January is an ideal time to shop for discounted wines, as stores clear older vintages from inventory. "Bargain-bin wines are usually wines that are peaking, so it's a great way to find a wine to drink tonight," says Erin O'Shea, wine director at Clio restaurant in Boston. Follow these tips when shopping:
• Scoop up the reds. They have a longer shelf life than rosés and everyday white wines, like California chardonnay and sauvignon blanc. "Most of these wines begin to decline after a year or two," O'Shea says. To be safe, avoid whites that are pre-2005 or turning orange in color.
• Check the fill level, O'Shea says. If it appears low, evaporation is occurring. That means the bottle has been poorly handled; you'll be better off selecting a different one.
• Make a little conversation. If you spot an amazing deal, get the full story, says Jesse Salazar, wine director at Union Square Wines and Spirits, which recently offered a $50 wine from Spain for less than $20. "In this case the closeout came from the winery, and we passed the savings along," Salazar says. "A responsible store should welcome the chance to have a conversation and build trust with you."