Magazine article Sunset

Secret Deals: How to Get A-List Wines for Bargain Prices

Magazine article Sunset

Secret Deals: How to Get A-List Wines for Bargain Prices

Article excerpt

ARE YOU MORE confused than ever by the tsunami of new labels you see when wandering down wine aisles these days? Our advice: Don't throw in the towel and reach for a familiar bottle; take a chance on one of the new ones, because more than a few taste a lot better than they should for the price. Think Two-Buck Chuck, only far superior.

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That's because many of the winemakers behind these labels skipped the step--and expense--of growing the grapes themselves and cut a great deal with the folks who did. It's an old French practice: A vintner buys grapes or wine from someone else; makes or just finishes the wine; and bottles it under his or her own label. Negociants--merchants--the French call them. And the growing number of custom crush facilities (co-op spaces with all the necessary equipment) in the West attests to how many vintners are making wine without a vine or crush pad of their own.

The recession turned negociant winemaking into a value proposition. As wine drinkers traded down a few price points, high-end wine languished on the shelf, and a lot of wineries became willing to move their excess inventory (grapes or wine) at fire-sale prices. Enter savvy negociants.

The catch: We can't know whose vineyard or barrel room these wines first called home; negociants are generally barred by contract from revealing. …

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