So I started my tour of Nicolas wine shops in the less trendy areas today with the one on the rue de Menilmontant in the XXe arrondissement. Definitely an area where people don't have a lot of money to spend on wine.
Although the store was smaller than than many Nicolas that I am used to seeing, it still had quite a broad selection; I didn't count, but it must have been well over 100 different wines and perhaps approaching 200.
The display inside the store was quite professional -- unlike many other stores, from Monoprix all the way up to Galeries Lafayette (where I observed these flaws just this morning) and Bon Marché, there thankfully were no spotlights that cause light damage and the temperature in the store was not too warm.
The selection of wines, too, was very professional. The latest vintage (2012) of Clos la Coutale, which I mentioned in another thread is the longtime Cahors supplier of Kermit Lynch, is available for just 7,20 euros. I also noted Château d'Epiré, Kermit's longtime Savennières supplier and one of a widespread, excellent reputation. From Burgundy, the negociants were top notch: Drouhin (you get top quality from the lowest appellation to the top), Jadot (best wines are from the top appellations, but the rest are at least acceptable, sometimes considerably more than that), Louis Max (a small Nuits negociant of good quality), Albert Bichot (used to be one of the negociants to avoid, but now is making very good wine), Château de Meursault (also used to be one to avoid, but with the sale a few years ago and Stéphane Follin-Arbelet now heading up the operation, exciting things should be happening, although I admit that I've yet to visit), and Louis Latour (the others are much better choices, but not terrible). In the northern Rhône, good enough with Hermitage from the Cave de Tain, Côte Rôtie from Bonsérine, Cornas from Colombo -- none is among my favorites or even exciting, but all are decent and much better than the selections from those appellations that I see in some very high profile restaurants, where spoofy Rhône wines are often on the list). And so it went throughout the store -- Château Tiregand in Pécharment, Château de Romanin from down around St-Rémy de Provence, solid Alsace selections, etc., etc. I may prefer to go to a store such as la Dernière Goutte because it features many of my favorites (for which I'll also have to pay more), but there is absolutely nothing wrong with the selection in this store, and I would recommend it to anyone who doesn't know about wine and just wants sound and even good wine without paying a lot of money. If it were the only store in my neighborhood, I could easily live with it, especially for daily drinking. Unlike all grocery stores where I've looked at wine selections and many wine shops, I did not see producers/negociants to avoid because of their abusive practices.
Note: many of the producers had very old-fashioned labels (e.g., Epiré, Tiregand and Louis Max mentioned above) which some of us find charming, but which can perhaps be off-putting and even cheesy to consumers who don't know the producer/appellation (I've been there, even if it was a long time ago).
I'll try some more Nicolas stores in the outer arrondissements, but I am beginning to suspect that what I'll find is competent, professional, but not cutting-edge, selection in a non-glitzy presentation. If that happens for another 2-3 visits, I see no reason to continue the survey. I suspect that the criticism of Nicolas will prove to have been the equivalent of the recent criticism of Bonne-Maman on this board where, as others pointed out, there is indeed a sound product, albeit not one that is of the very highest calibre (not that it presents itself as such).
So my challenge to the critics of Nicolas: give me a store that I should visit where you say the wines are not good and/or cite me some of the wines that you say are not good that are featured at Nicolas.