ABBY NASH: In this section, I'm going to share my wine buying strategies with you. Last section, we discussed how to become savvier consumers by doing our homework. Now it's time to shop.
There are many reasons to keep a good stock or wine at home. In New York State, we still can't buy wine on Sundays, the vestige of another terrible idea. National prohibition. We buy wine in quantity to save money, ensure it's availability, and age and store it properly.
The most important piece of advice I have, the advantages of buying wine by mail order and from web sites notwithstanding, is to make friends at your local wine shops. Cultivate knowledgeable staff there. They love to talk about wine. They'll come to know your wine taste, special order wine for you, sell you tightly allocated hot wines, and they know about local tasting groups.
Once upon a time, before the 1980's, descendants of Robert Parker and the Wine Spectator, quickly followed by ubiquitous use of their scores in wine shops, although not this one, consumers relied heavily on wine shops staff. A shop staff who recommended bottles, consumer took them home, and then reported back to the staffer. More rounds of recommendations ensued, after which time, the parties moved into cosmic harmony and the staffer knew the consumer's taste.
Now consumers show up in wine shops carrying Parker and the Wine Spectator. When wines get 90 points or above, demand and price soar. Hence the retailer saying, over 90 points, and I can't get the wines. Under 90, and I can't sell them. Good bottle of wine.
Let's look at a few other wine shop issues like markups, discounts, specials, futures, wine auctions, negotiating and the package. Most wine shops mark up 50% over wholesale cost. Though many shops in competitive big cities were closer to 25%. Discounts? Shops usually discount full or mixed cases 10% to 20%. If they don't, take your business elsewhere.
Are specials-- that is, mark downs, sale items, close outs, bin ins, etc. worth seeking out? It depends. Beware of white wines more than two years out from the vintage. Red wines from hot climate areas like Australia and Chile also don't tend to have good staying power.
Often closeouts are attempts to clear the shelves of perfectly good wine to make way for the next vintage. Or distributors are clearing out wines when the brand has jumped to another distributor. I've made some great buys on this basis. Try before you buy.
Futures? I don't buy much wine on a futures basis. Futures are offered by retailers to consumers to pay for wine before they take delivery of it. Usually several months before the wine even gets on the boat. Benefits may include lower prices and assured availability of small production wines. But I'd rather try before I buy. Depending on one's finances, tying up hundreds, maybe thousands of dollars in wine you can't even drink yet may be an issue for you. Consistent quality regions like Bordeaux are a better bet for futures than inconsistent Burgundy.
Negotiating? Not just for cars, homes, and antiques. A few wine shops are open to it. Most aren't. You stand the best chance of succeeding when you're buying multiple cases. What is the package? The package is the bottle, label, the capsule, the cork, and the box, etc. Wine packaging in the last 15 years has become much more creative. We have different bottle shapes, sizes, and colors. Labels have graduated from the dull to the exciting.
But none of this means anything about what's in the bottle. Here's a very traditional Italian label, a wonderful Chianti producer. Compared to this new wave Australian wine in this untraditional bottle shape. Anyone who says they're not affected by packaging is the first victim.
Buying options? Commercial live wine auctions are only legal in four states. Illinois, Massachusetts, California, and New York. But charity auctions are widely held all over the country. All are listed in the Wine Spectator. Charity auction prices tend to be higher than market value. Commercial auctions are the best way of obtaining older wines, frequently at prices lower than the current releases. Both Butterfields in San Francisco and Christi's in Chicago stand behind what they sell. Recently, some of the big New York City wine shops have teamed up with auction houses very successfully. You need not be present, as bids may be called, faxed, mailed, or emailed in. Consider teaming up with friends to bid together. Read the fine print. You'll find out that the hammer price-- what a given lot of wine is knocked down for or closest for-- is not the net price. There's always a buyer's premium-- I call it the buyer's penalty-- of about 15%. Plus sales taxes and maybe shipping of about $4 a bottle. An insider's tip is contacting the auction house right after a sale for a fax of unsold lots that are frequently available at very good prices.
Online wine auctions have exploded the last five years. Despite eBay's withdrawal from this market around the time they bought Butterfields, many web sites offer these. I've got the same advice for shopping other online auctions. That is, check out the seller's track record. And before bidding, ask her or him lots of questions about storage and condition and research values as well. Now that we're on firmer ground buying wine for home, we're ready to go back to the restaurant.
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Join Abby Nash, lecturer in the Hotel School, for the basics of wine appreciation in a 'How To' format. Starting with your basic senses, you'll learn to discern flavor through smell and taste. Moving on, you'll learn the art of buying, serving and storing wines, how to open and preserve wines, manage the restaurant experience, and select wine and food pairings.
This video is part 8 of 10 in the Wine Appreciation series.