Secrets to Finding the Best Wine Values in Popular Retail Stores
This is the time of the year, the beginning of a new year, when wine spending tends to slow down and many stores mark previous inventory on clearance in order to make room for new products. I’ve noticed that I don’t have as strong of a desire to buy wine as I did during the busy (and high consuming) holiday months of November and December, but I’m still always on the lookout for a special vintage or great deal.
Here are some tips I’ve learned for tracking down bargain wines in many of the top retail stores, including World Market, Whole Foods and Costco, which we dive further into store by store below.
Ask about discounts. Many wine retailers will offer discounts if you buy a certain number of bottles. Look for larger case discounts at the end of a warm or cold season when the stores need to make room for holiday or summer wines. Some places require you to buy all of the same bottle of wine in order to get a discount, while others will discount mixed cases.
Also, some shops will not include dessert wines or half bottles in the discount while others will. Be sure to get all of the information before carefully selecting twelve different bottles only to then be denied a discount. I have walked out of a wine shop in frustration, leaving a case of wine on the counter, after the advertised discount did not ring up because one of the wines was considered a dessert wine.
Don’t look only at sale tags. Some stores may have higher mark-ups for most of their wines but will still have a decent number of bottles priced lower than other competitors. When I walk into a shop for the first time, I will immediately locate a couple of wines that I’m familiar with and that are widely available in order to see where they’re priced. This gives me an idea of the shop’s standard mark-up. If it’s high, I will only shop sale wines. If it’s fair, then I feel comfortable buying regularly-priced wines that I’m not familiar with.
Also keep in mind that just because a wine is on sale, this does not necessarily make it a great deal. The same bottle may still be less expensive at the store across the street where it isn’t on special.
Use Wine Apps. Generally speaking, wines on Vivino will be listed at a higher average price than what I’ve paid. I’m not sure why this is? Perhaps some users are listing bottle prices at restaurants, which are significantly higher than retail prices, and this increases the average.
If you aren’t familiar with Vivino, it’s an app where users input their own ratings, photos, and prices for thousands of different wines. If I scan a wine that I’m unfamiliar with, in any given wine store, and it shows a much lower average price on Vivino, I can generally conclude that it’s not a good deal. Most other people have paid less than what this store is offering. This is assuming the wine has been rated by at least 100 users.
I also use the Wine Spectator app to quickly look up ratings, check the accuracy of listed ratings (often incorrect and not updated), and also to see the price that is listed for a given wine. Wine Spectator prices are usually close to what the wineries sell their wines for directly to the public, and so paying significantly more than what’s listed would not be a bargain.
A bonus on the Wine Spectator app is that they have a vintage report giving you super quick access to ratings for each vintage around the world, so you can determine if the 2009 Super Tuscan is a better buy than the 2010 (go for the ’10 here).
Talk to the store employees. I like to use my wine apps when I’m walking around a shop, but I don’t want to have my nose in my phone the entire time. If I’m not approached, I will usually make a point to ask whoever is working what the deals are. Sometimes they direct me to sale wines or featured wines, but occasionally someone will point out a wine that’s under-priced and that they can personally vouch for as being a solid choice.
I shop regularly at the following three wine retailers, all of which have multiple locations around the country. Here are some store-specific tips for uncovering the best wine values:
Members get “Member Pricing” on the purchase of 4 or more bottles, and these can be mixed. This usually includes sale wines as well, and it’s free to become a member. This ends up being a 20% discount on any four or more bottles, and their prices are fair to begin with.
The member wine discount is not available in AL, IN, MO, NC, or OH due to state law restrictions on alcohol sales. The World Market I frequent has a “Last Chance” wall where seasonal wines are discounted to very fair prices.
Whole Foods wine markups are fairly high in my opinion, but they will often offer case and half-case discounts to make up for this. I recently saw a deal for 20% off of the purchase of six bottles or more. I believe the usual discount is 10% for six or more and 20% for 12 or more.
Occasionally, the store will go as high as 30% off for a case (can be mixed) and this is definitely the time to stock up. I have gotten case discounts before with both half-bottles & sparkling wines included. If you find the wines at fair mark-ups during the high case discount promotion, you will definitely be getting a deal.
Costco does not, I repeat, does not offer quantity discounts. Their markups are already the best you’ll find for most wines in stock. Most other wine retailers don’t have the buying power of Costco, and the company carries the savings that go along with that to their members.
In order to get an even better deal when wine shopping at Costco, look for the sale tags or new wines with asterisks on the signs. Wines that are on sale at Costco, for example, the Montes Classic Series Cabernet that is currently $6.99 (marked down from $8.99) are the best wine values in the country. You will not find a better price for that wine, anywhere. This wine is $12-$16 everywhere else that I’ve seen it.
If you frequent the wine department often and notice a wine that you haven’t seen in the last couple of weeks, and it has an asterisk on the sign, this indicates a smaller-than-usual, “special” one-time purchase. These wines are usually not as widely available as the main stays and are going to be less expensive at Costco because of the aforementioned purchasing power.
Shopping for wine is similar to shopping for most other items. There will be deals, special mark downs, better times to buy and deals on quantity purchases. The key is to be ready to strike when you see things turn to your favor.
When Whole Foods offers 30% off of mixed cases, be ready to buy. When Costco marks down bottles that you love, buy a bunch of them. The fact is that wine isn’t a short term perishable good. Most wine will not go bad in the next two years. A lot of wine will actually get better in the next two years. So be ready to buy when the deals are most attractive. Your wallet will thank you.
Any other retail shopping tips or secrets to find great wine values that you suggest? Let us know in the comments below.