SHOPPING FOR WINE: MY FIVE FAVORITE SOUTH JERSEY WINE STORES
A Canal’s by any other name is not necessarily a Canal’s. There are not many places in South Jersey where people live that you wouldn’t find a Canal’s within five or six miles. The problem is all Canal’s are not created equal. You might even say that no two Canal’s are alike when it comes to wine. Some have excellent selections with knowledgeable help and others have a very boring selection with staff who are lacking in wine savvy. Despite the disparity, I am certain that the many outlets doing business under the names Canal’s Discount Liquor Outlets and Joe Canal’s do the majority of the wine business in South Jersey. Two of those locations make my Top Five South Jersey Wine Shops. Here are my 5 Favorites and 2 that receive Honorable Mention. One caveat before I announce my choices. There are some locations that I am just not familiar with for one reason or another and it is entirely possible that I am excluding some very good places. All of these stores are simply my own personal opinion.
#5 Total Wine and Spirits, Cherry Hill, NJ
Total is a national mega wine super-store with over 8000 wine selections in each location. Founded in 1991 by brothers, David and Robert Trone, Total has grown each year and now have multiple locations in 8 states. There are several things I like about shopping at Total Wines. Their staff is very knowledgeable and often are taken on trips to various wine regions of the world where they get to sample lots of different wines. Each store contains selections that are titled “staff favorites” and although there is freedom to shop on your own there is also a staff member nearby to offer advice. Additionally, they have on hand in each store the Total Guide to Wine which has over 450 pages of information on wines and wine regions. Admittedly, this big, glossy guide becomes an advertisement for the particular wines that are stocked at Total but, hey, it’s free, it’s informative and you can’t blame them for pushing their own brands. That brings us to my one major complaint about Total Wines; they really DO push their own brands. Even though there are over 8000 different wines there are a lot of popular, good wines from all regions that are not on the shelves at Total. The average buyer will have no trouble finding something of interest and you can totally trust the staff selections. A true “wine geek” could spend hours strolling the aisles of this, my #5 favorite wine shop.
#4 Moore Brothers, Pennsauken, NJ
The directions to Moore Brothers posted on their web site has a caveat that says “your GPS will NOT find us”. They are located just off Route 130 North on Cooper River Park Drive and they are worth finding.
Years ago, when my love of wine was in it’s infancy and I was reading all I could and visiting wine stores to peruse the shelves I had reached a point where I felt I was familiar with the names of 90% of the worlds wines, even if I hadn’t tasted a large percentage of them. Every once in awhile in my reading or in conversations with others I would hear the name “Moore Brothers”. One day I came across a list of the wines they carry in their store. Unlike Total Wines and their 8000 choices, Moore Brothers only carried a couple hundred and very few were from California. None were from my then favorite region, Australia. I was perplexed. Reading thru the list I don’t think there were 3 names of wineries that I was familiar with at the time. I thought to myself, why even bother checking this place out when I don’t have the time to try the thousands of wines I am already familiar with but have not yet tasted and, why would a wine store decide to carry brands that no one has heard of?
Founded by David and Greg Moore, Moore Brothers now has two other locations outside of NJ. These are located in Delaware and New York City. Their philosophy on wine explains their selections. They stock only wine from small growers primarily in France, Italy and Germany. They develop relationships with the growers, visit their farms, almost become a part of their families. They have a tremendous respect for the grapes and the people who grow them. All of their wines are shipped at 56 degrees and the store temperature is kept at 56 degrees. You will see the staff wearing jackets on the warmest of summer days. The staff is totally knowledgeable on all of the wines they carry and are extremely helpful. They are even apprehensive about you driving home with a case of wine on a hot, August day. They caution you to go straight home and get the wine back to 56 degrees as quickly as possible. It’s like you are taking one of their children on a journey and they fear for their safety. I have never been disappointed by a purchase at Moore Brothers and you should definitely make a visit to the Pennsauken location. Their website is fun and informative, too. Moore Brothers are my #4 favorite wine shop.
#3 Joe Canal’s Liquor Outlet, Fire Road, Egg Harbor Twp., NJ
If I never worked in Atlantic City I would have missed the opportunity of having discovered this excellent wine store. It’s a good distance from my home in Washington Twp., NJ but not far off the Black Horse Pike in Egg Harbor Township. It made my list of favorites because it has a wonderful selection of wines from every region. The prices are about the same as others perhaps a little higher as some shore liquor outlets tend to do. The other nice thing about this Joe Canal’s is they have one of the best Pinot Noir selections I have found. They also feature some better high end cabs, lots of Spanish wines and a nice selection of Australian bottles. The shelfs are a little tight and crowded but they cram a lot of interesting wines into the space they have. It’s easy to spend hours strolling the aisles of this location on Fire Road in Egg Harbor Township. It may even be that this was where I first discovered the 2001 Shirvington Shiraz which is still the best bottle of wine I have ever experienced. Those are just some of the reasons that this is my #3 favorite wine store in South Jersey.
#2 Hops n Grapes, Glassboro, NJ
Hops n Grapes is the “new kid on the block” when it comes to South Jersey wine stores. In less than two years this Glassboro location has become my “go to” store for most purchases. It took only a visit or two to put it’s two closest wine neighbors, Canal’s in Williamstown and Monster Beverage in Glassboro far behind them.
Max and Filipe Cammorata, owners of Terra Nova Restaurant in Glassboro and several Landmark Americana Tap and Grills located just off the Rowan University campus, West Chester, and coming soon to the Drexel campus in Philly have done a great job in quickly making Hops n Grapes a wonderful location for buying wine. The shop features a coffee bar with fresh pastries, an excellent selection of cheeses from all over the globe and a fine selection of premium cigars. They feature wine tastings with cheese samplings every Friday evening and the store is stocked with over 2000 selections; many of them wines you won’t find in most stores. Their premium wine case is an absolute treasure with everything from the extremely hard to find Sine Que Non wines to $1000 Burgundies. Wine “geeks” such as myself have been known to salivate on the glass while gawking at these prize wines.
The staff is extremely knowledgeable and helpful and for those on a limited wine budget they even have a section with quite a few wines titled, “GOOD WINES UNDER $10.00”. Max and Filipe do a Youtube video each week on their “FIFTEEN WINES of SUMMER”. They may not yet be ready to take their comedy show on the road but I am not going to deduct any points for that.
I will deduct a few points for their “wine loft” on the second floor. It was scheduled to be an area for single vineyard and exclusive wines but it just hasn’t panned out and many of the wines up there are simply repeats of those on the main floor. I am being picky though in this minor criticism. There is much to like about Hops and Grapes and “frequent wine buyers” earn a 2% credit toward future purchases. Overall, it’s a no-brainer in making Hops n Grapes my #2 favorite wine shop in South Jersey.
and now……. a drumroll please as I announce my choice for…the best wine store in South Jersey
#1 CANAL’S BOTTLESTOP, MARLTON, NJ
My selection of Canal’s Bottlestop in Marlton, NJ as my favorite South Jersey wine store can be summed up in three reasons:
- Charley Beatty
- Charley Beatty
- Charley Beatty
Charlie has packed the shelves of this store with perhaps the finest selection of California wines in all of South Jersey. He has developed relationships with distributors that enable him to get wines that others will never see. He has tasted almost every wine he sells and when he steers you toward a particular selection you can be assured it’s a wine you will enjoy. The prices are consistent with other stores in the area but he offers some excellent discounts for large purchases and publishes a monthly newsletter that has over 300 sale items from all wine regions.
It’s not unusual to be in the store and see 5 or 6 people all waiting to speak to Charley. It’s a minor miracle that he is able to take care of everyone when he is constantly in such demand. It’s the place I go for those special wines and that special wine wisdom that Charlie Beatty is blessed with. He is the reason that Canal’s Bottlestop, Marlton, NJ is my #1 Favorite Wine Store in South Jersey.
In closing I want to give honorable mention to two other wine stores. They are:
Circle Liquors, Somers Point, NJ for fine selection and a knowledgeable staff and some nice prices for their Circle Club members and…..
Canals Discount Liquors, Hainesport, NJ this one is a little too far from my house but they have a good selection of all wines and perhaps the absolute best selection of German wines this side of Munich!