State-operated liquor stores have opened for curbside pickup of orders, coming as a relief to some.
Unlike the dark days when wine-buying options were tied up in Harrisburg’s product list, Pennsylvania residents now have more choices.
Two fire-sale wine retailers, Wines ’Til Sold Out and Last Bottle, ship to Pennsylvania residents, with the catch that you don’t peruse broad selections and put together an order. After registering, you will be pestered with emails about a wine deal — for one wine. If it sounds good, you buy it, although usually a minimum purchase of four bottles is required to avoid shipping charges. Once those wines are gone, they are gone, and the next sale is up. Another email comes, and the process repeats.
Last Bottle has an additional gimmick: whomever orders the last bottle in a lot gets his or her order for free.
Also, more expensive offerings ship for free with the purchase of fewer bottles. Free shipping really is about the total order price, not necessarily the bottle count.
If you don’t mind inbox clutter and like treasure hunts, both retailers provide good options. Here’s a survival guide for fire-sale wine buying.
- Ignore the “original price.” Originally associated with former Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board Chairman Johnathan Newman, Wines ’Til Sold Out found itself in court a few years ago, accused of inflating the original retail price to result in an exaggerated discount. I always viewed that as a fairly common practice. (Did anyone pay full price for that patio set?)
- Look for third-party validation. You may not recognize all the brands, styles or regions. To increase your comfort level, read about the wine and check out the scores and nods from a recognizable third party. You also can Google the wine and see what the price is elsewhere and what others thought.
- Start with styles you like. If you have misgivings, begin with wines you are familiar with — a Lodi zinfandel, a Provencal rosé — and consider the offer price and whether it really is a deal for that type of wine. But take into consideration the convenience of having it show up on your doorstep in the COVID-19 era.
- Choose your own adventure. Often, the reason these wines are such deals is because they lack recognition. Prepare to see under-recognized regions, such as Loire or Mendocino, or styles such as Portuguese reds or cru du Beaujolais.
Buying four bottles of a wine you’ve haven’t tasted can give you pause. While these wines are closeouts of sorts, they are not bad wines. Selections occasionally have underwhelmed me, but overall these sellers provide good wines, often at the sort of value you will brag about to your friends. I sometimes run into heavy users who want to gush about some score. “Did you get that deal on the Amarone?”
While I’m a more frequent user of Wines ’Til Sold Out, I hear similar feedback about Last Bottle. I’ve probably asked more than 100 users of both sites if they feel like they’ve ever gotten burned by an offer. Everyone seems to be pleased. With a business model of selling wine one at a time, these retailers recognize they can’t risk losing customers by dumping flawed wine out there.
I picked up some Wines ’Til Sold Out wines recently in a more traditional sale in which the company was clearing inventory, and I had the chance to pick from the remaining selection of about 20 wines.
People associate Beaujolais with young wine that doesn’t age, and they aren’t aware of the region’s “cru” villages. So, the lovely Florent Descombe 2015 Fluerie Cru Du Beaujolais is my gain, still showing youthful fruit with the hint of tannic structure. This is a great Wednesday wine. $10. ★★★★ 1/2
Similarly, Italy’s Morellino di Scansano often gets overlooked. The Tuscan sangiovese wine is basically similar to Chianti. Tenute Loacker Valdifalco 2014 Morellino di Scansano is a medium-bodied wine with cherry and plum flavor that offers versatile for a range of meals. $10. ★★★★
GRADE: Exceptional ★★★★★, Above average ★★★★, Good ★★★, Below average ★★, Poor ★.