Drinking wine is the easy part. Discovering wine is the real adventure and can be either enjoyable or painful. Luckily, these days wine lovers and wine neophytes have an ever-increasing array of information sources available to them, some online or in magazines (ahem), and others relying on good ol’ face-to-face interaction. Like most things, the key is knowing which resources to tap when, and how.
The way we buy wine has changed over the years. For several decades a few critics held massive influence over the wine decisions being made in the industry. This has begun to change, though. The primary impetus for this shift—like most things—is the influence of the Internet and social media. Both are full of information about wine, some of which is useful and some, well, not so much.
The best wine purchasing decisions are centered in trust, sources that are fact based rather than taste or sales based. You should also get a good feeling from the sources you’ll come to rely on. Remember, there is really no such thing as a wine expert. There are just wine lovers, some of whom love wine so much they work in the industry. Beware of wine pundits that push an agenda on the drinker. Wine should be fun for everyone. Life’s also too short to listen to people who make you feel bad about the things you don’t know. Don’t listen to anyone who makes you feel guilty that you don’t know what grapes are found in Sancerre (Sauvignon Blanc) or Chianti Classico (Sangiovese). Instead, keep browsing until you find a source that explains the nuances in a welcoming way.
Partners in Wine
Though more and more wine decisions are being made using information found in the wireless world, finding and visiting a good wine shop is still a vital part of the experience. The way we choose a wine merchant is important because we have many expectations when we open a bottle. That’s a lot of pressure on the retailer, whether virtual or brick and mortar.
A successful relationship with a wine seller is based on the interactions being real and the merchant listening and thinking carefully about what the buyer’s needs are. A wine rating or review doesn’t compete with the opinion of a well-versed wine lover who knows your tastes. That term, “a well-versed wine lover,” is far more important than any official status of sommelier or other moniker in the industry. A knowledgeable wine lover will take much more care in guiding a friend or client and that will result in more interesting and pertinent purchases.
To find a great wine merchant, there are a few things to look for. Good wine merchants have a personable staff that is humble with their wine knowledge. They understand that continued education and exploration are keys to appreciation. My favorite merchants also have frequent events, seminars and tastings that introduce the staff and clients to new wine regions, grapes and small producers.
Finding that perfect wine merchant will take some effort, but in the end it will create great wine experiences. There’s nothing worse than opening an expensive wine and being disappointed. A good relationship with a retailer can reduce this risk. You’ll also find that once a merchant understands your preferences, you’ll start spending less, even though you’re drinking better wine.