Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Choosing a Wine Store

In two weeks, on Tuesday, May 9, The Passionate Foodie blog will have its 10th Anniversary! I've been spending time surveying the over 4100 posts I've written, contemplating all the myriad subjects I've covered. As I've looked back across those ten years, I decided to repost my first article yesterday. Today, I'm going to repost my second article, which actually was posted on the same day as my first article. It remains as relevant now as it did way back then. Look for more of my memories during the next couple weeks.

(The follow article was originally posted on December 12, 2007).

If you wish to just pick up a bottle of wine, something under $10, then almost any store would do. Any local package store, grocery store or wine shop could cater to that need. But, what if you desire more than that? What if you are looking for a good wine store, a place to buy some different wines, maybe a case or two? What are the factors that differentiate the good wine stores from the mediocre ones?

Price: One of the primary factors for many people is price. We all want a good bargain when making any purchase. And wine prices can vary, sometimes significantly from store to store. You can see the price for the same bottle vary from $1 to $20 dependent where you buy it. Some stores cater to less expensive wines, such as $15 and under. Other stores have a variety, with some less expensive wines but also a selection of pricier ones too. Much will depend on the type of wine you are seeking.

Bottle price alone is not always indicative of the expense of a store. Many stores offer discounts, such as 10-20%, for purchasing a case of wine. And usually that can be a mixed case. So, even though a store's prices may be a bit higher than another store, the case discount may even matters out. In addition, some places run regular sales where you can get bargains. There are also stores that run promotions where you earn points based on your purchases, providing special gifts once you have acquired a certain amount of points.

Selection: You generally want a store that has a diverse selection of wines. Who wants to see the same old wines all the time? Some stores specialize in certain wine regions. Others may sell wines from more unusual regions. A good selection will also include varied prices, from $10 to $100 bottles, something for everyone. Remember that there are literally thousands of wines available so no store can carry them all. But, do look for places that try to acquire a good variety of wines from a number of regions.

Service: You want friendly and helpful staff at a good store. They should have a good knowledge of wine and those they sell. They should be personable and not snooty and pretentious. They should make you feel welcome rather than nervous. They should offer suggestions and recommendations without being pushy. Good service can include being able to order wine for you if they do not carry what you want.

There are a number of other factors, of less importance, but which can enhance or detract from your wine buying experience.

Appearance: A good wine store is clean and should not have dust all over their wine bottles. Display racks should be easy to see the individual bottles and their prices. They might have note cards describing the wines, or providing ratings and reviews from wine magazines.

Tastings: A good wine store will hold free tastings where you can try some of their wines. This can help you decide on which wines you might like to buy. Many stores now have weekly tastings.

Extras: A good wine store will sell more than just wine. They might sell other alcoholic drinks, from beer to hard liquors. They might also sell various foods, such as cheeses, chocolates and sauces. This can make the wine store a better one-stop place to stock up for a festive evening.

Website/Email: A good wine store will have a website providing information about the store and any upcoming events. Some even may an email list that will keep you up to date on their events.

But, there is one factor which I think is the most important of all. Passion.

Passion: The best sign of a good wine store is the passion of the owner. You can see that passion in them when they help you, when they answer your questions and make suggestions. The owner clearly enjoys wine, and is sincere in desiring to spread that joy to others. You can see that passion in them when they help you, when they answer your questions and make suggestions. These are the store owners who will truly work at making a good store. They will take care to make your experience as fine as possible. Their passion will show in every aspect of their wine store, elevating them above the rest.

No one wine store will probably cater to all of your needs, especially selection-wise. So, it is beneficial to visit different wine stores, to see what wines they offer that other stores do not. Your favorite wine store might not stock Greek wines but another store might. Your favorite wine store might sell 12 different Oregon pinot noirs but you might be looking for an Oregon producer that your store does not sell. But, in the end, you will probably have one or two wine stores which you frequent often, those places which you feel are the best. And I am willing to bet that the owners of those places have a true passion for wine.


Rob Ciampa said...

Congratulations, Richard! You're a friend, an inspiration, and an asset to the wine and food world. This piece has stood the test of time quite well. I'd like to add my own comment/rant: wine has such a natural affinity with food that it's increasingly important that staff in wine shops understand pairing. Too bad that's frequently not the case. Evan Goldstein has done a fabulous job covering the nuances of food and wine pairing in his books. Does one need to be a "foodie" to love wine? Certainly not, but for those working in wine shops understanding what's on the plate is just as important as what's in the glass.

Richard Auffrey said...

Thanks so much Rob! And I would fully agree with your comment. It is also very important that wine store employees be able to help their customers with food & wine pairings. I know that at the wine shop where I work, I'm regularly asked about such matters. It is definitely something consumers want help with.