Table and Vine Store Review (plus a bonus offer!)

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

If I had a nickel for every time someone told me I should check out Table & Vine over the years I'd have at least a dollar by now. I'd heard it was huge. I knew is was owned by the Big Y Supermarket chain. I'd ordered from them several times. But until I visited the store in person I didn't have a good feeling for what it's like.

Located in Springfield, MA -- about an hour and a half west of Boston -- Table and Vine is pretty easy to find. The store anchors a strip mall about 3 miles south of the Mass Pike off Exit 4. It's about as big as a medium sized grocery store with more than half of the floor space devoted to wine. The remainder of the space is devoted to beer and gourmet food.

Immediately to the right upon entering is an area normally reserved for Bordeaux and New Arrivals. But on the Saturday afternoon I visited the area was hosting a wine tasting. For a $5 charitable donation you could taste wines from a half dozen distributors pouring their wines.
From across the store I recognized Michael Quinlan. I chatted with him a bit to get an overview of their wine program and the layout of the store. I was reminded that Table & Vine is not only a wine retailer but also an importer which gives them sourcing and pricing strength especially on French and Spanish wines. From their offers and newsletters I've always suspected an old world slant, and Quinlan confirmed they probably focus on European wines than domestic. But what struck me most about the store was their strength across the board - in all categories and all price points.
When checking out a new store for the first time, I always like to browse areas of familiarity first to get a feel for typical markups. First off, their discount policy is 5% off a mixed 6+ bottles and 10% off straight cases. Non-sale items excluded. They'll ship 12 bottles to MA addresses for $22 (MA retailers aren't allowed to ship out of state by law). Not bad.

Quinlan said things are marked up uniformly, but in looking around it seemed like some wines were pretty good deals and other weren't. Take for example the 2009 Ridge Lytton Springs Petite Sirah at $29.99 - best price in the country. Contrast this with the Belle Glos Meiomi Pinot Noir at $19.99 which isn't a very good price compared to warehouse pricing.

Quinlan, as kind, genuine and enthusiastic about wine as you can imagine, acknowledged they do buy certain wines in larger quantities than others which might account for some deals being better than others. This kind of variability subtly drives the deal hound in me to seek out the hidden gems; and seek guidance in categories I'm not as familiar with.

Take for example the 2010 Wrongo Dongo Monstrell. I thought it was a great buy when I found it for $8.99 earlier in the year. On vacation in Michigan this summer I paid around $15 for it. They've got it for $6.99 before discounts.

The domestic Pinot selection could use some expansion. Not that I'd expect it to align with my personal collection and account for half the store, but it's currently only half an aisle compared to Australia that's an entire aisle. Quinlan agreed this was out of step with current trends and may be due for an adjustment.

A wine caught my eye that I'd been looking for was the 2009 Beringer's Knight's Valley Reserve Cabernet (now apparently sold out online). It was recently rated 94 points by Wine Spectator and they've got it for $44.99. I knew I'd done a Wine-Searcher search for it recently and wondered why it didn't show up. They do have it listed on their website so I asked Quinlan why it wasn't turning up on Wine-Searcher. He said they choose not to list certain items they don't have a lot of because they don't want to disappoint customers who might place an order only to find out later they couldn't fulfill.

I can accept this, but it makes me less likely to notice they carry wines I might otherwise order from them. And it makes wine hunting online like searching for affordable airfare - you have to check the aggregators and the individual airline websites to make double dog sure you're getting the best deal possible. Sure, there are a ton of retailers out there who don't list at all on Wine-Searcher. But it's got to make you wonder whether you're really catching the best possible prices (not to mention availability) if you're only relying on Wine-Searcher - even Pro.

Anyway - where was I? Oh yeah - perusing the shelves. They had all kinds of interesting stuff. Just when you think you're looking at the usual suspects you stumble onto something unique. Like 2011 Lapierre Morgon magnums for $49.99. Or a 2001 St. Cosme Cote-Rotie for $27.99 in the closeout section at the back of the store. Or Radio-Coteau Zinfandel - didn't even know they made a Zin. Or an assortment of wines from Donkey & Goat - I've wanted to try them forever. Update: I've tried it. It's awesome.

Just when I thought I'd seen it all I remembered we hadn't been to the temperature controlled section of the store where they keep their nicer wines. Oh my - they've got some nice stuff. New stuff and old. Magnums of 2010 Donjon and Clos des Papes made me consider a flipping opportunity should one of them win Wine Spectator Wine of the Year later this week. Alas, they only have a few bottles of each so act now. Update: Neither won.

Peter Michael Les Pavots. 2009 Baron Pichon-Longueville for $174.99. 2004 Harlan for $649. 2009 Lewelling Napa and Wight. Cayuse. All kinds of great stuff, and much of it not listed online. Quinlan rejoined us and I asked him what some of his favorite categories were. Like seemingly all other wine geeks he said Burgundy, but emphasized an interest in Spain. I learned about some of his favorites in the pricey cellar area but in an ongoing effort to keep wine expenditures within reason went for a $13.99 La Cartuja Priorat. Update: I'd open it later that night - outstanding I thought, and a great value.

We'd easily been there an hour and a half by then so we had to get going. All 6 or so of the registers were humming, briskly ringing up customers.

One more stop before we left and that was next door to their temperature controlled wine vault where paid customer orders await pick-up or delivery. A mind blowing assortment of high value wines -- mostly Burgundy and Bordeaux -- along with boxes of varying sizes, sorted by customer. Quite an operation. The sheer volume is staggering, not to mention the dollar value.

All day, I was thinking about why I don't order more from Table & Vine. Not like I need another source of wine-budget draining temptation but for how much I complain about restrictive MA shipping laws it seems like Table & Vine is a retailer I should do more business with. I think there are several reasons why I've only placed a few orders with them to date.

First, I think a small part of it is the shipping cost. $22 per case - less than $2 per bottle -- is very reasonable. But for some reason I have a psychological block against paying for shipping. It seems like a waste of money. I'll always wait for a free shipping special or a wine I can pick-up as part of my normal errands. But this isn't terribly logical considering the cost of fuel and wear and tear on a car so this isn't a rational concern.

Second, I think their case discount policy actually stalls purchase decisions a bit. I know that if I band together with some friends and go in on a straight case I can get 10% off. But I usually want to try just a bottle or two of a specific wine so I don't go forth with the transaction. I wrote about this phenomenon previously here. I like it when the first bottle is offered at max discount. I'd like to see them to go that pricing model.

Third, I haven't paid close enough attention to their email offers. They're not terribly big into the flash sale/deep discount thing and that tends to be where I'm spending a lot of my time lately. There is an ocean of good wine being offered at great prices and each of us only need to swing at the very best deals.

Finally, I just don't spend time perusing their website poking around to see what's new. Knowing that wines like the Beringer Knight's Valley Reserve Cab are out there make me more likely to look around at their site from time to time (and pay closer attention to their newsletters).

Ultimately, I think Table & Vine is best enjoyed in person. I had a great time checking out the store, and I didn't even have time to check out the beer or gourmet food. With the volume they're doing I have a feeling their turn through their 4,000 SKUs very quickly so there's likely always new stuff to discover.

From November 22-26, 2010 they're running a 5% Off Gift Card sale. Stack these with their case discounts for larger savings. I wonder, too, whether credit cards which offer 5% back for grocery store purchases might apply to purchases at Table & Vine due to their Big Y connection. My credit card noted the details as "Grocery Stores, Supermarkets" so I bet it would. Bonus!

Check 'em out:
Table & Vine

Question of the Day: If you've done business with or visited Table & Vine, what do you think of them? If you live in MA and haven't ordered from them or visited what could they do better to earn your business?


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