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stirring the lees with james molesworth

"Closeout"… One of My Favorite Words

Photo by: David Yellen

Posted: Mar 10, 2008 11:03am ET

This weekend I bought some wine. That of course is nothing new. But it was the total purchase price that opened even my eyes. Not a penny more than $243 for two cases of wine. Not two bottles. Not a six-pack. Two full cases, of full bottles.

Sure there are tons of values out there and I’ve usually got a few bottles of "house wine" sitting in a bin. But to be honest, I can’t remember the last time I spent an average of $10 a bottle for two cases of wine.

As I was browsing the aisles of In Good Taste, in New Paltz, N.Y., there were plenty of things to choose from. But then I saw some Teddy Hall Chenin Blanc Stellenbosch 2005 for $8 a bottle (usually $12) and some Rudera Syrah Stellenbosch 2004 for just $14 a bottle (usually $27). Both wines are tasty examples of what South Africa does best, and until just recently both made by the same winemaker (Teddy Hall). Since the prices were too good to be true, I had to ask.

“Is this right?”

“Closeout,” said Ken, the store’s main wine guy with a half-wink.

A closeout is when for whatever reason, a distributor stops handling a particular brand, so they dump whatever remaining stock they have, often at ridiculously low prices. It’s not unlike when you’re in high school and the girl you’ve always had a crush on has a messy break up with her jerky boyfriend in the middle of a party: "Now I’ve got a chance!” you say to yourself.

No, you’re not likely to find DRC or Guigal at closeout prices. But a smart retailer is always on the lookout for a decent deal. And when a distributor who no longer has any long-term financial motivation to work on behalf of a brand suddenly decides to take the short and easy way out of it, well, it’s one time when the three-tier distribution system actually has a good side.

When I first reviewed the Rudera Syrah, it was beefy and chunky around the edges and needed some time to come together. Now it’s a polished, smooth, tasty drink. I’m already planning out some springtime grilling to match with it.

As for the Chenin, it’s an uncomplicated little wine that always hits the spot. No, it’s not meant to age, but it’s under screw cap, and good Chenin Blanc doesn’t fall apart quickly. And besides, at $8, how can you go wrong?

"Closeout" … music to my ears.

Ken Koonce
Dallas, Texas —  March 10, 2008 12:48pm ET
I have found that closeouts often result in a more reasonable cost-benefit result. Overpriced wines - say an 89 point CA merlot with a suggested retail price of $50 - wind up closer to an appropriate price point - like $30 - that make them worth the money being paid. As often as not, closeouts result not in a great deal, but in a reasonable one. Which is fine with me - I get to try a wine I would like to try, but did not previously think worth the money.
Stewart Lancaster
beaver,pa —  March 10, 2008 2:02pm ET
That sounds like our "chairman selections" in our great state of PA. Every so often you can find a good deal- usually not well known wines from france or italy
Jimmy Hwang
Atlanta , GA —  March 10, 2008 3:35pm ET
James, I recently purchased some Osborne 1995 Vintage Port on closeout. As a wine buyer, closeouts are very important to watch for. They can sometimes be hit or miss...that said..I did buy some Guigal St Joseph on closeout...the deals are out there...you just have to be in the right place at the right time.-Marshall Parker
Sandy Fitzgerald
Centennial, CO —  March 10, 2008 4:12pm ET
Ken from Dallas is right. I remember several years ago when the retailers were dumping 98 Cali wines. Because of quality issues of that vintage, the 98's wouldn't sell. So at Xmas time several years back, the retailers unloaded 98's at up to 40% off to get what they had out of inventory. A 98 would be sitting on the shelf next to the same brand 01 and 02, but priced way below their kindred spirits. The buyer wasn't really getting a deal in most cases, he was just paying a fair market value. We still see wineries trying to sell 98's, the distributors don't want to touch them.
Massimo Marinucci
Pound Ridge, NY —  March 10, 2008 8:01pm ET
James,I don't think that retailer was being honest or others are simply gouging. The regular price for the Teddy Chenin is about $8 and we have been selling the last two vintages for that. Actually, with a 10% case discount, that's even less. Either way, certainly a good bottle of white that's worth every penny.
Brian
costa mesa, ca —  March 10, 2008 8:02pm ET
Okay James, I apologize in advance for being the token off-topic blogger, but I just have to know: A couple friends and I, going for our som, were tasting the '03 Mon Coeur Cotes du Rhone from Chave. I felt the nose and pallet was screaming Syrah, but they insisted Cotes du Rhone wines have to be predominantly Grenache.

I'm curious, number one, as to the varietal breakdown of the '03 Mon Coeur...

...and number two, what A.O.C. law permits. I read somewhere Cotes du Rhone wines have to have a minimum of 40% Grenache. Then again, I know winery's like Saint Cosme Cotes du Rhone are 100% Syrah. Little help?
Kevin J Luber
Atlanta, GA —  March 10, 2008 8:08pm ET
Back in 2001 I was shopping at a major liquor chain in FL and came across a shopping cart with random close-out items -- mostly torn label budget wines and such. But one label caught my eye -- '94 Jaboulet Hermitage La Chapelle, the price $10! I am absolutely not lying on this. I asked the store manager if anything was wrong and he said no, that's the price. So I picked up all 6 bottles and they drank beautifully (still have 1, and should drink soon). Guess you just gotta keep your eyes open.(By the way, my ex accidentally made sangria with one bottle, but that's not why she's an ex.)
Tim Sinniger
Bend, Oregon —  March 10, 2008 8:37pm ET
We love a great wine like most, but when you can find distributor closeouts (Usually on mid to lower price wines) it is worth your consideration. We recently found a cache of 04 White Burgundy Premier Cru for $13.00 a bottle. Great wine and will age to boot!
James Molesworth
March 11, 2008 7:55am ET
Sandy: That sounds more like retailers dumping inventory rather than distributors. Many retailers had to buy the weak '98 Cali wines in order to keep their place in line for the next vintage...then when no one wanted them, they basically were forced to give them away. The pricing of '98s was not one of the California wine industry's high points...

Kevin, Tim: Now those are closeouts!

Brian: You're both right. The Chave Mon Coeur is a blend of Grenache and Syrah aged in a combination of cement vats and used barrels. Use the site search to look up more info - I've blogged about the wine and there was a news story on it when it was first released a few years ago.
Jordan Harris
Niagara, Ontario —  March 11, 2008 1:41pm ET
Brian,The A.O.C. law in the Southern Rhone is vineyard based. There must be a minimum of 50% Grenache and minimum 30% Syrah or Mourvedre planted in the vineyard. The laws do not dicate blends. A blend can be 100% Syrah if the Grenache happens to be used in another blend. Can be very confusing, however 100% Syrah are becoming far more popular, particularily in many of the villages. Vinsobre is housing some great Syrah.
Marissa Ocasio
Connecticut —  March 17, 2008 6:55pm ET
I work for a wine company and I shop for wine just like everybody else. One of my favorite places to find wines is the closeout section. I love older white wines and depending on where they are from I can find a bargain. Sometimes on other wines it's just that they only had a few bottles left and on occasion I find a gem like the two bottles of 1997 Delesvaux Coteaux de Layon (can't remember which bottling but it was delicious)

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