Wine Buzz: They're not 'snobs,' they're experts

Published: Wednesday, May. 8, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 3D
Last Modified: Thursday, May. 9, 2013 - 8:58 am

The Total Wine & More commercial that's all over the radio airwaves makes the small, independent wine shops sound hopelessly pretentious. We learn about a fictitious boutique shop called Wine Snobs that's overpriced, snooty, unhelpful and comes nowhere near to matching Total Wine & More's 8,000-bottle inventory.

Total Wine & More has made significant inroads with the Sacramento market and now oversees three stores in the area. And with commercials like this, they're aiming to crush the little guy like petite sirah at harvest time.

But if the small shops are havens for snobbishness, Total Wine & More has all the soul of a Walmart.

"Wine Buzz" popped into Total Wine & More's Arden Way location over the weekend for the first visit in months. The display units at the front of the store looked like trophy cases, with such blue-chip bottles as Petrus and Harlan Estate awaiting purchase. The wine stock is indeed overwhelming, and includes Napa wines that are rare to find at retail, such as Corison, Karl Lawrence and Kobalt.

For all the commercial's talk of wine experts on the ready to help you, we weren't approached by any while ogling the array of bottles. The overall vibe feels impersonal, like we're just another shopping cart with a debit card on stand-by. We might as well be shopping at Costco or some other big-box store.

That personal touch of a small wine retailer is missed. I'm thinking of such wonderfully helpful wine merchants as Corti Brothers alums Donal Smith and Kevin McGuigan. I'm thinking of Marcus Graziano of Capitol Cellars and Rod Farley of Beyond Napa, and David Baker of Selland's Market Cafe.

Calling these folks snobs is a cheap shot by corporate America. At a small shop, you have a better chance of developing a long-standing relationship with staff. They get to know your palate and can guide you toward new wines you're bound to like. And yes, you can find bargains there, too.

We're also thinking of Eric Stumpf, who runs The Wine Consultant (8039 Greenback Lane, Citrus Heights). Stop by the shop on Friday for a $10 tasting of wonderful Tuscan wines. They'll also be offering special discounts.

So, shop at Total Wine & More when you need to stock up for a party. But don't forget the smaller guys.

Call The Bee's Chris Macias (916) 321-1253. Follow him on Twitter @chris_macias.

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