It's definitely a happy day for wine lovers in the Princeton area. The wine store CoolVines just completed it's first week in it's new location, on Harrison and Nassau. Here's the rundown:
The location is a bit out-of-the-way for students. In particular, it is not within easy walking distance of the Palmer Square/Witherspoon St. area. On the other hand, it is within range of the Blue Point Grill, which is probably the best BYO within reach of student budgets.
The design of the store is elegant and innovative, if a little cramped. Wines are organized by color, body (light-med-full), and price (the cheapest wines are at the bottom, so bring kneepads!). The island at the center of the store functions both as a register and a tasting station, during in-store events.
Their selection needs a bit of work, as they themselves will admit. Currently it seems to be about 1/6th the size of the Corkscrew's. I'll be honest - I hadn't heard of a single wine on their shelves, but the first wine I purchased (a Chinon) was a solid selection. Perhaps their under-the-radar-wines approach is a good thing. They also have selections from New Zealand, Australia, South America, and South Africa - none of which are represented at the Corkscrew.
Their beer selection is already one of the most exciting shelves of alcohol in any store in town. I saw Dogfish Head, Stone, and a bunch of lambics that I will certainly be back for. In addition the spirits section is getting an overhaul, since Eric Mihan is on board. For those of you who didn't shop regularly at the Corkscrew, Eric is a spirits specialist, but also knows his stuff when it comes to wine. He's the go-to guy for cheese pairings, as he used to run Whole Foods' cheese counter.
The best thing about CoolVines is that they have seen what the Corkscrew has failed to acknowledge, and what California wineries have known all along: tastings, tastings, tastings! CoolVines offers free in-store tastings every Wednesday (5-8) and Saturday (2-5). The glasses are little sherry copitas that are oh-so-cute! In contrast, the Corkscrew hasn't had a tasting for months.
Furthermore, CoolVines offers a wide range of services that the Corkscrew doesn't, including wine service at BYO restaurants. While I doubt many students will be taking advantage of that, the wealthier members of the community will find it convenient.
To sum up: Check out CoolVines, but don't abandon the Corkscrew just yet. Mr. Chapuis is definitely the man for France (that is, anti-Parker France), and his French selection is an order-of-magnitude more extensive than CoolVines. For wine geeks who are used to browsing by region, the Corkscrew's layout is probably less of a headache than the CoolVines layout. However CoolVines is more friendly to those of us who haven't memorized thousands of obscure French AOC's, and want to pick up something that will go well with dinner the same night. Plus the people there are cool.