A Sommelier’s Tips for Wine Buying

By Leslee Miller

We live in an era that allows us to purchase almost any wine we want, from wherever we want and from almost any grape varietal in the world. In fact, according to the Huffington Post’s most recent reports, the U.S. is now the world’s largest marketplace for wine, yes beating out the French! With more buyers on the rise, thirstier for wine knowledge than ever before, the U.S. is an exciting market for exploring wine. But with so many options, how do we actually know what the best route is for quenching this thirst? From wine clubs, to tastings, subscription services and beyond, the world of wine buying, while it is exciting, can feel a bit overwhelming. So, let’s sort through it together, shall we?

The Retail Route
First, let’s start with my favorite avenue for exploring and purchasing wine – via my local retailer. Think of this option as an interview process, as it is really important to find a retailer that understands ‘you’ and can recommend wines that meet your style and your budget, while helping you pair to your favorite meals and occasions. While this option can take you a bit of time to find the best fit, it is the option that actually holds the greatest pay-off. One, hopefully the retailer you end up selecting is close to your domain. Therefore, if you run out of your favorite juice, then it’s just a quick jog down to grab more! Secondly, if you’re buying from that little specialty bottle shop just down the street, then you’re supporting your community’s commerce – winning! And last, you’re building a one-on-one relationship that is one that allows you to open up, without feeling silly about wine, giving you the opportunity to learn a bit while drinking it. In actuality, the retail avenue should promote an opportunity for wine education (in store tastings, wine classes, etc.) so that you are able to step beyond your usual drinking bounds, allowing you to potentially discover grapes that you hadn’t tried in the past; a process that can provide more than just wine, rather a ‘wine experience’.

Wine Clubs
Other options for exploring wine include a variety of online wine clubs. Some of these include: Lot 18, Club W, Bright Wines and Naked Wines. These are all online opportunities that ship you wine according to your likes and dislikes, food preferences, budget and social norms when it comes to enjoying the almighty grape. These subscriptions generally focus around having you fill out a short survey according to these preferences. Here’s some feedback… Lot 18 ships in half bottles, which to me is a bit silly. What if you liked the wine? Now, you have to rate it and take the time to order more (than a glass), AND pay more for shipping more to your doorstep? Besides, half bottles provide a short window for consuming them. Next, Club W. It appears as if they are packaging their own wines with a variety of bulk juice purchased on the open market. Now, the packaging is savvy and cute, but I’ve tried it and the wine, by my opinion, is truly not held at any quality standard. Don’t be fooled by cute labels! And, lastly Bright Wines and Naked Wines select wines for you based on whether you want to pay more/less for wine, and whether you like Reese’s peanut butter cups or Arnold Palmers? Doesn’t sound much like science to me. The other very disappointing fact to me is that none of these clubs are really run by long time wine professionals or experienced sommeliers. Most, are truly just ‘into wine’, sharing wine that is sold at discount, relabeled or bulk juiced.

Other Options
The other options on the list include the random magazines, newspapers or retailers that send a box of wine your way per a monthly fee. Again, I’ve tried almost ten of them and disappointingly, generally one or two bottles end up tasting just ‘okay’ (out of a 12-pack shipment). These inexpensive offers are enticing, I know, but this doesn’t sound like the best value for your dollar, agree? Wouldn’t you rather spend your money on one good bottle versus ten that were so-so?

Ultimately, I think my voice is clear. While these clubs may be a ‘fun’ way to experiment with wine, wouldn’t you feel more connected to your community if you supported a local retail shop that started their own ‘wine club’ or simply put together a fun box of wine for you, based on your likes and food interests via the conversation you’ve shared with them face to face? In a world that shares almost everything from a virtual platform, I believe the best avenue for sifting through the world of wine is by exploring it within a more personal space that can provide a one on one experience. Enjoy!