The Block Island Times
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Trips Abroad: Wakefield Liquors

Jul 04, 2013

As the familiar catchphrase would have it, “This is not your father’s liquor store.” The only nod to tradition or convention is the sign in block letters above the entrance: Wakefield Liquors.

Out of respect and admiration for my father and mother, I kept the name just as it was when they opened the store,” explained Jane Costanza, proprietor and general manager since 1993. “Other than that, though, we’ve made some changes, especially our emphasis on wine.”

Now the store logo includes clusters of grapes and the line beneath the Wakefield Liquors letterhead leads with wine: Fine wine — Beer — Liquor.

Writing in a trade publication in celebration of Jane’s 20th anniversary as owner, Jeff Baran, store manager and buyer, recalled, “When I first walked into the store, almost 14 years ago, I thought to myself, ‘What is this place? It’s small. It has carpet on the floor. It has furniture in the wine room?’”

It works. The store has doubled in size since Jeff came aboard and the separate wine room is a comfortable space that invites one to meander and browse. Amid a pleasant decor accented by Tiffany-style lampshades and large attractive maps of French and Napa Valley wine regions, the wines are arranged by country, and also by region and price.

And they’re readily accessible. “I wanted to make sure that when you bend over and reach for a wine, you won’t be bumping into someone on the other side of the aisle,” said Costanza. So there’s ample room to mosey about checking labels and prices, especially among various special sections like “The Cheap Seats” (How about a Portuguese red for $6.99?); “Best Values”; “Staff choices under $15”; and “The Bullpen” — full of bargain closeouts.

Connoisseurs can also ponder the 1995 Mouton Rothschild listed at the top of “The Luxury Box” chalkboard for $250.

Whatever their tastes, Jane wants customers to find what they want without having to hunt for it.

“I didn’t grow up in this industry so I’m not bound by conventional notions of product placement,” says Costanza. “My criterion was, if I want a certain wine, can I find it? Of course, people might be looking for a particular label, but most often they simply want a type of wine, a cabernet sauvignon, a pinot noir or a chardonnay, for example.”

This customer-oriented approach also helps those who may not be quite certain exactly what they want. Jane has a well-trained, knowledgeable staff that listen and then help you find just the right wine — to take to a dinner party, for instance.

Conversation overheard in the wine room: “I know the entree will be Italian, so do you think a Chianti would be a good choice?” Could be. Do your friends enjoy Italian wine? “Yes, they do. Both of them.” Ok, then let’s think about Italian wines that are blended with Sangiovese, the same grape that’s in Chianti. There ensued a succinct explanation — without even the slightest condescension — of wines ranging from Chianti Classico to Brunello di Montalcino.

The same attentive advice is often sought on the beer and liquor side of the store. Dave King, a seven-year veteran of the staff, smilingly observed that “Sometimes folks can be a bit overwhelmed by the remarkable number of choices they have these days. I mean, we have about 900 different beers, everything from a macro Bud Light to a micro Sam Adams Porch Rocker.” Dave explained that, as the microbrew beer market has surged in the last few years, customers have “expanded their horizons and are much more open to the wide variety of craft beers.”

Jeff Baran is the store’s buyer, responsible for making the final choices after a weekly wine tasting with Jane and members of the staff. Asked about changes he’s noticed in the tastes among wine drinkers, Jeff paused. “Well, it’s cyclical. Right now, though, we’re seeing a tendency toward wines that are a bit sweeter. Moscato, for example. The northern Italian Moscato is interesting — it’s somewhat bubbly. It’s true with the reds, too. Some California blends like the Apothek Red or the Cupcake Red Velvet are fruitier.”

You’ll enjoy testing your taste buds and learning about various wines and beers at Wakefield Liquors’s wine and beer tastings. Beer tastings are on Saturdays from 4 to 6 p.m. and wine tastings are held on two days: Friday from 4 to 7 p.m. and Saturday from 2 to 5 p.m.

Wakefield Liquors is located at 667 Kingstown Road in Wakefield. The store is open Monday to Thursday: 9 a.m. - 9 p.m., Friday and Saturday: 9 a.m. - 10 p.m., and Sunday: noon - 6 p.m. Telephone (401) 783 4555; Fax: 783 3124; www.wakefieldliquors.com.

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