Raising Your Game or How to Buy Wine like a Pro: Six Steps to Help You Avoid Common Pitfalls
So you are looking to buy some wine. Who isn’t these days? Wine has exploded on to the scene and dinner tables of Americans all over this country. It happened slowly at first but then it gained momentum and took off like a bottle rocket. The speed of this shift in the drinking habits of Americans has left some of us bewildered and others lagging behind. Do not fret; we will get you up to speed in no time. Wine is not like any other beverage on the planet and thus buying it is not like buying any other beverage. What I mean to say here is that buying wine is not like buying your kids milk or your beer for the game. Here in Virginia it is not even like buying Bourbon or Scotch because when you buy wine you can interact with someone who knows the products, who is an actual professional not just a store clerk or stock boy.
Wine buying is deeply personal, at times a little bit intimidating, and yet very exciting, at least it should be. You should not just be looking to buy the same thing every time you are looking to buy wine, because then you are not buying wine, you are buying a brand. Sure brands are seen as safe and reliable, but that is not what wine and wine buying is about. Wine is not safe. It is volatile. It changes over time, changes year to year, vintage to vintage, changes if depending on storage, wine maker, and vineyard ownership… the list goes on. This is how people become intimidated by wine, how they lose the excitement, why they turn to the “safe” wines, the brand name wines that you see on every grocery store shelf, in the mega stores, even in gas stations. Here are few tips for you next trip to buy wine, tips to keep it exciting and worry free, after all the experience should be a fun one, minimizing the stress and maximizing the fun. That is part of my job and I enjoy that aspect of it, if I didn’t, I would not be selling wine and I would not be offering you these tips.
Step one, buy from professionals whenever possible. Wherever you shop make sure you are not doing yourself a disservice, i.e. please buy someone who knows the products, not just how they were made or taste, but how they were stored. Wine shops and their employees should be able to tell you how long that product has been in the store and how it was handled. Trust me; you do not want to buy wine that was stored improperly.
Step two, have a budget in mind and let the professionals know up front. One of the most difficult issues that I face as a wine professional has to do with your budget for wine and your reluctance to share that vital piece of information with me. I do not care how much or little you are budgeting for a bottle or case but I need to know what the number is. Please do not say vague things like I want a middle priced wine. Middle priced is subjective, everyone’s middle is different. For some it is under $20 and for others under $60. As long as I have been doing this, and it has been a while now, I have yet to learn how to read minds and I do not know how much money is in your wallet. So please when I ask, and I am going to ask, be up front, it makes the whole process easier and I can avoid trying to read your mind and facial expressions as I provide options for your bottle of red for the evening.
Step three, do your homework. Simply put, know what you like or are looking for, and be descriptive (I cannot stress this enough). I am not advocating for you to extensively read up on wine profiles, terroir, and become a professional overnight or indeed at all. Rather I am asking for you to come in and tell me something more than “I had this wine and I think it was white, it was good, do you have it?” (This is an actual question I have had to answer countless times.) If you come in and say, I think I am looking for a crisp white with a medium body and a nice acidity I can better direct you than if you come in and utter the aforementioned question.
Step four, don’t be alarmed when I start asking questions. More questions than you may think possible and even necessary; even if you have done your homework. Want a wine to go with a steak dinner? Great! What cut of steak? How is it prepared? Aged beef? What sides? Want a young or aged wine? New or Old World? Have a preference for specific region? Taste? I am not being nosy, really I am not, I am sorting through my mental Rolodex of wines I have tried recently and beyond, what’s in the store, and how each would work out with the description of food you have given me.
Step five, take chances. Part of the fun in shopping for wine is finding something new to try. You might not always love every wine you try and buy but you just might find something that you absolutely fall in love with. We at Oakton Wine Shop are enthusiastic about wine, it is an absolute passion and something that drives us… actually it consumes us. We are constantly tasting, thinking, and discussing wine. We have new and exciting wines coming into the store each week and there is always something new. Let us talk to you about what is new; what is inspiring us, what blew us away recently. Maybe you will be similarly inspired and branch out from the same old into new horizons.
Step six. Relax and Enjoy. Wine buying should not be stress inducing. You are buying wine, not a car, not a house. Wine. Wine is meant to be enjoyed. That’s why it is made, that’s why we sell it, and that’s why you are buying it. So please enjoy the experience of buying it. If you follow these rather simple five steps you will have no issue with this final one, and you will find yourself enjoying both the wine and the process.