Chasing Rare Bottles Of ‘Allocated’Wine

Roberto Viernes
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Wednesday - January 12, 2011
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So you’ve been looking everywhere for that highly prized bottle of wine you read about. They only make a few hundred cases of it, and you’re too late to get on the mailing list. But you heard that it is available somewhere in the state. How do you actually find a bottle?

In the business we have a term for these types of wines. They are called “allocated.” Smaller producers like to distribute their wines across the country in order to give them broad exposure to the wine market. In order to do that, they sell wines through distribution houses or wholesalers. Most of the time the quantities are very small (five to seven cases) to tiny (two or three cases). Sometimes Hawaii is lucky enough to get a small allocation of these highly coveted items such as Kosta Browne Pinot Noir, Quilceda Creek, Anthill Farms, Colgin or Harlan Estate.

The majority of the allocation will end up in restaurants. Winemakers like to see their wines in restaurants because they know they will be consumed rather than squirreled away into a dark cellar not to see the light of day or dinner table for many years. They also like seeing their wines in “top” restaurants around the country, almost like a badge of honor that their wine is good enough to be seen on the list at Restaurant “X.” Not to mention they get to patronize the restaurant and still call it a “business expense.” Nice gig, huh?

What is not sucked up by the restaurants and hotels is then trickled out into the retail market to fine-wine retailers. One store might get only two or three bottles of an item. In turn, the retailer will more than likely offer the wine to their “best” customers. If you haven’t built up a relationship with your local fine-wine retailer by buying lots of wine, you should definitely let them know that you would like to get on the waiting list for that specific wine. Many of the retailers have their own “waiting lists” for allocated wines, and you could get lucky and some might trickle down to you.

The Internet can supply you with pretty much anything your heart desires these days. But if you go that route, be prepared to pay a premium for it. And don’t forget about the shipping charges, which run around $10 to $12 per bottle for overnight service. You don’t want to send it any other way as the wine might get “cooked” in transit if it takes too long.

The last alternative is going to the auction market. You will definitely pay a premium here. Whatever your bid is, don’t forget to add 20 percent to that number for your price. And single bottle lots are rare. But persistence pays off. I hope the wine is as good as you hope.

Recommendations: 2006 Conn Creek Limited Release Cabernet Sauvignon 06 ($18) This is a definitive “buy.” Rich blackberry and currant flavors laced with sweet vanilla and spices. It drinks more like a $40 bottle. 2009 Fonseca Twin Vines Vinho Verde ($8) Cleansing, light, crisp and very refreshing white wine here.

Roberto Viernes is a master sommelier. E-mail .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)
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