Wine Wednesday-Choosing Your Wine Shop

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I had a really bad experience in one of my favorite wine shops last week. I won't name it by name, because I hope it was a one-time event brought on by an inexperienced employee. In the same way that it's unfair to write a bad restaurant review after one trip, I don't want to slam a good local business because somebody had a bad day. Besides, I was a newbie at my job once too.

So I decided to take lemons and make lemoncello. In logic, there is the concept of the contrapositive where one uses the negative of the negative to prove the positive. I figured I'd use the experience to discuss ways how I (and you) might go about choosing your favorite grape monger.

It was intended to be an easy trip. I had received an email announcing a sale on one of my favorite house wines and wanted to duck in to buy a few bottles. While I was at it, I figured I'd buy a few bottles of Spanish Cava for my girlfriend to enjoy while I was out of town over the weekend. "Zip in, zip out. It'll be like going to Wisconsin."

I walked in the front door and started looking for the wine that was on special.

1. Mark your prices clearly, especially your sales.

The wine I was looking for was tucked in the corner facing away from the windows. The shelf talker had fallen over and most of the bottle labels were facing the wrong direction. I'm just not smart enough to figure that out very quickly.

2. Know what your specials are, especially the ones you emailed out that very morning.

I approached the service desk and waited a few minutes for one of the workers to get off the phone. I'm a patient guy, generally, but this was obviously not a customer call. No biggie, I could wait.

3. Don't act like I'm interrupting your evening by asking a question. I may be planning to order hundreds of dollars worth of wine.

I ended up having to show him the printout of the special to help him find the wine I was looking for and to prove that I wasn't making up the quoted price. It was only two dollars cheaper per bottle, but I bought a case.

4. Please walk that fine line between obviously knowing more about wine than I do without making me feel stupid.

After we both found the discounted wine, I asked about some Cavas. "Do whut?" he asked. I explained they were Spanish wines that were like champagne, but not as fizzy. I wasn't trying to talk down to him; that's just the best way I know how to explain it. He took me to the refrigerator section where the cheap sparkling wines were.

5. Make an effort to figure out what I like and recommend something new.

I politely pointed out that I was looking for something from Iberia, not Modesto. The sales person pretty much gave up and said he didn't know anything about Spanish wines and pointed me toward the Tempranillos. Luckily, the store was laid out clearly (by someone else) so I eventually found what I was looking for on my own.

Now I'm not a wine snob or a cellar collector. But I buy wine in big enough quantities that my car asks me to buckle it in when I put the case in the passenger seat. I recommend that you choose one or two local wine shops and get to know the employees. Let them know what you like and dislike, and don't be afraid to tell them how much you want to spend. A good merchant will have suggestions at various price levels that will offer you chances to try something new.

Those folks are worth their weight in Cabernet. Stick with them.

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