Last updated in March 2014
Wine 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 most of the wines, we found big store-to-store price differences, with some local stores charging prices that were 40 percent or more higher than the prices of their nearby competitors for the same bottle. Among the chains and stores we shopped, Costco offered the lowest overall prices: about 14 percent lower than the average. Sam’s Club also offered low prices—about nine percent lower than average—but carried only three of the bottles on our list.
We also found low prices at independents K&L Wine Merchants and The Wine Club—each store offered prices that were about seven percent lower than the all-store average.
Among other chains we shopped, prices at FoodMaxx, Safeway, and Trader Joe’s were about five percent lower than the all-store average; Whole Foods about three percent lower; BevMo! about average; Target about four percent higher than average; and Lucky about 15 percent higher than average.
One way to cut your wine costs 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 of these stores offer these 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.
And while shopping online yields big savings for most products, that’s not necessarily true for wine. As the table below indicates, the prices at online stores for the bottles on our list didn’t exactly squash their local competition. For most of our 14 wines, some local stores offered lower prices than their out-of-area competitors—even without including shipping costs. Prices at a few of the online stores were significantly higher than at local stores.
Best prices in
|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|
|K&L Wine Merchants
|The Wine Club
|Weimax Wines & Spirits
|Back Room Wines
|The Jug Shop
|Blackwell’s Wines & Spirits