...and with your toaster, a free bottle of wine!

Monday, December 13, 2010

A story in today’s
New York Times spotlights wine clubs, which have become ubiquitous. Newspapers, magazines, rock bands, even fruit peddlers Harry & David have started wine clubs. To my jaded eyes, when you toss in all the online wine sellers, not to mention all the winery direct clubs and mailing lists, it’s looking a little cluttered out there.

Back in the day, I signed up for a wine club sponsored by Ridge Winery. There weren’t so many of these opportunities in the pre-digital days, and every month a small box would arrive with two bottles of Ridge wines, limited edition, often oddball stuff that Paul Draper was playing around with. It was fun, and interesting, and I stuck with it for a couple of years before burning out.

But these days, there seems to be little rhyme or reason to most non-winery wine clubs, other than simply to push out plonk-worthy juice at premium prices. Do you really think you are going to score big on some rock band’s special bottle? Do Harry & David have a line on some super juice that puts anything on the Spectator Top 100 to shame? Highly doubtful.

If you really want to track down something unusual, something that will stretch your palate, that may represent actual value in terms of quality/price, I suggest you stroll into a local wine shop, poke around, chat with the proprietor, and see what he or she has chosen to display.

Seattle is blessed with literally dozens of such neighborhood shops, and I have yet to find a single one that does not strive mightily to offer its customers exceptional service and a thoughtful selection of interesting wines. Wine retail on a neighborhood scale is rarely if ever lucrative; this is truly a business that is done for the pleasure and passion connected with all things vinous. A well-managed wine shop, with an on-site owner, is likely to be the very best place to find advice; these folks are tasting dozens and dozens of wines daily, making purchase decisions based on their palates and their knowledge of their customers likes and dislikes.

More than a wine club, a review, a “bargain” price at a big box retailer, or even (dare I say it) a newspaper column, the advice and guidance of a full-time wine retailer can be the best advice you will ever receive. If you do not have a favorite shop already, why not check out one in your own neighborhood, introduce yourself to the owner(s), participate in a few tastings (most shops, at least around here, offer free wine tastings on a regular basis), buy a bottle or two that they recommend, and then go back and tell them what you thought of it. You may or may not get a free CD, toaster or bag of coffee beans with that wine; but what you will get is a long term relationship on which to build your wine knowledge and appreciation.


ma said...

Is that toaster cover on your kitchen? Good article in support of the hard working folks at our wine shops.

PaulG said...

Not my toaster, but I liked the image.

l.g. said...

Definitely a good plug for the hard-working and vested shop owners around here, thanks for that. One imperfect piece of the puzzle though, and one that was on the losing end of November's election, is the bottleneck that can be caused by distributors here in WA... ah,the great gatekeepers of our business. If they don't want to show us the truly thoughtful and interesting wines, or choose not to carry them in the market because they do not show up in the Neilsens - or if, even worse, the salespeople are not trained and comfortable enough speaking about them - then unknown they remain, and off go the minions to the reset at Safeway.

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