Sunday, February 7, 2010

To Find Great Wine You Need to Find A Great Wine Retailer

So what’s the best way to find wines that you like to buy? Well, I’d love to sit here and tell you that it’s as simple as reading A Couple of Wines on a regular basis. Certainly magazines, websites and blogs like this one can be great sources of reviews and helpful information, but we all have our limitations. One key is finding sources who understand your tastes and likes or a source that you somehow connect with or just “get.” Speaking for myself, I know that there are some very well known reviewers who I understand perfectly and will give me a good insight into whether I will like a wine or not, and there are others who are completely useless to me. The other big challenge once you find some sources for suggestions is actually finding the wine. A wine that is readily available in New York City may be impossible to find in Cleveland or Chicago. The very nature of the wine business dictates that it will be very regional and even local in many cases. So what is a wine consumer to do?

Well the answer to the question is pretty simple and just takes a little bit of shopping and exploring. The number one thing that any wine consumer can do to find wines that they love, great values, and reliable sources of information is to become friendly with a great retailer. The trick is finding the great ones, and I’m here to talk about how to form one of the most important relationships in your quest for what you want in wine, whether its bargains, hidden gems, or collectibles.

The first and most important thing you want to find in a retailer is a knowledgeable, consultative salesperson who will take the time to ask you questions and learn your likes and dislikes. This is much more important than the size of the retailer. In my own experience, there is a very large retailer, who I will leave unnamed, in my market who doesn’t even know I exist. I can walk their floor for an hour without finding a knowledgeable salesperson who is willing to help. Little do they know that I have thousands of dollars of wine in my cellar and am looking to double or even triple my collection in size.

The key in finding a great as opposed to good salesperson is to find someone who is more interested in learning about your tastes as opposed to telling you about what they like. Telling you what they like is fine, but if they’re doing that and not learning about your tastes, they won’t ever be a great source for you.

I have been dealing with an outstanding local retailer, Georgetown Square Wine & Liquor in the Buffalo, NY suburbs, for years, and the reason I like them so much is that Ryan Seward, their wine manager, took the time to get to know me and my taste. Even though he is much more a French Burgundy and Pinot Noir guy, and I’m more of a Cabernet Sauvignon and Grenache/Garnacha fan, that doesn’t really matter. He took the time to get to know me and whenever I would come in, he would let me know what new wines they had that I might be interested in trying. Now, he not only knows my tastes, but he’s surrounded himself with some very knowledgeable employees who are also very good.

Another local retailer, City Wine Merchant, in downtown Buffalo is a very different retailer than Georgetown. They are wine only and much smaller; however, their owner, Eric Genau, takes the same approach in forming relationships with his customers. He doesn’t push his tastes on the customer. Instead he focuses on learning about you and forming a more personal relationship with his customers.

What other factors should you look for? I would argue that for an everyday retailer you want to find someone who focuses on value. This is not to say that they have cheap or low priced wines. A focus on value means that they look for wines to sell that taste more expensive than they are. This could be something in the $15 and under category that tastes like a $20 wine or it could be something like the 2006 Gagliole Rosso I just picked up for about $50 but drinks like it’s at least $80. This isn’t about crazy sales or clearance items. It’s about a retailer that sources values that provide good bang for your wine buck on a regular basis.

The final factor that really sets apart the great retailers from the pack is tastings and education. These can be provided to the consumer in a number of different formats, and the great retailers usually utilize many of these. Tastings can be small informal tastings of just a couple of wines at a table on the sales floor, or it can be in depth tastings in a more formal setting. These can also come with or without education. Many retailers offer introductory type classes with tastings as well as more advanced and focused sessions on a specific region or varietal. This is a great way to learn what you like today and to discover new varietals and regions. Especially if you’re dealing with slightly more expensive wines, this is a great way to try a lot of different wines without breaking the bank.

If you already found your own great retailer, then that’s great for you. If not, ask around and try to find that retailer who will take the time to get to know you, offer good values, and provide tastings and education. Although I’d like you to keep reading my blog, you will discover more great wine that you can actually buy by forming a relationship with a great retailer than through any other source of information.

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