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Tips for holiday wine shopping

Sunday, November 29, 2009

When shopping for wines this holiday season, don't automatically assume that a higher price means higher quality. Consumer Reports' tests found that some higher-scoring wines have been among the least expensive.

The wines CR tested have run the gamut of varietals, blends and vintages. Finding an excellent wine that's also affordable -- say, less than $20 -- is difficult, but not impossible. In past tests, CR has identified very good wines that cost as little as $8.

Even when wine consumption rises, wine prices don't, necessarily. And while a brand of a certain varietal can improve or decline in different vintages -- and the same vintage might even vary among stores -- vintage doesn't matter that much for bottles in the $20-and-under price range.

Value can be elusive with some varietals. So if you want a great wine at a great price, consider different varietals.

Online deals

If you're looking for a case of that wonderful gewurztraminer you tried in Alsace last year, the Web may be your best bet. There are not only wine websites but wine search engines where you can compare prices, get recommendations and track down hard-to-find bottles.

Just one warning: Your ability to buy wine online from out-of-state retailers might depend on where you live. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in May 2005 that states must treat sales from in-state and out-of-state wineries the same, leading some states to liberalize their wine-shipment laws and others to consider banning sales. Wine sites will tell you if you can place orders. Or visit www.wineinstitute.org for a brief rundown of state laws.

Here are some tips from Consumer Reports to help you get the bottles you want at the best price:

* Do a Web search. If you're a novice, check out www.winezap.com, where you can enter a type and price range and get a wine list. For each label, the site displays food pairings, reviews and vendors. It also shows the best prices, including shipping and tax. If you already know which wine you want, enter the name at www.wine-searcher.com, which lists wines by price and vendor.

* Watch for shipping costs. Not only is a bottle of wine breakable and heavy, it's perishable, too. Practically speaking, that means shipping is an expense that somebody's got to pay for. Shipping costs range from free, at www.mywinesdirect.com, to a flat $1.95 a bottle at www.wineexpress.com, to more than $8 per bottle at other sites.

* Order by the case. By ordering in bulk, you'll not only get a break on shipping costs, you might also score a discount on the wine. Retailers and wineries may offer 10 or more off per case.

* Check for sales and coupons. CR searched "wine" at www.wow-coupons.com and found a variety of short-term discounts offered at www.mywinesdirect.com, www.wine.com and www.winelegacy.com. Typing in "coupons on wine" at Google.com led to sites such as www.couponseven.com and www.couponcabin.com, which had coupons for use on www.wine.com.

* Consider a wine club. You can join through a retailer or a vineyard. Typically, the club will send you a bottle or two every month for several months. Members are also often privy to specials.

* Pick up the phone. Though telephone sales typically make up a very small part of a winery's business, it is an increasingly common way for wineries to sell wine. Besides getting quick information on available wines, prices, and whether shipping is available to your address, you might gain another advantage by calling. Say you've found a great deal offered by retailer A on a wine from winery B. Winery B might have other wines you want, but less competitive prices. With a phone call, you might find that Winery B will match the best price.

Visit the Consumer Reports website at www.consumerreports.org.

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.....and that great $8.00 wine was?

I remember when Bogle wine came out to much acclaim, and was about $3.00 a bottle. It wasn't available in the Cape area. I mentioned it to the manager at Schuncks. What a difference a few years make. Schunks now has Bogle wines, but they are priced at just under $10 a bottle.

Louis Jadot was on sale for about $10 last week, and was Lindelman's. For a Pinot Griggio, I like that offered by Amano. On sale last week for about $8.49, down from it's retail price of $17.99. When Amano started offering thier Pino Griggio with a screw cap, it reminded me of Annie Green Springs, and Boone Farms wines popular in the early 1970's. I emailed the distributor, UNDERDOG, with my complaint and objection to offering an excellent wine with a screw cap. Underdog emailed me saying that they would pass it on to the bottler in Italy. This week, Amano Pinot Griggio was on sale at Schuncks. There were a number of screw cap bottles, but the corked bottles were back on the shelf, too. I would not pay $8.00 for a screw cap wine, much less $17.99.

Lindelman's Cabernet Sauvignon is a truly excellent Cabernet. The price last week was a very positive price positioning statement. I am sure that the price moved bottles off the shelves at Schnucks.

-- Posted by Defy Tyranny on Sun, Nov 29, 2009, at 5:46 AM

It's a mistake to assume that wine with screw-caps is cheap or not so good. Consumer Reports also says that screw-caps protect the wine's taste much better than the conventional cork. The cork lets the wine breathe, and in many cases that affects the taste and quality of the wine. I know true wine lovers may always prefer the cork, since wine and everything about it is so traditional and meaningful, but really.....the screw cap is better, only bested by the boxed wines, which are truly sealed, and often offer the very best buys in lower-cost wines.

-- Posted by Raunchy on Sat, Dec 12, 2009, at 9:50 AM

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