October 2009                               


Wines of the month - Paul DeRose

Indy Wine Shops Give Hope for Choice in the County

Before moving to Montgomery County, Maryland 12 years ago, I had lived in PA where all wine shops were state-run to my disappointment. Little did I know (but was soon to find out) that county bureaucracy and control can make the state equivalent seem almost attractive. In both cases, problems stem from a government-run monopoly, resulting in very limited, often overpriced choices for consumers, not to mention staff who have little vested interest in being knowledgeable about or showing care for the product. This was recently brought home to me, when I purchased a hard to find gem from a Montgomery county store, being sold at a seemingly bargain price. Unfortunately, it tasted like the life had been cooked out of it, and from all reports this type of “wine abuse” is a common occurrence, particularly for wines that don’t have a fast turnover. In addition, all Montgomery county run stores have more or less the same wines, so don’t expect too much variety or many pleasant surprises.

The problem is even worse for restaurants, which also have to buy their wines through the county at prices well above wholesale. It is also illegal in Montgomery county for restaurants to allow customers to bring their own bottle (BYOB). This translates into poor selection and prices on wine lists that are typically 3 to 4 times the average retail price (2 times retail is typical for states and counties with more free-market-friendly rules). In this current economic crunch, restaurants everywhere are feeling the pinch and the present county rules only make it worse, encouraging wine lovers to dine in VA or DC restaurants, or to just eat at home.

So, after presenting all this gloom and doom (sorry if I scared you), is there any good news for your average wine consumer here, you might ask? The answer is a resounding “yes”, or “YES!!!” The most important, game-changing development in the past 10 years has been the emergence of the independent wine shop. These “Indy” shops have been resourceful in finding ways to acquire a selection of wines that go far beyond that of county stores, for instance, by securing “Winery Direct” permits. By cutting out distributors and the county, these permits enable stores to acquire better wines at lower prices. Imagine that! In an effort to stay competitive, county stores have even improved their wine selection in response to this challenge. Hopefully these positive trends continue and more Indy shops spring up and give us even more choices.

Here are some Indy Wine Shops in our area:

FineWine.com (the RIO – Gaithersburg)
Wine Harvest (Kentlands – Gaithersburg)
Italian Gourmet (Gaithersburg)
Rodman’s (White Flint Plaza – Rockville)