A Case For A Case (of wine)

Why you may want to consider buying by the case

Many people regularly enjoy a glass of wine with dinner, opening at least a bottle or two of wine a week.  Most wine-drinkers purchase their bottle of wine when grocery shopping or on their way home for dinner.  Does this sound familiar?  Have you ever been caught wishing you had another bottle of wine on hand at the end of a dinner party or when friends stopped by unexpectedly?  Do you ever wonder what a red wine would taste like with some age, when the tannins are a little softer?  Have you wished that you had purchased more of a favorite you discovered while wine tasting, because you just can’t find at your local wine store? If you answered yes to any of these questions, then, like my friends discovered earlier this summer, you may benefit from purchasing wines by the case.

On a recent Saturday afternoon, I went wine tasting with three friends (The names have been changed to protect the guilty). At one winery, Lisa loved the Sauvignon Blanc as a perfect, refreshing summer white. Matt liked the luscious Merlot for an upcoming dinner party, and David (who can’t resist a perfectly grilled steak) wanted to take home the big, bold Cabernet Sauvignon. Once they decided on the wines, they faced the inevitable question: how much should they buy? I recommended that they each consider buying a case. Their immediate reaction was to say no, but they asked why I suggested buying a case. I had three simple reasons for them:

  • Buying by the case makes financial sense;
  • Buying a case is convenient; and
  • Buying a case would allow them to judge when age-able wines will be at their peak.

For people used to purchasing by the bottle, the cost of a case can seem daunting. But, everyone loves a deal. Most wineries or stores will give a ten to twenty percent discount from the bottle price when a customer purchases a case. With a 20% discount, Lisa’s $20 wine became a $16 wine; Matt’s $40 wine became a $32 wine; and David’s $70 wine became a $56 wine.

Lisa decided that she liked the Sauvignon Blanc enough that she would want to have it several times over the summer. For her, $16 a bottle was a comfortable price for a “weekend” wine, so she decided to purchase a full case. Deciding to purchase a case was easier for her when she considered her wine consumption over the whole summer. Lisa enjoys wine several days a week, and entertains occasionally. She realized that she generally opens about three bottles a week, or about a case of wine a month. When she looked at her consumption this way, she realized that she would easily buy twelve bottles of Sauvignon Blanc over the course of the summer. It just made sense to buy it all at once and get a deal.

In considering the Merlot, Matt decided that he needed 4 bottles for his party.  The question was whether he wanted to buy the additional 8 bottles to make a case. Matt loves to entertain, sometimes planned and sometimes on the spur of the moment.  Buying a full case would be convenient for him because he would have a wine handy that he enjoyed without having to run to the store to pick up a bottle to open with dinner or when friends dropped by.  He realized that he might actually open the additional 8 bottles of Merlot over the next year, and would definitely go through it over the next couple of years.  Since the wine would be good for several years, Matt also decided to buy a case.

Initially, David hoped that Lisa or Matt would want less than a full case so that he could split a “mixed case” with them.  Many vendors and wineries will offer their case discount on a mixed case, i.e., a case of different wines.  Those who are not interested in purchasing (or able to purchase) a full case should consider combining purchases with friends to take advantage of offered case discounts.  (If using this strategy while wine tasting, avoid the faux pas of asking the winery to charge each person separately for their purchases. Instead, one person should make the purchase and the group should work out the financial arrangements among themselves later.)  Unfortunately for David, neither Lisa nor Matt wanted to share in a mixed case, so he was going to have to decide whether to buy an entire case himself.

For David, who was used to buying just a bottle or two at a time, the leap to spending nearly $700 on a case was more difficult.  But, David enjoys aged red wines.  Many Cabernet Sauvignons and Meritage/Bordeaux blends can be enjoyed immediately (especially after decanting), or can be aged for a decade or more.  When they are young, many of these wines have big, bold fruit that may dominate the other flavors.  As such wines age, the fruit mellows and allows the other flavors to come through, and the tannins soften.  To enjoy these wines at their full potential, they can be purchased young and cellared, or purchased later from a winery or collector, often at a “library” premium.  The problem with such age-able wines is determining when they are at their peak.  The answer is to taste.  An educated guess can be made regarding how long to age a wine based on its structure, but the only way to be certain when the wine is ideally balanced is to taste the wine periodically as it ages.  By purchasing a case of his Cabernet, David can taste it as it matures and refine his estimate of when the wine will be “perfect.”  David decided that he liked the Cabernet enough to buy a case so that he could age it and know what it would taste like at its peak.  The decision to buy the case also helped him decide to buy the wine refrigerator he had his eye on to be sure he was taking care of his investment.

Like my three friends, every wine fan should consider buying wine by the case.  Whether you are interested in the financial incentive, the convenience of having a favorite wine on hand, or the ability to age an elegant wine and drink it at its peak – or some combination of the three – I encourage you to seriously consider purchasing wines by the case. You’ll be glad you did. Oh, and don’t be surprised if your last bottle in the case becomes more treasured as you recall the wonderful memories of the other eleven bottles that you’ve shared with family and friends.

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