Friday, May 3, 2013

Why You Should Patronize Your Local Wine Shop

Publisher’s Note: The TWAV Tasting Team is out of the office on a wild wine adventure. So today we are sharing one of our most important posts from our archives – about why you should be buying your wine in your locally owned wine shop. Although it is written from a Toledo perspective, it applies to any community. Enjoy.

In the Toledo area there you have a multitude of options when buying wine. You see wine in scores of discount chain stores and upscale supermarkets. Online wine stores are just a click away. Most of the time, though, your best bet is to purchase wine at your local wine shop.
I previously worked on Central Avenue in Toledo and was just a couple minutes away from the Vineyard, which was formerly located in Westgate (now in Sylvania). This was a great opportunity to pop over during the lunch hour and pick up a bottle for the weekend or special occasion. I really enjoyed giving gifts to my directors at holiday time because I got to pick out about 10 nice bottles of wine. To me the experience of buying wine in a nice store with educated staff is worlds apart from grabbing a bottle of non-descript wine in a Kroger and leaving with a brown paper bag.

A well-informed wine shop owner or staff member is an excellent source of sound buying advice and tips about what's new and interesting in the store. They can also help find special wines that may be hard to find.  About a year ago my wife and I had special visitors from the University of St. Petersburg in Russia. I wanted to have a nice Chardonnay that would make our meal very special.

I stopped in at Aficionado in Perrysburg and asked for help from Steve Parks, the owner. He directed me to a Blackjack Chardonnay that he said was outstanding and at a special price.

If you don’t take advantage of the knowledge of the staff, you may be missing out on some real deals and great wines.  When a purchaser for a wine store or wine department (in stores like Andersons or Walt Churchill’s Market) select wines they use their past experience with respected producers and consult wine publications. Next, they taste wines. Lots of them. Relying on their skills, they bring together the quality and the price to deliver value to the customer. If it doesn’t make the cut, it’s not on the shelves. For a good wine shop, there is no bad wine. If it’s not good they don’t carry it.

This is not the case with the large supermarkets. There you may be limited to a selection of only popular wines that appeal to the masses. You’re also (typically) out of luck if you want staff to recommend wine that will suit your taste.  I’m not blasting Kroger or Meijer or Giant Eagle. There are some diamonds mixed in with the gravel. The costs are definitely low. However, there are parts of the wine spectrum that will never be seen at these stores. Also, these large chain stores don’t need your help and patronage to stay in business. They sell plenty of bread, Cheerios and Pop-Tarts. 

In addition, a wine shop pays special care to keep its wine in ideal storage conditions. Wine is perishable and can react badly to fluctuations in temperature and humidity. Avoid, for example, wine that has been kept in direct sunlight.  I want to draw a distinction here between your typical supermarket, where wine is a sideline, and Andersons and Walt Churchill’s Market.

Andersons and Churchill’s have long-time reputations for quality wines and knowledgeable staff. Sometimes I think Andersons has the best of all worlds – a great hardware store with power tools and aisle after aisle of unique, quality wines and beers. I became acquainted with Churchill’s through their store on Central Avenue and was always pleased with their attention to their wine offerings. It is great to see them back in Perrysburg. Their wine section in their Maumee store is truly impressive.  In contrast to the typical supermarket, at the wine shop you can find really high end wines from the most important wine regions. You can also enjoy the fun of a wine tasting that feels like a special occasion.

The tastings at Corks or Aficionado, for example, give you an opportunity to taste wines around a given theme, rub elbows with fellow wine lovers and learn a thing or two in the process. At the end of the event, you can pick up a bottle of your favorite wine. Each week we will feature a posting of the upcoming wine tastings and events. 

You’ll be pleasantly pleased to find that specialty wine shops offer a wide range of prices in addition to the widest selection of wines from around the world. Many local wine stores have moved their bargain wines to the front of the store and devote a fair percentage of their buying to lower-priced quality wines that represent good value. There are many bargains from places like Argentina, Spain, Chile and Australia that are light on the wallet but highly rated by wine publications like Wine Spectator. 

Your local wine shop is there to help you find a wine that suits your taste and your budget. It’s a “win-win” for both parties. (Emphasis on parties!)
Photo by Kathleen Tyler Conklin

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