Just as in every other kind of store, specialist wine shops have sales at this time of year largely to clear stocks that have been slow to sell through and make way for new vintages they've ordered. But is wine the sort of product you should be buying in a sale? Well it depends . . .
On the plus side it provides a chance to buy wines you might not otherwise be able to afford or good everyday drinking at a price that often beats the supermarkets. On the other hand the shop may be seeking to offload wines that have seen better days.
There are three questions to ask yourself:
1. Is it a genuine bargain?
The price may be inflated to start with or the reduction fairly insignificant. Try and find out what other stores are charging for the same wine. I normally check wine-searcher.com for this but you can simply Google the name of the wine and see what comes up.
2. Is it too old a vintage?
A slightly trickier one which depends on the price and style of the wine, how good the vintage was, and the size of the bottle (half bottles age more quickly than standard bottles or magnums.) A 2006 vintage of an inexpensive Australian chardonnay for example would probably be tasting a bit tired whereas a Chablis of that vintage might still taste quite fresh. Remember southern hemisphere vintages are six months ahead of northern hemisphere ones so a 2007 wine is already almost 5 years old. Personally I'd be reluctant to buy wines that are designed to be drunk young and fresh more than a couple of years on though full-bodied reds can be fine. Berry Bros & Rudd have a useful vintage chart if you want to check.
3. Will I like it?
That might sound like a silly question but there's no point in buying a whole case of a wine you haven't tasted whatever the discount. Even if you liked it a couple of years ago the vintage on offer may not be the same one. You might like X's Cote du Rhone Villages but not Y's. If you have the option of buying a bottle and trying it before you load up it's a wise move (though you obviously have to take the risk they may run out).
And 4 tips:
1. Avoid 'mystery' cases or mixed cases that don't specify vintages
A favourite of wine clubs and on-line specialists like Laithwaites. Despite the big reductions these usually aren't as good value as they seem, basically giving the merchant the opportunity to offload tired vintages. There may of course be some good bottles but if a third are under par that's not a bargain.
2. Use sales as an opportunity to explore the wine world
More obscure wines which the merchant likes but has been over-optimistic about selling can be a good investment in extending your wine knowledge. An example is the A Barbadillo 2010 Palomino Fina, Vino de la Tierra de Cadiz which Adnams is selling for just £5 a bottle (though I still wouldn't buy a case untried) or unfashionable wines like this demi-sec Vouvray which is on offer from Yapp.
3. Buy wine out of season
If you like rosé, for example, and don't mind drinking it in February you can pick it up at a good price at this time of year. Same goes for crisp, summery whites.
4. Get in early
You may have already missed the boat this year with some of the sales (my fault. I was going to post this a week ago but had a family bereavement. Sorry.) The best bargains go fast so get yourself on the mailing list of your favourite wine shops so you always know exactly when their sale starts. There are some good bargains at the Great Western Wine sale, for example which starts today (January 7th).
Find more details of what each merchant has on offer here.