wine in glassesWine experts often urge buyers not to judge the quality of a wine by its price alone. We’re not experts on this subject, but based on countless articles that used blind taste tests to determine if real experts can distinguish expensive vintages from the boxed stuff, we conclude that wine preferences are very subjective.

And while we may not be authorities on wine quality, we’re pretty good at finding you great deals. Because even lower-priced wines don’t come cheap, we did a bit of sleuthing to discover which area stores offer the best prices.

We shopped a sample of area supermarkets, big-box discounters, warehouse clubs, specialty wine shops, and online stores for their prices on 14 wines. The vintages we priced ranged from budget wines produced by massive wineries to higher-priced products from medium-sized vineyards. Because we wanted to compare prices across several area stores, all of the wines had to be readily available in several places. To find the best prices for special limited-production vintages or wines produced by small vineyards, you’ll need to do your own comparisons.

The table below shows the prices quoted to our mystery shoppers. It also reports Consumers' Checkbook’s price comparison score for each store. These scores show how each store’s prices compared to the average of all local stores’ prices for the bottles we shopped. We adjusted the scores so that the average of all stores equals $100. A score of $105, for example, means a store’s prices averaged five percent higher than the all-store average.

For some of the wines, we found relatively small store-to-store price differences, but for others some local stores charge prices that are 40 percent or more higher than the prices found at their nearby competitors. Among the chains and stores we shopped, Costco and Sam’s Club offered the lowest overall prices (although Sam’s Club carried only four of the bottles on our list). Costco’s prices were about 18 percent lower than the average prices at all the stores we shopped; Sam’s Club’s about 15 percent lower.

Prices at Binny’s Beverage Depot were about 10 percent lower than average, Trader Joe’s prices about six percent lower, and Woodman’s about five percent lower. Among chains, the area’s highest prices were at Food 4 Less and Whole Foods, where overall prices were about 13 percent higher than average.

At some independent stores you’ll pay a steep price to avoid the big-box experience, but others charge prices that won’t break your vino budget.

While shopping online yields big savings for most products, that’s not necessarily true for wine. As the table below indicates, the prices from online stores for the bottles on our list didn’t exactly squash their local competition. For most of our 14 wines, we found local stores that offered lower overall prices than their out-of-area competitors—even without including shipping costs. Prices at some online stores were significantly higher than prices at local stores.

One way to cut your wine costs—and perhaps save money without having to brave the hordes at membership warehouse clubs—is to take advantage of stores’ bulk discounts. Many stores offer 10 percent discounts when you buy a half-case or full case of wine, and most offer their discounts on mixed cases. Price leaders Costco and Sam’s Club don’t offer such discounts, meaning that you’ll roughly match these stores’ prices for the same wine when you buy lots of it from low- or moderate-priced stores that offer volume discounts. Binny’s offers a five percent discount when you buy mixed cases.

Wine
Prices

Best prices in
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Consumers' Checkbook’s price comparison score ($100 is average) Chateau Ste Michelle Columbia Valley Chardonnay Apothic Red Blend Clos du Bois North Coast Chardonnay Simi Sonoma Chardonnay Kim Crawford Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc Rodney Strong Sonoma Cabernet Francis Coppola Diamond Collection Claret La Crema Sonona Coast Pinot Noir Santa Margherita Valdadige Pinot Grigio A to Z Oregon Pinot Noir Decoy by Duckhorn Napa Valley Merlot Veuve Clicquot Brut Champagne “Yellow Label” Stag’s Leap Artemis Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 Caymus Cabernet Sauvignon 2011
Costco Lake Zurich $82 $7.99 $7.99 $11.99 $11.99 $17.99 $17.99 $14.99
Sam’s Club Tinley Park $85 $7.98 $8.98 $11.71 $12.98
Binny’s Beverage Depot Chicago $90 $6.99 $6.99 $8.99 $13.99 $12.99 $14.99 $14.90 $20.99 $17.99 $17.99 $41.99 $44.99 $64.99
Walmart Neighborhood Market Chicago $93 $8.97
Trader Joe’s Orland Park $94 $8.99 $7.99 $9.99 $14.99 $12.99 $14.99 $21.99 $19.99 $16.99
Woodman’s Food North Aurora $95 $6.99 $9.99 $12.99 $14.99 $12.99 $16.99 $22.99 $19.99 $45.99
Cardinal Warehouse Palatine $96 $9.99 $7.99 $9.99 $14.99 $12.99 $14.99 $16.99 $21.99 $17.99 $16.99 $19.99 $41.99 $49.99
Jewel-Osco Lake Zurich $98 $10.99 $8.99 $8.99 $13.99 $15.99 $16.99 $14.99 $21.99 $17.99 $39.99 $48.00
Famous Liquor Lombard $99 $9.99 $8.99 $10.99 $12.99 $14.99 $15.99 $12.99 $20.99 $22.99 $16.99 $51.99
SuperTarget Broadview $105 $10.49 $9.99 $9.99 $15.99 $15.99 $14.99 $16.99 $22.99 $21.99 $50.99
Ultra Foods Downers Grove $107 $9.99 $7.88 $10.99 $15.99 $27.99
West Lakeview Liquors Chicago $108 $18.99 $21.95 $26.95 $17.95 $21.95 $53.95 $51.95 $66.95
Foremost Liquors Schaumburg $110 $7.99 $9.99 $12.99 $15.99 $16.99 $17.99
Food 4 Less Evanston $113 $10.99 $8.99 $11.98 $57.00
Vas Foremost Liquors Chicago $113 $10.99 $10.49 $16.99 $16.99 $17.99 $23.99 $19.99 $53.99
Whole Foods Deerfield $113 $11.99 $16.99 $19.99 $24.99 $23.99 $19.99 $24.99 $44.99 $49.99 $74.99
BabychamLiquors.com $90 $7.99 $10.99 $13.99 $14.99 $21.99 $17.99 $39.99 $37.99
Uncorked.com $92 $19.99
Wine.com $119 $12.99 $10.99 $14.99 $15.99 $19.99 $18.99 $25.99 $21.99 $21.99 $49.99 $69.99
WineExpress.com $127 $13.95 $19.95 $21.95 $54.95