Its all well and good for wine bloggers to promote their favorite pours, but how does one go about finding them? If you live in the greater Boston area, I have provided a link to my favorite local spot. However, there are a few handy dandy rules that can help you determine whether your local package store is up to snuff or if you need to find another pronto.
- Beaujolais Nouveau on the shelves in February: The quintessential youthful wine, Beaujolais Nouveau is bottled & released a mere 6-8 weeks after harvest. It is gorgeous, bright & fresh when first released, and has a super short shelf life. Unless you are dealing with a top notch producer, it starts to go downhill shortly after the new year. I am immediately skeptical of spots that put stacks of it on sale in the springtime. Either they dont know their customers well enough to figure out how much to order, or they don't mind foisting sub par product onto patrons. Either way, not cool.
- Upright bottles on barren shelves: Ditto dusty, dirty bottles. The best way to store wine is horizontally: it keeps the corks moist, which prevents oxidation (aka your vino turning to vinegar). This is basic wine 101. If your store moves a ton of product on a regular basis, then that's kind of ok (I'm thinking of grocery stores that lack designated wine departments, or maybe a shop or two with storage issues ). For the most part, however, if you see bottles stored like this, you aren't in a wine shop: you're in a liquor store that happens to sell wine - get out of there ASAP.
- Obnoxious Staff: Just as unhappy families are each unhappy in their own way, so can a shop's staff each be sub-par in their own way. This sort of behavior can run the gamut: Are they disdainful of your penchant for White Zinfandel or Boone's Farm? Are they too busy to answer your questions or even acknowledge your presence when you walk in the door? When you ask for a nice inexpensive bottle do they immediately start at $30? Any of the above behavior is fair grounds to take your business elsewhere.
- No shelf talkers: Those big, beautiful tasting notes that live on the rack above or below the bottle in question.These can be created by sales reps or staff, but either way they indicate that someone has taken the time to convey what makes that bottle special. If they don't care why should you? of course there are exceptions to this rule: smaller, well-curated shops where everything is good oftentimes will forego them, but at bigger shops they are a must.
- Events: And not just any events. Any wine shop can have sales reps come in and offer free sips of theproducts that they want to push. But is the staff equally as excited? Does your vinous stop of choice actively promote their special guest stars? Do they offer classes? Guest Winemakers? Guest Chefs? Do they promote in advance with a public calendar or email blasts? These steps are natural for places where the ownerhip is passionate about what they do. If you answered no to most of the above questions, time to move on.
So there you have it: a short, sweet way to determine if your wine shop of choice deserves to be so, and what criteria by which to judge new ones. Have a local one that isn't one my list of faves? Let me know! Have you had a truly ghastly, wonderful or superlative experience at a wine store recently? Please share it below.
Photo courtesy of Joseph Lee Novack