Yes, it's big. But Total Wine & More offers more than sheer volume

This latest branch of the fine wine and liquor giant, opened up in Norwalk in December, making it the company's 89th superstore across 14 states. Offering 8,000 different wine brands from around the globe, 2,500 beers and 3,000 different spirits.

It felt like a dream when I entered a massive, high-ceilinged warehouse-style store—a virtual Ali Baba’s cave of treasures. As I strode through aisles the length of city blocks, I beheld thousands of wine bottles and seemingly every spirits brand known to mankind. As a wine and spirits scribe, I was a kid in a candy store.

This latest branch of the fine wine and liquor giant, Total Wine & More, opened in Norwalk in December, making it the company’s 89th superstore across 14 states. The statistics of this location are astonishing: 8,000 different wine brands from around the globe, 2,500 beers and 3,000 different spirits. One thing is certain: This store is not for the indecisive.

When visiting the 35,000-square-foot store, I learned of brothers David and Robert Trone, who started Total Wine & More in 1991. Now the country’s largest independent fine wine retailers, the Trones have plans for 11 new stores this year. They first started in the beer business in Pennsylvania in the mid ’80s. Under Pennsylvania law, then and now, beer can only be sold by the 24-bottle case. So, they came up with a business model “big volume, small margins,” which has served them to this day. They price everything at razor-thin markups.

Navigating the selection at Total Wine & More, I felt giddy on seeing the wine prices. It made me want to grab bottles from the shelves and fill the cart. Highly trained sales consultants are there to help on the journey of discovery, which can be supplemented by wine, beer and spirits classes and a “Meet the Maker” series in the on-premise classroom.

I started my tour with Old World wines (organized by European country) and headed straight to the Bordeaux and Burgundy sections. Next I hit Italy, touring Barolo and Tuscany. I followed the “Wine Team Picks” signs from the store’s experts, especially “Alfio Moriconi Selections.” Moriconi is the store’s European liaison, who buys from small wine producers. The company imports (through wholesalers) directly, again allowing for low pricing. My expedition continued to the New World wines (America, Argentina, Chile, etc.), which are organized by grape variety. I marveled at 112 feet of Cabernet Sauvignon on six continuous shelves.

My advisor was most informative about the selection of small-batch beers. Shelves of individual craft brews from around the world were organized by different styles—pale ale, lager, porter, stout, specialty hybrid. In the Belgian section, I eyed a 3-liter bottle of Corsendonk Abbey Brown, which seemed the right choice for a Belgian baroness. “Make your own six-pack” boxes are the perfect opportunity to sample little-known labels, such as Clown Shoes, an American wheat beer, and Blue Point, a Vienna lager.

The spirits collection was exhaustive. Flavored vodka is the hot ticket, I was told, especially Chocolate Whipped, Cookie Dough and Whipped Cream from Pinnacle Vodka, and Tutti Fruiti and Orange Dream from Poppin’. With all the interest in resurrecting old cocktail recipes, the cordial display was a gold mine of the classics—B&B, Cherry Heering, Crème Yvette—and new exciting concoctions like Amarula Cream Liqueur.

I could spend hours just walking around and admiring all the labels. With these prices, even for this Manhattanite, it’s worth a destination shopping trip to Norwalk to load up on bargain magnum bottles and obscure brands like Rumple Minze, Goldschläger and Kinky Liqueur.