Buying wine: Getting the best price

No, this isn ?t a post about snagging that $100 Bordeaux for $97.50 or slipping one over on the wholesaler. It ?s some solid, consumer-oriented advice about saving money on wines people really drink.

1. Keep track of what you buy and what it costs. And no, you don ?t need a high-tech gizmo to do this. Buy a notebook in the $1 bin at the discount store and put your purchases in that. Write the date, the wine, the store, and the price. This will give you a reference to use to compare prices between stores.

2. Grocery stores want your business. Their specials are some of the best in the wine world, and they often bring in exclusives you can ?t get elsewhere that offer tremendous value. One of the Dallas chains was selling Mark West pinot noir for $8 a couple of weeks ago, a great deal. The catch is that most grocery store everyday pricing is a jumble — a hodgepodge of false markups, false markdowns, and affinity card discounts. I ?ve seen a wine sell for $12 one day and $8 the next.

3. Don ?t be scared by national brands like Woodbridge, Smoking Loon, Bogle, and the like. Yes, some of them aren ?t great, and even the well-made ones are decidedly unsexy. No doubt you ?ll be sneered at by the wine snobs. But if you can find a decent $8 wine, who cares what the wine snobs think? Remember, if you like it, it ?s good wine.

4. Try wine that isn ?t from the usual places. It ?s often less expensive and more interesting. And, frankly, aren ?t you tired of California merlot yet?

5. Find a wine shop where the employees want to make you happy, and not sell you wine. There ?s a big difference: The latter are concerned with moving merchandise, palming mediocre wine off on unwary customers to earn commissions. The former want you as a regular customer, and will offer suggestions and insights — and let you know about sales and discounts. I can ?t emphasize this enough, because it makes a difference even to someone, like the Wine Curmudgeon, who knows a lot about wine. The only thing I like better than finding a good cheap wine on my own is having my wine person recommend it.

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