Tips for Buying Alcohol that Nobody Tells You

The Wine Girl

With the pursuit of fine wines and liquors becoming more of a hobby for many and not just a pastime, major trends have been arising. Craft beer, rare cocktail additions, new whisky homelands, and specific wine producers are pursued mercilessly by consumers after, say, an exuberant review article, seasonal recipe, or a special edition is released. Demand skyrockets, prices rise, and the supply, by nature or design, drops precipitously. 

In an industry which generally needs time or the best ingredients to develop its highest-rated products to their peak levels, whether an aged whiskey or a vintage wine, this causes incredible market shifts. Older bourbons are a perfect example, with the demand increasing dramatically in recent years; producers had no inkling of this two or three decades ago and could never have predicted that the barrels they had just set would sell so quickly or for so much. Pappy Van Winkle 23 year Bourbon is by far one of the most requested, most expensive, and rarest seen whiskies on the market and its average price has jumped from the hundreds to the thousands in just the last two years. 

As a wine (etc.) salesperson, this is not fun. I hate looking into your hopeful face and telling you the beer you requested is only available in the state of Maine, or that the article you read failed to mention the whisky was only released in Europe. 

The worst part is that shelves are filled with well-aged, off-trend, or small-name items that you could be enjoying or investing in now without risking your car payment.

With wine, find grapes or regions you like instead of names. Wineries are businesses and they change hands, start and end working relationships, and close up shop without much notice. If the popularity of a name in wine does not push the estate to maintain strict quality standards and raise the price, as is true with a Lafite or Latour, the inverse can occur. When a wine brand’s name becomes popular, the push for a bigger supply in the next vintages sacrifices quality in order to keep prices fairly level. Any wine with a commercial can be put into this category. If it is ubiquitous and in high supply, like Apothic Red or Veuve Clicquot Champagne, it is being sourced from unnamed vineyards and blended for conformity. Allowing yourself to look past the label opens you up to wines cultivated with love and passion. 

There are always good alternatives available. Many major chateaus and estates have second labels or table wine versions of their major blends. This can be a blend of the juice from a number of their vineyards, where they would otherwise use the grapes from just one, or it may be run-off from their major label, blended to be imbibed comparatively young. Winemakers will work for more than one estate, or start their own, taking their distinct style with them. If you like bourbon, try rye, less pricy, or rum, even less pricy, for the next wave in liquor aged up to 20 years. If barley-based Scotch is your game, barley-based Irish whiskey has a growing number of distillers experimenting with peat and releasing older bottlings. And there are always Scotland’s independent bottlers, who release well-aged special editions of major label whiskies under their own name at a fraction of the cost.

Having an open mind is key. While it may be true that there is no other beer quite like your favorite, there is very likely someone making something remarkably similar, or riffing on the same idea. Even finding your chosen bottle again is no guarantee of satisfaction; a truly artisanal beer, wine, or liquor’s taste will even vary from batch to batch.   

And finally, please, please, please, ask us. Any wine and liquor store worth its snuff is staffed by people that know their inventory and can suggest options based on your preferences. 

For my part, here are just a few lesser known names that pack a big punch to your palate and not to your wallet. Happy Shopping!

Wines 

Small producers, low prices, fantastic juice.

2012 Barrique Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon Napa 750ml $39.99
2012 Kalaris Cabernet Sauvignon 750ml $47.99
2007 di Arie Zinfandel Southern Exposure 750ml $19.99
2007 Coca I Fito Negre 750ml $49.99
2012 Toluca Lane Pinot Noir 750ml $39.99
2011 Pali Pinot Noir Summit 750ml $29.99
2011 Eagle Glen Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley 750ml $19.99
2012 Penley Phoenix Cabernet Sauvignon 750ml $19.99
2012 Pegau Châteauneuf-du-Pape Cuvee Reservee 750ml $89.99
2012 Coudoulet de Beaucastel Cotes du Rhone 750ml $29.99
2012 Venge Scout's Honor 750ml $39.99
2012 Hatton Daniels Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir 750ml $44.99
2012 Janzen Estate Napa Cabernet Sauvignon 750ml $64.99
2011 Wesmar Pinot Noir Russian River Valley 750ml $49.99
2006 Aglieta Brunello di Montalcino 750ml $59.99
2010 Ferragu Valpolicella Superiore 750ml $49.99
2010 Macauley Vineyard Napa Cabernet Sauvignon 750ml $79.99
2008 Boudreaux Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon 750ml $54.99
2010 Cascina Adelaide Barolo 750ml $39.99
2009 Vicchiomaggio Chianti Classico Reserva Vigna La Prima 750ml $49.99
2010 Portal del Priorat Clos del Portal Somni 750ml $79.99
2010 Wing Canyon Cabernet Sauvignon Mount Veeder Napa 750ml $59.99
2008 Heathcote II HD Reserve Shiraz 750ml $49.99
2010 Raspail-Ay Gigondas 750ml $39.99

Rums & Whiskies

Age and Style, a small step outside your comfort zone

Flor De Cana Rum Centenario 25 Year Old 750ml $189.99
Appleton Extra 21 Year Old Rum 750ml $119.99
El Dorado 21 Year Old Rum 750ml $119.99
Mount Gay 1703 Cask Select Rum 750ml $119.99
Rhum Clement Cuvee Homere 750ml $119.99
Ron Zacapa Centenario XO Rum Solera Gran Reserva Especial 750ML $89.99
Caroni Trinidad Rum Dewar Rattray 750ml $79.99
Don Q Rum Grande Anejo 750ml $79.99
Angostura 1824 Rum 12yr 750ml $69.99
Pussers Rum 15yr 750ml $65.99
Vizcaya Rum Cask No. 21 VXOP 750ml $59.99
Craigduff 33 Year Old Signatory Cask Strength Collection 750ml $349.99
Coal Illa 30 Year Old Signatory Cask Strength Collection 750ml $299.99
Willett XCF Rye 750ml $189.99

Lilia Coffin is a Wine Consultant at Schneider’s of Capitol Hill