While TS Eliot believed April was the cruellest month, everyone in Scotland knows it's February - that cold, dreich step towards a distant spring.

Well, at least it's short, and for wine drinkers there is a grain of comfort to be had from the various bargains on the shelves, for this is the season of bin-ends.

"Bin-ends date from the time wine was stored in arches in cellars, which were called bins," explains Richard Meadows, director of Edinburgh wine merchant Great Grog. "When you got down to the last dozen or two dozen bottles you cut the price to below cost to free up the bin for a new wine. These days a 'bin' is like a bottling run which has to be at least a container of 24,000 bottles."

When a retailer commits to taking a container in tranches over a year and then declines the final shipment, a bin-end is born. "But it's often triggered by someone's demise," Meadows continues. "When someone goes bust, the bond holding the wine might offer it to me for 50p a bottle plus duty - anything to avoid having to destroy it."

Of course reputable merchants have to be picky. "Distressed stock can often be really knackered stock," says Doug Wood of WoodWinters in Bridge of Allan and Edinburgh, which has just announced its first bin-end sale. Among tempting offers are a New Zealand sauvignon from Sileni, down from £60 to £45 for a case of six, and a half-price Rijks chardonnay reserve from South Africa.

I hesitate to use the word "half-price" - the most abused expression on the high street. Genuine bin-ends are nearly always good value and quickly sell out, as opposed to what Wood calls those "total garbage half-price deals in the supermarket". It is the retail equivalent of Wall Street's "pump and dump" and the punters fall for it every time.

Of course the great proponent of bin-ends was Oddbins, founded in 1963 by Ahmed Pochee, whose father incidentally set up Edinburgh's first Indian restaurant.

Today the chain has 10 shops in Scotland and no longer does bin-ends as such. "Instead we aim to have eight to 10 one-off parcels of wine which we can really get behind and shout about," says head buyer Anna Supingiu. They tend to reflect a particular focus in store, be it Spain, Greece or, currently Portugal.