hitler and Eva Braun. It reminded me of grape jelly and rubbing alcohol. You can use Yellow Tail as a price marker. If the store has it for more than the prevailing price then chances are everything else will be a little more too.

I try as many different wines as possible, so I can write it off. If I drank Kendall-Jackson Vintner’s Reserve ($10.99 - a pleasant Californian Chardonnay made from grapes grown in Monterey, Santa Barbara and Mendocino counties with an oaky finish and the creamy taste of pineapple and cream cheese.) all the time I’d be a wino. Trying as many wines as possible makes me a connoisseur. But finding new, exciting wines can be tough. Here are a few hints.

Wine shopping’s like antiquing. Look for dusty bottles. In high-traffic wine stores try the staff picks. When asked “Can I help you find something?” Answer yes and ask what they’re drinking. They know bargains and undiscovered gems. When asked what price range, answer “around $10 dollars.” This lets them know you’re not out to score Cult Cabs and Premier Crus and they have to work a little to keep your patronage. Check the corks by pressing them with your finger, like a cantaloupe. If it’s soft the wine could be corked. If you still want it and it’s over $10 dollars ask about the return policy on corked wine. If there’s none, leave. Always ask for a discount when buying a bottle that’s over $29.99. Offer to pay with cash rather than credit card. When a wine store staff member shows you their “favorite wine” check the rack and see if there’s lots of other bottles. Don’t let them use you to move a wine lemon some sales person foisted on them. Take the Robert Parker or Wine Enthusiast Vintage Chart ( with you.

There’s a reason that 1994 Ruchottes-Chambertin’s only $39.99. Get off the beaten path. I once found a great Chilean Cabernet in a store that sold mostly beer. Don’t be afraid to buy the last bottle. Shop owners rarely buy one of anything and if it’s the last one the others got sold. Look for the unexpected. That’s how I found a Banfi Chianti Classico 1998 Reserva $14.95 in a supermarket. Wiry and structured with a Mona Lisa smile of fruit. Even novices can score. I once found a 1986 Chateau Lynch-Bages from Pauillac, France marked $16.99. I only knew Pauillac was in Bordeaux. Wow, was it good. Later we Googled it and found it was normally $47.50.

Another time I drank a bottle of Cheval Noir I found at my boss’s cottage. He called the day before I was leaving and asked me to bring some stuff back, including: the wine. On the way home I stopped at a liquor store. I’d thrown the bottle out and the young clerk steered me to the Cheval Blanc, which was also a Saint-Emilion, but cost $219.99! That’s more than I paid for the cottage rental! But the owner came to the rescue. He picked up Cheval Noir, which was only $15.99. The same one I drank. It was so good I got another bottle for myself and got a slight discount for paying in cash. The owner was a gentleman, but also a great salesman.

“If you really want to impress your boss I’ll give you a deal on the Cheval Blanc.”

I thought for a moment.

“Naw,” I said; “He’s a vodka drinker.”

I left with a discounted fifth of Grey Goose. Yeah, that package store owner was one smooth salesperson.

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