Chattanooga: Wines Finally Allowed In Grocery Stores!
The state of Tennessee has taken a long time to come out of prohibition. Just a few years ago it was only legal to distill liquor in a few counties. Since that law has been repealed, there have been a few more whisky distillers and a lot of moonshine distillers pop up around the state. In Hamilton County is the mid-sized city of Chattanooga. Until today, it was illegal to sell wine wherever food was sold. Today, July 1st 2016 it is now legal to sell wine in grocery stores. There are a few larger chains and several smaller chains around the city, and I took a tour to see what everything was like. I didn’t expect much, as I expected the same distributors to be supplying many of the different chains.
I did this for a few reasons. I’m obsessive and wanted to see if there was anything interesting. And after looking at a ton of cheap wines, I figured I would be more educated when local restaurants were pitching wines that could be gotten for $9.99 at Wal-Mart.
At home, I have a different philosophy of which wines to drink than other people. I’ll travel to wine destinations and subscribe to one or two clubs from the 30+ wineries I’ll try. Tonight I had a tasty Malbec from my favorite Oregon producer Patton Valley. It was sourced from Walla Walla. IN between those wines I’ll try a few things from Costco, and perhaps 30% of my purchases there are good enough to drink again.
My first stop was Food City. This is the chain with the most stores. It is a regional grocery store that replaced the Bi-Lo (sell high!) and Piggly Wiggly in town. It was a lot of what I expected. Lots of cheap commons stuff. I quickly realized why Woodbridge has had so many promoted posts on my Facebook page. They are everywhere in 1.5L bottles. Unfortunately, I found a Cabernet Sauvignon and Sauvignon Blanc from the same producer for whom a Pinot Noir is sitting in my cooler. Bad tidings!
Next was Wal-Mart. I expected them to have a different variety, and they did. Because they are large enough to keep the distribution in house. There was actually wine starting at $2.88 a bottle. At Food City they had the Cupcake brand, but not the Chardonnay. Now I am embarrassed from 5 years ago when my MGM host asked the SeaBlue sommelier if the Chardonnay was any good. They also had Carlo Rossi 1 gallon bottles. It brought back memories of my first job ever. I did stocking in a beer in wine store in Ohio. I had to pull those bottles off the shelf and dust them.
When driving around the city lately I’ve been seeing a Yellow Tail truck. And that stuff was pretty much everywhere.
Publix had more Italian than other places. I saw a Chianti I’ve tried and didn’t like much. And I saw the King Estate Pinot Gris I had with my math rock star friend Ken Ono at a restaurant in Atlanta. They were the first to have any Oregon Pinot Noir, and it was the cheap stuff I already knew was junk. There was a sign that there would be no wine sales on the 3rd or 4th. The 3rd I expected because it was Sunday. But why would the law restrict wine sales on public holidays?
Whole Foods used to skirt Tennessee law by having a separate liquor store with its own entrance. For its size, it was a pretty good liquor store with a manager that cared about having quality products. Now the liquor store is gone. Whole Foods no longer sells any liquor. I’ll miss the whisky section. They had a pretty good selection of mid-level wines. I expect this to go downhill as the old store inventory is sold off and they are ordering for themselves.
There used to be many Food Lions around town. Then they gave up on the area. But inexplicitly there is one store remaining. Everything was very familiar from what I had seen so far. There was a Prosecco I had tried from Costco and found to be not so great.
Earth Fare has one location in town. It is an upscale store that smells like a Whole Foods when you walk in the door. They had a smaller selection. But the taste of the buyer was evident as they had the best Champagne and Prosecco so far. Wines I could serve to Michael Trager. About 30% of their inventory is different than anything I had seen so far. They were the first store to have an Albariño. And it ended up being the only Albariño in the city. Unfortunately they had Barefoot, but for some reason only the pink varieties!
Target had no alcohol. Neither did Save-a-Lot.
The last chain was Fresh Market, another upscale supermarket. They had a very small selection. And it was unexpectedly generic for being a high end store. I found a Zinfandel I bought from Costco that I didn’t like. Here it was $30. I doubt I paid anywhere close to that. For being generic, everything looks a few dollars more expensive. We get coupons in exchange for our recycling to this store that give $5 off a $25 purchase. That seems to be about their extra markup.