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Kirbys wine room
Kirby's Meats in Stow offers carefully selected wines.
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West Point French
The French wine section at West Point.
There are basically three types of grocery stores that carry wine: Those that are serious about it, and have staff trained on grape types and vintages; those that are not serious about it all, and carry mostly jug and box wines, wine coolers, and quaffers; and those that fall somewhere in the middle with stock largely maintained by the big distributing companies.
In the Akron area, I've found three grocery stores that are so serious about wines that I visit them frequently. Although Heinens only has a couple of nearby locations, you won't find many “general” grocers more serious about their wine department. Every store has a wine manager, and I've found most of them actually taste some of the wines offered, and are relatively knowledgeable. Of course, it's a medium size chain, so ability and commitment varies with the location. The Hudson store is well-stocked, bottles are stored and displayed correctly, there is a wide range of choices and a fair number of half-bottle offerings, and the cheese department is right next door.
Heinens also has a couple of other things going for it that I like. First, they send their own buyers out in the field looking for special deals, and they sometimes come up with private labelings worth a try. They also have a special display of lower cost bottles that have been pre-tasted by staff, and sorted by type. What that means is if you are looking for a reliable full-bodied red to match with your steak, or a nice light crisp Chenin Blanc for your lemon sole, you can be sure you'll find it here.
Probably the most serious wine department in a Northeast Ohio grocery store is in the well-known West Point Market, located where Exchange Street runs into West Market Street. With all due respect to retail wine merchants, this specialty grocery store is certainly one of the first places to shop for a really special bottle. For one thing, they carry more French and German wines than many wine shops. They also are well-educated on the top rated labels and vintages, and stock as many of the smaller production bottles as they can get. Finally, they have a large staff, under the direction of Manager Mario Vitale, dedicated to the wine department, and have regular staff tastings that result in some special “staff picks” displays.
West Point also makes shopping relatively easy. The department is divided into import and California sections, and then these sections are sub-divided by varietals (California) or region (imports) making it much simpler to find the Zinfandels, or see all the Bordeaux or Burgundys at the same time. One of the negatives at Heinens, Giant Eagle, and other chains, is that some stores assume all Bordeaux are Cabernets or Merlots, and mix the French wines with the Californias. Thankfully, Giant Eagle is gradually changing this.
The third grocery store I shop is in Stow. It is actually an upscale butcher shop called Kirby's Meats, located in the south shopping plaza at Graham and Fishcreek Roads. The wine shop in this store used to operate as a separate business, but I think it has been fully incorporated into the Kirby's operation now. Since Kirby's carries fresh meat and produce as well as specialty food products and some high demand groceries, I include it in this section.
I find Kirby's to be extremely selective in what they carry. You are not going to find many low-cost sipping wines here. Most of the stock is chosen on the assumption that the first reason someone came to the store is to buy their dinner entrees, and the wines carried tend to be those highly recommended in the various publications, or wholesaled by smaller wine distributors. For that reason, you might find a bottle or two here you would not find at other stores, especially the bigger grocers. While the area given over to wine is small, it is very attractive, the wines are stored and displayed properly, and the prices are reasonable.
Once you move past these three grocery stores, I think the next best bet in the area are the wine departments at Giant Eagles. For one thing, at least two of these stores (maybe more...I haven't been in every Giant Eagle in Akron!) have special temperature controlled wine rooms where they keep and display a few of the more highly recommended bottles. Although these tend to come from more widely available sources (because a big grocery chain has to buy a lot of cases to make a profit), these will be very good wines worth consideration for any special occasion.
I also find their selection in the general section to be more extensive than in the other area grocery stores. I know both Acme and Buehler's try to offer a lot of wines, but I just don't ever seem to find as many attractive bottlings, nor do they seem as well organized. Perhaps this has more to do with the distributing companies they deal with than with any corporate philosophy about selling wine.
In Wine 101, we talked about the reasons why you might buy wine. If you are not a wine collector, if you are not serving a special gourmet meal to 10 business associates, if you are just looking for everyday drinking reds and whites, and especially if you are just looking for wine boxes, jug wines, or better than average cooking wines, I think the grocery stores are usually a better bet on price and selection. In particular, while the wine stores will have their sections of South American, South African and Australian wines, in my experience the grocery stores usually stock more.
That's pretty much the grocery store scene for wines around here. If you live in Canton, give Fisher's a try. I don't get there often, but seem to remember they make a serious effort. In the next chapter, we'll step up a notch, and take a look at some of the premium wine retailers in our town.