Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Take Their Advice: Why to Trust your Wine Shop Staff

Recently one of the discussions threads in my LinkedIn group was asking how people decide to try a new wine. It was asking how people take the plunge with a high priced bottle of wine. Having traveled Northern California's wine country extensively, and having seen a good deal of the European wine country, I know there is a lot I don't know. I also know there are so many wines, I could never get to know a tiny fraction of them. So how can a consumer wade through the wine section and make a good decision, let along sink some major cash into 750 mls of a perishable product.

Well, for many people, wine scores help. I am perfectly happy to read my Wine Spectator and see how wines are doing. When I get a fancy bottle at an auction or as a gift, I steal away to my computer to see how it fared with the palates of those who taste a lot of wine. While I keep my own tasting notes, it is fun to look at those of the experts and see if I detected the same characteristics.

But I'm a big fan of trying the road less traveled, and there are a lot of wines out there that never make it in front of the wine critics. So when I go into a wine shop to try some new wines, what do I do? I ask the wine shop staff what I should try. Yes, I use some sage advice I gleaned from the Wall Street Journal's former wine writers, and tell the clerk what my budget is--which is often $20, $15 or $10 and lower. When I have a good clerk they don't see these price points as a problem, but more as a challenge. I've had some great $8 wines that to this day I want more of.

So why the heck would I trust a clerk at a wine shop? Because they often get to taste the wines, and at a good shop, have tasted all the wines they recommend, and know my palate. Dick's Picks at Taylor's market seem to be perfect for my tastes--and are often unusual wines I wouldn't have tried otherwise.

I also encourage people to go to wine shops where they can try before they buy. Getting to have a taste of the $50 Napa Cab before you buy it makes you know you are going to like it, and maybe even buy an extra bottle for a friend. Here locally Selland's market does a great job of letting you have several nice wines to try that are also for sale in the small wine shop. Too often I walk out of there with a mixed case running the gamut of bottle prices.

So, next time that nice person at the wine shop asks you if you need help--say yes. Don't be afraid to tell them your budget, and say what your preferences are. I've even made friends this way--Corti Bros has been a great wine buying venue for me for years now.

And whether the wine shops like it or not, I do like to know when a wine scores well with the critics. But they themselves are some of my favorite critics.

And one last thing. Don't think you know nothing about wine, but only what you like. You know something already--what you like. Go out and see what else you might like, and enjoy yourself.

No comments: