How to Become the Wise Grown-Up Who Buys a Whole Case of Wine
A case of wine. Twelve whole bottles. It seems like such a commitment, and it can feel like caring too much and planning too far ahead for your alcohol consumption. As a culture with Puritanical roots, we have a little bit of an issue with that. A lot of us are more comfortable stumbling into our wine drinking: “Oh, I just grabbed this at Trader Joe’s on the way over!” But to buy a whole case of wine says very firmly, “I like wine and I plan on drinking a whole case of it.”
I’m here to tell you that it is not too much. A bottle of wine is only three quarters of a liter, or 750 milliliters, or 25.4 ounces. That’s about 5 glasses, so you get about 60 glasses per standard 12-bottle case. So if you drink wine regularly, you should be buying cases of wine more often. Consider that case an investment in yourself and your future pleasure. You deserve it.
Another good thing about buying wine in larger amounts is that you’ll start to clearly see how much you’re comfortable spending, per bottle. Also, you’ll have wine to grab for all sorts of occasions, drastically cutting down the number of last-minute trips you make to Target or your neighborhood wine store on the way to a party or book club meeting. (Each one of those trips is a decision you have to make, and each decision is a chance for you to spend a few dollars more than you ideally would want to, driving up your overall bottle cost.)
Plus, most wine shops offer case discounts, and many will run promotions where you can sample a wine and you get the best price if you buy a solid case of that particular bottle. In grocery and big-box stores you don’t usually have this chance, but they usually offer case discounts as well. My point? Planning ahead is a game-changer for your wine budget.
So if you’re ready for commitment, here are a few of my favorite wines to buy by the case.
A house white is something everyone who drinks wine or serves it to others should have on hand. I recommend buying a case of Gruner Veltliner in liter bottles. It’s casual but just a little unusual and will please almost anyone who drinks white wine. I love Barbara Ohlzelt’s Gruner Leader at about $18. It’s crisp and fresh and stays tasting nice for several days in the fridge once opened.
You’ll also want a goes-with-everything red blend, and Jean Royer’s Petit Roy, a red blend from the Rhone Valley, is pretty much perfect for this. It’s not too heavy or tannic, but it’s got more heft and body than, say, most Pinot Noirs at the $20-or-less level. It’s what to open when you don’t know what to open. The Shebang! Seventh Cuvee red blend (around $12) is a crowd-pleasing, Zinfandel-based blend that’s a lusher, fuller, fruitier style, and comes in a convenient screw-cap top.
Another category to consider for a case purchase is an age-worthy red that won’t bankrupt you. Wines that will go the distance exist in all categories, from Champagne to rosé, but the most accessible and affordable, in my experience, are wines made from northern Italy’s Nebbiolo grape and the red blends of Bordeaux because of their firm tannins and classic, “serious red wine” flavors. You can open a bottle every few months for those times you spent all day braising short ribs. I love De Forville’s Nebbiolo “San Rocco” for this purpose. At about $20 to $27, it’s an enormous value for a really elegant Nebbiolo, and it will continue to develop beautifully for several years. This traditional Bordeaux blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot from Chateau Senejac goes for right around $20 and will take on more of those earthy, old bookstore-esque aromas as it ages.
The last category to consider for a case purchase is what I call “hall closet” wines because for years that’s where I kept my stash of inexpensive wine to grab as I ran out the door. When you work with wine for a living, everyone expects you to bring wine to everything. For holiday party season, that means bubbles! Most wine shops start doing promotions on sparkling wine in early November, so keep an eye out for an inexpensive Cava or Prosecco, and when you see it go on sale, buy a case. You’ll be surprised how much you go through by the new year. If you are limited to your local big-box grocery store, the rosé bubbly from Dark Horse is pretty delicious: clean and fresh with a hint of cranberry flavor, you could do a lot worse for less than $15.
You should definitely buy a case or two of a reliable rosé for summer. Yes, there are all kinds of esoteric interesting rosés to explore, however I like to have something borderline generic but good-quality for slurping indiscriminately by the pool. My one and only love for this purpose is Moulin de Gassac’s rosé, which I usually see for between $8 and $12.
When to Skip the Case and Buy Wine by the Bottle
While I’m obviously a proponent of buying wine by the case, there are some situations where I don’t think it’s a good idea. Just fallen hard for an expensive style of wine, like Brunello or Grand Cru Chablis? Don’t buy a whole case to cellar until it’s been a favorite for a couple of years at least. Over the years I’ve had customers ask me to assess their collections, and the number-one mistake I see people make is that they buy too many “special occasion wines” and they don’t anticipate how much their tastes will change over time. I’ve seen so many cases of wine in peoples’ collections that I know are going to taste like stale prunes but would have been delicious five or 10 years earlier. It breaks my heart to see peoples’ money and winemakers’ hard work wasted, and to think of all the pleasure those wines could have brought their owners had they not been neglected. So if you have a wine rack full of wines you’re waiting for the right time to open, stop waiting!
I also don’t recommend buying a whole case of something you fell in love with on a winery visit, especially if said visit occurred on vacation. Ditto for signing up for the wine club. You’ve been plied with alcohol and beautiful views and possibly fancy cheese! Your judgement is not sound, and you could end up with a case of weird, overoaked, underfruited Tempranillo made in New Jersey that you never would have bought otherwise. And don’t buy a whole case of something for its sentimental value, like it’s got a horse on the label and your wife loves horses. A bottle, sure, I’m not a total monster, but no more than that. When you buy wine in quantity, it should be wine you know you like to drink and that fits your lifestyle. Anything else will just sit there, like a cocktail dress or fancy blazer you bought on clearance, knowing full well that you’re invited to a cocktail party about once per decade.
I hope this inspires you to stop dashing into stores in a panic the day of a party and buy wine by the case instead. You’ll save money and feel so much more organized. Cheers to that!