WineInk: “The best place to buy wine is in a local, independent wine shop” |

WineInk: “The best place to buy wine is in a local, independent wine shop”

Kelly J. Hayes
The curated selections at of Grape and Grain appeal to connoisseurs.
Anna Stonehouse/The Aspen Times |

With the election this past week featuring three ballot measures that will affect how Colorado’s retail wine and liquor industry will function going forward, I got to thinking about the local landscape. Because we live in a resort community, we are incredibly fortunate to have a wealth of outstanding local liquor and wine shops in this valley. It is just another reason why Aspen is such a revered wine town.

Locals have their favorites, and each of our area shops have their own personal character. Some people like the variety of fine wines and service found at the Grog Shop over by City Market. Others praise the convenience of Local Spirits in the Local’s Corner and Aspen Wine and Spirits near Clark’s Market, while the curated selections at of Grape and Grain appeal to connoisseurs. The shop at Carl’s has a decades’ long tradition of running one of the great Thanksgiving wine sales to be found anywhere.

Over in Snowmass, the longtime favorite Sundance Liquor and Gifts in the Snowmass Center has been selling great wine since 1979. The Daly Bottle Shop on the Snowmass Mall features a small but well-considered selection of wines, as well. Further downvalley in Basalt, Gonzo presents a reliable collection in a packed house at Jimbo’s that allows consumers to find some surprises. And, of course, Four Dogs in El Jebel next to Whole Foods is perhaps the largest retail wine shop in the area.

Barbara Wickes and her son Andrew Wickes stand in their family store, Sundance Liquor and Gifts, in Snowmass on Nov. 6, 2019.
Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times

Proposition 124, which would’ve allowed liquor stores to open unlimited locations, did not pass. Those opposing it argued that one of the consequences of passing it would have been fewer mom-and-pop shops. And, there is no better retail wine experience than being able to go into local shops and interact with wine pros while making your purchasing decisions. As the retail landscape changes going forward, it is important that we support these local shops.

In years gone by, to buy a book you went to an independent bookstore. You actually talked with the folks who worked there, walked the aisles, opened a few books, and turned some pages. Perhaps you bought the book you came for, and maybe you made a new discovery and walked out with something different. Or both. Regardless, the experience was rich and full of wonder.

Today, mega-stores and Amazon have changed that dramatically. Book buyers may have gained convenience and bargains, but the experience has lost that wonder and richness. The same is true with buying wine. Warehouse stores like Costco (America’s largest wine retailer) and online retailers like have made the process simple and perhaps a bit more affordable. But, have they improved the wine-buying experience?

I think not.

For my money, still, the best place to buy wine is in a local, independent wine shop. People who have made the commitment and investment to run a wine shop come to their business with both passion and an understanding of wine.

The best way to get the most out of your wine-buying experience is to find a great wine shop and frequent it. This may require a little legwork at first, but you’ll be better for the exercise. Check out some shops, peruse the selections and ask some questions. If the wine pros are nice, knowledgeable, and helpful, you have found your place. Frequent it. Spend your money there. Over time, your wine shop will become a part of your life, much like, say, your hairdresser or barbershop.

While the chains and onliners may have good prices on what they want to sell, the key is getting good prices on what you want to buy. There are few ways to do just that.

First, buy by the case. Almost all wine shops give discounts to bulk buyers, and, if you can possibly purchase boxes instead of bottles, you can likely save up to 15% on your wines. What I like to do is buy, say, three or four bottles per case of special wines that may cost more, and then mix my case with more affordable everyday drinking wines. That way, you get the case discount on those higher priced specialty bottles. Also, be sure to ask if the retailer can give you a better price for cash instead of a credit card purchase. The savings may be worth it for both of you.

Next, be aware of the specials the store offers. There are different times of the year when a wine shop may discount certain wines, and you can really save a bundle. For example, just before New Year’s is a great time to buy Champagne, as the stores are flooded with bubbly, and major brands may be marked down considerably. Late in the spring, a shop may stock up on Rosé for summer and drop the price. A price cut combined with a case discount can mean big savings.

Pretty as a picture: The rack of rosé wines at Four Dogs Fine Wines & Spirits features a prodigious selection of great pink wines from around the world.
Kelly J. Hayes

Conversely, keep an eye out for wines that are in the odd bins or that have been discontinued. Maybe the shop has not re-ordered a wine, and they have given space to something else. You may get clearance prices on great wines that, for whatever reason, don’t fit into the retailer’s future plans.

Of course, the most important thing about buying wine, even more than the price, is getting wines you like. If you save a few dollars and don’t like the wine, then, essentially, you have wasted not just the savings, but also the actual purchase price, as well.

So, how do you get the good wines for less? Well, here are few tips:

Do a little homework. We live in an age where there are gobs of info and ratings on wines. Read the top-100 lists. Check out a few websites, and Google the grapes you like. Have an idea before you go about what wines you may want to purchase and what their price points might be. It’s not that hard, and, serendipitously, you’ll be expanding your wine education as you go.

Also, look for wines in value regions. Love Bordeaux? Then, try wines using the same grapes from California. Or, save even more by checking out Bordeaux blends from places like Chile and Argentina. If you are drinking wines in the $20-$30 range, there are more choices than ever before, and wines in that range from around the world have never been better. Also, keep an eye on exchange rates. A strong dollar ratio to other countries can mean savings.

Do you know what a second label is? In Bordeaux, First Growth producers began the tradition by using the juice that they did not put in their flagship wines to create other wines, second-label wines, for additional bottling. Chateau Latour, for example, has a second label called Les Forts De Latour, which uses fruit from the estate but is not anywhere near the price of the Chateau’s First Growth wine. And, it’s not just the wines of Bordeaux. Makers around the wine world do second labels, as well. Look for well-respected producers and explore their less expensive offerings.

Finally, check the labels on the back of the bottles of imports for the names of best importers. Bay Area-based Kermit Lynch may be the most famous of the boutique importers of French wines, and you can get great Italian wines from Leonardo LoCascio Selections, imported by The Wine Bow Group, or reliable Australian wines from Old Bridge Cellars. These are people who understand their regions of the wine world and who only bring quality wines into the U.S. If you can find an importer from a region who sells wines you like, stay with them.

Finally, and most importantly, look at buying wines as being a part of the overall wine experience. It’s all part of the process of discovery — discovery of new grapes, new regions, new winemakers.

Since you live here in the Roaring Fork Valley, you have a unique opportunity to buy — and drink — great wine.

Take advantage of it.

Under the Influence

d’Arenberg “The Footbolt” Shiraz 2020

It has been a while since I have had the pleasure of drinking a glass of wine with Chester Osborn, the great fourth-generation Australian wine maker, but I think of him every time I open one of his wines. From value to authenticity, the wines d’Arenberg are always a good selection. This Shiraz from Australia’s McLaren Vale region is dark as ink and tastes like a basket of plums and cherries with a solid and substantially smooth mouth feel. Named after a racehorse, this Footbolt Shiraz takes the blue ribbon.