Wine is a passion of mine. My wine story begins quite young: My mother used to share little sips with me as a child.
Then, one of my first jobs in college was working for a fine dining restaurant where I was required to regularly participate in wine tastings. That’s when I started picking up the vocabulary, learning how to identify tasting notes, appreciating the differences between varietals, studying appellations and becoming hooked on the culture of wine.
Over the years, drinking wine became a fun but expensive habit. I struggled to afford the fine wines I had become accustomed to enjoying.
Then I became friends with a woman who said she could get me a job representing French wines. That gig changed my life and opened up many doors into the wine world. And, the biggest bonus of all was that I learned how to drink fine wine for free!
Here are my favorite strategies for drinking wine for free:
1. Become a Wine Rep
Every year, a group of businesses from Southern France throw a festival in several major cities around the world called Sud de France. For two years in a row, I represented wines from this region in wine shops all over New York City by giving out samples, educating people about the vineyards and grapes, talking about the events associated with the festival and giving out wine tools and other fun freebies.
What’s not to love about that kind of job? I tried new wines that got me excited. I shared that excitement with other people who got excited about wine. I gave away free gifts (who doesn’t love free gifts?). I made $20 an hour, I gained more wine knowledge and experience, and I got to bring the leftover wine home with me to share with my boyfriend that evening over dinner.
Want to try your hand at being a wine rep? Look out for wine tastings and festivals in your city and ask the reps about the agencies they work with. I really enjoyed working with GC Marketing Services in New York City, and highly recommend them.
2. Work in a Wine Shop
Another perk from conducting wine tastings at shops all over New York City was that I met a lot of people in the wine industry. If I enjoyed someone’s vibe, I would ask for their contact information and stay in touch with them, building up my wine network.
So when I wanted a job at a wine shop, I reached out to my network. I got a job working in a lovely wine shop in no time. One of my responsibilities was to taste the wines and help the owner decide which ones he should carry.
If I made a lot of sales in a given day, I could take home a bottle of wine as my reward. I was required to attend our distributors’ portfolio tastings, where I was able to sample some of the best and most expensive wines in the world.
Oftentimes, wine reps would come in to the shop and give me a bottle or two of their product for free. After all, how could I sell a wine if I hadn’t had a chance to sit down and really enjoy it? I received discounts on wine at the shop, too.
Even if you haven’t established a wine-focused network, try asking your favorite wine shop’s owner if she could use an extra hand.
3. Volunteer at a Wine Distributor’s Portfolio Tasting
Once you’re immersed in the wine business, it’s easy to find out who the distributors are and when their portfolio tastings are being held.
On several occasions, I was invited to volunteer at portfolio tastings in exchange for a case of fine wine — and more great opportunities to network. One time, I was stationed next to Robert Kamen, creator of The Karate Kid, who was representing his estate, Kamen Wines.
Look around, and you’ll find portfolio tastings happening all year long, giving you plenty of volunteering and networking opportunities.
4. Join a Wine Club
When you start looking for wine clubs, you’ll see hundreds of options with different rules, costs and packages. What they all have in common is that wine clubs save you money, compared to the cost of buying wine from a wine shop or liquor store.
For example, I’m a member of WSJwine, which is free. The introductory package gave me a chance to try 15 bottles of wine (red, white or a mix) for $69.99. That comes to $4.67 a bottle — so I saved $170 compared to what those wines would cost in a store.
And the quality of these wines is way better than Two-Buck Chuck. My favorite part is that, if I don’t like the wine for whatever reason, I don’t have to pay for it. It’s free. So there’s no risk in trying a new bottle I haven’t tasted before.
5. Tweet About Wine
If you’re like me, you like to turn your friends on to the things you enjoy. So when I find myself really enjoying a particular bottle of wine, I tweet about it.
I’ll talk about the tasting notes or the food I’m pairing it with that evening. I use hashtags like #wine #vino #winelovers #Languedoc #Picpoul as descriptors.
One day, I received a Twitter message from a local public relations agency who represents several wines asking for my address. They sent me a few cases of wine for free. And in return, I tweeted my thoughts on their selections. It was my pleasure.
Your Turn: Have you ever enjoyed free wine? What’s your strategy?
C. Blythe Pack is a professional writer with a Bachelor of Arts in English Literature from the College of William & Mary, and a Master of Social Work from Fordham University.