All of us who enjoy wine are faced with this question. Our glasses are empty--we need wine to fill them. Where will we get it?
There are a number of different options--and no one of them is the correct answer in every circumstance. They include:
- Local Wine Shop
- Box Store
- Wineries (Direct to Consumer Sales)
- Grocery Store
There are certainly permutations of these. For example, there are wine chains--like Total Wine and BEVMO!...I'm sure there are others. I'll set them aside with the comment that in my opinion they have some of the benefits of local wine shops--but certainly not all--and some of the benefits of box stores...but also some of the limitations of each. I'm not generally enamored but they are a legitimate option.
A year or two ago, I might have argued that grocery stores could be a viable option...our area Wegmans had "wine shops" inside them that had reasonably knowledgeable staff and pretty good selection, including some unusual wines. Not so much anymore. Grocery stores are now off my list (except in desperation).
Websites and auctions serve an important niche. When there is a specific, high-end (often older) wine that you want...they may be your only option. For that, I endorse them. And use them. But not for routine purchasing.
Direct sales from wineries also serve a useful purpose. At least they do where they are allowed, which is most places (including the DC area). They give consumers access to the full range of offerings from their favorite producers. I buy from several. But again, this is not a logical focus for routine purchasing.
So, for routine purchasing most of us face a choice between local wine shops or box stores. I used to be relatively neutral on that choice...recognizing advantages in each and buying at least some wine from each. Not so much anymore.
Box stores, such as COSTCO, do have value. In areas where there are no good wine shops, they bring access to a decent selection of popular wines. That's a good thing. And, of course--as with everything they sell--their prices are good. They employ the power of their economic order quantity with great effect.
So why don't I buy wine there anymore? It's partly because they lack in-store expertise and any ability to offer advice or suggestions. And they offer only widely popular wines. But that's not new. It's more fundamental than that. In too many places, box stores are threatening--and killing off--local wine shops. In the DC area, we have some very good wine shops. I don't want to lose them.
Good wine shops know they can't offer the same price on a wine COSTCO offers. Take, for example, Beringer Private Reserve Chardonnay. COSTCO buys thousands of cases of it...a local shop might only buy a case. The local shop can't compete on price. So, instead the good shops offer you things that COSTCO can't. Expertise. The ability to find new and unusual wines...including niche and boutique wines that aren't made in quantities large enough to interest COSTCO. Personal interest in you and what you want. And if you let them build a relationship with you, the ability to tailor recommedations to your taste and offer you things that may surprise and delight you.
Do you really want to lose that to save 10% or 15% on a bottle of wine here and there? I don't. I don't begrudge people the means to save some money. It can be important. But I'll wager that if you take that ~$25 price that COSTCO would charge for Beringer Private Reserve Chardonnay and go into a good wine shop, they can offer you an interesting wine at that same price. Not the same wine. But something you'll find as interesting (and that's being conservative--even when challenged with a tight cost window, the good ones can offer you wines that are more interesting).
I've concluded I want to buy wine from people, not entities...people who are passionate about wine...people who know what they're doing...people who know my taste. So, I will support my local wine shops. I'll buy wine from them even when I could buy that wine a little cheaper somewhere else. If I don't, the box store may become my only option.