Where you buy your wine says just as much about you as what you buy.
My resolution for 2012 was to dedicate my blog to the exploration and better personal understanding of domestic wine. I’m going to expand on that idea by spouting off a bit with my two cents about wine retail in this country. Now, allow me to step off my real wine soap box for just a second. I don’t give a shit what you drink. You can drink whatever you want, it ultimately doesn’t affect me as much as my vitriolic bite might make it seem. I don’t care if you don’t want to try new grape varieties, styles, or appellations. In the end, what wines you decide to drink have little effect on me. Your money, your palate, your decision. However, where you decide to buy these wines does. Now allow me to step up onto to my small wine shop around the corner soap box.
Wine shops do exist, sometimes you have to search a bit, other times they’re right around the corner especially if you live in a populated, urban setting. The folks that are running these establishments do it because they’re passionate about wine, if they wanted to make sweaty wads of cash they’d just sell stock and bonds, or crack cocaine. It’s a labor of love that we as wine drinkers should have a vested interest in supporting. As enticing as it is to carry out one stop shopping, a wine shop will almost always have better selection, price, and first and foremost, actual wine expertise. Yes, knowledge is something that cannot be bought and sold, only learned through experience. This experience comes from the shop proprietors and their staff having constant contact with their industry, from the wine reps continually exposing the staff to tasting samples from the far-flung corners of the globe, to the onslaught of trade events.
Costco has some damn good prices on wine and a decent, although somewhat limited selection. They also have underwear, televisions, and diapers. At times they employ a wine steward who may even have some sort of wine education. I also know that they do care about the wine industry. I know they have made some inroads in legislature that has benefitted the smaller wine merchants. I also know that your local wine shop does not sell toilet paper or DVDs. They do not offer any other intangibles or services to their customers to fall back on other than wine and wine knowledge.
I know, Bevmo will give you an additional bottle of wine for an extra five cents, and that is very nice of them, but they’re a corporation that sells a lot of booze, and are basically a glorified liquor store that sells more charcoal, and kegs of Coors Light than they do wine.
Grocery stores? Don’t even get me started. It’s where I buy my kids boxes of Count Chocula, and most of the wines they sell there are as interesting and complex as a bowl Reese’s Puffs(no disrespect, I love this cereal)
One of the greatest advantages of buying from your local wine shop is this; the people in these shops might be able to understand and interpret your palate more articulately that you can. Once you begin to form a relationship with a good wine shop, these people will know as soon as you walk in the door what they may have recently brought in for stock that fits your palate profile. They will know what wines they can introduce you to that might be outside of the norm for you. The can assist you in any wine odyssey you may be considering embarking on. You know very little about Tokaji? Well there’s only one bottle of it on the shelf at Costco and probably none at a grocery store, and without doubt, no one in sight who has even a clue as to what Tokaji is, how it’s made, and why it is so relevant and vital to the wine world even after centuries. Your local wine shop can help you get your feet wet.
My family is from a small village in Gipuzkoa, Euskadi called Gaztaintxabal. When you purchase wine, you head down to the vinoteca, Where a gruff old man wearing a txapela named Txetxu will only ask you three questions; Zuria (white), Beltza (literally black, but means red with wine), or Arrosa (pink). You may think that Txetxu isn’t giving you many options, you might like to peruse around the shop on your own, the thing is Txetxu knows you, you’re his customer. He is well aware that on Sundays you have Bacalao al Pil Pil as a religion. He already has a bottle picked out for you, because he knew you were already coming down to the shop. You do not question Txetxu.
This is what a wine shop is to me, and why I’m so glad to be part of the familiar dynamic that these small but personal merchants present. These are the sensations and experiences you can’t get from a place with a membership card or a shopping cart the size of an SUV.