Tag Archives: wine stores

One more time: The independent wine retailer is your best friend

independent wine retailer

No, this is not the selection at a quality independent retailer.

Only the independent wine retailer can save us from crappy wine and unfair pricing

The country’s pre-eminent “natural foods” grocer had two wine displays next to each other last month in a Dallas store. One wine was the kind you’d expect it to carry – Jules Taylor New Zealand sauvignon blanc, a terrific wine and especially for the $15 sale price. Next to it was mass produced schlock, a California chardonnay that uses intensive winemaking to taste sweet and buttery. It was also $15, and I saw the same wine for the same price at Target.

If a store that markets itself as carrying only the finest natural, organic, and sustainable products treats wine that way – junk next to excellence, and for the same price — how can we count on any retailer to offer quality and value?

Fortunately, that’s what the best independent wine retailers do. Because, as a wine business friend emailed the other day, “The consumer has a romantic view, with no idea of all the BS behind the curtain to sell the ocean of wine being made. And I feel the consumer is overpaying most of the time.”

The best independent wine retailers don’t do those things. They won’t sell you something like that chardonnay, where the bottle was probably the most expensive part of the product. In fact, most won’t even have it in their stores.

The best independent wine retailers understand that customer service matters, which is why they don’t carry junk. Better to sell you cases and cases of wine over the long term than six bottles of plonk and never see you again. And they price their products fairly, without the come-ons and phony discounts that dominate the marketplace. Right, Cost Plus World Market?

What makes a quality independent wine retailer?

To paraphrase from the cheap wine book:

• Does the retailer ask questions about your preferences, helping you figure out what you want – red or white, sweet or dry?

• Does the retailer let you ask questions? Do you feel comfortable asking those questions? Or do you feel you’re being humored in the way adults humor small children?

• Does the retailer answer your questions? Are the answers understandable or in winespeak? And, when you say you don’t understand what he or she means by leathery or oaky, do they explain so you do understand?

The best retailers do more than sell wine. They help you find wine that you didn’t know you would like. It’s easy to sell someone something that they already know about. What’s more difficult, and a mark of the best retailers, is to find something new – a Spanish albarino or French picpoul for an Italian pinot grigio, for example, or a fruity rose instead of a white zinfandel.

I’m lucky to have two top-notch independents in Dallas, and I have rarely been disappointed. I know if the wine is on their shelves, it’s probably worth buying. And I also know I can ask any question I want, no matter how Wine Curmudgeonly cranky, and I’ll get an intelligent answer. No one will sell me something because it’s on sale or because they get a bonus for selling it. They sell it because they want to make me happy.

And when’s the last time we could count on that in the wine business?

Winebits 416: Wine retailing edition

wine retailingSome intriguing news about how wine retailing works just in time for the holiday shopping season.

? Best places to buy wine: W. Blake Gray ranks the nine best places to buy wine, and it’s not surprising that his top pick is the independent where someone waits on you. More important, though, is that he speaks rare truths about a couple of respected retailers: At No. 4, “You won’t find bargains at Whole Foods, but over $25 you will find interesting wines” and No. 8, where “there’s a widespread myth that Trader Joe’s wines are great values. Actually they are just cheaply sourced wines: an $8 wine there has the same markup as an $8 wine at ay other store, but most other stores put more effort into quality control.” That’s the kind of honest wine writing I wish we had more of on the Internet — and in print, as well.

? Because points matter: Australian wine writer Philip White details the sad and not exactly honest relationship between wine scores, wine writing, and wine retailing. “Put very simply, whether it ?s the wine shows or the shiny mags or books, the system of scoring wines has not done much to improve the average quality of the wines made in Australia. Rather, the scores are awarded according to fad, fashion and what needs to be sold, usually as dictated to the judging teams by their chair.” In other words, the only way retailers, producers, and wine media is with high scores, which don’t necessarily benefit consumers or the quality of the wine. Wonder if White is the down under version of the WC?

? Don’t forget the wine: How powerful is Costco (which ranks No. 5 on Gray’s list?) So powerful that one stock expert called the warehouse company, the largest retailer of wine in the world, “Amazon proof.” There is no higher praise for a retailer these days, given how Amazon has helped destroy entire categories of traditional retailing. But “Costco has been able to incentivize in-store visits by offering items that members need or prefer to buy in person ? namely, gasoline and food.” And, of course, wine, which the story doesn’t mention but which has played a key role in the retailer’s continued success.