Americans love a bargain, even when it isn't one, which explains the success of such otherwise inexplicable phenomena as QVC and suburban designer-outlet malls. But sometimes—on eBay, for example—the consumer has access to enough information that bargains are clearly identifiable. Wine is a commodity for which minute price comparisons can be made, thanks to the World Wide Web. But in a price-control state like Washington, spotting a bargain is not at all the same thing as procuring same.
Enter Richard Kinssies, a Northwest wine polymath who started out as a wine retailer before branching out into consulting, teaching, reviewing (for the Post-Intelligencer as well as trade publications). Now, at long last, he's retailing again, but this time with a difference. Wine Outlet, just south of Safeco Field in SoDo, is designed to cater to serious wine drinkers with substantial bank accounts who also have no objection to saving a few bucks a bottle.
Using the contacts he's developed over 30-odd years in the trade, Kinssies keeps a sharp eye on the wine marketplace: Which premium winery needs to sell off its 2002 cabernets before releasing the 2003s? Which wholesaler is changing its import lineup and needs to sell down its inventory of a dropped item to make room for a new line? Which nominally competitive wine merchant overbought on last year's hot chardonnay and wouldn't mind cutting its losses by selling a few cases at a discount?
This kind of buying creates a constantly shifting, all-over-the-place inventory. That's part of Kinssies' business plan, too. He doesn't try for inclusiveness or regional balance. If you're looking for a particular Châteauneuf-du-Pape for dinner tonight, go somewhere else. If, on the other hand, you have enough confidence in your own wine smarts (and Kinssies' buying ability) to take your chances on what you'll find on any particular afternoon, you're likely to enjoy both the satisfaction of picking up a bargain and the delight of making a discovery. And the more often both satisfactions are enjoyed, the more often you're likely to drop by Wine Outlet's stripped-down little showroom for another survey. It's the same hook, manifested on a rather different scale, that drives wine purchasing at monsters like Costco and Sam's Club. But with Kinssies there to schmooze with, it takes on a distinctly human touch.
Wine Outlet, 1701 First Ave. S., 206-652-1311. 9 a.m.–7 p.m. Mon.–Fri.; 10 a.m.– 6 p.m. Sat.; 11 a.m.–5 p.m. Sun.