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Feb 23, 2007 10:10 PM

BevMo vs. TJ's

Who has the best deals and choices?

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  1. Are you speaking overall?

    At their core, they are two radically different stores with two very different concepts behind them.

    BevMo is basically Liquor Barn reborn. The concept boils down carrying just about everything -- 100+ California Cabernets, Chardonnays, etc. (and probably 50 percent of them are unnecessary). Nonetheless, it will be easier to find a wider selection of moderately priced Cab at BevMo than virtually any other store in the area. Their imported wines are more "generalized," except Bordeaux futures (and you can always find them for less money elsewhere). It's a relatively "safe" place to go for imports in that they'll have the "basics" covered, but you won't find anything too esoteric or daring. Lots of distilled spriits and beers, covering everything and everywhere -- here, you'll find more high end spirits than you will wine (for example).

    BevMo is the store for people who want a better selection that can be found at your local (e.g.) Safeway, but are still intimidated about going into a "serious" wine or specialty spirits merchant.

    * * * * *

    Trader Joe's *began* their life as a retailer of alcoholic beverages by carrying three types of wines, and only three:

    -- close-outs (Cache Phloe Vineyards has 1,500 cases of 2009 Chardonnay still sitting in their warehouse, and the 2011 vintage should have been released four months ago -- dump the rest of the 2007 at half-price to TJ's);

    -- a tiny handful of name-brand Champagnes, typically Mumm Cordon Rouge (by buying 5,000 cases at one time, they got one heck of a deal and passed on the savings);

    -- private-label domestics and control-label imports (private labels are pretty obvious; control labels are essentially the same thing with a legal difference -- you have control over that label in a certain geographic area, but that same label may be sold elsewhere and/or someone in your area may be selling the same wine but under a different na,e and with a differnt label on the bottle).

    Thus, TJ's built their reputation on carrying CHEAP wines -- wines with inexpensive price tags.

    When it came to beers and spirits, TJ's would avoid brands like Smirnoff and Budweiser -- not for any other reason than they could not compete with other retailers on the price. So they built up their beer business the same way as they did wine -- buying 20,000 cases of beer direct and controling the brand (i.e.: no one else could sell it), or -- like the Mumm's Champagne -- selling it so cheaply ($1.99 for a 6-pack of Chihuahua), no one else would want to carry it (how you going to sell it for $4.99?). Liquor was built by buying close-outs and/or odd sizes and/or brands that had fallen on hard times (think Grant's Scotch which was big in the US in the 1950s, but by the 1970s, its sales had plummeted).

    In the early 1990s -- in fact, right after Liquor Barn folded -- TJ's began to carry more "regular" wines, beers and spirits to fill the void. TJ's still carries the control-labels (think 2BC) and does all the rest, but they have now also broadened their selection. Now the selection is much wider and more broad, but still -- lots of unknowns, lots of "iffy" wines, and some really good deals.

    The best way to tackle the wines at TJ's has always been to run into TJ's when the new "Fearless Flier" arrives and buy one bottle each of 12 wines that sounded good from the descriptions -- go out to the car, open all 12, taste 'em, and buy a case or two of the two or three wines you thought were really good.

    * * * * *

    Neither BevMo or TJ's has truly exceptional, great wines -- but neither retailer is aiming at the people who are truly "into" wines. Don't misunderstand: I am not talking about people who buy only by the numbers, or buy only the "famous" names (indeed, you can find Dom Pérignon at BevMo, but good luck finding Pierre Peters, for example), but people who regularly read books and magazines on wines, go to tastings and/or events like ZAP or FWC, and visit wineries on a regular basis.

    The average BevMo wine customer is often in a transitional phase -- as I mentioned above, supermarket selections don't work anymore, and a speciality retailer is still intimidating. The average BevMo customer does not "stay" a BevMo customer.

    The average TJ's wine customer loves the bargains, doesn't mind the occasional disappointing bottle (after all, it only cost $3.79), and stays a TJ's customer.


    4 Replies
    1. re: zin1953

      Respectfully, I have to disagree with you. Maybe the TJ, BevMo and supermarket in my area have a better selection but I find them absolutely fine when it comes to buying everyday wine ($10-$20 range). They're also good for the occasional gem that you can cellar for 1-3 years. I find them convenient with a good value point for my dinner wine. I don't shop there for entertaining wine or gift wine but I don't drink those every day.

      1. re: librarian

        I don't find any disagreements here . . .

        1. re: zin1953

          Apologies for my unfinished thought. The disagreement was on,

          "The average BevMo wine customer is often in a transitional phase -- as I mentioned above, supermarket selections don't work anymore, and a speciality retailer is still intimidating. The average BevMo customer does not "stay" a BevMo customer."

          Although I do shop at specialty wine shops, my disagreement was that I have no issues shopping at BevMo or TJ for the glass of wine I have with my dinner.

          1. re: librarian

            Ah, I see now . . .

            Well, there are certainly people who remain BevMo customers (i.e.: it's not universal that all customers are transitional). I didn't mean it an an "absolute." I didn't mean to suggest they never set foot in a BevMo again, nor that they spend an ever-increasing amount on wine (on a per bottle basis).

            In my experience (both past and present, with both Liquor Barn and BevMo), what I see/have seen is preceisely that transitional quality. As people get more -- what, "into"? "serious"? -- about wine, they drift farther afield. So, even when purchasing wines in the, say, "under $15" category, as their tastes evolve -- and this is especially true with imported wines -- more people will explore stores like Kermit's, North Berkeley, K&L, Vintage Berkeley, Paul Marcus, The Wine House, Wine Exchange, Wine Expo, etc., etc. There is no "extra" costs invovled, and many find the wines imported by the smaller importers available at merchants such as these to be of higher quality and more "exciting" than the selection at BevMo . . . or at TJ's, though my initial point was about at BevMo.

            Just my 2¢; YMMV. ;^)

    2. I think zin1953 provides a good comparision above. I actually shop at both TJ's and Bevmo and a specialty retailer.

      TJ's is handy because I generally stop in once a week to buy food, and their wine selection is more interesting than a typical large chain grocery store. As stated, there is much less variety at TJ's than Bevmo, but they offer a decent variety of domestic (mostly CA ) and imported ( France, Italy, Spain, South Africa, Argentina, Chile, etc) wines. In general, they don't carry the usual supermarket mass market offerings.Locally, the price at TJ's for some standards such as Copolla Rosso, Big House Red, Parducci SB, Bogle Chardonnay, etc is usually a buck or two less than the non sale prices at Bevmo. In general, though, there is not a huge overlap in the inventory between TJ's and Bevmo. The advice to try one of each of the wines in the flyer is not far off from my approach. In general, at $4.99 to $7.99 a bottle, you can easily risk the occassional undrinkable bottle. More often, your real risk is not an undrinkable wine, but merely an unexceptional wine. On the other hand, every once in a while, I find something exceptional at a good price. If so, I stock up. Like many things at TJ's, there is no guarantee that the same item will be in stock again on your next visit. Often the gems will be the wines you have never heard of before.

      Bevmo is handy because I do need to buy liquor and beer in addition to wine, and they generally beat the non-sale prices on liquor and beer at the large chain supermarket we shop at. TJ's, as noted, has an limited liquor / beer selection. So when I am in the store, I check out the monthly sale items in the wine aisles. In my opinion, the regular prices are nothing exceptional, but the sales prices can be good. Bevmo can also be handy if you want a case of something safe and not expensive for a party, where those in attendance are not going to appreciate the difference in a better wine. (If the crowd drinks Little Penguin from the grocery, Ch Ste Michelle on sale will be an upgrade.) It is also handy for me because the local Bevmo carries a good selection of NZ Sav Blanc, a category where there are plenty of mass production wines that I like. The specialty retailer I frequent only carries a limited selection of these, focusing instead on CA (with particular emphasis on Santa Barbara, Paso Robles, and adjacent areas).

      If I want wine advice, a suggestion of something new to try, or anything that is not essentially a mass market wine, I go to a specialty retailer. If you shop local and support a local retailer, generally you can always get case discounts or can find a place that has reasonable prices. They also get to know your likes and dislikes and generally let you know about new items that you may want to try. You will also find wines that you will never find at TJ's or Bevmo.

      2 Replies
      1. re: scrappydog

        Your TJ's must be much different than ours, as you say it has a decent variety of domestic and imported wines. Our local TJ's is heavily CA-centric and I struggle to find many S. hemisphere wines, once even asking their 'wine expert' (SO loosely defined here) if they carried any good Malbecs and I got the 'I'm totally clueless what that is, but give me a minute and maybe I can punt here'.

        I did purchase an inexpensive Malbec there when I found one and it was horrendous, and I just hate the idea that someone with little knowledge of the grape might taste it and somehow think it's what malbec should taste like. It was as sour as old grape juice. But, it's saving grace was that it turned an inexpensive cut of beef into something very noteworthy!

        That being said,TJ's carries one of my favorites, Marques de Riscal rioja, and I will make a special trip over there just for that.

        1. re: cooknKate

          I realize my saying "decent variety" may be too subjective for you to really judge what I was saying about the selection, so I will clarify. I moved from the east coast to the west coast a few years ago and my comments are directed towards the west coast stores. The SOCAL TJs have a different selection than their eastern counterparts and, from my limited exposure (3 different stores) a larger selection in general than the east coast stores where I had previously shopped. (As an aside, the price of 2BC is actually $1.99 in CA where it was a buck or two higher at TJs in the east, although I seldom buy it at either price.) I would agree with you that for domestic wine, the selection is CA-centric, with an occasional OR or WA wine in the mix. At the local TJs the wine section is one full aisle. Basically, domestic is on one side of the aisle, and imports are on the other side. (The end of aisle promo's are a toss up, but usually domestic.) On the import side of the aisle, my unscientific estimate is that France and Australia are about equally the most predominant, followed somewhat closely by Italy, Argentina, and Chile, and that Spain, Portugal, New Zealand, South Africa and the rest of the world make up the difference. (The 2BC, which takes up lots of space, is off by itself, mostly stacked in cases near the front door.) On the imports, there are generally several red and white choices in the France section, some from Bordeaux, some from Burgandy, and some Rhone, etc. Austrailia has good representation for several choices among Shiraz, Cab, Merlot, Cab/Merlot blend, Chardonnay, etc. By the time you work your way down to Spain or NZ, you may only have 2 to 5 wines total per country. So I would not say they have decent variety of Spanish wines, but in the aggregate, they have a decent selection of imported wines that is about 75% as large as the domestic selection. In the end, though, they have maybe 5% to 10% of the selection of Bevmo.

          Agree with you on the MdR Rioja, btw.

      2. Ideally, a local buyer would have tasted and screened the wines at a local shop, they would be selling wines they love. I don't like to shop for wine if I can't talk to someone in the shop who has tasted the wine, with one exception - COST PLUS - this shop has rarely let me down, even for 6 and 7 dollar bottles of wine. Shop local and keep your local downtown area alive!

        1 Reply
        1. re: lamoufette

          I have found that Cost Plus has problems with proper storage.

        2. About 6 months ago, I bought the 2003 Leoville Barton from Bevmo their through their Internet site for $90 which was an amazing deal for this 2nd Growth Bordeaux that's rated 98 by Wine Spectator and was #3 in their Top 100 last year. So sometimes you can find real gems at Bevmo!

          2 Replies
          1. re: syoung

            Sometimes one can find gems almost anywhere -- even in Barstow! (I once found some DRC there in great shape at a dirt cheap price -- new owner just wanted to dump the previous owner's old inventory!)

            BevMo has always had a decent Bordeaux selection.

            1. re: syoung

              i got in on that too! just browsing in the store after the 2006 wine spectator top 100 list was released and stumbled upon the 2003 barton in the bordeaux glass case section of the pasadena branch. it wasn't even tagged yet and they had a hard time ringing up the price. i've found some good stuff at cost plus world market as well.

            2. Most of the wine I buy at Trader Joe's tastes like crap and I return it. Anything from Gaetano D'Aquino, forget it, total garbage, never tastes remotely like what the label claims.

              I occasionally shop at BevMo when they have something specific I want. I'm rarely impressed with their selection or prices unless there's a sale or somebody's mispriced an item, e.g. when I saw Billecart rose for $40 a bottle I cleaned them out. Mostly I go there for mesquite charcoal and ice.

              2 Replies
              1. re: Robert Lauriston


                I spent a dozen years working for the first incarnation of BevMo . . . not much has changed.

                1. re: zin1953

                  my local Bevmo in Hollywood is nice for getting Kegs and the buy one get one for a nickel wine sale is a lot of fun, too.