According to a sales manager for Premier Beverages in Tampa, grocery store chains essentially auction off space on the shelves to the lowest bidder. You might call it negotiating, but essentially it's the chain trying to squeeze the lowest bulk price possible from wine companies like Beringer, Gallo or Rosemount. To accommodate every store, they need these big boys with flowing cash and huge inventories to stock their hundreds of wine aisles. One large grocery store chain even employs a computer program to maximize space usage, mapping out your wine choices in the corporate boardroom, regardless of what consumers really want.
Once the lowest bidder wins, the wine distribution company ships its pallets to the grocery store's warehouse, then the wine is circulated to each individual store. Sometimes, in areas of high demand for wine, the grocery store's general manager is authorized to expand the selections, avoiding the bidding process and the warehouse route. This is why the wine selection at the location near your house might differ from that near your work.
But the lack of expanded wine choices at most chains isn't necessarily a supply and demand issue. Michael Nix at the Ansley Mall Kroger in Atlanta, with an impressive handpicked wine department, attributes limited wine selections to grocery chains not employing people with wine knowledge dedicated to buying and selling smaller labels. He says chains don't go after the fine wine demographic because they'd need a consultant on site to make a difference in wine sales. And it does. Grocery stores that have invested the time, energy and dollars in an in-store wine consultant can see a 10 - 15% increase in wine sales.
But you can make a difference. Although corporate may not address the consumer choice issue, the local store level has the ability. If your neighborhood grocery store doesn't stock wines that whet your whistle, talk to the store manager and let him/her know your thoughts.
Meanwhile, how to select from an aisle plastered with wines you see every day but never capture your attention? Wade through the plunk and you can find great wines for low dough.
Look for the best deals from emerging foreign lands. With cheaper land prices, favorable export terms, and gobs of winemaking talent, other countries ooze value. Australia, Spain and Italy are the ones who make the best juice for the money these days. But, unfortunately, there's not a helluva lot of foreign wine on the grocery shelves other than Australian. Not that I'm complaining; they make great stuff, but it'd be nice to see more quality Italian and Spanish wines at all grocery stores, not just those in the "nicer" parts of town. At under $10 a bottle, making the decision will only cost you 10 seconds.
Recommended Grocery Store Wines
2001 Pepperwood Grove Merlot $6.99
2002 Rosemount Estate Semillon/Chardonnay $7.99 1/2
2002 Rosemount Estate Grenache/Shiraz $7.99
2001 Barton & Guestier Vouvray $8.99
2002 Banrock Station Chardonnay $6.99
2002 Yellow Tail Shiraz $6.99
2000 Ravenswood Vintner's Blend Zinfandel $9.99 1/2
2002 Alice White Shiraz $6.99
The Wine List
Chemistry with Wine & Food Entry level wine classes. Physiology and aesthetics, food strategies, wine strategies. carolinawineclub .com. June 10 - Mint Museum of Craft & Design (6:30-8pm); June 11 - The Design Center, Westye Group Kitchen (10am-11:30am). $30. 704-344-8027.
Four for Friday Four premium wines are featured in four ways: 2 oz. sample, 5 oz. glass, by the bottle or in a flight. Fridays. $20. Reid's Fine Foods, 7th Street Station. 704-377-1312.
Unique White Wines Taste and learn about exotic white wines from Italy, Spain, California and more. Registration required. Wed., June 4, 7-8:30pm. $20. Southern Spirits, Hwy 521. 803-548-8888.
Wednesday Night Flights Very informal. Three wines tasted each week. Wednesdays, 5:30-7:30pm. $10. Reid's Fine Foods, 7th Street Station. 704-377-1312.
Wine Classes June 7 - Syrah. Great for beginners. Every month on the first and third Saturday, 12:30-1:30pm. $15. Dean & Deluca Wine Room, 6822-G Phillips Place Ct. 704-552-5283.
Wine Tasting Select Italian Wines. Sat., June 7, 1-5pm. Free. Kee-Kee-Rikee, 219 Main St., Pineville. 704-889-5333.
Wine Tastings Wednesdays, 6-8pm. $10. Barone's Wine Room, Birkdale Village, Huntersville. 704-987-0011.