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There are few secrets between us now, mostly because our recycling bins don’t lie. I’m drinking more wine these days, and you probably are, too.
It’s rarely been a better time to find discounts on wine or get it shipped to your house at no cost, while simultaneously helping out wineries, restaurants and wine shops. All of these businesses, who feed and water us in the good times, are feeling acute financial stings from coronavirus-related shutdowns. Whether cases of chardonnay from a North Fork winery (shipped for free) or a rare bottle from a restaurant’s cellar — one you might not be able to find in a local wine shop — deals abound, and for a reason: These establishments are trying to hang on under extreme economic duress.
“If [a customer] orders food, and they add on a bottle of wine, it’s really a donation,” said Michael Cohen, wine director and restaurant manager of the 1770 House Restaurant & Inn in East Hampton, where all wines are 25% off. Via telephone, he has helped connect many customers to an ideal bottle for their dinner. “That 25% off creates some insane deals. When you buy wine from a restaurant, versus from a local wine store or even a megastore, there’s an opportunity to take advantage of more informed people curating wine lists, and to help a local restaurant.”
The 1770 House has 2000 or so bottles in its cellar, including some of the rarest and most expensive wines in the world, such as wines from Domaine de la Romanée-Conti (in the Burgundy region of France) or a 2000 1st-growth Chateau Margaux that is $1,900 on the menu, $1,425 with the discount.
Sure, that's not a splurge many people can, or will ever, take. Mindful of tight budgets, Cohen has devoted a sizable section of the takeout menu to thoughtfully chosen $20 bottles, such as muscadet (a white from France’s Loire Valley) or dolcetto (a red from Italy’s Piedmont region). Customers can also buy three of those for $50, so they have something to go with both the local fluke tartare or the New York strip. “The quality of wine you get for $20 is high — that [money] goes much further than it would in a wine store,” he said.
For those restaurants that remain open, 25% off of wines seems to be a common standard, including at Sandbar in Cold Spring Harbor or EatMosaic in St. James, where the list is rife with grower Champagne, riesling and rarities you will be hard pressed to find in most stores, such as Croatian wines or cabernet franc from unexpected regions.
While wine discovery can lead you to wines from halfway around the world, closer to home, the double whammy of shuttered tasting rooms and widespread restaurant closures have dealt a massive blow to East End wineries, many of whom are offering free shipping and sometimes deeper discounts.
“It’s pretty difficult for everyone, not just those with retail sales,” said Anthony Nappa, owner and winemaker of Anthony Nappa Wines in Mattituck. Sales to restaurants can make up a significant portion of a winery’s business. “I think most wineries have lost all or most of their cash flow. It’s not a very sustainable situation.”
Anthony Nappa is offering 20% off of bottles and free shipping to Long Island for orders of half-cases are more, an echo of other East End discounts and flash sales. For instance, this week, Paumanok Vineyards in Aquebogue had a flash sale of 40% off cases of barrel-fermented chardonnay. In a video posted to Facebook, winemaker Kareem Massoud said the winery would donate a portion of those cases sales to the Peconic Bay Medical Center. “We don’t have claim to have a cure for the coronavirus, but we do believe that wine can help you deal with the effects of quarantine and self-isolation,” Massoud said in the video.
Another way to support your favorite winery? Become a member of their wine club, which usually means regular shipments of wines, free tastings (once tasting rooms open up again) and bottle discounts. (As spring releases trickle out, being a wine club member also gains early access to new rosés, sparklers and other goodies, well before the public tastes them).
Above all, it's high time to break out of a wine rut. “I’m realizing that especially new customers who are calling me are asking for the same wines, the ‘Big 6’ varietals: cab, merlot, pinot noir, sauvignon blanc, chardonnay, pinot grigio,” said Michael Amendola, owner of Village Wine Merchants in Sea Cliff. “It’s a great opportunity for people to branch out, and that’s what they should do.”
For instance, Amendola might direct someone hooked on pinot grigio to a different Italian white, such as cortese, verdicchio, or vermentino from Sardinia. “People like familiarity, and I get it. But that breeds mass produced poor quality products and it stifles discovery,” Amendola said.