Why can’t you buy wine in New York supermarkets?

The world of wine is often associated with glamour. And why wouldn’t it be when you have production facilities that look like this?

Unfortunately and predictably, the allure of the industry dissipates when it runs smack bang into a wall called regulation.

Laws pertaining to the sale, marketing and consumption of wine are present in every single market. An obvious example is Champagne – it is against the law to label a sparkling wine ‘Champagne’ if it has not been produced in a specific French region and if it does not consist of specific grape varieties.leo-cullum-monks-in-a-wine-cellar-shout-out-call-the-attorneys-in-unison-as-they-new-yorker-cartoon

All wine-producing countries have their own nuances, but one that caught me by surprise was the USA.

I had some spare time on my hands in New York last week. I used it wisely by venturing into a couple of supermarkets. I found it strange that none of them sold wine, particularly because I live in a city where supermarkets represent a notable proportion of consumer wine sales. I also found it a bit odd that there were a substantial number of wine and liquor shops dotted around Manhattan, but no chains – they all looked independent.

Later on, in a meeting with the two guys behind Vinepair, I learnt that this is entirely due to prescriptive regulations.

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Why don’t supermarkets in New York sell wine?
In the state of New York, supermarkets are not allowed to sell wine. They are legally allowed to sell beer, but no wine and definitely no liquor. Actually, until about ten years ago, supermarkets and shops were prohibited from selling beer between 3am and 6am. The rules have been relaxed a little; beer is available 24 hours a day now except for 3am – 8am on Sundays. Don’t ask why.

So where does that leave wine drinkers?
You have to go to a specialist wine and liquor store to buy wine between the hours of 9am and midnight (except on Sundays which is noon to 9pm). Weird? Yes. Wait – it gets weirder. A provision in the law states that every license to sell wine is held by a single individual who resides within a few miles of the store. This explains why there are no large Oddbins-esque chains in New York. Seems a bit backward to me given how many chains operate in the food sector.

Are the rules going to change?
Maybe, but probably not any time soon. A few years ago, Governor Paterson tried to change the law to allow supermarkets to sell wine too. This proposal incited so much opposition from the city’s liquor stores that it was laid to rest pretty quickly.

Is this an American thing or just New York?
Just New York! Funnily enough, a friend sent me an article today which featured this infographic. Very relevant… he must be telepathic.


I made sure to visit a wine shop during my trip and I walked away with two bottles (fortunately I didn’t try to buy wine at 4am so I had no problems getting served).

One was a Robert Mondavi Fumé Blanc ($18); the second one was a Californian red by Cupcake Vineyards that a friend had told me about ($11). I’m saving the former for a special occasion whilst the latter was just a bit of fun.

Don’t forget to download Grappled, the app that helps you wine while you dine. It is available for free (yay!) on Android and iOS devices. Simply head over to your app store or visit www.grappledapp.com to download it.



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