Wine Buying Strategies
There are several important things to keep in mind once you begin to consider wine buying seriously. These strategies can help to accomplish three goals: finding the best price, ensuring the wine has been well stored and procuring desirable wines before they pass out of the marketplace.
Generally wine is cheapest when it is first released. In France this is known as first tranche or first slice. If a wine is
particularly good then demand will increase thus increasing the price. This of course only applies to wine that is in high demand to begin with. The producers sell to distributors who then modify their price depending on the volume of orders from the retail sector.
This means that by the time the wine reaches the hands of the consumer the wine's price has been increased three times. This is known as the three-tier system. Many American wineries are trying to circumvent this practice by selling directly to the consumer but thanks to the misguided shipping laws regarding alcohol this practice is limited at the present time. Another advantage of buying first tranche is that you may be sure the wine has been well stored provided you have adequate storage.
One way to lock in the initial price is to buy futures or en primeur.
This practice is only for the experienced wine buyer. Buying this way can be a great advantage for a great vintage where prices can skyrocket as time goes on. Also in a year of great quality many wines will completely disappear from the market or only be available at a hugely inflated price. If the vintage is average then only a small savings might be obtained from buying this early. Buying futures in a poor vintage can lead to a loss or being stuck with a large amount of poor wine as usually a futures contract requires a minimum purchase of half a case.
Most importantly buy futures only from a well established merchant with a solid track record. There have been numerous scams involving a merchant selling millions of dollars in futures and then vanishing. Using a credit card is a good idea as the credit company will usually offer some sort of insurance should things go wrong. Buying this way is a gamble and should only be undertaken by a buyer who has a fair idea of what to expect.
Like anything, wine is cheapest if bought in bulk. Most retailers will offer a case discount. The standard is 10% but some retailers will do 20%. The danger with this is that you may end up with a lot of wine that you don't want to drink. It's easy to get caught up in the allure of the discount and forget that the same wine twelve times can become boring. So taste before you buy and even then remember that your palate might change and what tasted good a few years ago might not be welcome down the road.
Buying wine at auctions can be a great way to save money provided that the buyer remains disciplined and doesn't get carried away in the heat of the bidding.
The main risk with auctions is the sometimes unreliable history or provenance of the wine. The reputable American and English auction houses endeavor to source well-kept wine but the wine can never be one-hundred percent guaranteed. One tip for auctions is that Port wine auctioned in the Spring will generally sell for cheaper as the demand for the sweet wine is low in the warm months.
Wine is similar to other consumer goods and sometimes retailers have to liquidate inventory in order to bring in new releases. Often after the holidays wine will be broadly marked down though right before New Years is a good time to stock up on Champagne as the retailers bring in large
quantities and attempt to move a greater volume at a lower price.
Like anything else smart wine buying requires a bit of digging around. Those who give in to impulse or hype will pay a higher price. Remember, there will always be another great vintage coming around the corner and a general wine shortage is unlikely to occur anytime soon.
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