Tuesday, June 3, 2014

How to Shop For Wine

I seem to be finding blogging inspiration in the columns of Lettie Teagues in the Wall Street Journal.  I have always liked her stuff but now, with me in this blogging role, she provides me with a diving board, should I choose to belly flop into a given subject.  On April 5-6, 2014 her column was entitled, "Ask the Shopkeeper to Dictate What You Sip", which is obviously right up my alley.

The difference between a chain grocery store and a small retail wine shop is obvious.  In the chain store the wines lining the shelves are all mass produced and marketed as safe bets proven to satisfy the popular palate.  The mega-wine companies that make them do a good job and having been in the grocery wine business twenty-five years ago, I believe the quality may be better today than when I worked it.  But you probably wouldn't ask anyone for recommendations there because, frankly, there isn't that much difference between the different labels on those shelves.  If the truth be known, many come from the same place.

At one time I was thinking about getting into the liquor store business.  Since I think I know how to sell beer and wine, I asked a couple of suppliers what I should stock liquor-wise.  One fellow recommended I walk into a couple local stores and see what the large displays were and assume that those are the way to go.  It's not rocket science.  So if you were to walk into my shop today, you would see most of the floor space filled with stacks of European and South American wines while relegating the domestic wines to the bins along the periphery.  That's an oversimplification but the truth is my tastes run to the imports.  The domestic bins are full, by the way.

So if this store looks a little foreign to the uninitiated shopper accustomed to grocery store fare, it's my job to engage them with customer service.  In order to secure the right wine suggestion, appropriate questions are in order: "Is this to go with a meal?" "Are you buying a gift for someone?" or  "If this is a cocktail wine, what do you usually like?"  Not assuming anything, it is only prudent that I would always err on the side of a conservative suggestion.

As a wine buyer myself, here's a trick I have learned: If the seller is knowledgeable, look for legitimate emotion in his voice.  If he gets animated when he talks about a wine, it's probably pretty good.  At least he feels that way.  Now since I have a heritage from stock that immigrated from the far northern climes, we don't typically show a lot of emotion, but you know what I mean.

Lettie Teagues, in her column which was our diving board for this post, went to ten wine shops in three major cities, purchasing two $30 bottles recommended in each.  Being an insider in the trade with the requisite palate, she ultimately had problems with close to half of the wines she purchased, meaning she liked most of them with one becoming "my new favorite wine".  Teagues is a professional wine writer in the field so I guess that's about what you can expect.

Next Friday's tasting will feature several California wines, which as a category, seem to have the most aggressive pricing currently.  Please join us between 5 and 8pm and become a "follower" here so all of that all-nighter term paper torture in school will have mattered after all.

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