Evil Plea: Please Don’t Buy Your Wine Where You Buy Your Toilet Paper

Where you buy your wine says just as much about you as what you buy.

My resolution for 2012 was to dedicate my blog to the exploration and better personal understanding of domestic wine. I’m going to expand on that idea by spouting off a bit with my two cents about wine retail in this country. Now, allow me to step off my real wine soap box for just a second. I don’t give a shit what you drink. You can drink whatever you want, it ultimately doesn’t affect me as much as my vitriolic bite might make it seem. I don’t care if you don’t want to try new grape varieties, styles, or appellations. In the end, what wines you decide to drink have little effect on me. Your money, your palate, your decision. However, where you decide to buy these wines does. Now allow me to step up onto to my small wine shop around the corner soap box.

Wine shops do exist, sometimes you have to search a bit, other times they’re right around the corner especially if you live in a populated, urban setting. The folks that are running these establishments do it because they’re passionate about wine, if they wanted to make sweaty wads of cash they’d just sell stock and bonds, or crack cocaine. It’s a labor of love that we as wine drinkers should have a vested interest in supporting. As enticing as it is to carry out one stop shopping, a wine shop will almost always have better selection, price, and first and foremost, actual wine expertise. Yes, knowledge is something that cannot be bought and sold, only learned through experience. This experience comes from the shop proprietors and their staff having constant contact with their industry, from the wine reps continually exposing the staff to tasting samples from the far-flung corners of the globe, to the onslaught of trade events.

Costco has some damn good prices on wine and a decent, although somewhat limited selection. They also have underwear, televisions, and diapers. At times they employ a wine steward who may even have some sort of wine education. I also know that they do care about the wine industry. I know they have made some inroads in legislature that has benefitted the smaller wine merchants. I also know that your local wine shop does not sell toilet paper or DVDs. They do not offer any other intangibles or services to their customers to fall back on other than wine and wine knowledge.

I know, Bevmo will give you an additional bottle of wine for an extra five cents, and that is very nice of them, but they’re a corporation that sells a lot of booze, and are basically a glorified liquor store that sells more charcoal, and kegs of Coors Light than they do wine.

Grocery stores? Don’t even get me started. It’s where I buy my kids boxes of Count Chocula, and most of the wines they sell there are as interesting and complex as a bowl Reese’s Puffs(no disrespect, I love this cereal)

One of the greatest advantages of buying from your local wine shop is this; the people in these shops might be able to understand and interpret  your palate more articulately that you can. Once you begin to form a relationship with a good wine shop, these people will know as soon as you walk in the door what they may have recently brought in for stock that fits your palate profile. They will know what wines they can introduce you to that might be outside of the norm for you. The can assist you in any wine odyssey you may be considering embarking on. You know very little about Tokaji? Well there’s only one bottle of it on the shelf at Costco and probably none at a grocery store, and without doubt, no one in sight who has even a clue as to what Tokaji is, how it’s made, and why it is so relevant and vital to the wine world even after centuries. Your local wine shop can help you get your feet wet.

My family is from a small village in Gipuzkoa, Euskadi called Gaztaintxabal. When you purchase wine, you head down to the vinoteca, Where a gruff old man wearing a txapela named Txetxu will only ask you three questions; Zuria (white), Beltza (literally black, but means red with wine), or Arrosa (pink). You may think that Txetxu isn’t giving you many options, you might like to peruse around the shop on your own, the thing is Txetxu knows you, you’re his customer. He is well aware that on Sundays you have Bacalao al Pil Pil as a religion. He already has a bottle picked out for you, because he knew you were already coming down to the shop. You do not question Txetxu.

This is what a wine shop is to me, and why I’m so glad to be part of the familiar dynamic that these small but personal merchants present. These are the sensations and experiences you can’t get from a place with a membership card or a shopping cart the size of an SUV.


8 responses to “Evil Plea: Please Don’t Buy Your Wine Where You Buy Your Toilet Paper

  • NubianOR

    I am in total agreement with you. We buy our wine from a local wine shop as the staff are so knowledgeable and I get to try some great wines as well. Love Bacalao, we have it every New Years eve and when ever else we can afford it.

  • suckandspit

    You know my feeling on the matter. I was actually going to start my week long post on grocery store pricing vs. local shops this week.


  • suckandspit

    Give it a day or so. Dealing with Eccolab for the dishwasher.

  • Nick Musial (@nwawineseller)

    In Arkansas any store that sells food is only allowed to sell “small farm wine”. Which basically means they can only sell wine from Arkansas. Have you ever had wine from Arkansas? In most cases it tastes like the taint of a dead buffalo.
    Therefore we rely on shops to get the goods. And thanks to the little company I work for the goods are now becoming available and not provided by a quasi-monopoly corporation which is quasi-owned by Gallo.
    People who work in wine shops work there for a reason (other than alcoholism). They love wine and they get metaphorical boners turning people on to new and exciting wines.
    The Evil Bottle is wise. Listen to what he says.

  • p0plife

    I think it varies from state to state. Once Colorado loosened up, it seemed to get a bit better out there. Not much, but a bit. I know that here in Oregon, despite being a “control” state that the Supermarkets out here usually have pretty damn good selections (because we have so many direct importers out here for one thing) and have stewards and specialists that are passionate and bringing in wines that they believe in. Not just commodity stuff. (Full disclosure, I work for a Whole Foods Market here in Oregon) The WFM in California are quite different than they are here in Oregon. We work very hard to bring in beautiful wines from local producers no matter how small or large they are. And that counts for every steward I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting wether they are from Safeway, New Seasons, Zupans, or even QFC! I agree that many Supermarkets have terrible pricing structures (Thanks for the false frontlines, Fred Meyer!) that lead the uneducated consumer to think they are getting some sort of deep discount. I was sad to see that “suckandspit” had deleted his blog, I wanted to see his post. I welcome criticism to where I work and how I work, and I always enjoy seeing other people’s points of view.

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