There are several important things to keep in mind once you begin to consider wine buying seriously. These strategies can help to accomplish three goals: finding the best price, ensuring the wine has been well stored and procuring desirable wines before they pass out of the marketplace.
Generally wine is cheapest when it is first released. In France this is known as first tranche or first slice. If a wine is particularly good then demand will increase thus increasing the price. This of course only applies to wine that is in high demand to begin with. The producers sell to distributors who then modify their price depending on the volume of orders from the retail sector.
This means that by the time the wine reaches the hands of the consumer the wine’s price has been increased three times. This is known as the three-tier system. Many American wineries are trying to circumvent this practice by selling directly to the consumer but thanks to the misguided shipping laws regarding alcohol this practice is limited at the present time. Another advantage of buying first tranche is that you may be sure the wine has been well stored provided you have adequate storage.
One way to lock in the initial price is to buy futures or en primeur. This practice is only for the experienced wine buyer. Buying this way can be a great advantage for a great vintage where prices can skyrocket as time goes on. Also in a year of great quality many wines will completely disappear from the market or only be available at a hugely inflated price. If the vintage is average then only a small savings might be obtained from buying this early. Buying futures in a poor vintage can lead to a loss or being stuck with a large amount of poor wine as usually a futures contract requires a minimum purchase of half a case.
Most importantly buy futures only from a well established merchant with a solid track record. There have been numerous scams involving a merchant selling millions of dollars in futures and then vanishing. Using a credit card is a good idea as the credit company will usually offer some sort of insurance should things go wrong. Buying this way is a gamble and should only be undertaken by a buyer who has a fair idea of what to expect.
Like anything, wine is cheapest if bought in bulk. Most retailers will offer a case discount. The standard is 10% but some retailers will do 20%. The danger with this is that you may end up with a lot of wine that you don’t want to drink. It’s easy to get caught up in the allure of the discount and forget that the same wine twelve times can become boring. So taste before you buy and even then remember that your palate might change and what tasted good a few years ago might not be welcome down the road.
Buying wine at auctions can be a great way to save money provided that the buyer remains disciplined and doesn’t get carried away in the heat of the bidding. The main risk with auctions is the sometimes unreliable history or provenance of the wine. The reputable American and English auction houses endeavor to source well-kept wine but the wine can never be one-hundred percent guaranteed. One tip for auctions is that Port wine auctioned in the Spring will generally sell for cheaper as the demand for the sweet wine is low in the warm months.
Wine is similar to other consumer goods and sometimes retailers have to liquidate inventory in order to bring in new releases. Often after the holidays wine will be broadly marked down though right before New Years is a good time to stock up on Champagne as the retailers bring in large quantities and attempt to move a greater volume at a lower price.
Like anything else smart wine buying requires a bit of digging around. Those who give in to impulse or hype will pay a higher price. Remember, there will always be another great vintage coming around the corner and a general wine shortage is unlikely to occur anytime soon.
How to Select Wine to Impress and Enjoy
Become Your Own Sommelier
A Sommelier is a wine expert hired by up-scale restaurants to order and maintain wine to match the chef’s menu. They are also available to recommended selected wines for patrons of the restaurant. If you don’t have the opportunity to consult a sommelier for your own entertaining, a little knowledge about wines and wine/food pairing can give you an edge in serving wine to the best advantage.
Pinpointing Your Palette by Sweetness
The first step in selecting wine is to discover which types of wine you prefer. Whether or not a wine is “right” for a menu, first and foremost it should be pleasing to your palette. Most people discover that they prefer a specific wine classification based on the amount of sugar in the wine. Wine sweetness classes can be described as follows:
Very Dry/Brut – Wine that contains an extremely low amount of natural sugar. Brut wines include champagne and other sparkling wines. Crisp is often used as an adjective to describe very dry wine.
Dry/Sec – Wine with a low volume of natural sugar. Merlot is the most common example of a dry wine. Dry wines are often described in terms of Sharpness.
Medium Dry/Demi Sec – Wines containing just a hint of sweetness. Demi Sec wines make a good choice for large groups as they will appeal to lovers of both dry and sweet wines. When applied to sparkling wines, demi sec indicates a dessert-quality champagne.
Medium Sweet/Doux – Medium sweet wines have a higher percentage of natural sugar. Many varieties of Riesling fall into the Medium Sweet category. A large number of fruity wines are described as medium sweet.
Sweet/Moelleux – Wines with the highest percentage of naturally retained sugar. Sweet wines are generally served with dessert or cheese. Sweet wines are almost never used as a table wine in entertaining.
Red or White – The Great Debate
Both red and white wines contain varieties of all different levels of sweetness. While the standard “red wine with red meat/white wine with fish and poultry” rule can still be applied, modern wine connoisseurs allow greater freedom when selecting wine/food pairings. In general, red wines tend to be heartier and pair better with rich, heavy meals. White wines are typically lighter, sweeter and complements more delicate foods. The main objective is not the color of the wine, but selecting a wine that neither overpowers nor is overpowered by your menu. Find a taste that you like and choose a wine in that category that matches your meal.
It All Starts with the Grape
The final basic factor to consider when determining which wine to serve is the grape used in fermenting the wine. Every wine is made from a specific grape, termed a varietal. As you venture out and try more wines, it will become clear which varietals you prefer. Some common wine varietals include:
Chardonnay – A fairly full bodied dry white wine. Chardonnay is one of the most popular wine choices for newer wine enthusiasts as it can be found almost anywhere and has a light, uncomplicated taste. Chardonnay can be used to accompany light pasta dishes and fresh seafood.
Merlot – A fruity, rich red wine, Merlot is Chardonnay’s red counterpart as it is the most common wine selected by those new to wine. Merlot is a good choice to serve with salad entrees as the fruity flavor counteracts the bitterness of the greens.
Pinot Noir – A heady red wine, Pinot Noir is created from highly acidic black grapes. (Hence the name, “Noir” is the French term for black.) The intense flavor of Pinot Noir pairs well with wild game, pork and tomato based sauces.
Riesling – Riesling wines are available in dry or sweet varieties. Refreshing and light, dry Riesling makes an excellent complement to stir-fry meals and other summery food choices.
Sauvignon – Rich and full bodied, this dry wine can be Cabernet (red) or Blanc (white). Both versions are excellent choices to be served with spicy foods.
Syrah/Shiraz – Spicy and aromatic, Shiraz has become extremely popular in the last 10 years. With many strong wines being produced in Australia (Shiraz) and California (Syrah), this red wine makes a perfect pairing with steak and other red meat dishes.