Where I Bought Wine in 2009

Monday, January 4, 2010

"Where do you buy your wine and why?" is one of the most common questions people ask me.  I enjoy talking about this with fellow wine consumers, retailers, distributors, and salespeople.  Towards the end of 2008 I started using CellarTracker which supports easily reporting purchase and consumption trends by store over time.  For the longest time I thought "I don't need no stinkin' CellarTracker- I can remember which wines I bought!"  While that's true, as my wine collection has grown (I only have around 170 bottles right now) it's become more interesting to be able to track wine purchases and consumption.  For these reasons, I'd recommend CellarTracker even to people who have as little as a case or two of wine on hand.

The average bottle I bought cost $21.63.  I spread my purchases out across 29 stores and wineries, most of which are in the metro Boston area and tend to be close to our home base in Wellesley.  (Click on the chart above to enlarge.)

What I'm Looking for in a Wine Shop

I tend to buy from retailers that make it convenient to do business with them based on the way I like to shop. For me, this means I can keep in touch with them via E-mail (or better yet on Twitter) and take advantage of deals they're offering.  They either offer low-cost/free shipping -or- make it easy to buy over E-mail/online and then pick-up in store.  I'll admit- I'm a value-hunting cherry picker to an extent, but retailers I've done business with know that when I come in to pick up my order I like to look around the store and I usually buy more while I'm there.  A smart technique for retailers, I think, is when they offer a 10% off coupon when you buy online and pick-up additional items in-store.

I like stores that are fun places to hang out and talk about wine.  The best stores remind me of baseball card shops I used to visit as a kid.  They've got copies of wine magazines lying around, the people who work there like to chat about wine trends, and they've always got wines open to try and talk about.

Events are very effective.  I particularly like ones where you can try a bunch of wines offered at special pricing without having to buy too many bottles of any single wine.

Above all, the retailers I favor tend to have a good nose for value wines at all price points and they sell wine at competitive prices.  Most of them limit the number of wines they choose to stock, instead focusing on important categories and specific wines to get the best pricing possible.

The top stores I shopped at last year blended aspects of all of these things to earn most of my business.

My Top Shops of 2009
  1. Blanchards West Roxbury, MA
    Strong E-mail deals with in-store pick-up, grand tastings/focused educational events, and competitive pricing on well-selected wines combined to land Blanchards the top-spot on my list.  Knowledgeable and helpful people like Steve Grant, Eden Stone and others regularly selected wines I liked.
    Outlook: Strong.  Relatively close to my house and they keep giving me a reason to get in the car and go over there.
  2. Hingham Wine Merchant Hingham, MA
    Dick Graham's editorial sort might be the sharpest in town.  Strong E-mail offers, amazing events, and a kids play area combined to make this a great place to shop for wine.
    Outlook: Over 30 miles from my house, so I find myself making the trip less frequently.  I still keep in touch for deals and events.  No web site.
  3. Bin Ends Wine Braintree, MA
    I haven't found a retailer who uses social media more effectively than Craig Drollett at @BinEndsWine.  Between their TasteLive! events, monthly fine wine flea markets, short-burn deals, and my personal favorite bargain bins (where they offer 50% off a random assortment of sometimes-incredible wines) they continue to innovate at a high level and earn my business.  John Hafferty and the rest at Bin Ends are running a very cool wine store.
    Outlook: Fantastically helpful in guiding me towards specific wines in categories I'm exploring, and so easy to do business with.  I can't imagine this store falling in ranking in 2010.
  4. Wine Cellar of Stoneham Stoneham, MA
    Mike Reardon's well-selected, limited-SKU, low-priced model within the BJ's Warehouse stores (no membership required) in Danvers and Stoneham was the beginning.  Stepping in and offering an amazing price on our 2007 Paul Autard CdP case club was the next step.
    Outlook: Holding steady and could rise higher with more E-mail offers and an improved online presence.  No web site, but follow @WineCellarsMA on Twitter.
  5. Upper Falls Liquor, Newton, MA
    Combined with Post Road in Wayland and Auburndale Liquors in Newton, the Upper Falls model is to offer 20% off 6 mixed bottles on a different category each month.  I appreciated getting some hard-to-find bottles of Merry Edwards Sauvignon Blanc and 2005 Columbia Crest Reserve Cabernet when they first came out.
    Outlook: Haven't been in lately.  Could improve with E-mail specials to get me in the door and look around.
  6. Lower Falls Wine Co. Newton, MA
    I don't know why it's taken me a while to warm up to this store, but their stock really rose with me later in the year especially.  They're able to find wines others don't seem to be able to, and their free tastings are the best I've seen.  I'm really growing to trust their guidance on more expensive and difficult to navigate categories.
    Outlook: Rising star in my book and close to home. I expect to do more shopping there in 2010.
  7. Wine ConneXtion, North Andover, MA
    Just opened two months ago but has already established itself as the low-price leader on brand name fine wines.  Razor-thin margins on everything they sell, and you don't need to buy more than a single bottle to get their best pricing.
    Outlook: Far away from my place.  E-mail offers would convince me to make the drive more often.
  8. VinoDivino, Newton, MA
    Full review HERE.  They offer a focused selection of highly rated wines at reasonable pricing combined with excellent service.
    Outlook: Holding steady.  More closeout deals could catch my interest.
  9. Bounty Hunter, Napa, CA
    Scooped up a couple of bottles of Kosta Browne Pinot Noir and a bottle of Lewis Cab.  High per-bottle cost lands them in the top 10.
    Outlook: Probably won't buy from here frequently unless I'm in Napa looking to one-stop-shop hard to find wines.
  10. Costco, Waltham, MA
    Despite my impression that their shelf talkers are shady, we shop at Costco and I swing through the wine area while I'm there.
    Outlook: Their assortment seems stagnant lately, and their prices are being matched or beaten by other retailers.
  11. Whole Foods (Wayland, MA and now Dedham, MA)
    They relocated their MA liquor license from Wayland to Dedham and expanded their wine operation.  The new store has some interesting wines -and- they appear to be price matching Costco on wines they both carry.
    Outlook:  Wait-and-see.  I'm not sure how much we're going to shop in Dedham-it feels a little farther out of our way than Wayland.
  12. Table and Vine (Springfield, MA and online)
    This subsidiary of the Big Y grocery chain distinguished themselves by listening on Twitter and fulfilling our inaugural Case Club on some Cakebread Cab.  They're making a play to reach the Boston market via free shipping offers.
    Outlook: They're always an option I price-check online.  More closeout deals could trigger more purchases.
  13. San Diego Wine Co. (San Diego, CA)
    Full review HERE.  One of my favorite shops in the country for their incredible prices on wines in categories I shop.  Extremely shrewd selections. Love their business model.
    Outlook: I'll be stopping in any time I'm in San Diego this year.
  14. Other
    There's another 16 retailers/auction sites/wineries that collectively account for 25% of the money I spent on wine in 2009.  Notably out of the Top 13: Trader Joe's.  We just haven't been shopping at TJ's as much lately, but I continue to think they're a good place to buy wine.  Other sources are a random collection of retailers and wineries across the country.
Want another opinion on the best wine shops near Boston?  Here's a piece from The Passionate Foodie listing some of his favorites: Check it out HERE
    Question of the Day: What are some of your favorite shops in the Boston area?  Why?


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