Using the axiom that ‘knowledge is power’ I thought it might be interesting to explore wine purchasing strategies. Since November I’ve been publishing a series on tips for buying wine in various retail settings including grocery stores, Total Wine, Costco and online. The one caveat that remains operative during any conversation on purchasing wine is that no one should tell you what to buy. While I encourage people to occasionally venture out of their comfort zone, it’s not my role to tell anyone how much they should spend or what wine they should be drinking.

Shopping for wine at our local supermarkets may not be the ideal place to locate that obscure bottle of Agiorgitiko from Greece or your $2,600 bottle of Chateau Petrus, but there are a few advantages as well as opportunities to be had if you know a few simple rules.

The primary benefit to buying your wine at grocery stores is one of convenience. We have three major chain supermarkets within eight-miles of our community, as well as a few specialty grocery stores just a few more miles away. The ability to pick up a bottle of wine in addition to your bread, milk, eggs and ground beef saves time and reduces your chances of COVID exposure by limiting your store visits.

Additionally, there are opportunities for saving a few dollars by timing your purchases and, on occasion, stumbling onto a bit of good luck. All the grocery stores routinely offer mix and match promotions, usually a specific percentage off when you purchase six or more bottles of wine & spirits. These discounts range from twenty to thirty percent and if you have the patience to wait for these sales the ‘per bottle’ prices will frequently be competitive with the big box wine retailers. The 30 percent mix and match promotions don’t occur very often so when you see this advertised in your Tuesday flier it’s time to act.

Also, all supermarkets regularly perform what is known as ‘resets’. This is when they make changes to their inventory, either because the store, the national chain or their wine distributors have elected to discontinue a particular product. These resets can be buying opportunities as stores will discount their remaining stock; either by tagging it as a special sale item (red sales tags in Safeway) or putting it in a clearance section (often times a shopping cart of clearance wines at Fry’s.) Prior to buying these clearance wines, or any other wines for that matter check two things: The vintage year and the ‘ullage’ - gap between the cork in the bottle and the wine itself. Older bottles and bottles with excessive headspace between the wine and the cork, more than 10mm, are troublesome signs, especially for wines on supermarket shelves. What that said I’ve picked up some great deals over the years during store resets.

Supermarkets generally carry large production national brands so many labels will be familiar to even the casual wine shopper. Chateau Ste. Michelle, LaCrema, Kendall Jackson, Josh Cellars, Duckhorn and Daou are just a few of the reliable producers which can be found in most stores. For many people, high volume, broadly available wines tend to be their ‘go-to’ bottles and there is no reason to change that strategy when it comes to buying at a grocery store. The turnover for these wines is high and if you buy during a mix and match sale the price point will be competitive.

Most people have noticed that the wines and spirits are sorted on shelves according to price point. The top shelf carries the higher end products and extreme value brands populate the bottom shelf. For the most part, I avoid the bottom shelf as these wines are rarely worth the few dollars the store charges for them. Similarly, I don’t pull many bottles from the top shelf as these more expensive wines tend to sit for long periods. If I do grab a pricey bottle, I make sure to give it extra scrutiny. I find that the sweet spot for wines with a good quality to price ratio is the middle shelves. Again, being a cost-conscious consumer and shopping the sales is where grocery store wine buying pays off.

One last point and this applies to shopping for wine in general. Expect inflationary pressures to raise the wine prices across the board. Supply chain issues involving deliveries of bottles, shipping backlogs on finished products and the multiple agricultural catastrophes due to climate change will cause us to dig deeper into our pockets for our favorite bottles. There will still be bargains to be had, but it will require consumers to be more knowledgeable about their options and diligent in search of sales and deals.


Tom Oetinger holds an advanced certification in wine and spirits from the WSET in London, England. He is available to assist you with your wine events or answer your wine questions. Tom also offers a free email service, recommending high quality, good value wines available locally. Contact / subscribe at

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