We drove up to Seattle last weekend for a quick visit with old friends. This was a family trip, no wine activities in the mix. But that didn’t stop me from poking around a few local shops to see what’s available.
Seattle wine geeks are the first to say that, while selection at the major retailers in town can be good, prices don’t come close to those of major retailers in California and other states. But from past visits, I remembered that I might find some things that aren’t available in Portland shops, and maybe a buck or two cheaper than this town.
So imagine my surprise in visiting top retailers like McCarthy and Schiering and Esquin, not to mention Pike and Western and DeLaurenti in touristy Pike’s Place Market. The selection wasn’t much better than Portland if at all, and oh the prices! With only a few exceptions, one notable (see below), prices were pretty much a buck or two higher than Portland, if not more.
The first thing I notice each time I visit Seattle is...it’s a big city, bigger than I remember. It’s not a sibling to Portland, as we tend to think down here. It’s more like a parent. The skyline is bigtime, the streets crowded, and downtown on a warm summer day there’s the stale stench of urine mixing with fresh sea air. That’s old school big city stuff, something Portland can’t match.
At least the wine could be cheap and people friendly. Actually, most of the wine shop staffers I met were quite friendly, even at Esquin where they’re in the midst of a significant remodel.
Wish I could say the same for McCarthy and Schiering in the Ravenna neighborhood. I’d heard a little about this store’s attitude, but I always give a place the benefit of the doubt. The complaint here tends to be that the staff is a bunch of wine geeks who won’t give you the time of day unless you’re one of them. It’s a familiar thing I’ve seen over the years in surf shops, guitar stores, and now with wine. My friends, who live in the neighborhood, typcially don’t go to this shop for that reason.
But I want to check it out so we head over for a browse late on Saturday afternoon. There’s a nice selection from around the world, and prices are decent for this market. It’s a nice place. Then I notice the 2004 Chateau Trignon Gigondas, a new release from Kermit Lynch imports. The price? Would you believe $13 for a 750ml? Yeah, I haven’t seen this wine that cheap in a decade. Even Trignon’s Rasteau is more than that now. So I ask the clerk, after waiting for a minute, how they have it so cheap. He’s nonplussed, and says something dismissive about how some Gigondas cost that. I persist nicely. Hey, I’ve bought this producer for years, it’s never this cheap, it’s not big deal but maybe there’s a story about the special deal they cut. Who knows, maybe it’s the wrong price? I don’t know. But here I am about to buy something, and my friend has a couple bottles too. I think I’m familar with wine a little bit, maybe the staffer would be a little interested in communicating with a soul brother? Nope, nothing, just a blank stare that seemed to ask “are you done yet?”
Now I’ve worked in a busy wine shop on busy Saturday afternoons. But there’s no good excuse for being laconic, or brief to the point of rudeness. But that’s this shop’s reputation and, much as I tried to engage, it’s funny how quickly it surfaced. We bought our wines and upon leaving, my friend commented about how they were tasting wines down the counter but not exactly offering us any tastes. Maybe we should have spent more. My friend got it right, they just didn't seem like they were having any fun. One other bargin tip – they did have the delicious Brut-Comté from the Jura on close out for $10. That’s a steal in good, cheap bubbly.
Moving on, the Pike’s Place shops are predictably spendy but well stocked with interesting wines. There’s nothing I can’t get for the same in Portland (or less, no sales tax here). But for the Seattle equivalent to Fisherman’s Wharf, DeLaurenti and Pike and Western are impressive. Oh, and I saw the ’03 Trignon Gigondas at DeLaurenti. The price? $15 for a 375ml bottle.
On the way out of town on Sunday, we stopped by Esquin, probably the top retailer in town with a shop that reminds me of the Wine Club in California. I fully expected to find at least a few things I couldn’t live without, but I left without purchasing anything. Great selection of stuff, and good enough prices for the market with a few minor bargains, but that’s about it. I was most surprised that their newsletter specials were mostly mass-market things like Jacob’s Creek Shiraz. This is a serious store. Can’t they find bargains that are a little more adventurous?
Oh, and again here’s the Trignon Gigondas, vintages ’03 and ’01. The prices? About $22 and $25, respectively, about what I’d expect these days for 750ml bottle. Hmm.
In the end, Esquin was fine, but nothing like I’d hoped. Yet if McCarthy and Schiering still has that Trignon for $13, you should load up and tell them who sent you. Just don't expect them to enjoy it.