How to Save on Wine and Spirits

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Golden Brown Whisky on the rocks in a glassWhether you’re in the market for wine or whiskey, the price of a bottle can be hefty. Although I’m not much for cosmos, whiskey or beer, I like to have a well-stocked bar when extended family and friends stop by.

But filling our liquor treasure chest is costly. And because I like to entertain — a typical Saturday night at our house includes several friends joining us for dinner — I’ve found it imperative to root out ways to save on spirits beyond clipping coupons (which I do whenever possible).

The next time you’re shopping for any sort of spirited libation, keep these tips in mind to keep your budget from suffering a nasty hangover after a visit to the liquor store.

Get regionalCheerful couple toasting with white wine
To score a good deal on wine, look for varietals from unusual regions such as Portugal, Greece, Southern Italy and parts of Spain. These wine regions are well-established, but relatively undiscovered by the masses. It’s expensive to produce wine in the United States, so those inexpensive California, Washington or New York bottles aren’t always a good value or quality. Many of those bottles are filled with bulk wine that a winery sold off because it didn’t want to use it.

Don’t be fooled by labels
There’s nothing wrong with wine made in bulk; it’s cheap and often serves a purpose when you’re entertaining dozens of people. But if you’re looking to pair a romantic dinner, your favorite cut of meat or Sunday brunch with a good value, check the label for a bottling statement. If that label says “Vinted & Bottled By” or “Cellared & Bottled By,” chances are you have a bulk wine that was put in a bottle like Coca-Cola or any other mass-produced beverage. Be aware that a lot of these bulk wines have cute names. For example, they often use words like “farm”to create confusion for the customer.

For more tips on how to read wine labels for the best value, check out my post from last week about the psychology of wine labels.

Beware convenience costs
“I always tell customers to skip the convenience of wine in grocery because most of the large big-box stores don’t taste wine before stocking it. They treat wine like any other SKU on the shelf; it’s like toilet paper to them,” says Andrew Stover, founder of Vino50 Selections. “They look at the price, discount options and the spot on the shelf needed to be filled.”

So while it’s convenient, that bottle of merlot you toss into your grocery store cart isn’t vetted for price and quality. Stover says some alcohol products get prime real estate on a grocer’s shelves because a marketing firm or alcohol manufacturer paid extra to have it prominently placed. Many grocery store wines and alcohols need to be widely available for the chain to stock across multiple stores and states, so you end up with a lot of bulk-production beverages that are not that interesting.

Stover says if your goal is to just have an inexpensive bottle to pop open and get a buzz, have at it. “But if you are seeking more of an experience, nothing can compete with an independent liquor shop,” he says. Especially when the shop tastes the wine and alcohol it puts on the shelf in order to make educated recommendations to customers.

“Try getting a recommendation for wine in a big-box grocery chain,” says Stover.

Buy in bulkVodka in a cardboard box
Many liquor stores offer special, possibly unadvertised volume pricing when you buy multiple bottles of alcohol or wine. You may have to buy up to a case (12 bottles); but if the beverage is a favorite, you may be able to save 10 percent or more off each bottle.

Sip unpopular wine
Avoid paying a premium for popularity and stock your bar with “unpopular” varietals from well-known wineries. For instance a merlot from Duckhorn or St. Supery offer superb flavor and bouquet without the expensive price tag of other more popular merlots from different wineries.

Take advantage of rebates
These are more popular than most people realize. As long as you remember to mail in the rebates, it’s a smart way to save 25 percent or more. In many cases, you have to ask for the rebate form or flip through a box of rebate forms located near the register, but many alcohol companies let you file your rebate request online for the added savings of the price of a stamp.

Join the clubRed Box With Straw And A Bottle
Stretch your budget with membership in a wine club. They offer value above and beyond what shows up in the box at your door each month or quarter by providing a 100-percent satisfaction guarantee. That allows you a replacement bottle for anything you don’t like, no questions asked. How many wine stores do that? You usually receive an additional discount — up to 20 percent off club prices — on reorders if you find something you like. And many clubs offer free shipping on orders of a case or more.

Discount and wholesale clubs can also pare down the price of alcohol and mixers. Most large membership warehouses are required by law to allow non-members to purchase alcohol at the discounted price.

Sync your smartphone
The mobile retail app Ibotta helps consumers enjoy their favorite wine and spirits without breaking the bank. No matter where the preference to shop, use the free app to earn cash back on purchases in a few seconds using your smartphone.

Ibotta’s rebates are offered at more than 100,000 U.S. locations such as Bevmo, Target, Ralphs, Vons, CVS, Costco and liquor stores. You can purchase popular wines and spirits from leading brands such as Constellation Brands, SIMI, VEEV and Turning Leaf while earning rebates that range from 75 cents up to $10 by completing quick tasks like viewing a recipe, learning a fun fact or taking a one-question poll. Once you unlock those rebates, scan the UPC and upload a photo of your receipt to get the cash.

Photo credit: Getty ThinkStock

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