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ISO wine or beer shops, Santa Cruz, CA

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Can anyone living around the Santa Cruz area recommend a good general-purpose place to buy reasonably priced bottles of wine from a knowledgeable staff? Bonus points if it's located in Santa Cruz proper. I normally get around by bike. Only place I know of is Soif but I have no idea how their staff or prices compare to what I should be looking for.

I'm a kind of broke-ass student. I like to have a glass or two nightly but I can't afford to regularly spend much more than $10-15 a bottle. (That's a lot for my budget range but I make up for it by not buying new anything else or owning a car.) I don't know anything about wine except that I like it but I'm reluctant to keep taking a risk every few days on bottles that might turn out to be below average or poor. and I'm not desperate enough to resort to drinking two-buck Chuck all the time.

I'm a curious and interested beer drinker too so same points apply.

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  1. Since the demise of Liquor Barn, several years ago, the major retailer in Santa Cruz has been Shoppers Corner. That, IMHO, would be your best bet. Cost Plus would also work for you, as could Trader Joe's, but I'd certainly check out locally-owned Shoppers.

    Soif, OTOH, is "my" type of store: a small place with relatively hard-to-find, NOT your "run-of-the-mill" wines. You can (and should) ALWAYS ask for help and advise from the employees there -- something difficult at best to do at Cost Plus, Trader Joe's and even Shoppers.

    Too bad UCSC doesn't offer Cowell-Stevenson 182 anymore, but you can always look to UCSC Extension or places like Soif and Pearl Alley Bistro to try a wide variety of wines by the glass -- both will pour you "half" glasses, so that your money will go farther and permit you to taste a greater number of different wines. Also, you can always check out the many wineries in the area -- although their wiens will ALL retail for more than $10, and in most cases, more than $15, the education you'll gain by tasting the various offerings will be invaluable.

    Cheers,
    Jason

    -----
    Shoppers Corner
    622 Soquel Ave, Santa Cruz, CA

    Cost Plus World Market
    450 River St, Santa Cruz, CA

    Soif Wine Bar & Retail
    105 Walnut Avenue, Santa Cruz, CA 95060

    Trader Joe's
    700 Front St, Santa Cruz, CA

    Pearl Alley Bistro & Wine Bar
    110 Pearl Aly, Santa Cruz, CA 95060

    4 Replies
    1. re: zin1953

      Wow thanks for the reply. I value guidance from staff who know their wines, Im just not capable of filtering everything out for myself yet. So my guess is based on what you've told me, I'll probably do some judicious <$10 picking and choosing at Shoppers or similar but maybe extend my price range up to $20 and head into Soif once every couple of weeks to ask for suggestions. Im okay with unconventional wines, my hope is that with a little help I can begin making a mental map of roughly what each varietal and regional style mean to me.
      thanks again

      1. re: delicion

        Soif will not have a lot of sub $15 wines, but for my taste they will have the most interesting. I just glanced at there never totally updated site and they had at least 25 or so choices. In the whites, I'm partial to the Quenard wines from the Savoie which are fun if you dig really bright minerally whites. They usually have a good jug riesling/gruner around too which are fun.

        For beer the clear winners for me are U-Save on the WS near Safeway (just stay away from the dwindling stock of Deshutes Fresh Hop) and for a field trip 41st Liquors which is just S of HWY1 when you take the 41st exit. Lots of Belgians and other imports here. Its also a good wine shop and carries a large selection of Charles Neal wines which may give you some good value with items <$15.

        1. re: Nathan P

          Ive been to U-Save, you are right that in the town proper it has the best beer selection I've encountered. Though Ill admit that's not saying much. Sometimes I want something specific and its not always guaranteed that they'll have it, even if its a beer from this part of the country. Ive never been to the other one you mentioned so Ill find a way to get there sometime.

          Ive been wondering about 99 Bottles downtown as far as pubs go. Ive been in a few times and seen their lists in the pub and on the website, theyre not bad. But I have no idea about the execution ie. do they keep the taps and lines clean, is the beer rotated reasonably often for freshness. The food and beer prices both seem a little high even for Santa Cruz.

          1. re: delicion

            I'm not a big beer drinker but husband is, and we enjoy the beer selection at Red (the upstairs restaurant).

            I like Shopper's because it's convenient when I'm doing my regular grocery shopping, but for when I want a nice bottle for a specific occasion or meal, then I definitely head to Soif. I have never been disappointed w/ a rec from them, and I've purchased a couple bottles in the $12-15 range before. Be careful about any of the discounted wine from Shopper's. I've had to return a few bottles due to them being bad/corked.

            How is the wine selection at Safeway or Longs on the westside? The Safeway in Aptos has some of the best discounts (sometimes 30-50% off) w/ a very decent selection, whereas the eastside SC Safeway is pretty abysmal. Of course, there is no helpful staff to guide you, but if you do a little research and reading yourself, then you can find the better stuff. Cheers!