13 Quick Tips for the Frugal Wine Lover

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Solid, drinkable wine doesn’t have to break the bank. Knowing a little bit about how the liquor industry works along with your own drinking habits can help you live your best wine lifestyle on any budget.

Wondering how to save money on wine? Every budget-sensitive wine lover can save money on wine by shopping holiday wine sales, buying in bulk, sticking with private labels, and avoiding convenience stores. If you’re going out for wine, split your wine club membership and wine tasting flights to save. Whatever your wine budget is, you’ll find less expensive wines from South America and South Africa thanks to lower production costs. Drinking at home instead of at restaurants can also save you money on wine.

Here are 13 strategies you can use to save money buying wine.

1. Know How Much You Drink and Buy a Case of Wine (or several)

Case of Wine - how to save money on wine

Sit down and do the math. Take time to figure out how much wine you actually drink over the course of a month or year. 

Let’s say you drink 2 bottles a week, on average. This is a reasonable number. One bottle throughout the week and then one on the weekends as a splurge.

This is 104 bottles a year.

Add in another 10 bottles for special occasions and the holidays.

Now you’re up to 114 bottles. 

There’re 12 bottles in a case, so you’ll go through around 10 cases of wine each year.

Remember: It will always be cheaper to buy wine in bulk (The same goes for flour, diapers, and dog food – just a friendly Public Service Announcement). Time it right, and you can match your purchase with seasonal sales cycles for added savings (see Tips #3 and #4).

2. Shop Discount Grocery Stores and Wine Outlets

Discount grocery stores like Grocery Outlet and Trader Joe’s make their money based on volume of wine sold, not per-bottle profit margin. They buy up odd lots of wine from producers looking to move excess inventory.

You’ll find bargain wine deals with these types of discount retail outlets.

Learn more about how Grocery Outlet sells wine so inexpensively.

Helpful Tip: Go check out this post on how to find affordable wines for beginners with tips to save you money (I put this together just for you if you’re getting started.)

3. Shop Holiday Wine Sales

The best time to save money on wine is before the winter holidays. From Thanksgiving to New Years are the most important sales months in the alcohol industry. They even have a term for it “O.N.D.” (October, November December). Wine drinkers spend big money during the months leading up to the end of year holidays.

Knowing this, stores, wineries, and online retailers will offer amazing discounts on alcohol.

They’re ready to move inventory. The holidays are one of the best times to stock up on your favorite wines

4. Look for Penny Sales

Pesky post-Prohibition wine laws morphed into weird marketing tactics. In the US (sorry if you’re reading this from outside the US), it’s illegal to give away free alcohol.

There is no BOGO (buy 1 get 1 free) in the liquor aisle. 

It’s verboten.  

To get around this ludicrous law, stores and wineries offer loophole discounts. Look for 1¢ penny sales or .05¢ sales.

You buy one bottle and get a second for a penny, so a 50% off sale. Not bad.

5. Avoid Quickie Mart Wines

If you live in a locale that allows alcohol sales at gas stations, please don’t buy wine there. Not because it isn’t any good (you’ll see the same labels at the grocery store next door), but because it has a higher price markup than other retail outlets.

There’s less physical space in a quickie mart than a grocery store, so this leads to higher overhead costs that you’ll end up paying for.

Today’s Mantra: Don’t buy wine at a gas station. Repeat it with me.

6. Make Cheap Wine Taste Better with Vodka

Let’s be clear: Cheap wine is not the same as bad wine. Bad wine needs to be turned into marinade.

Cheap wine is 2 Buck Chuck.  

So if you’re really on a budget, but are buying wine and can only afford the absolute rock-bottom bottles, add 2 tablespoons of vodka to your wine.

Adding vodka to cheap wine improves the taste because the higher alcohol level increases the wine’s mouthfeel and richness. The alcohol also lifts out the aroma molecules as the ethanol evaporates, making the wine smell more aromatic.

Helpful Tip: Go check out this post that will help you figure out how to read a wine label.

This could work if you’re a broke college student and trying to impress a date with a pasta Bolognese and have vodka lying around, but alas no wine and no money (misplaced priorities IMHO, but never mind…). 

Go get that $2 red down at your discount liquor store and doctor away!

DON’T toss out the two tablespoons of red wine to make room for the vodka, splash the wine into your spaghetti sauce. In fact, think about pouring the whole bottle into a carafe of some sort to obfuscate your cheapness (you’ll find one at a thrift store near you). 

You’re welcome. Good luck with your date.

7. Buy Private Label Wines

how to save money on wine - kirkland siganture cabernet sauvignon  costco
Check out this $20 Napa Cabernet from Oakville AVA. 2019 was an awesome growing year with a glut of grapes. Costco contracted with a winery to slap their Kirkland label on these babies and offer them to wine lovers at a bargain price. No idea what it tastes like, but it’s a steal when Oakville Cabs are selling for $40-$90 elsewhere. Private labels. Worth trying.

Private label wines are wines bottled under a store’s own brand. Big stores, think Walmart, Target, even Costco (e.g., Kirkland), have private label wines. Large retailers contract with established wineries to bottle wines that will only be sold at that chain store under the store’s own label.

These may be the same exact grapes or wines that will go into the more expensive producer labels but sold at a cheaper price.

Think Heinz Ketchup vs. the store brand ketchup.

You’ll never know exactly what wines are underneath the different labels. But who doesn’t love a good mystery? Private labels are a savvy way to buy solid wines at a good price.

Learn more about how private label wines work.

8. Look South for Cheaper Wines

As a general rule, look for wines produced south of famous growing regions. Want to try California reds but Napa and Sonoma are a little pricey? Head down to Paso Robles.

Chile and Argentina offer amazing quality for value. Look for bargain wines from southern France, Beaujolais, Spain, and Portugal instead of the pricier Bordeaux and Burgundy. 

Nerdy Post: Here’s how they come up with the price you see on a bottle of wine. This is an expansive post, but enlightening if you’re getting into wine.

9.  Join a Wine Club

Wine clubs give you access to your favorite wines at a discount.

This might be a virtual wine club or a physical wine club at a winery. Find one that works for you. (I have a lot to say on wine clubs, so I’ll cover this later.)

Note: Not all wine clubs are created equal. Shop around (see Tip #10). Here’s what you need to know if wine clubs are worth it.

10.  Split a Wine Club Membership with a Friend

Wine clubs are a great way to get access to wines at what should be the best possible prices. They also offer other perks, like complimentary tastings. 

Do you know what’s better than TGIF happy hour? **FREE** TGIF happy hour!

For many years I split a wine club membership with a friend for a local tasting room that offered weekly complimentary tastings for its members. 

Side Note: It’s good etiquette to tip, even if you’re drinking on the house.

Shop around for a wine club that offers the style of wine that you enjoy at a price point you find palatable, with perks you’ll take advantage of – then consider splitting the membership with a friend or another couple for added savings. 

Think of your wine club membership as your own little private buyer’s club. But for wine.

11.  Share your Tasting Flight

If you’re visiting wine country and have a tipsy afternoon of tasting scheduled with a drinking partner, feel free to split your tasting.

There’s no edict that says you each have to purchase a wine flight. This strategy is terrific because you 1) spend less and 2) drink less, so that you can 3) hit more tasting rooms along the way.

Bonus Tip: If you find yourself at a wine festival, look for complimentary 2 for 1 tasting cards. These are common and often placed right on the table next to the wine. Pick a few up for your next wine outing.

Check out more tips for going wine tasting.

12. Taste at Home

wines for a blind wine tasting at home list - how to save money on wine

DIY tastings at home will always be more cost-effective than going out to taste if you split the expense with friends. Pick a theme and host an evening. Stick to around 4 bottles at a time. 

Looking for inspiration? Check out these fun white wines that offer an alternative to Sauvignon Blanc.

13. Drink Your Wine

how to save money on wine - old lithograpch

The biggest mistake people make is holding onto wine under the assumption that it will ‘age’. You’re not wrong.

It’ll age.

But more like a gal who’s visited the tanning salon every week for the past 20 years… just no.

If you’re a frugal wine lover, your go-to wines aren’t the ageable kind.

Inexpensive and discount wines need to be enjoyed within a year or two. Don’t hold onto them hoping they’ll improve with time.

You’ll wind up pouring bottles down the drain. 

Such. A. Waste. Of perfectly acceptable vino. 

Don’t be that person. Pop open your bottles and go live your best wine life. 

Thirsty for More?

Check out how to host your own blind wine tasting at home.

Here’s a list of appetizers for a white wine tasting.

Here’s a list of strong red wines if you’re into big bold reds.

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