The post-Thanksgiving period, complete with Black Friday shopping sprees, is a time to seek bargains in almost all goods, but curiously wine is not among them.
Why you can get discounts this time of year on jeans, TVs, watches, and shoes, but not wine is due to a complex set of facts that include one rather unavoidable truth: Wine is a controlled substance.
As such, it adheres to distribution regulations set up 80 years ago (Prohibition ended on Dec. 5, 1933) and which, for all intents and purposes, have not been altered.
One result of this is that consumers are pretty much left out of the loop where wine distribution is concerned. This includes restrictions on getting the product.
For example, some of the best wines I tasted this year were from British Columbia, but I have not written about them because they are not available here.
(Gehringer Bros. of B.C., for example, won nine Platinum medals at an annual competition in Washington six weeks ago — more than any other winery — and not a bottle has ever appeared on a U.S. store shelf. Gehringer has declined to distribute in the United States and the only way to get the wines is to go to Canada and buy them. The winery will not go to the United States.)
But all is not lost. There are many excellent wines out there that consumers can get direct from various sources, though there are pitfalls when the consumer tries to control his or her own destiny in this area.
One way is to do an Internet search for a particular wine you are looking for and see who's carrying it and at what prices.
Assume there's a wine you'd like that sells for $20 a bottle (suggested retail price). You could walk into your local store, pay $20 a bottle for a case ($240) and get a 20% discount. Final cost: $192 plus tax.
However, imagine finding a store in, say, New Jersey that discounts the same wine. Can you save money?
Let's look at a specific example: the excellent 2012 St. Supery Sauvignon Blanc. The winery price for this wine is $20, but the average price of this widely distributed wine is $16 around the country.
One web site, <a href="http://www.wineaccess.com" target="_blank">www.wineaccess.com</a>, has a feature that will tell you the lowest price for a wine anywhere in the United States.
For the St. Supery, All Star Wine in Latham, N.Y., has the lowest price for this wine, $12.99 a bottle.
Doing the math: A case of this wine purchased at a local discount store for $16 a bottle equals $192 plus tax, no shipping charge. With 8% tax, the total comes to $207.36.
A case of the same wine purchased at All Star Wines for $12.99 a bottle equals $155.88 plus $39.87 shipping. The final total is $195.75.
Amount saved: more than $11.
But things can get interesting when you call some online wine companies. Many will cut shipping charges in half for orders over a certain amount, and during the holidays many even waive all shipping charges for larger orders (say, over $300).
Such homework pays dividends in major ways when searching for more expensive wines. The best U.S. price for 2009 Chateau Lynch-Bages is $165 a bottle; the highest is $210. Even overnight delivery of one bottle of wine isn't going to be $45.