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Wineaux 101: Talk it Out

[Editor's note: this is the first of an ongoing VinoRadio series about how to buy wines. Please feel free to let us know about any specific topics you'd like us to cover in future articles!]

Enjoying wine is about buying wines you enjoy…

As an IT program manager, I talk to people from coast to coast on a daily basis. Granted, we don’t talk about wine 99.9% of the time, but somehow the topic always seems to come up. Inevitably, when the voice of the other end finds out I spend Saturdays working in a wine shop, they ask me to recommend wines they should buy.

Now, I could rattle off several wines I’ve enjoyed recently and send them on their merry way, but this does them little good for several reasons. First and foremost, sending them out to find one of these wines in their local wine shop is sending them searching for the needle in the haystack. Secondly, what I am enjoying these days may not be even close to what they enjoy about wine, and even if I did recommend a wine that they manage to find, and they happened to enjoy it, all they’re going to do is ask me for another needle for which to search. So instead, here is what I do…

First, we Google their zip code and the words “wine shop”. Together we chat about the results trying to find several options close to their home, because convenience matters. Once we have a few options, I recommend shops whose primary source of income is wine sales. Why does this matter? If these establishments are able to remain in business, they are keeping their customers happy by selecting quality wines and maintaining customer relationships.

Then I scare the hell out of them when I say, "Now go to the wine shop and talk to the people in the shop." That's whent I hear, “I can’t describe the wines I like”, “I don’t know enough about wine to do that”, and countless variations of the same. To each of them I offer this: all they ever need to know about any wine is “Did YOU like it?” Period. To enjoy it, they need not know who made it, where the grapes are grown, or how it was made, and if they walk into any wine shop that makes them feel uncomfortable about their level of wine knowledge, the wine shop doesn’t deserve your hard earned money. Plain and simple, don’t shop there.
Before they head over to the wine shop, I suggest they write down the name of one of the wines they have enjoyed. If they’re really ambitious, I suggest the next time they drink a wine they like, write down any three words which describe the wine to them. If they do one of these two things, they have vastly improved their chance of leaving the wine shop with a wine they like on their first visit.

I then remind them that every person selling wine was once a wine newbie. No wine salesperson was born knowing Burgundy from Barolo. They learned about their palate just as you will, by buying and drinking wines, and if the salesperson is worth anything, they’ll make you feel welcome in exploring the wine shop together.
When they head over to the wine shop, even if they haven’t done either of my suggestions, they still have to provide some direction to help the salesperson. First, let the salesperson know how much you want to spend per bottle, and be able to answer these two simple questions: Do you want a red or white? Do you like wines from California or from Europe? Even answering these simple questions will help narrow the selections in the shop for the salesperson.

I then recommend that they buy several bottles which the wine salesperson selects, and later, when they drink the wines, to remember which ones they liked. If possible, I suggest they try to find a few words that describe why they liked the wine…fruity, lush, spicy, dry, earthy… whatever they taste, in their own words.
Here is the key part, I tell them to go back to the same wine shop, and even if it is a different salesperson, tell them about the wines you enjoyed. They can then opt to purchase the same wines again or try other wines similar to them in the shop. The goal here is for you, and the wine salesperson, to learn about your palate and the wines you enjoy.

As people become more comfortable with their wine salesperson, and perhaps adventurous with their wine drinking, they can ask the salesperson what wines he or she enjoys. Once again, purchase several of the wines and on your next visit, let the staff know about your experience with those bottles.

Notice I am focusing on two aspects - one is talking to the salesperson about the wines you enjoy. The salesperson is going to miss your palate with some of the recommendations. It is the nature of wine; not every wine will fit your palate. Focus on the positives and make the salesperson feel good about helping you. Second, and most important, is YOU. Wine buying is all about your palate and your money. You should enjoy spending your money on it along with drinking it. Now, go uncork one for me... and please let me know how it goes!

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Reader Comments (1)

Feel like you exposed the rumor behind buying wine. It's EASY! I've worked in wine retail and its amazing, to me at least, how easy it is to direct people to really good wine through very little conversation. Mostly, because we had the chance to taste and really get to know the wine inside and out. And, because we knew, or thought we knew, the best juice for the buck. The whole post echoes the sentiment that I would convey to my customers.

In Atlanta, there are a lot of folks that like sweet wine. Riesling and Gewurztraminer are great examples of how I've grown to believe that sweet wines are the most complex and underrated wine on the market. However, I would have customer's daily come into the store for the first time and want to enjoy something "sweeter". Typically, I can tell if they are uneasy about saying this in the face of our French, Italian, California etc. sections. At that point, I can now tell them about something I really believe is a great wine(s) in the store AND be just as excited to match her taste as she is to buy a bottle and enjoy with a partner, or others, in the convenience of their own space. Something, we ALL eventually do anyway.

So, it all comes down to whatever YOU enjoy and want to get the most out of what you buy.

October 12, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterVintageVoice

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