where's the good wine?

Friday, March 25, 2011

I had an e-mail yesterday from a friend in the wine business, a very knowledgeable palate who has a good grip on the market. He writes: “I was in Tucson for the NCAA regionals last weekend. Great weather, heat and sun and pretty decent food. Horrible retail wine selections.”

I could have sent the same note from Fort Myers, Florida, where I was on a sun-seeking holiday. And a few weeks ago, cruising the aisles at wine and liquor stores in Palm Springs and La Jolla, the same experience. I spent a particularly disappointing half hour in a BevMo in La Jolla – a reasonably large store, with aisle after aisle of wretched plonk. The whole place was basically stuffed with jug wines (though many were packaged in 750s). The selections from outside of California were pathetic.

What’s the story?

To be honest, I do not travel on business all that often, and there are many parts of this country I’ve never set foot in. So I don’t know if these three isolated examples are representative or not. But here in the Northwest, the selection of wines in many grocery stores is exceptional. Granted, groceries are not permitted to sell hard liquor, which is a drawback. But they more than compensate with wine departments that are loaded with excellent choices.

I’m not speaking only of the big cities – Seattle and Portland in particular. One of my regular stops on the drive to Waitsburg is the Yoke’s Market in Pasco – not exactly an urban mecca, but a fabulous food and wine store with a wide-ranging selection of bottles from the Northwest and elsewhere.

For some years now there has been a fair amount of hand-wringing in the trade about the consolidation of the distributors around the country. Many – perhaps most – markets are controlled by one or two huge monopolists. That has not happened in Washington state. There are still dozens of small, focused wholesalers, along with an army of small importers with whom they often collaborate.

I suspect that is one of the primary reasons for the bounty we enjoy. And God forbid it should ever change. Staring at row after row of garbage wines, punctuated only occasionally by some over-hyped, over-priced bottle with a big Parker score attached, is a chilling experience. It’s enough to make a grown man cry... or become a beer drinker.


Anonymous said...

Just had the same experience in Lexington, KY. I was excited to see that the local Kroger had a large and separate Wine and Spirits Shop. Lots of wine available, but nothing interesting - and this was in a very upscale neighborhood. The wine choices in the aisles labeled French, German, Italian, etc. were truly pathetic - all mass-marketed huge volume producers.

Anonymous said...

You are right about the connection between small, wine savvy distributors and selection. The small guys want our business, the big guys think we owe it to them. I will go out of my way to support the small distributors that bring in distinctive, often independent wineries who put their heart and soul into their wine.

Michael Teer

PaulG said...

Anon - that's exactly what I was seeing in CA and FL. Michael, thanks for checking in. I knew we had it good in the NW, but it's even better than I realized.

Anonymous said...

Paul you get really spoiled living where you do. It is brutal in Texas as well. I am always amazed to walk into a grocery store in W2 and see what you can come up with, even on the west side of the state it is far better than what you'll find in almost any of the "high end" grocery stores in San Antonio, Dallas, or Houston.

Anonymous said...

Shame on you guys...

I've worked many accounts in the south and have come up with great wines - Total??

Anonymous said...

Hmmmmm...I was just in Tucson this past February, and I've been to Ft. Myers, La Jolla, and a great many towns in between. I'm delighted to report that there is good and even great wine to be found in many spots across this land.

One of the best Wine shops in the nation is in Cheyenne, Wyoming, just south of the heart of town, and the prices are amazingly good. And these folks have an international as well as national selection...French, Spanish, German, Italian, and all with some of the world's finest labels on sale at prices far lower than I've seen here in WA stores.

Now, it is true that in the small towns across the land, there is no wine in any of the shops.
Corydon, IA for example, a tiny 1800 population farming community has one of the poorest selections of wine inventories I've ever seen.

However, I've purchased Hess Collection in a small town just East Southeast of Memphis, and Chateau Ste. Michelle Reserve in Ashland, NC. In point of fact, the first bottle of Ste. Michelle I ever bought, was a Sauvignon Blanc at a restaurant on 6th ST. in Austin, Tx back in the early 1980's.

Good wine is out there; one must simply work to find it.

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