Posts Tagged ‘buying wine
I moved to Westchester two years ago. It’s been great for our kids, jury’s still out on how it’s working for the grown ups. One thing I can say for sure though is that it’s taught me a lot about wine. Not what’s in the bottle, but the context around it — how people drink wine and what they think about it, outside the very insulated community of Manhattan and what a friend calls the “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood” areas of Brooklyn.
Some thoughts so far:
Wine in many suburban restaurants = disappointing. More often than not, the selection is boring, the pricing unjust, and the wine service non-existent. One local place that calls itself a wine bar — as in, the name of the place actually includes the phrase “wine bar” — doesn’t list the producers on its wine list. Make fun of people all you want for always drinking the same Malbec or Sancerre, but they’re not wrong to be risk-averse. The odds of being disappointed and feeling ripped off if they try something new are high.
Wine retail, on the other hand, is kind of awesome. I’ve found more than a few great stores, and great prices, in the most unlikely places. One of my favorites, the Wine + Spirit Discount Warehouse, sits next to a Salvation Army in a sad New Rochelle strip mall. Walk past the aisles of Alize and Mike’s Hard Lemonade and you’ll find a good selection or wines at a steal — if Wine Searcher is to be believed, it’s the cheapest place to pick up wines from Kermit Lynch’s portfolio in lower Westchester. My local store, Blue Dog Wines, is a little gem. It’s a tiny space filled with crowd pleasers, a few esoteric finds and IPOB-approved Pinots. Full disclosure: the owner is helping me out with my latest wine project, a local Facebook group page where I lead an online tasting every few weeks. It’s young yet, but lots of fun.
“Drink local” means something else entirely. When it comes to wine selection, people really are beholden to the skill and tastes of the wine stores and restaurants in their immediate vicinity. (Yes, people order wine online, but shipping can be an expensive deterrent, plus wine.com is no help when you need to run out and buy some Prosecco for your neighbor’s dinner party starting in 45 minutes.) The universe of wine is vast and thrilling, but you’d never know it if your local wine store stocks the same boring bottles year after year.
The wine industry is insanely out of touch with how most people actually choose and consume wine. Do a better job telling people what the thing tastes like and give them a good story to hang their hat on. Stop with the overly precious food matching. No one is drinking your $15 Pinot Noir with game. They’re drinking it to accompany a burger or leftovers or an episode of Scandal. Get over it.
I will never stop being amazed by the smart questions I get from people who think they don’t know “enough” about wine. Sometimes the “average wine drinker” (whatever that means) is a lot smarter and more adventurous than they’re given credit for.
If you’re an avid reader of lady magazines and blogs, you will recognize this frequent piece of shopping advice: don’t wait until the last minute before a big event to buy your super-special outfit. Desperation shopping rarely leads to good decision-making.
The same holds true for wine. One of the biggest differences I notice between the JV and the varsity wine drinker is that the former is much more likely to buy a wine just for a specific meal or occasion, whereas the latter picks up a bottle that interests her, whether or not she knows when or how or with whom she’ll drink it. To continue the fashion analogy, the same thinking that prompts someone to buy, say, a pair of crystal-studded pair of Giuseppe Zanotti platforms
with no clear idea of where she’ll wear them is what compels someone like me to buy a bottle of late-harvest Gewurztraminer here, a half case of Lambrusco there, and why not some Poire William while I’m at it? Just like the most fashionable person you know has the perfect outfit for everything from a summer BBQ to a night out with Beyoncé, the hard-core wine lover has just the right thing to serve her finicky mother-in-law, as well as the ideal bottle for her too-cool-for-Cab sommelier friend. If you’re looking for New Year’s wine resolution guidance, I’d suggest you adopt a similar stance and do as the fashion mags dictate: if you love it and can afford it, buy it.
While STBNY remains resolutely apolitical, I have to admit the run-up to the elections have me in a patriotic, bombastic, speechifying mood. To that end, I thought now was the right time to unload some of my thoughts on the State of Wine in America…so here goes:
Ignore the wine list naysayers, the natural wine warring factions or the 100-point-scale haters — the state of the American wine union is strong. Never have so many been able to procure so much good wine at such good prices. Wine is now less of a Fancy Event thing and more of a “drinking a glass of red on a Tuesday night” thing, which is most definitely progress.
And yet. While all these developments hearten me, I’ve still been feeling like something’s missing. And, then the other day, as I pored over my latest batch of Restoration Pottery Crate & Elm hi-lo aspirational-yet-affordable home catalogues, it hit me: there is no great universal American wine retail experience. There is no coast-to-coast chain that offers consistent product and pricing. No cheery, recognizable logo à la Target’s red bullseye. No Gap-esque “buy the second case at half-off” discounts. You can’t swing a cat at any mall in America without hitting a Sunglass Hut or a GNC — and yet there’s nary a wine store to be found.
It’s not just that the 21st amendment makes buying wine more difficult, or more expensive, for many of us: it’s that the 21st amendment actively impedes the development of a native wine culture. Because while Europeans may come to wine through the dinner table, that’s not really a viable approach for us. We’re not great at long, leisurely meals. But you know what we’re awesome at? Buying stuff. We are awesome, awesome consumers. I say this with fondness and respect. Have you never felt that fluttery sense of excitement and possibility upon walking into a Home Depot Superstore? (“This is the year I turn our decrepit shed into the woodworking shop about which I have always dreamed — and where I will teach my sons all the skills of handy, manly self-reliance I wish my father had imparted upon me!”) Do you not know the deep sense of community that comes from seeing a woman in front of you at Starbucks who is wearing the same top you’re wearing, also scored from the latest, greatest, and now sold-out designer capsule collection from H+M — and from knowing that you have each styled it in completely different ways, as befitting your age, height, weight and overall lifestyle considerations — and yet it looks equally cute on both of you?
Love ’em or hate ’em, brands like Target and H+M and Starbucks have made home design and fashion and fancy coffee more accessible to more people. Would a robust national wine store chain bring grower champagne and orange wine to the masses? Probably not. (And they’ll never be enough to go around, anyway.) But it could make wine fun, relevant, affordable, approachable and convenient to many more Americans. And that is, as they say, something we can all get behind.
So it looks like Recession #2 might be upon us soon, people. With my own personal double dip recession in effect, what with the new twins and all, I’m kind of freaking out. One thing I am not worried about, however, is my wine consumption. There are all sorts of relatively painless ways to economize on wine, which I will kindly share with you:
1. Box it up. There are some good box wines out there (even the New York Times thinks so), and ounce for ounce, they represent a great value. Serve it up in this adorable “vin de maison” carafe so people will think you’re charming, not cheap.
2. Ditch the glass. Yes I know, many restaurants have amazing wine-by-the-glass selections. But how many times have you gone out with a friend, drunk a few glasses between the two of you, and realized you could have gotten more wine, for less, if you had just ordered a bottle? Find a happy compromise on a wine you’ll both enjoy and opt for the full bottle.
3. Put a cork(age) in it. Bring your own bottle and pay the restaurant’s corkage fee, usually around $25. Of course, this makes the most sense when you have a pricier bottle to share. If you want to bypass the corkage fee, I’ve found that Asian and Middle Eastern restaurants are pretty flexible about letting you bring your own booze. Another option: scout out brand-new restaurants that don’t have their liquor licenses yet.
4. Try something new. A lot of the wines at the fringes of the wine store (ie, not California, France or Italy) can offer really great values. Portuguese whites are cheap and super-refreshing, and sherry is, pound for pound, one of the best value wines around. It’s also high in alcohol and served in smaller portions, so if you’re entertaining, a little goes a long way. Grab that can of Planter’s peanuts in the cupboard, fish out those olives from the back of the fridge, ask a friend to bring over some dried sausage or cheese, and call it a tapas party.
5. Be honest. Now is not the time to pussyfoot around. Tell the wine store salesperson or the sommelier exactly how much you want to spend. You may feel cheesy about it, but being straightforward will actually make their job a lot easier.
6. Free tastings. Every wine store worth its salt has ’em. They’re a great way to new wines and avoid disappointment. (Even a $10 wine is a crappy value if you don’t like it.) If you taste something you like, make sure to tell the salesperson, so she can recommend similar wines in your price range.
7. Befriend a pregnant or nursing wine blogger. OK, so this one is a little specific. But when I was pregnant, and during my brief breast-feeding phase, I was mostly tasting, rather than drinking. I relied on friends to finish the bottles. I’m just sayin’, don’t be afraid to be opportunistic.