If Wal-Mart had a Wine Bar - Wine & Spirits Magazine

If Wal-Mart had a Wine Bar

illustration by Mark Brewer

In search of a cheap DVD player, a friend and I recently ventured to the local Wal-Mart. I vaguely recalled stories about riots over machines on sale there at $29 several years back, so we figured Wal-Mart was worth a look. Who doesn’t love a good riot?

As it happened, the store we chose could have used a riot. We found ourselves in an enormous concrete box with a corrugated metal ceiling from which, at regular intervals, surveillance cameras hung enclosed in silver spheres, part Vegas casino, part War of the Worlds. Beneath them were vast, measured rows of shelving on which all manner of earthly goods were heartlessly displayed.

The thing is, shorn of the usual seductive retail trappings, the merchandise, regardless of brand, all looked cheap and ordinary. Shopping here, it seems, is a grim job, and not for the faint-hearted. Oddly, everyone shops in their underwear. Men are in tank tops and oversized, sagging basketball shorts or sweats; the girls are all brassieres, hot pants and flip flops; the women seem to favor housecoats and slippers. Wielding their shopping carts, matriarchs drive their distracted husbands and children down the aisles like oxen pulling wagons, all immersed in the steady fog of registers bleeping, babies crying, and various instructional videos touting skin-firming cream, lawn sprinklers, video games.

What could possibly turn this place around?

The answer, of course, is a wine bar. Why not? They’ve got everything else. They could set it up in the bay right next to the McDonald’s, so people could bring their burgers over and have a civilized lunch. Some tables and chairs, a counter, storage space at the back: nothing fancy; it’d fit right in.

Mindful that Wal-Mart favors Chinese suppliers, I could see a selection of wines from Shandong and Zhangjiakou, but I’m thinking mostly of the kinds of wine flights they could offer. For instance:

Big Mac Wines:
You’re going to want some body here, and some fruit. I’m thinking Australian shiraz, Chilean cabernet, maybe a Valpolicella. Throw in an Amarone just for fun.

Filet ‘o Fish Wines:
Ah, the sea. For this it’s gentle whites from the Mediterranean. A Santorini or moschofilero from Greece; a nice Italian vernaccia; maybe some French rosé.

Multiple Children Wines:
For the poor parents of the various kids rampaging through the store, here’s a flight that offers support: wines that themselves have many children. Here I see Robert Mondavi in its various iterations, the many Bins of Penfolds and perhaps a few from Beaulieu or Beringer…

Battered Husband Wines:
God forgive me, but these guys need a break. How about—well, would it kill Wal-Mart if we poured some Trumer Pilsner for them? I know it’s not wine, but if you love wine, you’ll love Trumer.

Underwear Wines:
Casual dress calls for casual wines—or in this case, nearly naked ones; so here we go with unoaked chardonnay, Beaujolais, some nice New Zealand sauvignon blanc. And don’t forget the pinot grigio….

Big Hair Wines:
A number of the ladies I saw at Wal-Mart had very high hair. This flight would be for them. Some nice 16 percent alcohol California zinfandel would do the trick, plus a few oaky merlots and—what the hell—one or two California ports.

This story was featured in W&S Fall 2009.
illustration by Mark Brewer

This story appears in the print issue of fal 2009.
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