What inspires loyalty to a particular corner store? In a bygone, more modest era, a person might pledge allegiance to one market based on, say, the availability of milk, or who sells the cheapest toilet paper. But in gentrifying Washington, it’s all about the wine options. Yelp abounds with loyalists gushing about their local shop’s wine selection—the retail equivalent of a “great schools” claim in a real estate listing. To my untrained palate, anything better than Andre might as well be Dom Perignon, so I enlisted the services of Brent Kroll, sommelier and wine director at the Neighborhood Restaurant Group, to evaluate the offerings of a sample of corner stores. The results? You needn’t feel ashamed of stocking your dinner party with sauvignon blanc from down the block.
700 F St. NE
Kroll appreciated that Adam’s displayed “lesser stuff” on lower shelves. The shop seemed strongest on Côtes du Rhône and Chianti, along with prosecco and “pretty good Champagne for the price.”
Standout bottle: A Charbaut & Fils Brut, $37.99.
Verdict: “Not bad. I could easily come in here and find a bottle.”
7 River Market
250 11th St. NE
Lots of crossover with Adam’s Market, which led Kroll to theorize that the same vendors are supplying both stores.
Verdict: Plenty of Barefoot and Yellowtail “for people who want to drink wine on the cheap.”
1023 E. Capitol St. NE
A sophisticated selection of wines clearly cultivated by a buyer. Kroll noted a focus on grower Champagne (meaning the same estate that grew the grapes also produced the wine) and a medium price point; he also admired the stack of wine books stashed behind the counter.
Standout bottles: Ravines Finger Lakes Riesling, $19; 2008 Dr. Hermann Urziger Wurzgarten Riesling, $20
Verdict: “For the kind of people who know a bit.”
421 East Capitol St. SE
Again, similar stock to other stores within a few miles. Kroll took note of a few older vintages and a particularly upscale distributor, Bacchus, that works with prestigious importers.
Verdict: That vendor “elevates the selection” from your average corner store wine stock.
1331 29th St. NW
Despite its posh Georgetown address, this shop’s wine selection impressed Kroll no more than the options at less ritzy locations.
Verdict: “Same prosecco, same Bordeaux.”
1807 18th St. NW
Perhaps the most intriguing corner store we visited, Dupont Market presents a sort of “roll of the dice” for shoppers. Kroll was put off by the appearance of the wines: He found the selection disorganized and some of the labels a bit weathered. More troubling was the presence of some wines that have likely turned. “They have Beaujolais Nouveau in there, which is dead,” he says. “One of the quickest wines to spoil on the planet.” But Kroll was practically salivating over some of the “holy crap gems” in the store, including “good Champagne for cheap” and a 2006 Alsatian Pinot Gris for $34—“an absolute steal.”
Standout bottle: 2005 Bordeaux from Graves, $22. (“That’s crazy!”)
Verdict: “This is a high-risk, high-reward shop.”
Photo by Darrow Montgomery
Correction: Due to a reporting error, this post originally misstated the address of Congress Market. It is located at 421 East Capitol St. SE.