You may think this sounds a bit over the top, but when I buy wine, it is a personal experience. Gary and I do not share the same wine preferences, so I am always in search of wines that are in our middle ground. They need not be too fruit-forward (aka fruity) and jammy for Gary and not too many tannins (aka mouth parching) or high alcohol content for me. Finding wines that meet these criteria without guidance from wine experts would be a significant challenge if not purely a guessing game. And I have done that all before but choose not to any longer. It is for these reasons why I prefer to shop at an independent wine store.
Pitfalls and Lessons
On May 5th, I mentioned the price gouging that grocery stores will employ to sell wine. Then on May 21st, I talked a lot about some of the pitfalls of buying wines in grocery stores and wine superstores with some limited information about specialty stores with curated wine selections and independent wine stores. When I recently went back to read that post, I realized that there is so much more to tell about why you really do want to find the right retailer to and make the switch to an independent store. So the following are a few situations that actually happened to Gary and me as we navigated our wine journey.
Wine Critics and Their High Scores
Did I ever mention the time I bought a bottle of red wine at Costco that I was not at all familiar with solely because wine critic Robert Parker gave it a rating of 96 out of 100? This is an “almost perfect” wine. What could make this not an “almost perfect” bottle of wine for Gary and me to share? How about everything. It was at least ten years ago so I can not recall the specific features of the wine that we did not like but the bottle went down the drain in spite of the cost. If I had only known then, that Costco accepts returns on practically everything; even if you do not “like” it after opening it. That sucker would have been returned.
Later I was told something along the lines of “just because Robert Parker likes liver and onions does that mean you like liver and onions?” Ratings like these tell you very little, other than the person or persons who tasted the wine really liked the wine, it more than likely comes from a winery with an impeccable pedigree and best practices, and unless you are an identical twin to the reviewer all, that means nothing to you.
The Label is Pretty
Admit it! Come on, admit it. You too have bought a bottle of wine because you thought the wine label was pretty, or artistic or captivating. Then sometimes when you open the wine you like it a lot, or at least enough to drink it but equally as often it sucked. ‘Nuff said, but wine labels are marketing tools, and it is meant to get your attention but has nothing to do with what is inside the bottle. But when you shop in a store without someone who has tasted that wine or has reliable information about that particular wine it is a crap shoot at best. Come on lucky sevens!
Our First Independent Wine Store
Then we started buying our wine at a small independent wine store. To be honest, I recognized not a single brand in the shop. I was surprised to see that they were not just displayed by country of origin but also by grape varietal and/or region/appellation or sub-appellation.
“Put that Down”
Something else happened after some time of shopping in this independent wine store. I picked up a bottle of wine and began to look at the label and read the information on the back of the bottle. From across the room, the store owner said, “Rick, is that bottle for you or Gary?” I said, “me.” And her response was. “Put that down. You will hate it.” So I did; I put it down. Gary walked over to see what was going on. She then said to Gary, “if that wine is for you, you will love it.” So he bought it and when we both tried to drink it; I hated it, and Gary loved it. She had learned what we like based on past purchases and the questions she would ask us about the previous wine purchases.
It is this kind of service that keeps us coming back to her store. This happened at The Wine Shop at 3 Lockwood Ave. Debbie is somewhat of a wine savant when it comes to her customers. Not everyone is a fan but she knows what she sells and to whom.
The perfect wine for your 4th of July dinner
I recently went to a new independent wine store that opened within the last month. It is called Monarch Wine Merchants and it is really something. I promise to tell you all about the store soon, but I wanted to share my first experience and why this store and others like it are where you need to be buying your wine.
My first visit was prior to the July 4th holiday. The store has only been open for a few weeks but I wanted to introduce myself to Justin Coleman, the owner and see what his wine store was about. It is fairly safe to assume that if I walk into a wine store, I will walk out with wine. But there have been experiences in the past when that was not the case. At any rate, we start talking and I ask questions about the store and he asks questions about the wines I like. I like what I am hearing and I ask him to tell me about some of the wines he is excited about. I know, it’s a loaded question. It is a new store and he is excited about everything. But he honed in on my likes.
Talking wine usually segues into food and I mention spicy BBQ ribs for the 4th of July. He pulls a bottle of François Pinon Les trois argiles 2015 Vouvray from the Loire Valley in France. It is a demi-sec wine which translated means “half-dry.” On a scale from 1-5, it is a 3, this Vouvray is not a dry wine and not a sweet wine but somewhere in the middle. Why recommend this? Because our ribs recipe has a spicy kick to them and spicy food goes well with sweeter wines. Gary and I are not “sweeter wine” guys but I want and need to trust Justin. This is our first foray selecting a wine and I want it to be spot on.
Spot On or Off?
So even though our holiday was interrupted, we eventually ate those ribs and drank that wine. So was Justin spot on? Yes, I loved it. My first sip was a bit of a shock due to the sweetness but once I began eating and drinking and eating and drinking… it was the perfect wine for this dinner. For Gary, not so much. He felt it was too sweet for him although he did drink his entire glass. Lastly, my sister was in agreement with me. Justin did great. I told him what I liked, not what Gary liked and I did not ask that he consider Gary in this selection. So, all in all, it was the right selection and I was very happy.
How does this example fit into a post about the independent wine store? This wine is a million miles away from what I would have picked out on my own. It would not have occurred to me to choose a white wine, let alone a demi-sec. And I doubt that any employee at a superstore would have listened that intently to take the leap and provide a brand new wine experience for a first time customer.
Independent Wine Store – Yes or No?
For me it is a no-brainer, when shopping for wine in my hometown I will frequent the independent wine store. Where they take the time to get to know me and my wine profile. And will take calculated risks in selecting something new for me. Will they get it right every time, probably not but I would venture to guess they will offer suggestions far better and more informed than I would ever know on my own or get at the grocery or superstore.
There is so much to learn on this wine journey. I gave up on wine critic scores years ago. I gave up on marketing tactics as well. Now I want someone who tastes the wine they sell and, who is well informed about what they are selling. Someone who listens to me as I take each new step on my journey. And lastly, someone who is vested in the community.
More on Monarch Wine Merchants in a future post but check him out in the meantime. Monarch is at 1107 King Street, Suite B, next to the Harbinger Cafe.
Phone is +1 (843) 576-4845
That is all for now.