I don’t buy a lot of wine. Fact is, in this business I have to routinely give away open bottles of wine and even after that I still pour a not-inconsequential amount of wine down the drain regularly, lest I die of acute Touriga Nacional poisoning.
But when I do buy wine, I make a point to purchase it from independently-owned specialty wine shops for reasons that go well beyond supporting small local businesses. Let me illustrate by counter-example:
Why I don’t buy wine at chain grocery stores. Most chain grocers buy all their products at the regional level, requiring purchases of hundreds if not thousands of cases of a single wine at a time. Many of the world’s best wineries produce 10,000 cases of wine total (or less) which isn’t enough to meet the demand of large retailers. The only exception to this at the national level is Whole Foods where individual store buyers have a large degree of discretion in purchasing and do get more boutique selections. In a pinch, Whole Foods is an okay alternative for wine purchasing. Single location markets and local micro-chain grocers often have excellent wine selections though–seek those out if you can.
Why I don’t buy wine at Trader Joe’s. Although they have a decent selection of medium-to-large production domestic wine, much of Trader Joe’s selection is dominated by the offerings of Bronco Wine Company, the producers of Two Buck Chuck and numerous other labels. Additionally, much of Trader Joe’s imports are made up of odd lots and closeouts from European warehouses and, while there have been some gems here and there, quality control is inconsistent at best.
Why I don’t buy wine at BevMo. BevMo has similar problems of scale that chain grocery stores do and similar to chain grocery stores, have a staff that’s not too wine knowledgeable for the most part. Additionally, BevMo’s vaunted 5-cent wine sale is, actually, not as good a deal as it seems.
Most any medium-sized city (at least in California) has at least one specialty wine shop or specialty market with a unique, well-curated wine selection. Seek these businesses out. You’ll get better service and a better selection–not to mention a better atmosphere. And these shops aren’t as expensive as you think. Most offer a good selection of wines for under $15 and many offer the opportunity to taste some wines before you make your purchase or will happily credit you should a recommendation turn out to be a dud.
Shop small, shop local and drink great wine. It’s good for the neighborhood.
(And if you’re in California, I’m happy to recommend a wine shop or two in your area. Let me know.)