If friends and family have drunk you out of house and home over the holiday you may be looking to top up your stocks at this time of year, especially as many merchants have bin end or clearance sales. But is buying wine that way a good idea?
Supermarkets, of course, have cut price deals all the time but wine merchants generally have a promotion a couple of times a year to make way for new lines and vintages or clear Christmas stocks.
Sometimes they only have a few bottles left - not enough to put on display. Sometimes they want to shift rather more of a wine that’s simply not selling or that needs drinking up. It’s always a bit of a lottery but you stand a better chance of bagging a bargain if you follow these tips.
* With some merchants the best bargains go quickly so try and get an advance list of what’s on offer. Be ready to hit the phone as soon as the sale opens for the best bottles. If you miss them make sure to get on the merchant's mailing list for the next sale.
* Don’t take the store’s word for it that the price they're offering is the best one. Make a shortlist of the wines you fancy then compare the prices elsewhere either by Googling them or checking out a price comparison site like wine-searcher.com
* Check any ratings too. Third party endorsements are more reliable than what the merchant is saying about the wine. Of course they’re going to say it’s fabulous! Be wary of half price or greater than half price offers which smack of desperation or overpricing in the first place
* Check the vintages, bearing in mind that southern hemisphere harvests are six months ahead of northern hemisphere ones. Look for recent vintages (2015 at the time of writing) in the case of young, fresh, inexpensive wines like crisp whites and rosés. Older vintages e.g. 2010 Bordeaux should be fine with more expensive wines but it’s more of a lottery. if you’re planning to spend a fair amount check a vintage chart like Berry Bros & Rudd’s.
* If you’re in a shop look at the conditions under which the wines are kept - wine is not at its happiest stored under hot bright lights, for example. Examine older bottles for ullage - where the wine has fallen back down the neck of the bottle due to evaporation which might indicate a problem with the cork (see this rather fascinating technical explanation on the Sotheby’s website)
* Go for less familiar wine producing countries such as Bulgaria, Slovenia and Portugal or less well known regions of better known countries like Spain. Wine merchants love to take on obscure wines but can’t always shift them.
* Choose trusted producers in better known wine regions (which obviously doesn’t help if you don’t know who the trusted producers are. Which is why you need to get to know your wine merchant. Or do a quick Google search.)
* Look for deals on sweet and fortified wines like port and richer styles of sherry especially after Christmas when shops find it more difficult to sell this type of wine.
* Bear in mind that whites can age just as well if not better than reds. Old rieslings are a great buy in a wine sale. Chablis ages surprisingly well too.
* That said, bin ends tend to need drinking up - which is why they’re bin ends - so probably won't be suitable for medium to long term storage. Remember halves age faster than standard bottles and magnums more slowly
* Don’t buy your bin ends in the form of an unspecified mixed case where you don’t know the wines you’ll be getting. At least some of them will be duds. And don’t allow merchants to substitute for wines that have sold out without consulting you.
* Check the terms and conditions carefully: the delivery charge, whether there is a minimum order and whether you have to buy an unsplit case (and, if so, does that mean 6 or 12 bottles). Check whether the bottles are ‘in bond’ or inclusive of tax and duty
Finally even if you buy a wine in a sale it should be drinkable so if you get a corked bottle you have the right to return it. That said it’s easier to do so if you do it within weeks or months rather than years.
And if you have bin ends of your own at home that need drinking up how about forming a bin-end club? Here's an account of the inaugural dinner of ours!