For many years it seemed that the business model of the local wine shop was pretty standard. Then, with the growing popularity of wine came more and more wine stores, namely the "wine superstores" like Total Wine & Spirits (East Coast) and Sam's (Chicago), as well as "boutique" type wine stores like Winestyles (national) or Cork & Olive (Florida). This question is about the latter.
The business model of the boutique "chain" concept seems to turn its nose at the wine warehouses and traditional wine stores in favor of stores where "real people" go to buy wine, typically priced under $20 a bottle. Also, some of these shops include in their business model the pretense that you or I could buy a bottle in their store that was not available elsewhere. That, I believe is true. That being said, if it is not available anywhere else locally, how do you know you are paying a fair price? Herein lies the rub....
This past weekend, my fiancee and I stopped by the local Cork & Olive store in Tampa. Their store consists of a small selection of wines, mostly under $20, composed mostly of foreign, lesser known (or unknown) producers of wine. I've been to their store before but never purchased anything, but this time we were there to use a $75 gift certificate.
The positive part of the experience is that they always have plenty of bottles open for a free tasting. The negative part is that with all of the unknown labels, I got a bad feeling, based only on one wine, from MAN Vintners of South Africa. When I live in New Orleans, I bought it regularly for about 5 bucks a bottle, but locally, they sell it for between $12 and $14, depending on the type. Most of the bottles in the store were in the $12-$15 range. This past weekend, we ended up spending $85 and got six pretty decent bottles, 4 of which we tried on the spot. Only $10 out of pocket, so not bad.
However, when I started researching these wines, they were mostly obscure and low quality producers that are not widely available. I don't feel ripped off, since we tried several of the wines, and most of it was paid for by gift cards. However, I feel like the store is intentionally duping the uninformed consumer into believing they are buying a "special" or "boutique" wine and getting a great value. In reality, they may be buying an overpriced bottle of swill that that they couldn't get anywhere else in town, probably for good reason. It seems a lot of the hype and marketing in these so-called "boutique" wine stores is about consumers feeling like they got a "special" wine and avoided the traditional wine store.
Anyone else have any thoughts on the subject? Or have you actually taken the time to research some of the lesser known wines in the boutique stores? I may have an isolated incident with one particlar chain of stores, but I wouldn't bet on it.