Where’s the best place to buy wine? There are several “good” stores in town, but there are very few exceptional wine shops. In all honesty, it depends on your level of wine knowledge and what type of person you are. What are you into? What are you looking for? No, I’m not hitting on you. Let me break it down.
If you are a lover of cheap wine, try:
A. Cost Plus
“Peddlers of cheep wine” 3301 Menaul NE, 881-9300
If you’re a wine snob, you’ll be offended by the sheer volume of cheap wines that occupy the claustrophobic wine corner of Cost Plus. If they add one more aisle of wine, the space-time continuum would implode on itself. With no illusion of pretense, the staff will direct you, very happily, to a $5, $10 or $15 (if you’re living on the wild side) bottle of wine. This place is the cure for the supermarket liquor aisle, because while you’ll find all the usual cheap suspects, you’re bound to find something unique from a strange country that you didn’t even know made wine. Their selection of cheap wines from around the world is impressive. Think of this place as a gateway drug. Here you can afford to experiment with various wines until you move on to the big leagues. The only problem with going here is that you never leave with just wine.
Try the 2003 Bonny Doon Big House Red ($8). This red table wine, named after a prison, will be much more gentle to you then your cell mate may be. You may be shocked that I am recommending a screw top wine, but Bonny Doon makes some decent wines that are only to be drunk young ... or is that for the young to get drunk? No pretense here, just a fun wine that goes down easily, maybe too easily.
Recommended Pairings: This table wine will go with chicken, steak, or whatever is for dinner. Oh yeah, and some ibuprofen for your hangover.
“The unexpected place of the amazing finds” 1420 Renaissance NE, 342-7155
I am constantly amazed at the wines you can find here. Armed with their freakish powers of corporate gigantism, the Costco wine buyers carry some of the biggest names in the biz. Because their stock is rotated out so frequently, if you buy one bottle of a wine you like, and then go back a few days later, they may be out. And let’s talk about their prices. If you find a wine here that is offered anywhere else in town, buy it here. Many of my connections around town openly admit they cannot compete with the cutthroat pricing of this mega bulk store.
A note to serious wine collectors: Every year, Costco gets a shipment of the French Bordeaux first growths at a price you will not see anywhere in town. Unfortunately, I was unable to get any specifics from the staff as to when these shipments are expected. Speaking of staff, don’t bother asking anyone about the wines they carry, as I was unceremoniously directed by one of their staff to the information sheet (which I had already seen) for more information.
On my latest visit, I picked up a bottle of 2003 Château Lascombes ($46). If you’ve ever wondered what people are talking about when they say that the wine is too young to drink—try this one. This mega-full-bodied French Bordeaux second growth is so dense, so huge, so concentrated that I felt like I licked the inside of a grape oak barrel. The tannins were thick enough to make me wonder if a tea bag might have tasted better, but behind the overwhelming structure, there is a wonderfully rich array of flavors that will make it all worth it. Buy two bottles: one to drink now, and one to try in—at least—two years.
Recommended Pairing: A really, really juicy steak ... and a tongue scraper.
C. Jubilation Fine Wine & Spirits
“The hometown favorite” 3512 Lomas NE, 255-4404
What can you say about Jubilation? They have some good wines at good prices. They have a friendly staff that you may have to track down to get answers, but that will be happy to help you. No major surprises here. You can find several different wines from several different countries. I do worry for their higher quality wines like the 1998 Shafer Hillside Select ($180) that has been sitting out in room temperature for a couple of years now. It’s time for them to get a decent wine cellar for those precious ultra-premium wines.
If you want a bargain, pick up the 2001 Moon Mountain Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon ($20). The slightly jammy, but accessible, black currant of this usually $50 bottle fills your mouth with happiness and a long lasting aftertaste of ripe black cherry and round tannins.
Recommended Pairing: I had this with a blackened salmon and it held up well, but a great stew would also go well.
E. Quarters Discount Liquor (Westside)
“Home of the 10 percent discount” 3700 Ellison NW, 897-3556
If you want to know more about wine, you will, of course, read my articles. But if you want to go to a store and feel like you matter, this is the place. I have a name for you: Laura Mudd. She’s a true wine lover whose been in the wine business for more years then she would care to admit, and her command of the stock she oversees is impressive. She is more than willing to take as much time as needed to find you a wine with which you will be happy. She also seems to honestly want your business and won’t judge you when you say that all you want is a good, but cheap, bottle of wine.
Staff aside, even I was taken aback by the sheer variety of wines they carry. Aisles of well-stored wines of every varietal you can name and from a wonderfully wide range of countries. Before I forget, let’s talk about their climate-controlled, posh wine cellar. Behind two glass doors lies the really good stuff that makes me wish I was independently wealthy. The gigantic glass windows looking into the attached restaurant have a disheartening zoo-like quality, but that’s OK. Those gawking restaurant patrons aren’t aware that the bottle you’re holding is worth more than your TV.
I left buying a bottle of 2003 Luna Pinot Grigio ($15) to take to my mom’s house for dinner. Everyone will love this wine, even those who only drink white Zinfandel. This crisp, light, surprisingly complex white wine is overflowing with a delicate blend of delicious summer peach and pear flavors.
Recommended Pairings: Chicken noodle soup, salad, baked chicken and an itch for summer.
F. Quarter’s Liquor Store (Northeast Heights)
“The place with the red door” 4516 Wyoming NE, 293-1753
When you enter the wine shop at Quarter’s Liquors, you will feel like an archaeologist on a historic dig. They’ve crammed an amazing amount of wine in a relatively small area. Anthony, their well-meaning wine resident, seems to have a decent grasp on their new stock, but seems reluctant to talk about what is behind the red door. Oh yeah, let’s talk about that red door, behind which are some of the finest wines in the city. While not very well organized (maybe that’s part of the charm), every corner of this wine vault has something special. They even carry the mystical Château d’Yquem ($400). I would tell you about it, but even I haven’t tried it. Take your time looking around—it will pay off.
I couldn’t leave the cellar without a wonderfully stored 1995 Château Léoville Barton ($75). This St. Julien beauty is almost a borderline medium-bodied wine, because it is so approachable. Layers of fresh cassis, oak, fig and slate dazzle your taste buds while a gorgeous and unique tart aftertaste leaves you satisfied. Though this is an 11-year bottle of wine, it’s still a bit tight.
Recommended Pairing: I had this bottle, I mean a glass, with grilled ahi tuna and the pairing was magnificent.
D. Kelly Liquors
“The beer place” 9411 Coors NW, 897-9676
Like a hooker at a church bake sale, I uncomfortably perused the dingy, unorganized shelves as the Kelly staff eyed me strangely. With signs reminiscent of a ’70s K-Mart, the aisles are marked with the wine varietals here. They may not, however, be exactly accurate, as I found small pockets of orphaned bottles scattered throughout the store. When I asked for help, the man behind the counter looked at me like a deer stuck in headlights. I did find some hidden gems that made me think there must be someone behind the wine-buying, but there’s no one in the shop to hold your hand in the buying process. They do have some great finds at reasonable prices, but I go to Kelly only to look for something I know they carry and to look for any new finds.
Grab a bottle of the 2001 Napanook Red Wine ($35) for a look into a wine worth twice that price tag. I admit that I got a bit giddy when I saw this wine, as it has never done me wrong. Napanook is the second label to Dominus Estate Bottled wine. This rich, sophisticated offering exudes round, ripe, scrumptious berry flavors. Balanced beauty teases you with a delicious chocolate underpinning. Dry and full of flavor, you will easily go through this bottle and be left wanting for nothing.
Recommended Pairing: Pizza goes great with this wine. While the sweet sauce brings out the wine’s structure a little too much, somehow the flavors mesh well.