Wine is intimidating. I will be the first to admit this. I will also be the first to scream from the top of the Ravenel Bridge that it shouldn't be. Wine is fun. Wine conversation will never go away and for good reason. It's shared in the most casual of times and the most holy. It's a ready topic whether dining out or having guests over to dine in. Wine is ancient, it is ethereal, and, as we have explored before, it is down right sexy. Like anything else great in life, we have to be able to break the intimidation barrier and step into the flesh of wine's core. The ongoing question I have been asked over the last few years is, "What wine should I buy from the wine shop to drink at home?" I love the fact that there is thought going into what wine to buy no matter where or on what terms it will be enjoyed. Together we will continue to break down the barrier of wine's intimidation factor, and to do this, we need to keep things simple. We are going to explore five steps to get the wine you want. I assure you it'll be easy but you'll have to put down your guard and allow for the opportunity to explore, to try, and to taste something new. So, let's do this together.
Choose two or three wine shops.
Charleston is loaded with great places to buy wine and the selection is getting better and better. Deciding where to go depends on many factors: convenience, location, selection, pricing. But the most important of all is developing a relationship. In order to get the bottle you are looking for, you must build a relationship with a wine shop. This doesn't mean that you must go to one shop and that's it. I believe a great starting point is to pick a few wine shops. Maybe one near your home and one near your workplace. Once you narrow down a few shops, you will be ready for step two.
Develop a relationship with the shop's wine steward or wine buyer.
I recently went to a few different Charleston area wine shops, all of which had someone there to help their customers pick out the right wine. After talking with them, it hit me that they are no different than a restaurant sommelier. They loved the fact that I wanted to talk about wine. They loved that I acknowledged that there was a reason why they chose the particular wines on their shelves. No matter the size of the wine shop, there will be someone around to help you. Use them. They will do no harm.
Trust and feel safe.
Now we are picking up some momentum. We have chosen two shops. Let's say one is downtown near work and the other is near your home. We have asked if there is anyone in the shop that can help us. Now things get tricky, the store's wine steward approaches and wine intimidation kicks in. Let me remind you, wine is fun. Kick intimidation in the ass and introduce yourself to the wine steward.
"I think when people come in for the first time they are intimidated. They look at the wine wall and there aren't too many labels they recognize," says Trudi Wagner of goat.sheep.cow. "We want them to feel safe. We want to dial into their tastes. We want them to trust us. I have to be able to honestly look into my customer's eye and say, I have tasted this, I enjoy this. Trust is the most important thing. It is all about building relationships." Tell them you like wine. Tell them why you like their store. Tell them you want their help. Nothing bad is going to happen. They are there for you. They are not going to pressure you into buying some crazy expensive wine. They are not going to make you drink red wine when you want white. They want to talk to you and share their excitement. Trust them. They want to build a relationship with you as much as you should with them.
What wines have you enjoyed lately?
We are almost there. Now you may be thinking about buying a couple of bottles. There are no laws here so enjoy the experience and have fun. Think about what wines you have been enjoying lately. Maybe it was a wine you had at a restaurant or your friend's house. Even if they don't have the exact bottle, they can help you choose something similar. There are so many wines of the world so why grasp on to only a few. Try new ones. "We are trying to bring something different to our customers. From that standpoint, the first thing I usually talk to customers about is what they usually drink," says Justin Croxall of Bull Street Gourmet. "Many people are locked in to one grape variety. For example: chardonnay. There can be so many expressions of different varietals that I try to bridge the gap. Then I try to figure out what aspects of that type of wine they enjoy. Retail allows people to take their time. You can really look at the bottles, look at the label and the package. We are here to give customers information about what is inside the bottle." You don't have to jump out of a plane, you can stick to a similar style all while exploring a new region or variety.
Do not fall for the wine's label. Some of the greatest wines in the world have the worst labels. When making your final decision on a couple of bottles, do not base it on how the label looks. Pick out a few different pinot noirs from different regions of the world and try them. Decide for yourself why you enjoy one over the other. This is how you learn and fine tune your palate. Have fun with the process, not with the label. As the saying goes, "It's what's on the inside that counts."