Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Never A Better Time to Buy Better Wine

We are in a golden age for value wine. Emerging New World wines have given $10-$20 wine drinkers more choices than ever before. And the economic downturn is now making high caliber wines affordable.

I recently purchased a $41.99 Spanish Garnacha wine for $17.91! Earlier this spring I bought a California Cabernet I’ve long wanted. I paid $50 for the bottle, something I very seldom do. But the wine normally retails for very close to $100. I’ll share how that happens below but how did we get to this strange place?

Everything starts with the economic downturn which has led to a suppressed market for wines over $25. The Nielsen Company reports wine sales at $25 and higher dropped 30 percent last year. And for the first time in 16 years, California wine sales decreased while global sales continued an upward trend.

Next California’s 2009 harvest was a bumper crop. Fruit prices dropped as much as 75 percent in some cases. So when you combine a decrease in sales and a bumper crop, you have a lot of California wineries sitting on wine.

One movement is to increase direct-to-consumer sales. I was shocked to see one report suggesting only 20 percent of California wineries had a presence on Facebook. But now wineries are creating mailing lists, Twitter accounts, and such to build a loyal customer base and skip the middle man.

But the more beneficial development is some wineries are cutting prices through internet clearing houses or off their own shelves to increase cash flow. There has even been speculation in the wine press (there is such a thing and I read a lot of it) this price suppression could lead to a re-positioning in the market for California’s higher priced wines.

But for consumers it’s a boom in quality for a few dollars more than we’re used to spending. Most people buying outside the supermarket but within the ‘value wine” category are spending $12-$16 for a pretty good bottle wine. Now with some of these internet sites (three are listed below) you can spend $12-$30 and buy incredible wine that might normally sell for up to $30-$60 or more. And the quality difference is very substantial at that price point.

Most of the sites are offering free shipping for a minimum purchase. That minimum purchase often gets you to around $50-$60 of wine. But, here is a way around that. I work in an institution with several people who enjoy wine. I saw a California Alexander Valley Cabernet, which is normally $40, on Wines Till Sold Out for $19. A 4-bottle minimum purchase included free shipping. I didn’t want to invest $80 in wine but ended up splitting the order with a friend to get the incredible price and free shipping!

There are several of these internet sites. I’m listing three that I know ship to Indiana, which is always an issue.

Howard’s Picks:

Cinderella Wine
( – This site is operated by Wine Library, New Jersey. That is Gary Vaynerchuk’s empire. I’ve watched these sites for about a month and this site probably has the best deals. Prices are often 50-70 percent off retail.

Wine Till Sold Out ( – All of these sites post a featured wine and when they’re gone, they’re gone. I have ordered a couple of times from WTSO and been very happy with the service.

Cellar Thief – ( – Here is another site offering up three different wines at a time, the other two feature just one. The operators have family in the Chesterton/Valparaiso area so they have some Hoosier roots.

News Note: A big welcome to readers in Shelbyville, Avon/Brownsburg, and the area of Portage, Chesterton, Valparaiso, and Hobart to Grape Sense.