There are literally many thousands of convenience stores all across the country that sell wine. No matter what the store calls itself on its front window, wine may be there only as an enticement.
Generally the choice of wines is a complete afterthought; usually they’re not of high quality. Many sell for $5 to $12 a bottle. These are wines that usually will be marginally good at half the price. However, since discounts usually do not exist at such establishments, the price you pay is, to me, a ripoff.
Consider places like this a last-ditch effort to get a bottle for a last-minute event, not a place to buy wine for your cellar.
A step up would be a “liquor store.” Somewhere on the front of the place it may say “wine store,” or “wine cellar,” but as with the first (lowest) category of store, the vast majority of wines will not satisfy even the casual wine lover.
In both kinds of shops, wines are arranged by variety, with Chardonnay here and Cabernet Sauvignon there. There may well be one or two wines from France, Italy and, other countries. But in general such wines are there to fill a price niche, and often are not of great quality and are often overpriced.
A further step up in inventory quality is at a supermarket. In fact, some chains actually do a pretty good job of stocking a relatively wide variety of wines. Still, there is a same-ness to most of the selections at such places; often a single wholesale company provides most of the wines.
As a result, there will be many standardized wines, such as the de facto Pinot Grigio from Italy. It will probably be Santa Margherita.
Moreover, most bottles will be standing upright. Since that way the cork cannot remain moist, some may dry out and the wine will be terrible after some time. Moreover, some bottles may be in direct sunlight, a sure way to kill the delicate aromas in a fine wine.
There will also be a handful of brands few people have ever heard of. Many such wines will be from giant wine companies that develop new brands just for such situations. If you see a domestic wine with the appellation “California” on the label, beware. The wine may very well be OK to drink, but usually it’s boring, simple, and overpriced.
Wine Doesn’t Like Bad Storage
Wine is sensitive to bad storage. Many shops will be too warm for long periods of time. If you walk into a wine store in winter that is heated to 75 degrees, or in summer and the place has no air conditioning, you can be pretty sure that the wines have suffered.
Once recently in lower Manhattan, we walked into one such shop in July. The temperature in the place was close to 80; it could have been warmer. We were looking for a Riesling. The only one the guy had was five years old and looked like it had been in bad shape for two years. (The low fill level and bottle seepage were clues.) We left empty-handed.
The wine store with the best inventory (and often the best price) usually is a place where the selection is broad enough to indicate that the owner actually made some buying decisions based on quality. The best thing about such shops, besides a broader and more diverse selection of wines, is the temperature of the place.
Such a wine shop has temperature controls. And most if not all bottles are lying on their sides, and the selection generally includes a number of wines that are exceptional.
In such places, you can usually count on the shop owner knowing something about the wines. You can also find some rare wines, such as sherries, Ports, Champagnes, and specialty wines.
When planning to buy wine, consider the shape of the store you are in. If there is dust on bottles, they are standing upright, sunlight is hitting some of the bottles, and most of the wines are the same (low) price, see if you can find a better option.