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The (Brief) New Era of Unbelievable Wine Deals

For anyone looking for discount pricing on their favorite luxury California wines, we have just entered perhaps the best time in history to be a high-end wine consumer. It will take a little effort, but the motivated wine lover can now snap up some truly astonishing wines at prices approaching half of their normal range.

Most high-end wineries, especially those California wineries commanding top prices in the marketplace, reserve a certain portion of their stock to sell in restaurants. Even those wineries who sell the entirety of their “allocated” wines direct to mailing lists of consumers hold a few cases back to sprinkle among top-tier restaurant wine lists.

Having their wines appear on these lists is an unusual win for both the wineries and the restaurants. Both parties achieve a certain amount of cachet from the situation. The wineries get to brag about their wines appearing in lists next to some of the world’s great wines, and the restaurants get to brag about offering such wines to the public, which entices the most profitable type of guests: the big wine spenders.

Thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, however, this supply-chain (if you can really refer to this small but steady trickle of high-end wine as a supply chain) has completely broken down.

Some restaurants have been able to pivot rapidly to selling wines with their to-go food, but those wines are not the big expensive bottles that would sell on their lists for $500 or $800. Instead they’re selling $40-80 “everyday dinner” wines.

A few restaurants seem to be going for broke (if you’ll excuse the painfully unfortunate phrase) and simply liquidating their cellars as best they can, rather than having all their money tied up in bottles that they can’t possibly sell.

Which brings us to the opportunity that now awaits wine lovers, and the tricky situation wineries now face.

Very few, if any, restaurants will be placing their usual wine orders in the near future. As top-tier wineries open up their Spring releases to their mailing lists, they are also shipping a few cases to their distributors as per their usual agreements (likely hammered out before the pandemic) to be sold into restaurants.

And since those restaurants aren’t buying like they normally do, those distributors, and the wineries they serve, are in a pickle. All of a sudden, there might be 5, 10 or even 20 cases of a wine that might fetch $225 at retail, or $600 at a restaurant, that the distributor must sell to customers that no longer exist.

So what are most distributors going to do? Unload that wine as quickly as they can and attempt to at least recover their costs.

Which is why savvy wine lovers are starting to see serious name brand wines available at shocking prices on flash sale sites and from certain retailers who are used to moving closeout or small lots of wine.

This morning I received a wine offer from a mailing list I patronize. It read something along the lines of the following:

From the stellar 2016 vintage in Napa comes a serious surprise! From among the top pieces of Napa real estate, we have a pristine lot of this wine at prices that can’t be believed (major retailers sell it for $250 – $275+). I can’t reveal the producer, but your price today? $130.

One of many wine offers I’ve REceived Lately

Last week I received an offer for a wine at $40 per bottle that regularly sells out to mailing list customers at $150.

These kinds of deals will continue as long as restaurants and hotels aren’t buying, and until distributors manage to wiggle out of their contracts to sell these wines, or wineries find better places to sell them for higher margins.

So for a while (a month or two? half a year?) if you’ve got money to spend on some of America’s most expensive wines, you can likely get yourself some serious bargains.

Of course, your main question at this point is likely, “alright, so where should I be shopping?”

I’m not in the business of endorsing any specific wine sellers, but here are a few retailers that are, or are likely, entertaining these kinds of offers at the moment:

First Bottle

Garagiste

WineAccess

Vinfolio

I’m sure there are more. If you’ve got suggestions to help out your fellow wine lovers, put ’em in the comments. And happy shopping.