I suggest it most depends on the type of wine drinker you are. Let’s use these four broad groups for discussion. Pick one that most describes you:
A. Are you a casual wine drinker who enjoys wine but is not especially particular?
B. Are you a regular wine drinker that favors a particular brand, grape, or a certain price point?
C. Are you an interested wine drinker seeking to learn about and try new and different wines regularly?
D. Are you a seasoned wine buyer looking for personal service and experienced, wine knowledgeable staff to assist you?
Please pick one. Great, so we know what kind of drinker we are. Okay, then what kinds of wine shops are there? We will classify five categories of wine retail shops to choose among:
1. Liquor or convenience store. The primary feature is ease of access. There are dozens to choose from; generally the lowest price and wine selection are not especially important.
2. National Chain Club. The primary feature here is price. Chain clubs buy on a national level and leverage their volume to offer below average pricing. Some clubs carry a fairly extensive wine selection, but in general knowledgeable service and broad, consistent selection are secondary to price concession.
3. National Chain Supermarket or Pharmacy. The primary features are brand consistency and market average pricing. Chain store wine sections are most often placed or “set” onto the shelf in a particular position for a fixed period of time. Wines are in the same place each time you visit and the brands don’t change as often. Chain Supermarkets can also be a barometer for market retail pricing and are generally considered neither very high nor low. The number of selections will vary by store section size, and knowledgeable service should not be your first concern.
4. National Chain Specialty market. The primary features are broader selection, including chain exclusive items, wine tasting opportunities and more knowledgeable staff. These markets provide a generally larger, more comprehensive selection than traditional Supermarkets that is aimed to an upscale wine consumer. These outlets are locally seen as upscale grocery or imported gift variety stores. Many wine values are available. National buying power affords many attractive discounts especially seen in those items on floor display, and with the chain exclusives. Everyday shelf pricing can vary; it can pay to shop around on off feature items. These markets regularly host tastings with supplier personnel and offer a good chance to try new and featured products.
5. Proprietor owned Wine shops or Specialty markets. Some of the many features are full personal service, competitive and often best market pricing, limited and highly sought products, educational classes, and extensive tasting opportunities often with visiting winery dignitaries. These shops offer hand selected, unique, and frequently updated product selection. Many private shops use the market average shelf prices and also have frequent store exclusive price features. Overall they are very price competitive. One of the key advantages of the dedicated wine shop is the knowledge of the owners and service staff. In general these store’s wine personnel are very well informed. Around the Birmingham area in several of the shops are persons among the most experienced and wine knowledgeable in the market. It is largely this knowledge that set the private shops aside in their staff’s ability to be of greater assistance to buyers of all kinds. The more the seller knows the easier it is for them to find the wine to meet your needs.
Use the ideas of dedicated knowledgeable staff, larger section size, price, etc, to consider any store types not listed. With our examples above I suggest the following outline as a guide to choosing a suitable wine shop. Have fun, and I hope you discover a new favorite wine in the process!
Group A Should be well served at any type of outlet class 1-5
Group B May prefer class 2 for the best price and class 3 for brand consistency
Group C Will likely enjoy class 4 and 5 for the tasting and educational opportunities
Group D Will probably prefer class 5 for the unique selections, superior service, and knowledge, but as savvy buyers might keep a watch on class 2 stores for premium wine features.