Have you ever walked into a wine store and told the salesperson that you were just browsing because you felt a little intimidated and didn't have a clue what you were looking for? Maybe you walked around aimlessly, staring blankly at all those rows of bottles thinking, "how do I decide which one to buy?". Or have you ever thought that the salespeople must be total wine geeks and you're afraid of asking a dumb question? Did you leave the store without buying anything, picking up some beer at the local grocery store instead? Or did you go home and open a bottle that you already knew you didn't like but it was already sitting there in your fridge?
Don't let unfounded fears hold you back from finding a great bottle of wine—if you want to learn about wine, you have to start somewhere and your local wine merchant is a great place to begin expanding your knowledge. People who work in wine stores are usually eager to share their passion and knowledge on the subject. They'll ask the right questions to try and figure out just the type of wine you'd enjoy most. One of my greatest joys in this business is when I recommend a particular bottle to a customer and they come back and buy it again or, even better, when they tell me that my recommendation was so good that they want some other suggestions. But it's not all up to the salesperson to try and figure out what you want. Your job in the process is to be able to communicate what you're looking for.
Get that perfect bottle for your table tonight!
Like most things in life, you'll end up with better results if you communicate clearly what you want. So, before you jump up and head out to your local wine store, take a few moments to prepare yourself to walk into that store and confidently ask for help.
- Price. There are good wines to be found at most price points—don't be afraid to say, "I want to spend under $20" or whatever your limit is. Good salespeople will be able to offer several suggestions in your price range and they should know wine regions that offer the best bang for your buck, from places you may not have thought of. All wine stores carry both inexpensive and expensive bottles of wine and they are there to be sold! In fact, most wine merchants, even the higher-end ones, make the largest percentage of their sales by moving a lot of the less pricy wine, so don't feel like you'll be seen as a penny pincher if you aren't spending your week's salary on a bottle of wine. And if you do have money to burn, go for it! Tell the salesperson that you want to spend more than say, $50 or $100 and discover some incredible wines.
- Style of Wine. Get to know your preferred style of wine and how to communicate what you are looking for. Do you like fruity wines? What about dry or sweet wines or those that are light or full-bodied? How about the taste and feel that the wine leaves in your mouth? Do you like it smooth or spicy, tart or sweet? Even one varietal of wine, Chardonnay for example, can be made in many different styles, such as crisp and minerally versus creamy and buttery. Learn some common wine descriptors by reading Wine Folly's article "Wine Tasting Terms And How To Use Them" and be prepared to say with confidence the type of wine you are looking for. But remember that reading and talking about wine can only get you so far! The best way to know if you like a wine is to taste it. Most wine stores conduct free wine tastings every week. Find out when your local shop pours wine and stop by. It's a great way to learn while having fun too. And always keep in mind that you know what you like better than anyone else does, so don't be intimidated by others' preferences.
- Food Pairings. If you know what you'll be having to eat with the wine, tell the salesperson. You won't get the same recommendation for your lamb stew as you would for the grilled halibut. Maybe you're having people over and serving a few courses and want to buy three different wines to pair with each course. Maybe you're having a buffet and need one white wine and one red wine that could easily pair well with many dishes. The more information you can give to the salesperson, the more likely you will go home with the right bottle of wine for the occasion. And speaking of occasions, tell the salesperson if you are celebrating a special one or if it's just a simple weeknight dinner because the recommendations for either of those should be quite different no matter how much you spend.
Recommended Manhattan Wine Merchants:
Astor Wines, 399 Lafayette Street (at East 4th St), 212-674-7500. Tastings held frequently on weekdays from 5:00 - 8:00pm and Saturdays from 3:00 - 6:00pm.
Bottlerocket, 5 West 19th Street, 212-929-2323. Click on the events page of their website or call for more information on weekly tastings.
Crush Wine & Spirits, 153 East 57th Street, 212-980-9463. Call for information on tastings.
Grape Collective, 2669 Broadway (between West 101st & 102nd St), 212-222-3640. Tastings held Fridays and Saturdays from 5:30 - 8:00.
Le Du's Wines, 600 Washington Street, 212-924-6999
Millesima USA, 1355 Second Avenue (between East 71st & 72nd St), 212-639-9463. Tastings held on Thursdays from 5:00 - 8:00.
67 Wine & Spirits, 179 Columbus (at West 68th Street), 212-724-6767. Tastings daily. Call for more information.
Verve Wine, 24 Hubert Street, 212-810-2899