Saturday, September 26, 2009

Guest Post - Cheap But Good Whine That Is...

Sometimes mama needs a glass of wine (or two) and I believe being frugal doesn’t mean doing without. Since I started couponing last year, our family has eaten better quality foods, tried new things, and I always seem to have a well stocked pantry and refrigerator. Wine can be a tricky addition to a tight grocery budget but it can be done!

Before becoming a Stay at Home Mom, I spent 9 years in the wine industry. I have had the pleasure of tasting some of the world’s greatest wines and have also had the pleasure of discovering hidden gems that were surprisingly affordable. Hopefully some of these tips will help you to navigate the world of wine and find the best value for your dollar.

1 Explore the world. To truly find the most amazing deals, you have to break out of your comfort zone. Napa Valley Cabernet and French Champagne is always going to be fairly expensive. To really find an incredible value why not try something new from a lesser known region- like Vinho Verde from Portugal. This white is perfect for spring and summer and is slightly spritzy and refreshing and can easily be found for $5 or less. I love Champagne- really love Champagne- but I can’t always justify $25-35 for one bottle. I can however find great deals on sparkling wines made outside of Champagne, like Alsatian Cremant, Italian Prosecco, or Spanish Cava. You can find a huge variety of bubbles for less than $10 that are very well made.

2. Loss leaders. Grocery stores feature wine as loss leaders as well. Depending on what state you are in, wholesale prices vary according to how much a retailer can purchase. Large grocery chains will likely get the best price possible and often feature the wines at less than 10% mark up. Pay attention to the ads for your store- especially around the holidays. For Valentine’s Day this year I spotted a California sparkling wine that was featured at less than $1 over wholesale cost. Note- a large display doesn’t necessarily mean a great buy. Remember wine is a business and a massive display may not mean the best bottle or the best price around.

3. High scores don’t mean great bottles. The silent salesman (or little tag hanging on the shelf) telling you so and so gave this wine X points is an incredibly effective method for selling wine. While there are a few well respected wine writers/trade publications that can really be helpful in finding spectacular bottles, there are also a lot of ways to manipulate this information. When I was a salesperson a coworker put up a tag stating that Charlene gave this wine 96 points as a joke. The tag was only up for a short time but we were ashamed to find several people actually purchased the bottle based on the shelf tag. If you are going to purchase based on a review, check the vintage and description very carefully. Another trick (I mean accident) is when sales people forget to take the tag down when the vintage changes. If you don’t know a lot about wine and feel more comfortable buying based upon reviews, I would suggest becoming loyal to that reviewer. They likely have a palate similar to yours and you will have greater chances finding something you like. PS: Often times a spectacular review = spectacular increase in price.

4. Stick with the local specialties. Not every grape is suited to every region. Most areas have a few grapes they do beautifully, a few they do marginally and a few that are a disaster. If you love Sauvignon Blanc- try California, New Zealand or France. The areas known for amazing Sauv Blanc. I would be suspicious of a New Zealand Cabernet but wouldn’t hesitate to grab a juicy NZ Pinot Noir. Not sure of what a region does well? Take a look at the shelf. If there are 25 Chardonnays and one Pinot Grigio than that might be a hint that the area does well with Chardonnay. Don’t be afraid of the unfamiliar too! One of my favorite frugal reds is Chilean Carmenere. It is a yummy red that is similar to Merlot and can be found for $4-6. The incredible prices are partly due to a lack of familiarity with the grape and the incredible values from South America.

5. Go to a wine shop. Good prices don’t always mean grocery stores. A good wine shop should have wines at all price levels and should have employees that can offer recommendations. Lots of great whites can be found for $5 and reds for $6-7, there is no reason to be embarrassed to ask for a good buy. A good shop is tasting hundreds of wines every month and typically buy the best of the best. While you are there ask if they do tastings. These are often free or extremely inexpensive and providing you can get a babysitter, offer a seriously frugal date night. Wine tasting is a great way to explore things you might never have tried and to get out of your comfort zone. Tip: If you are tasting a bottle you love that is out of your budget- check out the web site or ask the sales person for second labels they might produce. Back in the Kendall Jackson Chardonnay heyday, people would spend $10-12/ bottle. Few people knew that KJ also produces a second label Chardonnay that retails for $4.89.

6. Costco. If you already have a membership, Costco is known as having an incredible selection at the lowest margins anywhere. I once had a Sales Manager from a well known winery tell me they actually lost money selling wine to Costco. Costco will often feature coupons for certain wines that make them a really incredible bargain. They have a variety of lesser known wines as well as the big names. Don’t be afraid to try something new- the wine buyer at Costco takes the job very seriously. I don’t want to name names but it always makes me cringe when people throw a bottle into their cart because the winery sells millions of cases, advertises everywhere and puts goodness knows what in the bottle. To put it in coupon terms, the store brand isn’t always the best buy at the grocery store right? Often times the name brand can be found cheaper by just paying attention. Look past the 200 case display of x and see if you can’t find something comparable for the same price or cheaper. I bet it is higher quality AND your friends won’t make fun of you at parties.
A few more tips to keep the bottles tasting great after all that bother picking them out:

**Heat + sunlight = stanky wine. Don’t store your wine in the kitchen. Wine likes cool, dark places (like cellars) or the pantry or a closet or even the garage.

**Be sure wine is stored on its side- with the liquid touching the cork.

**Smell your wine first- if the wine has a cork (as opposed to a screw cap)- it should not smell musty or dull like a wet dog or cardboard. If it smells bad you can return it (open or not) for a refund or replacement. Typically as many as 1 bottle in 10 is corked and most people don’t recognize the problem.

**An open bottle of red will last longer if you put it in the fridge. Just take it out and let it warm up before you are ready for a glass.

**Can’t finish the bottle? Trying freezing leftovers in ice cube trays. The cubes can be used later for cooking.

Do you have any other tips to get a great bottle on a budget? I would love to hear from you!

Thanks, Charlene at My Frugal Adventures

1 comment:

Megan said...

My hubby and I have found a great wine that we love at a local winery. We went to there store and while they were holding a wine tasting and found which one(s) we liked. There bottles are only $12ea, which is very reasonable I think and we know we are getting a bottle of wine we will enjoy and not have to throw out.

We've really enjoyed finding local places too. It's fun to see what we both like and fine out great information from the owners while tasting. There is also alot of variety I don't see in the grocery store. I've seen pear, strawberry, cranberry, and blueberry wines just to state a few.