How To Buy Wine At Terrific Discount In 2021 - Part 2

5 Rules To Follow

If you didn't read part 1, do that first.

The reasons for 2021 offering truck loads of discounted wine are pretty much the same as in 2020, but the underpinnings of it are cumulative as lock downs continue across the country. Wine sales at restaurants, which accounted for around a third of all wine sales pre-pandemic, remain close to zero. Eno-tourism has also cratered as tasting rooms remain closed/people continue to avoid them. Trump-era tariffs - which were expanded even further in the final days of that presidency - have also had devastating effects in Europe. Reports vary by country and source, but with around 60% of European production traditionally going to the US, producers and US-based importers alike have been crushed. Is relief on the way? With so many more pressing items on the new administration's agenda, I wouldn't hold my breath.

So, while alcohol sales remain as strong as our population's need for coping mechanisms, much of the restaurant and winery business has shifted to grocery stores. This, in combination with the effects of tariffs, means smaller and international wineries have suffered disproportionately.

Meanwhile, another harvest's worth of wine is on its way, which means more supply everywhere. In the US, smaller producers won't have any better access to markets than they did until restaurants return to capacity, whenever that might be. So, supply of small production wines being higher than demand will continue to force pricing downward in that segment. For European winemakers, pricing made artificially high by the tariffs has put downward pressure on margins and demand. If 2020 was rough for these folks, undercapitalized wineries are going to struggle even more this year.

As Baron Rothschild is believed to have quipped, "The time to buy is when there's blood in the streets," and this crisis has certainly yielded some blood-letting on the supply side. Part 3 will get into specifics of where to find the resulting buying opportunities, but to successfully score, knowing what not to do is at least as important. Here are five rules to follow:

  1. No blanket trust. Every single one of my favorite sources for bargain wines has engaged in the pitfalls that follow. Just because you may have had a good experience with an outlet before does not mean that all transactions in the future will be tilted in your favor. At the end of the day, commerce pursues profit.
  2. Price check. Just a couple of weeks ago, a highly-regarded west coast internet retailer was pushing a slate of 90 point, value-priced wines for $15 or less. The same wines are at one of my local grocery stores for $10. Just because it's on the internet and advertised as being heavily discounted doesn't mean much. Use Google, Wine-searcher, or some of the larger internet retailers as a gauge.
  3. Vintage matters. Earlier today I got an email offering a pedigreed Northern California pinot noir at 60% off. On closer examination, it was from the 2014 vintage. Given the high alcohol content, six-plus years of age, and unknown provenance, the likelihood is high that this wine is past its due date. Contrary to the conventional wisdom that wine gets better with age, most do not. The older the wine, the greater the risk of spoilage.
  4. Talk is cheap. Marketers will go to exhaustive lengths to hype their products. So will retailers sitting on inventory. Do you own due diligence before buying anything you haven't had in any sort of real quantity. (I break this rule routinely, but only when the price is such that it's worth the risk.)
  5. Do the math. When buying wine online, the extras can add up quickly, so be sure you've accounted for everything. Some sites charge tax, others don't. Most charge for shipping, but fees can vary quite a bit. Many online retailers offer discounts, so look/ask for them before executing any purchase. These can and do have a huge impact as I experienced last month. Free shipping and a $50 coupon I uncovered added up to a savings of around $7 per bottle. 

Next up, where to find the best deals.