Wine is delicious. Wine is classy. And, if you're not careful, an obsession with great wine can burrow a hole into your pocket faster than a corkscrew. But it doesn't have to be that way. To figure out how to maximize your purchasing power without resorting to Boone's Farm, we tapped Brian Hosmer -- winemaker at the award-winning Chateau Chantal and Hawthorne Vineyards in Traverse City, MI -- for a few tips on how to turn your teeth red without doing the same to your credit rating.
1. Be wary of "sales" at stores
For many folks, it's impossible to resist a big "sale" sign with slashed prices. Turns out, though, that it's a rouse. “It’s kind of a racket. It’s like going to the casino. The house always wins," Hosmer says. "Wineries can set their wholesale prices at whatever they want. And you can set your retail price at whatever you want. That means, when it’s on the shelf, that wine’s on sale for 50% off all year long. People are looking for value, so you had these made-up sales that don’t really relate to the real world. They just put a big yellow sticker on it.”
2. Buy bulk from the source
Bulk always results in savings. But usually, wineries and clubs can get up 15-25% off the retail price, which is considerably higher than the grocery store. “You can generally get a good deal if you’re a club member or buy at the winery," he says.
3. At vineyards, it's okay to be cheap
“The worst wine to be on the wine list is the cheapest one," Hosmer says. "If you’re the second-cheapest one, you’ll be the best seller. Nobody wants to be on a date and look cheap. But quality is kind of a moving target."
4. Be friendly with the sommelier
When you're going for a bottle in a restaurant, you can either scan an endless list, looking for something in your budget, or you can save time and get better recs by talking to the expert. “You can just tell them how much money you want to spend and they’ll recommend things. Chat up the sommelier,” he says.
5. Trust your taste, not your friend's
"You get immediate value from getting something you like rather than something somebody else tells you to like,” Hosmer says, adding that people far too often trust an "expert" rather than their taste buds. "They listen to their friend instead of getting what they like. Then they just think the vineyard sucks."
6. If you've got the funds, go big
“If you’re in a restaurant, you’re probably going to get ripped off anyway," Hosmer says. "Sometimes, the more you spend, the less the markup is. If they buy a $5 wholesale bottle, they’ll mark it up $20-$30. But they might put the same markup on an $80 bottle. Would you rather spend $35 on a $5 bottle or $100 for an $80 bottle?”
7. Try the house wine
At restaurants, there's a tendency to translate "$8 glasses of house wine" as "We poured a bunch of Franzia into a decanter, sucker." Hosmer, however, says there's often huge value in the unnamed bottles. “Sometimes people get a pretty sweet deal. We make wine for restaurants and put their label on it. It’s the same wine, with their label. It can be a very good deal. Sometimes they’ll tell you where they get it. Or look on the back of the bottle -- it generally says where it’s manufactured. It can be a really good deal.”
8. Avoid glasses if you can
"I’ve sent so many glasses of wine back at bars because it sits on the bar for a week and it’s stinky or something’s creeping on it," Hosmer says. "That’s why the markup is so high on by-the-glass. They have to pay for the bottle in only two pours.”
9. Look for restaurants with kegs
There's a tendency for people to think kegged wine is inferior. It's not. “Their big advantage is in quality, because they’re sitting under an inert gas," Hosmer says. Less scientifically speaking, it means that it takes the wine much, much longer to turn. That means that everything laid out in No. 8 goes out the window, and the savings come back to you.