Monday, August 30, 2010

Rant: Best Advice on Buying Wine

Buying wine can be intimidating and frustrating so let me give you the single, best piece of advice that I can. Forget wine scores, badges, contest medals, critter labels, celebrity endorsements and such. Though they may offer some questionable value to consumers, they are not, by far, the most valuable information you could garner about wine. They could also mislead you, causing you to purchase a wine you will ultimately dislike.

Instead, your best option is to speak to the wine store owner, manager or employee and let that person assist you in finding a wine you will enjoy. It is simple advice but can be extremely effective, provided you shop at the right wine store.

Recently, I visited five wine stores in one day, from Chestnut Hill to Melrose. I had specific reasons for visiting all of the shops, and fortunately some were located fairly close to each other. Those stores which most stood out to me have a commonality: very passionate owners, managers or staff. These are people I have learned to know over time, personable people who I converse with when I visit their shops. They provide me recommendations, and listen to my suggestions. Their advice means much more to me than any mere wine score or gold medal.

Not all wine and liquor stores have such owners or staff. It is like any business, where some people truly have a passion for their work and others just go through the motions. When I visit a wine store where they are just going through the motions, I find myself wanting to leave as soon as possible. You should find those with people with passion and then you will have a wine store you can trust, a place to locate wines you will more likely enjoy. That is one way how small wine stores compete with much larger stores, by having better service. And if you do not avail yourself of their services, you are doing a disservice to yourself.

If you want to select a wine, talk to these people, seek their recommendations and suggestions. Describe to them the types of wine you enjoy, give them an idea of your preferences. They know their inventory and can best direct you toward similar wines to match your preferences. Or they might suggest something new to you, which they think you might also like. The more you interact with these people, the better they will know your preferences and the more able they will become to assist you. Put their wine knowledge to work for you.

If a wine store lacks a passionate owner or staff, I probably won't shop there or recommend it to others. I know I can always find what I seek elsewhere. Even if a particular store does not carry the wine I seek, they can usually order it for me if it is available. There is no real downside to shopping where the passionate people work. I worry about those soulless stores that rely on mainly scores and shelf talkers to do the work for them. I bet they have many unhappy customers.

Let me present four of the five stores that I visited that day, all of which I recommend. These stores are all owned and/or operated by very passionate individuals, and I am sure they will assist you in findings excellent wines.

Lower Falls Wine Company (Newton Lower Falls)
Wine Cellars of MA (Stoneham & Danvers, in B.J.'s Wholesale Club)
Beacon Hill Wine & Gourmet (Melrose)

Visit these stores and place yourself in their capable hands. I bet you will not be disappointed.


Anonymous said...

I work in one of the shops you mention and appreciate the compliment on behalf of our entire staff. Couldn't agree with you more about many owners just treating wine as another business designed to move as many widgets as they can.

Two of my little tests for new shops are to see what the youngest Muscadet is (if it's over a year old, I'm skeptical), and to ask them to show me the Champagne section. If they point to Frexinet and the like, I know what I'm dealing with.

One more shop you should add to your list is Henry's Wine Cellar in Beverly. Fantastic range of wines/beers and extremely pleasant, knowing staff.

Richard Auffrey said...

Thanks for the info. The four shops I listed here are by no means the only stores I recommend. There are passionate owners/employees at a number of other wine stores, many which I have previously reviewed or recommended on my blog. These four just happened to be the ones I recently visited on a single day.

Sam @brokewino said...

I'll take "passionate local winos" for 1000, Alex.

Anonymous said...

Oh, also, let's not forget to mention that Rebecca, the owner of Beacon Hill Wine & Gourmet, gives you a discount on your purchases.