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If you get the Atlanta Journal-Constitution (and actually read it), you would have found it hard to miss the Total Wine & More flyer that's accompanied it at least once a week for the last month.

I took part of an afternoon last week to check it out; my impressions follow.

  • It's got a Kennesaw address, but I suspect that's just another of those Atlanta-area post-office quirks. In any case, it's less than a mile west of I-75 at Barrett Parkway. For those familiar with the Town Center/Barrett Pavillion/Cobb Place area, TW&M occupies the former Media Play space. Kennesaw or not, if you go at the right time of day, it's not a terrible drive. From where I live, which is just west of Sandy Springs, TW&M is just as easy to get to as Tower or Pearson's, and a much shorter and less trying jaunt than Toco Giant, which I consider the equal of those two. (If you're a cocktail afficianado in Atlanta, you do a lot of ingredient commuting.)
  • It's huge (which, if you were familiar with Media Play, you already knew). It's the size of a suburban Best Buy -- or the Target next store (comparison for non-Atlantans: it's at least three times the size of the SF BevMo on Bayshore, and easily six times the size of Astor Wine & Spirits in Manhattan -- though TW&M carries beer, wine and spirits, as well as mixers).
  • About half of the space is taken up with wine. I like wine, and know my way around the major regions and varieties, but I don't know much about prices and availability. I did notice a decent selection of dry roses -- a sign, to me at least, of an inventory that might be a cut above average. I hope a real wine person can get out there and provide a better report.
  • Likewise, I'm not a beer person, but I've seen the selection at Taco Mac and the like, and the floor and cooler space devoted to beers and ales at TW&M seems on a par with that sort of accessibility.
  • If you're into hard cider, the place is worth checking out -- they have at least ten different brands.
  • The liquor selection is a mixed bag. The prices, for the most part, are terrific. Here's a few examples (all 750s, except where noted):
    Cazadores Blanco -- $23
    El Tesoro Blanco -- $30
    Milagro Silver -- $20
    Patron Silver -- $33
    Boodles -- $18.50
    Citadelle -- $16.50
    Plymouth -- $15.50
    Boomsma -- $20
    Beefeater (1.75L) -- $23
    Tanqueray (1.75L) -- $29
    Flor de Cana (white) -- $12
    Mount Gay Eclipse -- $22
    Landy -- $14
    Dewar's (1.75L) -- $30
    Famous Grouse (1.75L) -- $25
    Teacher's -- $13
    Luxardo Maraschino -- $22
    Campari -- $24
    Cointreau -- $27
    Grand Marnier -- $30
  • The not-so-great news: while there are some tough to-find things (like Aperol, Maraschino, Boomsma and 750s of Teacher's), the selection is, like at most liquor stores, idiosyncratic. The only Marie Brizard product is Anisette (Jax in Sandy Springs is easily your best bet for MB triple sec and Apry, though not curacao); the only bitters available are Angostura; Old Overholt and Michter's are the lonely representatives for rye (other than the Buckhead/Midtown Tower, this is the only place I've seen Michter's -- unless they also have it at Mac's; I can't remember); the rum selection teeters too far toward Bacardi and flavored options. Finally, the Applejack is tucked away among the cordials.

It's not worth hauling your butt out to Kennesaw (or whatever that part of the 'burbs is really called) for a six pack or a bottle of red for tonight's dinner. But if you can coordinate a decently-sized shopping list, TW&M will save you a fair amount of money.

Finally, if you hang around Buckhead, you might have noticed that both Pearson's and Tower are in the midst of significant expansions (this morning's AJC front section also included a full-page ad for Tower, a rare occurrence). I doubt that these expansions and the opening of TW&M are coincidental. Let's hope the competition results in better stores and selections all over town.

Dave Scantland
Executive director
dscantland@eGstaff.org
eG Ethics signatory

Eat more chicken skin.

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Howdy Dave. This looks to be the same outfit as we have up here in Northern Virginia. Your review is pretty much spot-on with regard to the wines (not surprising, as there should be a consistent business model).

We do hard liquor through the state ABC up her in VA, so I can't comment on how fair the liquor prices are. I have noticed prices for some of the blue chip items (classifed growth Bordeaux, CA cabs, etc.) are not too competetive with other stores up here.

What makes Total a worthwhile addtion to your regular booze haunts are the "winery direct" selections. These can run the gamut, but they tend to have some good bang-for-the-buck, every day wines that are under $15. Also keep an eye out for the "staff favorites" tags; these can often reveal lesser known gems that have not been discovered by Parker or Wine Spectator (and subsequently, jacked up in price).

My advice is to find a trusted go-to guy/gal there and build some rapport. They can steer you to a lot of good juice -- whatever your price range.

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Total Wine operates stores in NC as well. Here, their beer selection is well above average, though they don't rotate their stock effectively, so there are quite a few bottles suffering from oxidation and skunkiness, especially among the European imports.

I'm not much of a wine enthusiast. My understanding is that TW has direct and exclusive relationships with certain vineyards around the world. In my eperience, if you ask for recommendations, you will be directed towards these highly-profitable brands. I don't favor this practice. We've stopped shopping there as a result.

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I'm not sure how this "winery direct" strategy will work here. As I understand Georgia law, you can't offer wine (I'm not sure about beer or spirits) on an exclusive basis at retail -- in other words, you aren't allowed to sell it unless all other retailers have reasonable access to the product as well. At least, this was the explanation offered when Trader Joe's opened a few months ago without Two-Buck Chuck. Distribution arrangements had to be made so that any retailer could get the wine at a fair price before Trader Joe's could put it on their shelves. As a result, you can buy Two-Buck Chuck all over the city (for $3). (Whether this is a good thing or a bad thing is open to debate -- on another topic, please).

I can think of a couple of ways to imply some sort of exclusivity, even though it isn't technically true. However, the flyer I mentioned in my opening post doesn't say a word about it. They just tout their selection (750 chardonnays; 100 cabernets; 500 merlots; etc., and seem to have a special program for good value (high ratings, under $15, e.g.) wines. The next time I'm nearby, I'll stop in and spend more time in the wine section.

Dave Scantland
Executive director
dscantland@eGstaff.org
eG Ethics signatory

Eat more chicken skin.

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We've had a Total Wine here in Jacksonville FL for maybe a year now. It's strategically located a short distance from Costco (many people won't drive to a "destination" liquor store - but they will drive to Costco - I've heard that Total Wine tries to locate near a Costco when it can). In our case - we hit Total Wine when we hit Costco - maybe once a week. It has already put some nearby wine stores out of business (due to huge selection and excellent prices). The Florida Times Union (local paper) recently ran a front page business section article about it.

We buy wine, beer and spirits there (as well as at Costco - they have lots of price wars). We like the store a lot for its terrific selection of beers (my husband drinks a lot of beers - some pretty exotic - and has never found any stale beer) - wines - and items that are very difficult/impossible to find elsewhere in Jacksonville (everything from Plymouth gin to Pol Roget Churchill - the latter being tough to find even in Manhattan). My husband's last find there was Kolsch beer (he developed a fondness for Kolsch when we were in Cologne - it's the kind of thing you'd be hard pressed to find in this area anywhere but at Total Wine).

We have some kind of wine distributor laws which protect wine distributors (who are pretty bad in Florida) - but Total Wine seems to be getting around them. Maybe they're contributing more to our legislators than our state distributors <no grin>. I don't know exactly how things work - or what they're doing - but they seem to be opening things up.

An excellent addition to our shopping scene IMO. Robyn

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Total Wine operates stores in NC as well.  Here, their beer selection is well above average, though they don't rotate their stock effectively, so there are quite a few bottles suffering from oxidation and skunkiness, especially among the European imports. 

I'm not much of a wine enthusiast.  My understanding is that TW has direct and exclusive relationships with certain vineyards around the world.  In my eperience, if you ask for recommendations, you will be directed towards these highly-profitable brands.  I don't favor this practice.  We've stopped shopping there as a result.

Can Total Wine sell spirits in NC? I seem to recall that NC is an ABC state. If it can't sell certain things - it has to make more profit on what it can sell. Here in Florida - it can sell everything. And we've never had anyone push us to buy anything in particular (also - we tend to know what we want to buy before we walk in the door). Robyn

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In SC, the Total Wine stores have a glass partition between the beer/wine/mixers section and the ABC liquor area, with separate checkouts, so they are effectively separate stores...

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Can Total Wine sell spirits in NC?  I seem to recall that NC is an ABC state.  If it can't sell certain things - it has to make more profit on what it can sell.  Here in Florida - it can sell everything.  And we've never had anyone push us to buy anything in particular (also - we tend to know what we want to buy before we walk in the door).  Robyn

No, North Carolina has a state-controlled liquor system. Hard liquor has to be sold at ABC stores. Supermarkets can sell wine and beer only. Since Charlotte is only 10-15 miles from the South Carolina border, we do have easy access to liquors sold under S.C. laws (more competition means less limited selection). We can go down there for things like Plymouth gin. (Not that I haul gin across the border. Honest, officer -- that's a box of peaches.)

However, since "Pop the Cap" (the successful campaign to raise the alcohol limit in beer), Total Wine has become one of the better sources for craft beers. And their wide wine selection here in Charlotte, where they have three stores, is good.

I can't say it pushed the wine shops to offer better selection or pricing because those were already getting more competitive. Wine retail really exploded here starting about five years ago. That was about the time Total Wine was entering the market, but I think it was less about one retailer and more that the tide was raising all the boats at the same time. A huge influx of people relocating to Charlotte pushed up demand and retail response followed.

Kathleen Purvis, food editor, The Charlotte (NC) Observer

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I'm unclear on whether Total Wine is somehow "getting around" the three tier system in NC. The three tier distribution system means a producer, such as a brewer, sells to a distributor who sells to a retailer. I've often wondered where the consumer resides in this scenario...

I do know that some small brewers act as distributors in NC and in other states, so TW may have a similar arrangement. The existing distributors are likly not hurt by TW's practices, since TW buys a lot of wine and beer. A rising tide lifts all ships.

NC sells alcohol in state run stores. This practice is archaic and assine. The state should get out of the liquor business altogether.

By the way, the best beer store in Charlotte is Brawley's Beverage. Great selection, fair prices and great service. Their focus is craft beer, so if you're looking for a $9 case of Bud, you're better off elsewhere. In the Triangle, Sam's Quick Shop in Durham is your best bet.

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Despite their large selection of craft beer, I find that Total Wine is a better destination for wine.

On the craft beer front, Total Wine never gets the more limited releases that go to Brawleys, Sams or City Beverage (in Winston-Salem). In addition, as TomV stated, some of their inventory gets very stale, so it is important to check the package dating whenever you can. The good news is that their selection is relatively broad and they sell by the single bottle, so I do shop there from time to time when I am looking for something that is more mainstream in the craft beer arena. We are very lucky in NC to have a number of small, independent retailers who do a wonderful job of focusing on their craft beer selections so it is not as necessary to depend on Total Wine as it is in other locations.

I am curious whether someone who is very discriminating about their wine purchases would have similar complaints about the wine selection at Total Wine.

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Are you telling me that plymounth gin is not on the shelves on Charlotte ABC, kpurv? In W-S it is in every liquor store.

I used to frequent Total Wine fairly often but Have found that with City Beverage, Whole Foods even your everyday grocery increasing their stock of imports in the last few years there is less and less need. I would use them if stocking up or having a party. they offer a cost savings but not enough to justify going out of the way to pick up a six

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Moto- I'm pretty sure Plymouth isn't at the Univeristy area ABC (Last one I was in, now i get all my liquor in SC) then again--being where it is, I doubt the selection is really geared towards much besides jack and vodka)

I personally like TW--Always gotten good reccomendations (Frankly I could care less what kind of arrangements TW has with the winery--as long as I enjoy the bottle) I haven't been by the one in Uni area much since the last manager (whom I was on quite good terms with) left for another job. Still swing in for a cigar on my way to the Flying Saucer sometimes, but I don't get that way to buy much unless i'm specifically looking for wine.

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Are you telling me that plymounth gin is not on the shelves on Charlotte ABC, kpurv?  In W-S it is in every liquor store.

Yep, that's what I'm telling you. Or at least, I haven't found it at an ABC here yet. There is a new one being built at Cotswold Mall, maybe Plymouth will sail in there. My husband made a trip down to Frugal McDoogal recently and Plymouth was at the top of the list.

Kathleen Purvis, food editor, The Charlotte (NC) Observer

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I've become Very Veeery thankful Frougal's is on my way home from work these days :D lol Have you seen/stopped in the one in Ft Mill that I've seen advertised lately? (Can't recall the name, only that I'd never heard of it before...Southern Spirits maybe?)

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What makes Total a worthwhile addtion to your regular booze haunts are the "winery direct" selections.  These can run the gamut, but they tend to have some good bang-for-the-buck, every day wines that are under $15. 

In order to sell wine at Total a wine producer must provide a "winery direct" label that only Total Wines can sell. So basically those "winery direct" labels are the second labels of all of those familiar wineries on the shelf at Total. None of those "winery direct" wineries actually exist.

Sorry if I burst anyone's bubble....

John Malik

Chef/Owner

33 Liberty Restaurant

Greenville, SC

www.33liberty.com

Customer at the carving station: "Pardon me but is that roast beef rare?"

Apprentice Cook Malik: "No sir! There's plenty more in the kitchen!"

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I've become Very Veeery thankful Frougal's is on my way home from work these days :D lol  Have you seen/stopped in the one in Ft Mill that I've seen advertised lately? (Can't recall the name, only that I'd never heard of it before...Southern Spirits maybe?)

Just watch out for the skunked beer at Frougal's as their beer selection sits in direct sunlight for much of the day.

Also, they stopped selling singles the last time I checked.

Perhaps they are better for wine.

I do like Southern Spirits much better. Their beer selection is not quite as good as Frougal's but they do carry some things you cannot get in NC.

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Are you telling me that plymounth gin is not on the shelves on Charlotte ABC, kpurv?  In W-S it is in every liquor store.

Yep, that's what I'm telling you. Or at least, I haven't found it at an ABC here yet. There is a new one being built at Cotswold Mall, maybe Plymouth will sail in there. My husband made a trip down to Frugal McDoogal recently and Plymouth was at the top of the list.

Update: I checked out the new ABC at Cotswold last night and they do indeed now stock Plymouth, along with Ten Cane rum and a few other offerings I hadn't found in other ABCs.

Kathleen Purvis, food editor, The Charlotte (NC) Observer

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  • 2 weeks later...
I've become Very Veeery thankful Frougal's is on my way home from work these days :D lol  Have you seen/stopped in the one in Ft Mill that I've seen advertised lately? (Can't recall the name, only that I'd never heard of it before...Southern Spirits maybe?)

Just watch out for the skunked beer at Frougal's as their beer selection sits in direct sunlight for much of the day.

Also, they stopped selling singles the last time I checked.

Perhaps they are better for wine.

I do like Southern Spirits much better. Their beer selection is not quite as good as Frougal's but they do carry some things you cannot get in NC.

I got in southern spirits the other day. DIdnt have a lot of time to look but I was impressed. Their single malt selection will def. get me back in there, along with a bottle of Calvados that has my name on it /drool

Far as beers, I usually get those at TW, seems besides their treatment/handling, their single selection is far better than Frougals these days (with about the same number of sixpack and cases maybe?)

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Far as beers, I usually get those at TW, seems besides their treatment/handling, their single selection is far better than Frougals these days (with about the same number of sixpack and cases maybe?)

Not sure which TW you patronize but Brawley's on Park Road has a much better quality selection than the TW across the street. Particularly if you are seeking Belgians or some of the better quality domestic craft brews.

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Far as beers, I usually get those at TW, seems besides their treatment/handling, their single selection is far better than Frougals these days (with about the same number of sixpack and cases maybe?)

Not sure which TW you patronize but Brawley's on Park Road has a much better quality selection than the TW across the street. Particularly if you are seeking Belgians or some of the better quality domestic craft brews.

I would definitely second that motion. I think Mike Brawley is about as well-stocked, and conversant, about beer as anyone in the area. And while his wine selection is smaller than some places, his wine shelves always turn up something interesting.

Kathleen Purvis, food editor, The Charlotte (NC) Observer

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Far as beers, I usually get those at TW, seems besides their treatment/handling, their single selection is far better than Frougals these days (with about the same number of sixpack and cases maybe?)

Not sure which TW you patronize but Brawley's on Park Road has a much better quality selection than the TW across the street. Particularly if you are seeking Belgians or some of the better quality domestic craft brews.

I'm definitely with you on Brawley's selection being superior, if there's something particular I want that's hard to find that's my destination (would kill for more of that weyerbacher all simcoe stuff a co worker nabbed there a year or so ago) Need to get in there just to poke around one of these days, but lately it's rare I make a special trip just for beer.

I just find myself around the TW in University area a lot more frequently than I get remotely near Brawley's, so that's the location I've become familiar with.

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  • 3 weeks later...
Far as beers, I usually get those at TW, seems besides their treatment/handling, their single selection is far better than Frougals these days (with about the same number of sixpack and cases maybe?)

Not sure which TW you patronize but Brawley's on Park Road has a much better quality selection than the TW across the street. Particularly if you are seeking Belgians or some of the better quality domestic craft brews.

I'm definitely with you on Brawley's selection being superior, if there's something particular I want that's hard to find that's my destination (would kill for more of that weyerbacher all simcoe stuff a co worker nabbed there a year or so ago) Need to get in there just to poke around one of these days, but lately it's rare I make a special trip just for beer.

I just find myself around the TW in University area a lot more frequently than I get remotely near Brawley's, so that's the location I've become familiar with.

Weyerbacher Double Simcoe IPA is now a year-round selection and should be on the shelf at Brawley's. Whenever I drive through Charlotte, I make it a point to stop at Brawley's. There's always a surprise in the walk-in, such as the Erdinger Dopplebock I enjoyed last week.

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Weyerbacher Double Simcoe IPA is now a year-round selection and should be on the shelf at Brawley's.  Whenever I drive through Charlotte, I make it a point to stop at Brawley's.  There's always a surprise in the walk-in, such as the Erdinger Dopplebock I enjoyed last week.

That is the best news I've heard all summer :wub: My impression at the time was it was either one off brew or something Brawley's couldn't get in consistently. Glad to hear that's changed.

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