The wisdom of buying wine by the case is never more apparent than around the holidays. We want our favorite wines to be close at hand, for toasting reunions and celebrations, for pairing with the season's feasts, and for the everyday meals between the big events. We like to have plenty to use in our cooking as well. This is also the stretch of the year when time is precious and stores are jammed -- two more reasons why nobody wants to have to leave the festivities when the bottles run dry!
Purchasing wine in quantity is about good planning, not overindulgence. And while it requires some forecasting -- thinking carefully about how many meals you'll be preparing, the guests, and their tastes -- that small amount of organization is well rewarded, not only in the extra time you save from making return trips to the market, but in peace of mind (and in money, as well).
Wine stores typically offer a 10 percent to 20 percent discount when you purchase a case, or 12 bottles of wine. Some shops offer the discount whether the 12 bottles are the same or different. Other stores offer a slightly lesser discount on mixed cases. If the policy isn't immediately apparent before you hit the register, simply ask a clerk.
We take advantage of such discounts, typically keeping on hand a "house" red and white that we love, much in the same way restaurants do. For our house wine, we gravitate toward those that represent superb value, are low in alcohol, and pair with a range of foods.
Medium-bodied reds and richer white wines have the versatility to stand on their own and complement various foods, from quiche and salmon to hearty glazed meat loaf. Like selecting an olive oil you prefer for drizzling, or a paint color for your kitchen, the choice of a house wine is an expression of your personality, and it sets a tone for your home.
But for hosts assembling the wines for a particular occasion, a mixed case can make more sense. When choosing bottles, it will help to think about the progression of the event. For example, if you have eight adult guests coming for a celebratory supper, you may want to choose two bottles of the same sparkling white wine for a festive toast before the meal. Depending on what you plan to serve -- or your own preference -- you may wish to balance the remaining 10 bottles in the case toward red or white. Since you'll likely use only six bottles for the meal -- estimating three-quarters of a bottle per guest -- you'll have four remaining to round out the case. Think about the events to come: Is there another occasion to entertain? Or a bottle you'll want to give as a gift to the hosts of an upcoming party? Alternatively, you may just want to fill the balance of the box with your house red or white.
Finally, buying wines in quantity lets you get your hands on a good thing that might get away -- a vintage that's much in demand, such as the 2009 Beaujolais, one of our latest favorites. Or it might be a scrumptious lesser-known wine with limited distribution and a supply that will fluctuate. A knowledgeable clerk, whose recommendations you trust, will be able to guide you.
Ordering bottles by the case requires no more forethought than a trip to the grocery store to purchase ingredients for the big meal. Once you have your plan and your list, it's just a matter of filling your cart and getting home to work your hosting magic.