Editor’s note: Long before Chris Shepherd became a James Beard Award-winning chef, he developed enough of a passion for wine to work at Brennan's of Houston as a sommelier. He maintains that interest to this day. When Chris expressed interest in writing about wine-related topics for CultureMap, we said yes.
In this week's column, he shares his favorite ways to buy special wines you won’t find at a store. Take it away, Chris.
Just because you’re observing Dry January doesn’t mean you can’t keep collecting wine. You’re going to want something to drink in February, right?
If your New Year’s resolution is to stock your cellar, I’m here to help. We can talk wine clubs in the future, but I have two fun ways to collect really cool wines.
Wine Bid has been one of my favorite websites and apps for the past 15 years. Think of it as an eBay for wine that holds weekly auctions. Before bidding, you can search for wines in all kinds of ways such as vintage year, varietal, and size of bottle.
The website is a great place to look for hard-to-find wines, large format bottles, anything specialty that might not be on the shelf at your local wine shop — anything that isn’t a current vintage wine. I love giving friends and family birth year wines, and you can almost always find them on Wine Bid.
You can also search by specific growing areas. For example, I love Pisoni Vineyard fruit. By adding Pisoni to the My Favorites section, all wines using Pisoni fruit will populate — whether it’s Kosta Browne, Patz & Hall, or Pisoni Estate. It’s a really easy way to follow wines or vineyards you really love.
Chris recently acquired these Pisoni wines.Photo by Victoria Dearmond
One of the best things about Wine Bid is that they will store your wines for you until you’re ready to ship. I traditionally get two shipments a year — one in the fall (all the wine I purchased throughout the summer once it cools off) and again in the spring before it gets too hot.
Don’t think of this as your everyday wine shop. Instead, use it to find special wines for your cellar.
Last Bottle is run by three friends from the wine business who have lots of connections with wineries, brokers, distributors, and importers from around the world. They taste around 40,000 wines a year and will only share wines that pass their quality assessment on the app. They’re also great at finding deals, which they also pass on in the app.
Here's how it works. Download the app, and you’ll see one bottle of wine with all the info — retail price, Last Bottle price, and a description. It will probably sell out quickly. Sometimes in 20 minutes or less.
They’re selling multiples of the bottle on offer, but we, as consumers, don’t know how many they have. If you want it, I suggest you buy it immediately. Bonus: when you buy four or more bottles, shipping is free. And, if you’re the lucky person to buy the actual last bottle of a wine, you get a $50 credit. It’s a fun game.
As soon as the last bottle of that offer is purchased, another completely different wine goes on sale, and there’s no telling what it will be.
I’ve had so much fun buying wine from Last Bottle. Sometimes, I find collectibles. Other times, I buy a case of $12 white wine.
Two to three times a year, Last Bottle hosts a two-day event called The Marathon. It’s rapid-fire cool stuff and a test in how fast you can refresh your phone. Power Hour is one hour each day during The Marathon where you can find some of the most sought-after wines on the planet (the $50 last bottle bonus isn’t applicable during Marathons). Marathon wines don’t ship immediately — they’ll compile all Marathon orders and ship together for free, and it usually takes about a month.
Start buying now. That way you have something to drink when you make it through Dry January.
Contact our Wine Guy via email at email@example.com.
Chris Shepherd won a James Beard Award for Best Chef: Southwest in 2014. He recently parted ways with Underbelly Hospitality, a restaurant group that currently operates four Houston restaurants: Wild Oats, GJ Tavern, Underbelly Burger, and Georgia James. The Southern Smoke Foundation, a non-profit he co-founded with his wife Lindsey Brown, has distributed more than $10 million to hospitality workers in crisis through its Emergency Relief Fund.