Total Wine and More = Total Sensory Overload

I finally got around to visiting Total Wine and More this weekend. Nate from Vinvenio has been urging me to check it out for a few weeks now, but it’s sort of out of the way and actually kind of difficult to get to, so I’d been hemming and hawing about it. However, I wouldn’t be a very good wino if I didn’t eventually go to this behemoth of a wine shop. And besides, a coupon arrived in my welcome wagon mailer for $10 off a purchase of $50 or more. I’m a sucker for coupons.

Upon arriving at Total Wine and More in Alexandria, I thought my eyes would pop out of my head. I have literally never seen that many bottles of wine in one place before. I think they claim to have 8,000 different wines. I was overwhelmed. I was even more overwhelmed when I realized that there was an entire aisle of just Cabernet Sauvignon, my main reason for this outing was to procure a bottle for this month’s WBW with the theme of Washington State Cabernet Sauvignon. It took me nearly an hour to just get through the Cabernet aisle so I didn’t have much time to closely examine everything else as we were drywalling yesterday and Matt needed me to hold stuff.

The good: Lots of wine in all different price ranges. Lots of wine accessories. They also sell all kinds of beer, so this would be a great stop if you were throwing a big party.

The bad: Very few sales staff. And no one I talked to seemed to know wine at all.

The ugly: I am all for finding cool things hiding in wine shops. However, those wine shops usually do not have 8,000 wines that need to be looked through to find that gem. And that was the problem here. I’m sure there must have been some really good stuff in the Cabernet aisle. But it was IMPOSSIBLE to find anything as there was no rhyme or reason to the organization. A $3.99 bottle sat next to a $54 bottle. Australia, then CA, then Uruguay, then CA again and so on. Finding the very few bottles from Washington State took me forever!

The results: 1 bottle of Washington State Cabernet Sauvignon. 2 bottles of Sauvignon Blanc from Chile, 2 bottles of Sauvignon Blanc from Marlborough, 1 bottle of Sauvignon Blanc from South Africa. (I’m on a huge Sauvignon Blanc kick as it is hot and humid and sticky here.)

The total: 6 bottles of wine for $54. $44 after my $10 off coupon. Possibly the best deal ever.

Would I return? Yes, for the purpose of gathering many inexpensive bottles for either everyday drinking or if we ever get around to having a housewarming party. If I were looking for a very specific bottle or even for another WBW bottle, I doubt I would return. Without knowledgeable staff it was very difficult to find what I was looking for and the lack of any organizational system made it that much harder. A good place for a mixed case of everyday wine or a cheap case for a pary.

9 Responses

  1. Heh.. glad you got a chance to check it out! And I actually couldn’t agree with you more – it’s ridiculously impossible to find anything in that store as there is very little “filtering” done by the store. I mean, with a small wine shop you would assume that there 20-30 Cabernets were selected by the owners/staff for some reason, and you can make a decision from this list based on what you’re looking for. But when they stock 400 Cabernets, that process gets thrown out the window as there is no way you can look through all of that info.

    So what I do is I order wine in advance on their website (which also isn’t the friendliest around). If you order it a couple days in advance, the staff will go around finding all of the bottles you ordered, so you can just pick it up and go. Kind of the best of both worlds – I can look through their inventory online, do a web search if I want to find out more about it than the info Total Wine has posted on their website, and still get the advantage of their enormous selection for a pickup order.

    Anyway, that’s what I’m going to do for the Washington Cabernet WBW – I just did a quick search, found out they have 19 Cabernets from Washington State, of which I can eliminate 7 high end ($26 and up) and 4 low end (under $10), leaving me with just 8 choices – and I can handle that!

    Well, glad you gave it a shot – I think it’s just fun for a wine lover to see that much wine in one spot!

  2. Hi – I am hooked on your blog! I tagged you on my meme – hope you don’t mind! Would love to see you contribute it you get the chance.

  3. I agree that Total’s service leaves me cold. The company also strongly “encourages” their employees to push certain, high-margin items (as many stores do).

    I LOVE Total’s selection, however. For a wine geek like me, shopping there is like a treasure hunt. I also like that they carry wines my other local reatilers don’t.

    If they offered a mixed-case discount, they would get a lot more of my business.

  4. I emphathize with the overwhelming bit BUT I was a huge fan of Total Wine when I lived in North Carolina. So much wine, so cheap. Almost makes me woozy thinking about it. You will learn their layout with time, I am happy/sad to report. And the real point is to do exactly what you did: buy 6-12 bottles that look interesting that you trip over and have them on hand when you are bored/need a red wine/discover a friend has never had a Sauvignon Blanc, etc. You’ll be back, I know!

  5. Nate, good idea about the website. I did want to check this place out though! In store they had many less than 19 though!

    Foodette, thanks so much! I will hopefully get to your meme tomorrow!

    John, I didn’t realize they don’t offer a mixed case discount, what a crock! I will certainly return, hopefully on a day when I don’t have Matt calling me to come hold drywall for him!

    Dr.Debs, I will return, I found quite a good selection of VERY inexpensive sauvignon blancs, and we are running through them at record speed!

  6. Hey there,
    I’m in Old Town Alexandria next week, 6/27-28, and am looking for suggestions for wine bars/stores to taste some wine I can’t readily get here in Arkansas?

  7. I would suggest the Curious Grape in Shirlington as they have bottles open every night. I’m not really familiar with any wine bars in the area though. Have a great trip!

  8. Time for someone to weigh in on the opposite side. I really can’t think of much good about Total Wine. Maybe it is because I used to work in a smaller, independent shop, but the lack of customer service and haphazard care of bottles turns me off. Also, I think they push and stock alot of their own labels (ala Kirkland @ Costco), so it’s tough to find a wine you may have seen in a review or at a vineyard. I understand why Total can be appealing, but with so many smaller stores with knowledgeable staff in the area, I would rather send my money that direction.

  9. GoKkZP comment1 ,

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