Papa Joe's Fine Wines
Fine wines are best displayed on their sides.
I've been buying wine since 1968, and I don't think it has to be tricky. On the other hand, over the years, I have learned a lot about it I can pass on, and maybe save you some time and trouble.
The first thing you have to ask yourself is why you are buying the wine, what type do you want? Is it just for you, or for guests? Are you trying to learn a lot about wine, or do you just want pick something out that might go well with dinner? Are you a patio sipper, or are you someone who aspires to be a collector, a gourmet, or a wine expert? I think you need to ask and answer these questions first, because the answers really guide you in your buying strategies.
I think you also need to know how much work you are willing to put into buying your wines. If you really want to buy the best you can find in the Akron-Canton area, you are going to have to read about wine. You may need a subscription or three to various wine publications, or at the very least, try to pick up some of the free ones lying around in the better wine stores. You are probably going to have ask for advice from some of the people who sell wine. And you may have to visit several stores in the area in search of the better bottles, because most of the best are not widely available.
You need to know that there are several different choices of retail outlets, and they differ in their approach to stocking and storing wines. If all you want are the most generally available “good” wines, it won't be much of a problem, but if you are looking for the highly rated bottles and vintages, most grocery stores won't be the answer. In fact, you might have to try to buy some wines online.
Wines are sold several ways. Of course, one way is with meals at restaurants, off wine lists. This is a specialized way of buying wine, and I'll cover it soon in another upcoming blog entry. But the other retail options are liquor stores, wine specialist stores, grocery stores, the internet, wine tasting rooms at wineries, and sometimes off the wine list at a restaurant for carryout. Some of these choices are governed by various state laws (and not just Ohio laws in the case of winery sales) and licenses. There are laws against mailing wine, and many shippers like UPS have their own rules and regulations.
So what I'm going to do is try to take each one of the options, and cover it in a blog entry over the next few days or weeks. When I'm done, I hope to have a complete magazine article for publication in our paper parent, Akron Life & Leisure Magazine.
Let's start with some general rules about retail stores. This includes all the forms I mentioned above. Just because a store specializes in wine doesn't necessarily mean it is particularly good at stocking a lot of choices, nor at good storage practices. One of the things you should look for in any store is how the bottles are displayed. Most good wines use cork stoppers. Cork can dry out and let air into the bottle if the it spends too much time standing up. So, in the best stores, you will see most of the wine stock lying on its side to keep the cork moist. One bottle may be standing for display purposes, and in the better stores, they will rotate that bottle with others of the same kind to protect the cork.
Having said this, many grocery stores have a very fast turnover in their wine stock. The fact that they have two or three bottles standing should not necessarily be held against them. In those stores, the distribution companies are very active, and the stock gets rotated frequently. Around here, I would not be afraid of buying wine at Giant Eagle, Heinens, Kirby's Meats in Stow, and of course, the West Point Market. I'm a little less convinced about Acme and Bueller's, but that really has more to do with the variety of choice...I am sure both rotate their stock, and you're not likely to get a bad bottle.
I'll deal in more detail with the grocery stores in the next blog entry, in fact. The one type of store I would warn about, however, is the general liquor store. In this area, most of the State Stores I've been in just don't seem very serious about the wine portion of their inventory. If all you want is a bottle of Chardonnay or Sauvignon Blanc to sip on the patio, I'm sure you can find it in one of these stores while you're buying your Grey Goose or single-malt Scotch. But hardly any of them carry what I consider the top California labels; if they do, they are likely to have only one bottle, standing up, with a dry cork; and none of them know much about French, German or Italian wines.
To sum up, do a little research, know why you want to buy and the type of wine that best suits your reasons, and then be prepared to shop around a little. There are a lot of very fine wines available in the Akron-Canton area, far more than when I moved here in 1982. If you want the best, you'll be able to find it, and you'll find prices to fit every budget.