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How Wine Dies
April 1996


Any wine shop you visit will feature a section of heavily discounted wines, close-outs of all sorts, or just some bin area filled with wines either dead or dieing. Every time I see one of these death bins, I ask myself: How did this wine end up here? How did it go from $36 to $15 in a matter of days sometimes? And was I a fool for having paid $36 first time around?

Often, the reason for the discount is clear. A bottle can be damaged -- trashed as they say. Signs of trashing include a leaky cork with goop seeping out around the capsule or a fill so low it looks like someone's already had a glass. White wine that's gone orange or sickly brown is also a candidate for sure death.

Some wines end up in the wine graveyard for business reasons. Someone buys a boatload that the public fails to fall in love with; or a shop somewhere returns a mixed case to the distributor who can't be bothered to re-sell a handful of squirrely wines. Often you'll find samples that are plenty good, just not good enough to invest in cases galore. More common, especially this time of year, is to see new vintages pushing last year's vintages into the close-out rack. A week ago, these same wines were full price in the big show, but once new vintages arrive, it's the end of the line. These are probably the best bets in wine bargains overall.

Finally, you'll see a bunch of wines go belly up based on more subtle judgments. '83 Burgundies have been bad-mouthed for years, and now they're retreating, unloved and marked down.

In the words of the immortal George Harrison, all things must pass. But if you buy smart, you can celebrate their passing, too.

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