High anxiety — demystifying wine shopping

Even if we love wine, why is it that wine shopping can cause such anxiety? I guess it comes down to an overwhelming selection and a difficulty in distinguishing among the choices. Without devoting your life to learning about all of the wines of the world — which actually doesn’t sound like such a bad idea to me — how do you navigate the embarrassment of riches in a quality wine store?

But let me back up here. The first step is to make sure you’re in a quality store, even if you have to travel a bit to get there. But how can you tell? There are a number of ways.

First, recommendations from friends are probably best. If you have wine-knowledgeable friends, ask them where they shop. If that is not an option, look for a store with an aesthetic you like. You’re looking for a store owner with taste, and I believe that carries over into the atmosphere of the store.

Next, consider what kind of vibe the store gives. Are there floor-stacks of bottles with cute labels, which often means mass-produced brands designed by marketing departments? Or do the wines look like they came from a real winery, where tradition and hands-on winemaking still carry sway? Are the shelves well stocked and maintained? In other words, does it look like someone knows about wine … and cares?

Finally, talk to the people. Do they offer suggestions based solely on price, critic’s scores or nothing but the most general statements (not good)? Or do they seem familiar with the bottles in the store, discussing what each wine is like and why you might select it (good)? And do they ask questions of you – your preferences, styles and price ranges, etc.? Are they engaging, friendly and respectful? In sum, do they make the shopping experience relaxed and enjoyable? If not, then I would suggest looking for a more congenial store.

Now that you’ve found a tasteful store run by cordial and cooperative people with a selection of what appear to be honest wines, what do you do? Accept the first bottle they put in your hands and run? No!!! You’ve gotten this far, so don’t panic!

The best hope for finding a wine you like is to buy one similar to what you have liked previously. That’s where our friend, the smartphone, can help. Few people can remember the names of all the wines they have drunk and enjoyed, so snap photos of your favorite bottles and show them to the store employees.

They will — or should — immediately gain an idea of your taste and be able to recommend accordingly. In the process they may even describe elements of what you have enjoyed previously and are now purchasing, so on top of everything else, you will begin to develop a vocabulary that might help make future purchases even easier.

So why are you still reading this? Let’s get shopping!

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