Miles of aisles 

Shopping for wine at the grocery chain

Although trips to the wine shop still reign as a principal purchasing destination for me, I imagine most people grab their wine on the go at the grocery store. Smart wine companies and grocery store managers have figured out that more variety is better. Most retailers, though, have identical labels on the shelves. I wondered why and made some illuminating discoveries.

Essentially, economics determine your wine choices at the grocery store. 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 big boys with huge inventories to stock their hundreds of wine aisles. Publix even employs a computer program to maximize space usage. Wine choices are mapped out in the corporate boardroom, regardless of consumer tastes.

Once the lowest bidder wins, the wine distribution company ships its pallets to the grocery store's warehouse. The wine is then circulated to individual stores. 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 (which has an impressive handpicked wine department) believes limited wine selections in most grocery chains can be attributed to a lack of knowledgeable wine salespeople 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. Grocery stores who have invested the time, energy and dollars in an in-store wine consultant typically see a 10 percent to 15 percent increase in wine sales.

But you can make a difference. Although chains may not address the consumer choice issue at the corporate level, local stores have the ability. If your neighborhood grocery store doesn't stock wines that wet your whistle, talk to the store manager and let him/her know your thoughts.

Meanwhile, how does one select wine in an aisle plastered with choices 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 substantial assortment of foreign wine on the grocery shelves other than Australian. Not that I'm complaining -- Aussies make great stuff, but it'd be nice to see more quality Italian and Spanish wines at all grocery stores, not just those in select parts of town.

Recommended, Commonly Found Grocery Store Wines
2001 Pepperwood Grove Merlot ($6.99)

2002 Rosemount Estate Semillon/Chardonnay ($7.99)

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)

2002 Alice White Shiraz ($6.99)


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