How to find a good wine retailer

good wine retailerThis checklist will help you find the wine drinker’s best friend – a good wine retailer

The Wine Curmudgeon, after suffering through the $3 wine challenge as well as two weeks of cheap wine samples that tasted like alcoholic Big Red soda, needed to buy some quality wine. So I visited a good wine retailer.

Why a good wine retailer? Because they may even be more valuable than a terrific bottle of cheap wine. When I went to Pogo’s in Dallas to rescue my palate from all that junk, Lance Storer guided me to what I wanted. He was even able to answer a question about a wine they didn’t carry. They had sampled it, and decided the quality wasn’t up to Pogo standards – which saved me from buying another lousy wine.

Not quite what you’ll find at the grocery store’s Great Wall of Wine, is it?.

In this, the best retailers are usually independents, who understand the value of customer service. They know it’s their reason for being, and that you’d shop elsewhere if all you cared about was price. Ironically, this is a result of the three-tier system, which has protected the independent retailer from the kind of competition that destroyed local music and book stores.

How does one find a good wine retailer? This checklist will get you started:

• The best retailers do more than sell wine. They help you find wine that you didn’t know you liked. It’s easy to sell someone something they already know about. What’s more difficult, and a mark of the best retailers, is to find something new that fits the parameters of wine you already drink – a Spanish albarino or French picpoul for an Italian pinot grigio, for example, or a fruity rose for a white zinfandel.

• Does the retailer ask questions about your preferences, helping you figure out what you want – red or white, sweet or dry? Or do they steer you to something they assume you’ll like because you’re a woman (sweet wine!) or younger (cute label!)?

• Does the retailer always seem to recommend wine that is on sale, is displayed at the end of an aisle, or highlighted in some other way – regardless of what you like? Many bigger retailers offer incentives to their employees if they meet sales goals or quotas on featured wines, and too often, that takes precedence over what the customer wants.

• Does the retailer answer your questions? Are the answers understandable or in winespeak? And, when you say you don’t understand what he or she means by leathery or oaky, do they smile and explain what they mean in English?

3 thoughts on “How to find a good wine retailer

  • By George Christo -

    So lucky to have several great wine retailers in the DC area, beyond the grocery store.

    Oddly, I had a really good wine-buying experience with a clerk at a Safeway in Bend, OR. It was weird, but he was about as good as anyone I’ve encountered at steering me to producers-I-didn’t-know-but-were-worth-getting on that only vacation trip I made out there. Granted, I stuck to Oregon wines, but 3 years later, it’s still such a unicorn of an experience, I had to mention it.

  • By Rex -

    Who is on the floor? That can make all the difference. Son in law goes to big Specs, says in laws are coming and gets recommendations that are just plain excellent. I go to little Specs. When one guy is there the recommendations and conversations
    are very good. Without him you might as well be at a super. At Costco in San Diego the distributors rep is there two days a week to just talk. No baloney samples just good straight forward info and opinions. People show up just to talk with him and learn something. It makes a difference.

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