Every cheap wine isn’t a good deal. You already know this.
All of us at one time or another has grabbed a bottle off the shelf because we’re attracted by its low, low price. We are lured by the hope that this wine will be the steal of the century, the greatest bottle ever at a rock bottom price. Problem is, it doesn’t always happen that way. Best case scenario is that the wine is simply boring; worst and all-too-often-the-case scenario is that it just plain sucks. Yesterday, while reading an article from winebusiness.com called, “Consumers Respond to Grocery Outlet Wines,” I was reminded of all the times I’ve purchased wine based primarily on price, paying little attention to other factors, only to be disappointed later. In general, winebusiness.com article puts a primarily positive spin on the Grocery Outlet wine selection (which leans heavily on wines in the $3 to $6 range), but it also offers insight into how large outlet stores get their wine at such deep discounts. This is important information for wine drinkers to understand, but given that your average wine drinker doesn’t sit around reading dry industry publications, I’ve decided to highlight the important parts here in my blog, just in case an average wine drinker happens to read it some day. Why? Because understanding how the mechanics of discounted wine works can help all of us make better wine choices in the future, particularly when we’re rummaging around in the bargain bin.
According to Doug Due, Director of Wine for Grocery Outlet, one of the primary ways the chain gets its wine at such low prices is by buying back vintages. What does this mean, exactly? As Mr. Due’s explains, this is when “a brand is releasing its latest vintage, such as an ’09, but still has ’07 or ’08 vintages available and needs to move the older “juice” in order to focus on the new one.” Given that the seller (in this case the winery) needs to move inventory, the buyer (in this case Grocery Outlet) is in the position to negotiate a very low price, allowing them to offer the wine to their customers at a deep discount. Sounds like everybody wins, right?
Well, maybe…sometimes. Allow me to explain. The vast majority (and I mean vast, like 98%) of all wine produced in any region, in any country on earth is intended for early consumption. Early, as in right now, or at least within a year or so of the vintage date. Now, this doesn’t mean that all those wines turn to vinegar in 18 months, but they’re also not getting any “better” for those extra months sitting in somebody’s warehouse. Contrary to popular belief, most older vintage wines are not improved simply because they have some age on them. Therefore, drinking an aged bargain wine actually means that you don’t experience it at its freshest, which is arguably when it’s at its best. Don’t get me wrong, many bottles will taste just fine with age; in these (best) cases they just aren’t much different than when they were first released. However, there are a few types of wine that really, truly should be drunk within that first-year window because after that time they are typically tired and over the hill (i.e. they taste pretty sucky). These are the wines I would, personally, steer clear of at the Grocery Outlet or any stores that sell back vintage wines at a steep discount.
In the interest of helping you drink better on the cheap, here’s my short list of what to avoid in the back vintage bargain bin:
- Dry Rosé
- Sauvignon Blanc (particularly from New World producers, like New Zealand)
- Unoaked Chardonnay
- Pinot Grigio
- Gamay (absolutely and especially if it’s labeled Beaujolais Nouveau)