A Survival Guide to Wine Shops

What to look for when you're looking for something new.

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So you’ve figured out who makes your favorite cocktail and undoubtedly have got your list of go-to wines. But what about when you want to expand your horizons and, God forbid, try something new? If you’re not spending your days soaking wine labels from marked up restaurant bottles or studying points in Wine Spectator, what’s a girl to do? From smarmy salesmen to the fear of spending your entire tax rebate on a bottle that blows, the perils are real. Thankfully, achieving your mission requires but a little advance recon and DAME’s guy on the inside has a few tricks to slide up your sleeve.

Don’t take any crap
In all likelihood you’ll be “serviced” by a man. And that’s not always a good thing. Go in knowing that you are actually better equipped to appreciate wine than he is. Science is on your side here as women have been shown to have a more astute palate and olfactory than men. In lay terms, women taste and smell better, and that is always a good thing.  If we men know more about wine, it’s because we geek out on things more than you do.
Like other sensory pursuits (such as sex and music), men have turned wine into a spectator sport. Wine Spectator? We memorize stats, argue who is best, or simply stare at it more than you do. So while he’s reciting scores and waxing on about pedigree and legend, squeeze him for what’s in the bottle. What does the wine taste like?  What should it be served with? What’s the best he’s got for what you’re looking to spend? Which brings us to…
If you just want a sandwich, don’t go to The French Laundry
If you feel like spending top dollar, by all means do so. There is no bigger myth than the notion that only wine snobs can appreciate the good stuff. Do you have to be an expert to feel the difference in a handmade pair of boots?
However, if you’re just looking for an inexpensive bottle to crack open with some friends, don’t buy the cheapest version of a fancy grape. Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Noir are grapes that make the most coveted wines in the world. Meanwhile, the lowest rungs get to ride the coattails of the fancier juice to higher prices than they likely deserve. Look for Torrontes (sexy and lush), Gruner Veltliner (racy and minerally), Grenache (friendly and agreeable) or Malbec (so deep and rich you’ll forget Cabernet exists). In many cases, you’ll find delicious versions of these for the same price as cast-off versions of the “prestige” grapes.
The same goes for regions.  The secret is long out on Napa Valley, Calif. Maybe you need to be looking at Southern Spain (ripe and generous reds) or Mendoza, Argentina (stunning wines and one of the few places our dollar still goes far.)  Many of these off-the-beaten-path areas have been making great wine for generations and the only thing wrong with them is their marketing department. Look for more stories about these gems down the road because they deserve their own article.
Buy from a small shop
“Big Box” stores are great, if you’re looking for a bath mat. This is art in a bottle here, so you want to talk to someone who’s likely tasted every wine in the store, not some punk kid with a list of what to push. Sure, you can get Chateau Mundane for a buck less elsewhere, but if you’ve read this far, that’s not what you’re looking for.
Besides, choosing the little guy also keeps your money in your community (good vibes) and develops a rapport with a salesman who will learn your tastes and have another discovery waiting for you the next time you come in.
Charlie Deal and his wife were chased from pre-Arnold California by nightmares of million dollar outhouses and now reside in North Carolina where he’s the proprietor, executive chef, and wine director of Jujube Restaurant.  When he’s not looking for a good taco…well, he’s pretty much always looking for a good taco.

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