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Wine shopping 101 at ‘Atlanta’s best kept secret’

Elizabeth Schneider, Wine for Normal People

Elizabeth Schneider, Wine for Normal People

Are you intimidated by the prospect of selecting a bottle of vino amidst the rows upon rows of fancy-labeled bottles surrounding you in a wine shop? Do you purchase the same exact wine each and every time? Unsure where to shop? Stop sweating — there’s help.

I recently attended a wine-tasting event that led to a wine shopping expedition — one designed to provide help for those who feel crushingly overwhelmed in a wine shop. Elizabeth Schneider, Certified Sommelier and owner of Wine for Normal People, led the tasting and guided participants in sampling wines that typified common wine descriptors. During the presentation, Elizabeth casually mentioned that she purchased the evening’s wine at “Atlanta’s best kept secret.”

My ears perked up. Secret? Clue me in!

Where should you shop?

At the conclusion of the tasting, I snagged Elizabeth to prod her for information. Not only did she reveal the location, she offered to take me shopping there using the model for her “Wine Shopping 101” class.

Okay, okay. You’d like to know the secret, too? Here it is: the closeout section at the Kroger at Ansley Mall. Why that Kroger? Well, this isn’t your average grocery store wine section.

About 14 years ago, the Kroger at Ansley Mall gained permission to stock “offline” wines (ones that are not typically stocked by Kroger). Thanks to that decision, the wine program, now led by wine steward Joe Jackson, has grown and brings customers from far and near. Whereas most Kroger wine shops bring in 3-4% of store sales, Joe tells me this one constitutes 10-13% of its store’s sales. Furthermore, 30% of the customers at the Ansley Kroger come in to purchase only wine. As it turns out, it isn’t a total secret!

Elizabeth notes that what makes this spot particularly attractive is the closeout section. She smiles like the cat who ate the canary Kroger Ansley Winewhen recounting the incredible bargains she’s nabbed there.

How do you narrow the choices?

Elizabeth suggests that before you embark on a wine shopping trip, you answer a few questions to narrow the sea of options. Consider the following:

  • Are you shopping for an occasion, a gift or for tonight?
  • What is your budget?
  • Do you want dry or sweet wine?
  • Do you want bubbly, rosé, white or red (light, medium or full white or red)?
  • Is there a brand you typically enjoy?

If you’ve answered the above questions, you’ve already cut the possibilities by over half.

  • Is the wine for sipping or to serve with a meal? If you will pair it with food, Elizabeth suggests you avoid wine with an alcohol content above 14%, which would overwhelm the food. And, consider what type of food it will accompany (lighter, spicy, Italian, heavier).
  • If you want a white, what do you like in a white (fragrant, lighter, creamy and full, acidic/tart, fruity, mineral-like)? What do you like in a red (fruity and full, earthy and restrained, lighter, heavy and huge)?
  • Do you like the fruity and big New World wines (U.S., Argentina, Chile, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa) or do you prefer the more earthy and restrained Old World wines (France, Spain, Portugal, Germany, Italy, Greece, Austria)?

How do I make the final selection? Plus more tips.

According to Elizabeth, if you answer the above questions, there will likely be ten or fewer wines remaining from which to choose. What do you do with the answers to the above questions? At this point you can:

  • Ask for help — but ask a wine steward you trust.
  • Do a little research on your own. Elizabeth recommends the Hello Vino app if you’re trying to narrow selections while in the store.
  • If you are looking for value, avoid the selections on the “eye-level” shelf. Those may vary in price, but they are typically the ones on which stores make the highest margin.
  • Don’t rely on the “shelf-talkers” descriptions. Having worked for a major wine company, Elizabeth reveals that often marketers write those tags without having tasted the wine.
  • Shop by place and not by labels. For example, Elizabeth suggests that if you like Cabernet Sauvignon, buy a couple of inexpensive bottles from Napa Valley and a couple from Sonoma to see which region you prefer.

For more information about Wine for Normal People or to catch one of Elizabeth Schneider’s many wine-themed podcasts, visit her blog or her Facebook page.

Kroger at Ansley Mall, 1700 Monroe Drive, Atlanta. 404-872-0782.

Jenny Turknett, Southern and Neighborhood Fare

Jenny Turknett, Southern and Neighborhood Fare

–by Jenny Turknett, Food & More blog

– Jenny Turknett writes about Southern and Neighborhood Fare for the AJC Dining Team. She also publishes her own blog, Going Low Carb.

21 comments Add your comment

[...] Wine shopping 101 at Atlanta s best kept secret – Atlanta Journal Constitution (blog)Are you intimidated by the prospect of selecting a bottle of vino amidst the rows upon rows of fancy-labeled bottles surrounding you in a wine shop? Do you purchase the same exact wine each and every time? Unsure where to shop? Stop sweating there s [...]

David G.

June 28th, 2011
8:16 am

Very helpful article. Thank you for your work. I was not aware of the Kroger at Ansley venue.

Edward

June 28th, 2011
10:13 am

Now it is going to be harder to snag the good wines in the closeout section! The Ansley Kroger has had the best selection of wines for a while, and the closeout values are great. I’ve enjoyed finding some real gems there that fits my limited budget.

Jenny Turknett

June 28th, 2011
10:17 am

David G – thanks!

Edward – I know — sorry! ;)

ATL4Real

June 28th, 2011
10:43 am

great article!

Teresa

June 28th, 2011
12:29 pm

I am a wine consultant with Wine Shop At Home, (WSH). I do in-home wine tastings with wines from the Napa Valley winery by the same name that sells moderately priced wines, ($9 to $27). I like your suggestions and would add visiting my website as another option: http://www.wineshopathome.com/teresawageman
You can shop on line and the wines are shipped directly to your front door!

AB

June 28th, 2011
1:12 pm

Ansley Kroger–Apparently Ms, Schneider has not been there recently. The Kroger management has placed idiotic mandates on pricing and inventory there. As a result, there deals and quality of wines in the closeout section has crashed dramatically. Sad.

Jenny Turknett

June 28th, 2011
3:12 pm

AB – Well, I will tell you that Elizabeth and I had our shopping excursion in May. With other stories in the works, this one got posted now. I’ll see what I can find out about any recent changes to the store’s wine program.

NYerinATL

June 28th, 2011
4:30 pm

Love your blog! Very useful and interesting article. Keep up the great work Jenny!

wino

June 28th, 2011
6:55 pm

I have tried to lay off this one all day long since I read it this morning, but it is too close to the heart. Closeout sections exist for one reason and that is because the wholesaler was not able to sell the wine. In this economy, higher end wines are not selling as well as in the past. Wineries are reducing their productions, and many are going out of business. I will not deny that closeout sections can provide great values for the educated consumer, but warn the novice or unsure buyer that many unsaleable wines were not particularly good to begin with, have been stored improperly, are older than they should be for current consumption, etc.

As to the statement that eyelevel wines are sold at the greatist profit, I have one word—hogwash. It is a fact that they sell faster than other shelves, but the closeouts will have MUCH more profits in these days and times.

As to the statement that once one goes over all the criteria for buying and still need help, ask for a wine specialist, well said and absolutely correct. No grocery store, KA included, has qualified staff on the floor. Joe is qualified, and will help you when he is available, but the demands of his job, dealing with salesmen, deliveries, stocking, inventory, meetings, etc., keeps him off the floor most of the time. The best advice would be to pay a buck or two a bottle and go to a store that has a staff that is passionate about wine. Remember what you drank before, take a picture of the label to remember, tell the salesperson if you liked it or not, and why. They will help you. A store focused on closeouts will not.

I liked the 101 criteria for the most part, but an omission in the advice would be, buy wines outside of your level of comfort. There are great wines from all regions.

Finally, and sorry for the length of the post, don’t get too transfixed on closeouts. In a closeout, the only person that is making a good sell is the retailer. Wineries are producing less so as to not have to sell at less than a profitable margin. Wholesalers are inventorying less so as to not have to sell at a loss. The market is correcting itself.

J

June 28th, 2011
7:26 pm

Great, another blogger outing a well known secret among wine lovers. I can’t wait to see the unwashed masses cleaning out the closeout aisle at Ansley Kroger.

James

June 28th, 2011
10:22 pm

@wino – admit it, you’re trying to scare everyone else away from the closeout section so you can keep all those good deals for yourself!

wino

June 28th, 2011
11:16 pm

James,
Unfortunately, I am the one you all hate. Well, one of the ones. We don’t want Sunday sales because we don’t want to have to have a 7 day work week. We have wine in our cellars. Enough for doomsday predictions. I have not bought a bottle of wine at KA in twenty years.

Chris

June 28th, 2011
11:58 pm

Ansley Wine Merchants is the best kept secret in Ansley Mall. Every single employee there will help you find a wine that fits your budget — and quickly, too. They have been in the business for years. Shop local, y’all!

James

June 29th, 2011
12:35 pm

@wino – yes, I admit it’d be great if someone passed legislation that prevented me from having to work Sundays! Must be nice!

Edward

June 29th, 2011
3:45 pm

I have yet to see any proposal for a law that would require any business to be open on Sunday. What I have seen are laws that would allow those businesses that WANT to be open to do so. If Kroger or whomever WANTS to sell wine, etc. on Sunday, they should be allowed to do so. Now if you want to compete with them, that is your choice. That is called the “free market” and is what most people would desire. The government should not be protecting your CHOICE to not compete.

Edward

June 29th, 2011
3:46 pm

btw, I would love to know which merchant wino represents so I’d know where NOT to shop.

wino

June 30th, 2011
1:52 pm

Edward,
I am a little surprised that you couldn’t tell from my comments that I am on the supply side of the business. I was being overly simplistic when I said I wanted Sundays off, even though I do. The nature of the business is that the supply side must go into stores on busy days to pull up displays and make sure their product is on the shelf.

The greater issue was correctly brought up by Chris. Sunday sales will result in a lot more wine being sold at grocery stores, Costco, Cost Plus, etc. These stores typically do not have knowledgeable sales staff on the floors. This results in lost sales for locally owned businesses. Trust me, these businesses are hurting already. All these businesses will be open on Sunday, but a lot of sales will move to groceries where the shopper will buy wine out of convenience rather than a carefully considered choice with a trained staff.

I understand and appreciate everyone’s concerns for the right to buy when they want to. I would just want you to consider my comments, and when the laws are changed, and they will be soon, buy your groceries and then go to your favorite wine store and have a professional help you with your selection. Keep locally owned businesses viable.

Edward

June 30th, 2011
6:17 pm

Having Sunday sales isn’t going to change that already-occurring fact. If people are going to buy in the grocery store, they’ll do it regardless of the day. Not allowing sales on Sunday isn’t magically pushing them to the wine merchant. While I do try to “buy local” when possible, I’m also faced with a very limited budget and when I shop at Kroger I don’t have anyone looking down their nose at me when I buy the $6 bottle of Chilean wine that I’ve found to be a great bargain.

wino

June 30th, 2011
11:23 pm

Edward,

Your wine merchant doesn’t look down their nose at you when you buy a 6 buck Chilean wine. They try to direct you to the best 6 buck wine in their store that fits your description of what you are looking for.

Edward

July 1st, 2011
10:36 am

Wino, while there might be some places like that, the stores I’ve been in around here (in Buckhead & Midtown) have not been so accommodating. I’ve been asked what price range I’m looking for, and as soon as I say “under $10″ I get the blank stare and they point to a shelf then walk away. Seriously, I’ve had that happen more than once at different merchants. I can save myself the trouble of driving to a separate store by simply getting the wine where I do my grocery shopping, which is at Ansley Kroger.