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The buying atmosphere at wine merchants like The Unexpected is important to the experience.
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Riverside wine bar
The Riverside offers tasting before buying.
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Corkscrew Johnnys upstairs
Corkscrew Johnny's offers many European wines.
After a delay that has been somewhat longer than expected, today we complete our journey through wine buying by covering the best of the best retail stores in the Greater Akron area. Yes, there are other fine wine merchants in Canton, and throughout the Greater Cleveland area. I expect to get around to Canton in the near future. But we are also blessed with so many more retail wine options in Akron than we had 25 years ago, and I think it's wonderful that I can find all but smallest production wines somewhere in Akron.
First of all, a quick review. It might be possible to think of some places, such as West Point Market, Kirby's Meats, or Papa Joe's Restaurant, as wine shops. There is no question they are wine merchants. But I covered them under the topics of grocery stores or restaurants, because that really is the main focus of their business. I also will not cover very many “general” liquor stores in this entry simply because most of them have a significant flaw in their range of selections or wine storage and display policies that make them risky if you're looking for a really good bottle. Go to them, or the big grocery chains, when you want jug and box wines for everyday consumption.
In my mind, there are four top true wine merchants that I visit regularly. There are three or four others that I also know of, but for one reason or another, I don't see very often. To be honest, this is usually because I find what I want at one of the others first. So, there may be nothing wrong with the true wine merchants not covered here, except the fact that I just don't see them often enough to write about them. If you want to, feel free to mention them in a comment.
The first place I always go is Riverside Wine and Imports in Kent. That's probably more because I live in Tallmadge, and it's closer than any other. However, it is also one of the best selections in the area, and I have found more special bottles here than any other place except Papa Joe's. This is the one place where I sometimes buy a case of wine to take advantage of the 10% mix or match discount. Owner Robert Morson is very knowledgeable, and tastes a great many of the wines he stocks. I have noticed a significant presence from the distributors, but he deals with many of them to offer the wide selection on his shelves...I think they have a form of “just in time” inventory management that assures selection and bottle quality.
Among the special features at Riverside is the fact they have full-service licensing, and can offer wine and beer by the glass as well as small appetizers. Generally, there will be a number of “wine flights” (tastings of three wines to compare) offered every day. Individually, at least 60 wines are offered by the glass. This means you have the opportunity to taste some of the lesser known wines you might be interested in before investing in a bottle. Another option is to buy any bottle in the store, and drink it there for a $7.00 corkage charge.
Riverside offers a full range of services such as gift shopping, gift baskets, bar ware and glasses, and some selected liquors. There is a wide range of craft beer available, too, including many on tap. The store is located at 911 N. Mantua Street (Rt. 43 north) in Kent, just north of all that new bridge construction. Here is a link to the web site: http://riverside-wine.com/index.html
My newest favorite is 750ml Wines, located in Pilgrim Square (2287 West Market), basically on the Akron/Fairlawn border. One reason is because I really like these newer wine merchants who give a lot of care in the creation of their shopping environment. 750 is designed and operated a lot like I would like to operate my home wine library room...if I had one! There is comfortable furniture, excellent storage and display, and a relaxing atmosphere that encourages you to sit down and perhaps sample a bottle in the shop before taking advantage of the 10% case discount.
Like many newer wine merchants, regular wine tasting events are a major part of the marketing program. July programs have included the “World Cup of Wines”, “Wine For Grillin' and Chillin'”, and “Alluring Australia”. Coming up on July 30-31 is “Hablo Espanol”. Another plus is that the staff regularly visits wine making areas, tastes and hand-selects all the wine offered in the shop. This means you can certainly trust a recommendation. Here's their web site: http://www.750mlwines.com/Default.aspx
Another shop similar to 750 is located south, in Green. It's called The Unexpected, and it's located in the Town Park shopping center, which is located along Massillon Road...1840 Town Park to be exact. Here's a link to that web site: http://www.theunexpected.biz/
This is another place where the atmosphere is important in the buying experience, and where I find that personal staff attention to the inventory often means there will be something special on the shelves. In other words, it lives up to the “unexpected” part of the name. This store does try to offer a wider range of services than just wine, selling a lot of specialty foods, high end candy, corporate gifts, and making up custom gift baskets. I like the fact that the staff seems well-trained in the interview part of the sale, where they attempt to find out exactly what you need and want. I think this allows them to customize selections included in any gifts you might order, and to give you good advice on the wines offered.
The main thing I like about Unexpected is that I have found several very special bottles here...wines I could not find at other stores in the area. This tells me the buyers are reading and studying the published tasting notes, perhaps making some of their own buying trips to California, and not just relying on the distributors. Keep in mind that some wine distributors are just trying to push distribution, while others have the knowledge to actually put good bottles on retail shelves. How a wine merchant acquires inventory is a major component in how much you should shop there.
My final stop on this tour is Corkscrew Johnny's in Richfield, at 2542 Brecksville Road (Old Route 21). There doesn't seem to be a web site, but if anyone finds one, please post it as a note to this blog entry.
When you first walk in the door, you may think this is just another liquor store of the type I suggested you avoid in the opening paragraphs. Not so. That's just the downstairs. Upstairs is a dedicated wine emporium that more than lives up to the name “Corkscrew” and the criteria of selection, proper storage, and atmosphere. You'll find elegant displays, some seating, a lot of wine literature, and fairly good organization. My one criticism here is that you will sometimes find a bottle topping a display where there are several different labels racked underneath. If you are really looking to see all the offerings, you have to pull bottles out and read the labels.
On the other hand, the stock is very complete, and this is one of the first places I go when I'm looking for French wines. Their stock is very heavy on Bordeaux, Burgundies, and the other French wine production areas. This is one of maybe only three places where you might be able to find a choice of bottles of true French Chablis, for instance.
Now, as I said at the beginning, I know there are a few other good wine merchants in the area, and you may have your favorites. Maybe you even work at one of them. If so, please feel free to respond to these posts, Wines 101 through 104, with your own suggestions. This is your blog, too.