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What's the deal with Wine Expo?

I've gone to Wine Expo a few times and read their newsletters and talked to Roberto. I haven't really loved any of the four or so wines they've recommended.

I'm curious about it, though, since their philosophy is to sell wines you've never heard of. In fact, I was told, "We don't sell any big labels because they charge more for their wine. We sell cheaper wine that's just as good." Which makes it hard to comparison shop. When I mentioned wines I've read about in Wine Enthusiast and Wine Spectator, I've been told, "We don't sell that, but we have one from the vineyard next door and it's just as good."

There was one I did like and I comparison-shopped it and found it for $4 cheaper at just one place in NY. Granted, that was only one wine and there are many reasons a wine would be cheaper in one place than another. But I wonder if that's their business model? To sell wines you'll have difficulty comparison shopping so you won't know what its price should be?

I am not trying – at all – to besmirch their reputation. With your input, I might even go back. But what's the deal?

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  1. You be a clever one. Their business model is indeed "to sell wines you'll have difficulty comparison shopping so you won't know what its price should be." That, said, they have some great stuff.

    10 Replies
    1. re: Adsvino

      Sorry...but hogwash. Are you privy to their business model or just guessing? Their model seems to be: finding and introducing wines to their clients that are not found in the mass market of 30,000 case production plonk. Where else are you going to find several types of Valtellina? Paulo Bea is a producer I wish I could find, but happily WE carries several Bea wines. Their selection of Champagne rivals the best shops in the city. I've been shopping at Wine Expo for many years, driving from Silverlake, and am just a very happy customer. Finding these low production Italian wines and Champagnes is nothing short of awesome! WE is a great asset to the other fine shops in this area. One thing I feel confident about is they are not out to rip people off.

      Try using one of the on-line wine searchers to comparison shop. I promise you won't find much of WE's stock in So. CA. And remember, it costs to ship from out of state and there are weather issues to consider when shipping. Heck just driving dowm to OC to pick up wine costs about $10 in gas.

      1. re: Grog

        Just to let you know: Adsvino is in the trade...

          1. re: Grog

            And my own 9 & 17 licenses coming any time now from the ABC's desk.

            Geez... this board is in desperate need of some real winos, for Pete's sake!

            1. re: RicRios

              Plenty of them over on the wino board

              1. re: Servorg

                Which board are you referring to? Isn't this the 'wino board'?

                1. re: Midlife

                  No, the post was originally on the LA board.

                  1. re: Diana

                    Thanks. The mods usually seem to caption the transfer posts so you can tell they started elsewhere. At first I had no clue where Wine Expo was until I recognized Roberto as Roberto Rogness, recognized from another board.

              2. re: RicRios

                Ric, drop me a post at adsvino@yahoo.com.

          2. re: Grog

            Privy to business model. And I don't mean to slight them in any way, the expo is my favorite wine shop.

        1. we don't think they do this to make it difficult to comparison shop, but WINE EXPO certainly does have a point of differentiation. many of their wines are better paired with food while the wine spec & enth. usually have to be able to stand on their own. the WINE EXPO is a jewel, but they are definitely not mainstream and are not trying to compete with the WINE HOUSES, the 20/20'S, or even the COSTCO'S of the world.

          we've had terrific wines from there, but most have been italian grapes and the italians don't exactly sip their wine for cocktails like we do. it's part of their meal.

            1. re: RicRios

              Thank you, that was very informative.

            2. I bought some wines from Wine Expo of varieties that I had never known ($15). I later had a reason to look them up in the Gambero Rosso Wine Guide and they were rated wines. Perhaps, Wine Enthusiast and Wine Spectator are not the best references for Italian wines. I have found the Gambero Rosso ratings very reliable. I have had many good Italian wines that were not listed in the guide, but listed wines are usually exceptionally good.

              1. Speaking of Wine Expo, how are their tasting dinners?

                  1. re: Diana

                    Wine Expo
                    2933 Santa Monica Blvd
                    Santa Monica
                    310.828.4428

                    1. re: igj

                      Thanks! I think I've driven past.

                  2. I've been shopping at the Wine Expo on & off for the past 10 yrs (the same with Wine House, LAWC, Bev Warehouse, Northridge Hills/Woodland Hills Wine) and agree that their selections can be hit or miss, but that's emblematic of Italian wines in general. You don't have that consistent utraripe fruit-forward oaky mouthfeel that you get from Aussie or Cali wines, particularly in the cheaper under-$15 range. Whether that's an advantage or a detriment, depends on your personal taste.

                    Wine Expo (and similarly Chambers St in Manhattan) appeal to wine geeks who're seeking unpopular/undiscovered diamonds-in-the-rough and are willing to put up with a bad bottle or two (or three) to find that one wine which makes them swoon all over again.

                    Over the years I've had some nice offbeat bottles from Wine Expo including a moscato from Pantelleria, a semi-sparkling chiavennasca/nebbiolo, a sfursato from Valtellina, a pinot grigio from Hungary, grower champagnes like Egly-Ouriet, Charles Elner, Camille Saves. I think as my palate has matured, the more I appreciate the higher-acidity & nuanced secondary flavors that are hallmarks of their selections. Just remember their own newsletter proclaimed that "it's wine, not grape juice" so hedonistic fruitbomb will never be part of their vernacular.

                    1. I've been to WineExpo only once and I will go again. Sure, not everything Roberto sold me was fantastic. An Alto Adige pinot bianco by Laimburg he highly recommended was kind of a dud. Maybe I drank it too soon. I've liked most everything else he sold. I was looking for Arneis. He said he was out of his best arneis so he sold me two others. One was 2004 Il Fachetto Arneis. Very, very nice bottle of wine. If that was second best I'd love to try his best. I picked up a 2002 Alsace pinot blanc from Roberto for $10 that was probably the best pinot blanc I've ever had.
                      Utlimately there's no substitute for tasting the wines yourself. I don't know if Roberto has tastings, but tasting a dozen wines will do more than the Wine Spectator, the Wine Enthusiast or Gambero Rosso can offer you.

                      1. I'm 'in the biz' as well, as a very small retailer/tasting bar. For the small shop, finding small-production wines that offer great quality and value is, I think, the single major factor of existence. Experience, knowledge, tasting familiarity and the ability to taste many wines before buying are some of the other significant reasons that a smaller shop can even exist.

                        There is, undeniably, an unavoidable relationship between small-production and small distribution. This, pretty much by definition, means that many of the wines one finds in smaller, 'boutique' shops are going to be less known and less price-comparable. I don't think there's any question that such a scenario includes the room for a shop to take advantage, but it doesn't make that automatic by any means.

                        Any of the 'pros' here can tell you that large-volume wine retailers can and do work on profit margins that are impossible for the small shop. They'll also tell you that the small shop can often be surprised by where some of their selections turn up, and at what prices. It's a tightrope the small shop walks every day. Wine is not a high profit category from the get-go, so it is truly discouraging for a shop to price a wine at what is really a modest 30% profit and then see the same wine turn up elsewhere at 20% or so lower retail. To avoid that we try to find the best wines that are not subject to a lot of volume discounting in the market, and work with wholesalers or winery-direct where we're less likely to have them selling to the stores that work on much lower profit.

                        If the criterion is only price, that scenario would seem to mean you'll get a better deal at larger retailers. If the criterion is value..... I don't think it means that at all.

                        I would really like some board input on this specific perpective.

                        4 Replies
                        1. re: Midlife

                          Small fish thrive among small fish.
                          And if large predators are the issue, they band together in schools and still thrive.

                          Works for fish, works for winos.

                          Whenever I travel, I visit small producers. Usually, a husband and wife team, plus hired labor at harvest time. Many many such people out there producing amazing quality stuff, selling FOB bottle prices in the $5 to $20 range. Total yearly output in the 25K to 100K bottles max. We're talking of total production. When split among varietals, usu. 5 to 10, we're talking of a handful pallets ea. That won't even make a blink in the radar screen of the Costcos of the world.

                          Now, personally, from the point of view of a regular Joe Schmoe buying retail: after many years of trying the Costcos and the Trader Joes and the Vons and Ralphs of this world, I find myself staying away from all of them, and visiting only small savvy retailers.

                          Also, I'm more and more giving up the bubblified, hypertrofiated auction market, with their 50% yearly price increases. Let them sell to the billionaire shmocks.
                          I am small, and planning to stay that way for a long time. And enjoying the pleasures of smallness, BTW.

                          1. re: RicRios

                            RicRios,
                            I haven't seen any evidence at all of small retail fish banding together. On the contrary, unless there's enough geographic distance to create a sense of non-competition, there's little more than polite nodding at trade tastings and the like. No way is there a sharing of sources as each shop guards their unique suppliers and does a dance to avoid duplication wherever possible.

                            Looks like you're becoming an importer/wholesaler, so we may cross paths. In my previous life there were small retailers who pooled resources to gain volume price advantage, but that industry was one in which there were limited major brands, and you had to have the best known. Wine has some of that, but is mostly the opposite.

                            1. re: Midlife

                              Midlife,

                              you have in mind a horizontal banding of retailers, while I'm thinking of the vertical dimension: small producer / small importer-wholesaler / "boutique" retailer.

                              From what I've seen so far (admitted, I'm barely getting in the biz, but have been dipping toes in the waters for 5+ years now), this mix can beat the biggies anytime in all 3 depts: Q, P and QPR.

                              1. re: RicRios

                                I work with several small brokers/wholesalers who represent small producers, as well as with some small wineries directly. The combination works well for everyone so long as everyone is on the same page. The bottom line for me is having some degree of exclusivity AND a reasonable expectation that I'm not going to be be significantly under-sold by other retailers. That last part is much more easily said than done.

                        2. Roberto can, at times, be a royal pain in the a$$, BUT . . .

                          a) he is knowledgeable;
                          b) Wine Expo has some truly great wines -- not only Italians, but Champagnes and more;
                          c) the "business model" -- while [relatively] unique -- is a sound one.

                          If I were planning on opening my own store -- and wanted it to be anything more than the "neighborhood liquor store" -- I, too, would do something like Wine Expo, avoiding the "obvious," the big names (e.g.: Kendall-Jackson, Robert Mondavi, etc.) because although some of the wines can be excellent, there is no way I could possibly compete with stores like BevMo, Costco or the Wine Club on price. I would indeed carry wines you wouldn't find elsewhere -- not to f*** with you on the price, but because there are THOUSANDS of great wines out there no one has ever heard of, no one ever reviews -- wines that (most) people would love if given a chance to taste them.

                          10 Replies
                          1. re: zin1953

                            That's certainly the small retail wine business in a nutshell. Amen!

                            1. re: zin1953

                              I hear you, and this has been very educational. I can see why someone would open and model a store in the Wine Expo mold, I'm just not sure why I as a consumer am better off going there than BevMo or the other bigger names. Here's why: I don't drink more than 3 bottles a week. At that rate, it would be years before I made it through the big guys' selections. Since those wines are generally priced right, can be comparison-shopped, and due to their popularity are often reviewed by other wine consumers online, I wouldn't have to worry about wasting not-insubstantial money on the "miss" bottles to get to the "hits." At Wine Expo, all I have to rely on is the word of Roberto and his over-the-top newsletter descriptions to which a wine rarely lives up. So while I can see the appeal of buying wines few people have ever heard of, I'm still not sure why it's preferable to buying more of a "sure thing" from the big guys, whose selection and price are, to me, unbeatable.

                              1. re: ChickenNWaffles

                                I'm interested in your "sure things" that are affordable. Seriously, I am interested in your recommendations for really good wines you've gotten at BevMo, etc. for a reasonable price. For example, I got several 2001 Pio Cesare Barolo at Costco for $41.79 (it's now $79.99 at the same store), which I consider a bargin but a rather expensive wine. Falesco "Vitiano" is a favorite wine, but it is cheaper at wine shops than BevMo. I've gotten some rather poor Italian wines at BevMo.

                                1. re: ChickenNWaffles

                                  Isn't this sort of like asking why people travel outside their hometowns? Or why they listen to music outside of what's in the top 40? Or why they read books that aren't classics?

                                  Because it's fun to try new things, and because the sure things aren't so "sure" once you've ventured out of your comfort zone and discovered there's more to x (insert pretty much any human pursuit here).

                                  IMHO, the more you drink outside the "big guys" the more you learn about your own palate and preferences, because you can't just rely on other people's reviews -- you have to trust your own instincts. You will sometimes end up buying less than awesome bottles of wine, but as you learn more about what you like, you'll develop better "wine-dar" and be able to pick out the ones that are more likely to be hits.

                                  1. re: ChickenNWaffles

                                    CnW -- think of it this way:

                                    1) >>> I'm just not sure why I as a consumer am better off going there [Wine Expo] than BevMo or the other bigger names <<<

                                    2) >>> At Wine Expo, all I have to rely on is the word of Roberto and his over-the-top newsletter descriptions to which a wine rarely lives up <<<

                                    OK, so who do you rely on at BevMo, and why are "their" wines any more of a "sure thing" than at ____________, ________________, or ______________ retailers?

                                    The benefit of shopping at a small(er) retail store is that the people who work there are (generally) more knowledgable -- by a great deal! -- than the people at places like BevMo, Cost Plus, Costco, etc. The more you shop at a small(er) retailer, the more (better) the employees there get to know your taste. Thus, when you (would have) come into my small retail store for the FIRST time, I'm going to ask you what kind of wine you're looking for, when you are planning on drinking it, and with what, but my recommendations might be a bit slanted towards my own palate. But the second time you come in, and you can tell me what you thought of my prior recommendation (whether or not you liked it), it's only then that I can guage how your palate is similar to or different than mine. So my SECOND recommendations to you will be better than my first, guaranteed; and my THIRD will be better than my second; and so on and so on and so on . . . .

                                    Stores like BevMo specialize in one market segment. That segment is comprsed of people who like wine, who are more "into" it than the person who buys jug wines at Safeway, or Two-Buck Chuck, but who are yet to dive in with both feet. (I know, I was one of the corporate wine buyers for BevMo's predecessor, Liquor Barn.) In other words, someone who wants a larger selection of wine than they will find at Safeway, but they still to see familiar names.

                                    At BevMo, there is no one who knows wines as well as Roberto at Wine Expo, as well as Christian at Wally's, as well as Chuck Hanson at Hi-Time, etc., etc. Indeed, most of the time, if you ask someone at BevMo where (e.g.) the Chardonnays are, they'll say "Aisle 2," and then head as quickly as they can the opposite way to Aisle 12 before you can ask them another question. (Again, that's the way it was at Liquor Barn, and it's the way it is at *almost* every BevMo I've ever been in.)

                                    Who is there to make a recommendation tailored specifically for YOUR palate? for your dinner?

                                    You won't find, for example, a Spanish wine from Finca Sandoval at BevMo, but you will find the "famous" names like (e.g.) Marques di Riscal and/or the cheaper wines like Borsao or Campo Viejo. When it comes to Italy, you will find some Pio Cesare and a couple of Gaja in the display case, but most of what you'll see are -- again -- the big names like Antinori, Ruffino, etc., etc. But a wide selection from Produttori del Barbaresco? Castello di Volpaia? Castello dei Rampolla?

                                    From France, you'll find a lot of big name Bordeaux and a lot of négociant Bordeaux like Rothschild Pauillac (rather than tiny estates), négociant Burgundies like Jadot or Drouhin (much more than specific domaines), more Guigal than specific individual estates from the Rhône, and very little in the way of Alsace, Loire, the Jura, the Southwest, etc.

                                    So, why/where are the "sure things"?

                                    When it comes to California, I grant you you'll find BV, KJ, Mondavi, etc. at very good prices. And BevMo is a good store for wines like those. Many of the other California wines they carry are not priced all that attractively -- once you realize that most are priced at or near full retail, with the 10% discount already taken off per bottle (which is why they don't offer a case discount). And the selection is very mainstream . . .

                                    Keep in mind that I'm coming from having spent 35 years in the wine trade before I "retired" and went into a different field. I know enough that I can go into BevMo and "help myself" -- BUT . . . I always find better wines AND better values, along with the advice I want/need at stores like Wine Expo, or (since I live in the SF Bay Area) Vintage Berkeley, North Berkeley, Kermit Lynch, Paul Marcus, Spanish Table, etc., etc., etc.

                                    Cheers,
                                    Jason

                                    1. re: zin1953

                                      Jason, thanks for the very detailed reply. It's a very good point that a smaller wine shop gets to know you and your tastes. I've actually had very knowledgeable and helpful service at BevMo, but I'm sure there would be scant chance of the person remembering me – or always being there when I come in.

                                      You also ask why BevMo and Costco and Vons should be trusted for their selections, but I made the point earlier that you can go online and find plenty of "user reviews" for the more mainstream wines simply because more people have had them. I am not from the wine industry and I'm not a wine geek; I'm getting more and more into wine recently, reading more, researching more, DRINKING more (to my wife's chagrin), so I truly am seeking out info on the best wines and the best places to buy them.

                                      You mentioned Wally's, there's also Fireside Cellars (overpriced) and Moe's in my neck of the woods, and I think all qualify as service-oriented places. However, they carry better-known wines that, at the least, are usually rated by some authority. I know that ratings are screwy because they favor higher-alcohol wines and don't take into account how the wines pair with food, which is how we drink usually them, but they do at least offer some ubiased insight into what you're getting. A wine shop's newsletter that doesn't mention a single unbiased opinion on a wine is simply not as useful as one that gives notes from an authoritative source or two. Which is what I get from Wine House, Wally's, even Trader Joe's. Point being, why do some "smaller" wine shops like Wally's and Hi-Time carry wines from reputable and "cult" producers while Wine Expo does not?

                                      One other point in favor of the smaller places is the care they (presumably) take in storing the wines. I've heard you should never buy a more-expensive wine at Trader Joe's because the wine can sit outside the store in the heat for hours before it's brought in. I even saw some first growths at Whole Foods for $600+, and they were at room temperature. How well were they stored since 1982? Who was storing them?

                                      To answer the question about "sure thing" wines I've bought, you're right they were mostly California wines like Stag's Leap and Atalon and Schramsberg and Caymus, et al. But I've gotten some really good French wines, even at Ralph's. Wine House has a really good selection, and some of their workers are very knowledgeable. Though you feel like you better hurry because they've got way more important things to do than help. Sometimes!

                                      Anyway, thanks. I appreciate your input and the time you took to write a detailed response.

                                      1. re: ChickenNWaffles

                                        "Wine House has a really good selection, and some of their workers are very knowledgeable. Though you feel like you better hurry because they've got way more important things to do than help. "

                                        Very good point. Wine House has been going dramatically downslope in customer service in the last few years. I guess the new Knight generation is more focused in cutting costs than anything else. They got rid of all the knowledgeable people they had ( James, where are you! ), hired lots of minimum wage bodies, just pumped up the hype with their Upstairs gig. I never talk to anybody there anymore, it's a waste of time. Just grab the bottles and walk to the cashier.

                                        And on second thoughts, isn't this what it's supposed to happen in this butterfly-to-caterpillar "natural" mutation? Once you are past the threshold of a small footprint, you are big, you already made it, f*** the customers.

                                        Which reinforces the point posters above (me amongst them) have been trying to convey.

                                        1. re: RicRios

                                          I want to try upstairs 2..But have had similar experiences with worsening service at Wine House.

                                          1. re: RicRios

                                            I second RicRios on the Wine House. I don't hate it, but there's no love at all. Maybe if I were a 'regular' that buys $50+ bottles without blinking I'd be treated well there.

                                            1. re: tward

                                              I WAS a regular. Makes no difference. Guaranteed.

                                  2. ChickenNWaffles,

                                    I'm often skeptical and look out for all the tricks and scams that are out there, but in this case I'm not at all worried about not being able to "comparison shop". So what if we can't find the bottle anywhere else in the U.S.? In fact, all the better.

                                    I don't think we need to directly compare a specific bottle. If I feel that a bottle of wine from Wine Expo is a good value I'll buy it again (if I can). I'll let my taste and my knowledge of comparable wines be the judge instead of a Google search.

                                    Bottom line: Wine Expo is a great place for people who want to explore the world of Italian wines. It's a great place to escape the huge fruit and oak bombs that have dominated much of domestic wine making.

                                    1. I agree with many of the well-stated opinions here. Certainly understand and support WE's model and even though my tastes don't always align with the staff, I half been introduced to many great wines and producers there. (Torre dei Beatti single vineyard M'd'Abuzzo, Ca'Viola, Mamete Prevostini, etc) Although these wines aren't impossible to find elsewhere, they are off the beaten path and getting the introduction to some of these has certainly opened my mind to new varietals, appellations, etc.

                                      I recently spent a vacation in Valtellina (buying 6 euro bottles that go for $30 here) and this trip would not have happened without learning about some of these distant and very special wineries through WE.... So, I thank them for this!

                                      2 Replies
                                      1. re: smwine

                                        It's worth noting that the size of their Italian section has shrunk and has been replaced by Spanish and Portuguese wines.

                                        1. re: SteveTimko

                                          I think those two countries currently offer wines that fit Wine Expo's business model that the very knowledgeable posters above elaborated on. Lots of smaller/less known producers, some creating really nice wines for the $.

                                        1. I've been a customer of them for 15 years and have never had a bad recommendation from them. I always refer other wine lovers to them. The one thing that I didn't see mentioned was the fact that the guys go to VinItaly and other wine conventions and personally meet the labels' producers. They want to give recognition and sales to those vintners who make great wine but don't have Mondavi's marketing budget. I think the radio metaphor is apt. some people like Top 40, others like KCRW.

                                          1. I have to say that I have had great service and treatment with lots of smaller more interesting wines with Lance over at the Wine house. I don't know who you guys have been dealing with over at wine house but I find that they have a good selection that hits a lot of the items I like. I'm not into the oakey over the top wines. I drink a lot of biodynamic Spanish, italian, and French wines. As well as some from eastern europe. Lots of pinot, old vine grenache and lots of other smaller less used varietals. I find that there Champagne selection is pretty good as well.

                                            1. Wine Expo is fun, it's a community hang out too. You always meet interesting people, end up in conversations about subjects you don't often get to hear. The place is a treasure trove of obscure opportunities in wine and tequila and beer and don't forget the best Lemoncello ever was one of my favorite discoveries there. Ok they are crazy addicted to bubbles but hopefully everybody will figure that out and join the club. yeah they get crazy happy over grapes no one ever heard of before, but who doesn't immediately fall for say a sforzato? (woops that's not even a grape, but a style no one had ever heard of before, a good wine geek pop quiz question too) but most importantly it's a great place to talk food and wine, roberto's a genius at food and wine, he's been in the business, been there and done that, especially since it's obvious he's pretty much tried every food and wine pairing and he certainly looks like he came out happy and smiling. I want that guy on my team. And it's a good thing that they don't carry multi national corporations like veuve and moet, that takes guts.