Monday, July 6, 2009

Wine Store Survival Guide

So I know a lot of people are a bit intimidated when they walk into a wine store, all those options, wines you’ve never tasted, things you’ve never heard of, weird labels with words like Quincy or Bourgueil rather than Sauvignon Blanc or Cabernet Franc…that’s a lot of “don’t know crap” but toss in the fear of wine people factor, well then it can be down-right panic inducing. As someone that works in one of those stores the idea that anyone might be afraid to walk in, well…it just makes me sad. I want everyone to feel comfortable about shopping for wine, and if you are buying your wines at the grocery store because of your fear of the unknown, then you are missing out on some really thrilling, interesting and passion inspiring flavors.


Don’t fear the wine merchant, don’t let what you have yet to learn keep you from advancing your palate. Don’t assume that the wine store is only for those “special occasion” wines or a place where only very knowledgeable shop….trust me, many of our customers don’t know shit about wine, and many of them don’t want to, they are there to have us find wines for them, you know so they don’t have to bother with gathering information they don’t feel they need just to find a yummy bottle of wine. That’s what we are here for and a great wine merchant will take the time to develop a relationship with you, learn what you love and teach you more about wine…if you are so inclined, the goal of a great wine shop is to have more people drinking, and enjoying wine, they want to give you pleasure…..well, that makes it sound like a whore house but I think you know what I mean.

Now a quick word about wine professionals, to say that there are no self inflated, information withholding, looking down their nose at you, blowhards would be a lie…they are still there, hell we had one working for us a few years ago, (for all of you that endured his shity attitude and continued to support us…Thank You and we are very sorry..he was dreadful) but their numbers are dwindling. Those tight asses are being replaced by a very passionate bunch of wine….well, wine dorks really. Wine dorks are just like any other variety dork, we gather information, collect, document our findings, basic nerd stuff right, it just so happens that the source of our particular dorkdum also gives us a buzz….sweet.


So I polled the staff, asked them which behaviors or comments made them cringe, not in an attempt to piss and moan but to help…help those of you that may be nervous or unsure how to behave in a wine store…we came up with a list, two lists actually, one specifically for attending tastings. So here you have it, The Wine Store Survival Guide or How To Not Look Like A Douche In A Wine Store.

1- Don’t ask, “Is this any good?” it implies that the retailer may have crappy wines in the store.

2- Don’t assume they are trying to screw you, they need you to come back so they wont intentionally sell you a bottle of crap wine.

3- Don’t ask, “Is it like a Merlot?” about every red wine you have never heard of. It’s not like a Merlot, it’s Sancerre rouge, I just spent 5 minutes describing the flavor profile, did it sound like a Merlot? If it did, then yes…it’s like a Merlot to you.

4- Don’t hit on the women working there, it’s not Hooters, show a little respect.

5- Don’t bring in The Wall Street Journal or Consumer Reports and tell a retailer that they should have those wines. We taste wines and bring them in, not read about them and bring them in.

6- Don’t say this, “I had this great red wine on vacation, I can’t remember the name, but it was red and really good. Do you have it?” They have hundreds of them, they will need a tad more information before they can help you.

7- Don’t let your wee ones push a cart in a wine store.

8- Don’t wait until your wines are bagged to ask for a box or to have the price tags removed, we will gladly do both but ask before we went through the trouble of bagging everything…saves everyone time.

9- Don’t say “Only chicks drink white wine” not only is that incorrect it makes you look like a jackass.

10- Don’t ask why they don’t carry something….unless you are ready to hear the real answer.

11- Don’t be afraid to tell them what you want to spend. They aren’t sizing you up or judging your bank account…they need to know in order to find you the best bottle in “that” price range.

12- Don’t go in, confess that you know nothing about wine and then run the wine specialist ragged by saying, “Okay what else” to every wine they recommend.

13- Don’t tell them that you saw such-and-such wine at BevMo for less money. Sure it happens, (lots of reasons for the price difference not the least of which is that BevMo can buy hundreds of cases…a small retailer cannot) but telling them that is not going to change the price and does little more than make you look like a douche.

14- Don’t say, “Isn’t that pink shit for women?” first of all, that “Pink shit” is drier than your Merlot and secondly there are no wines just for women…don’t be a Neanderthal.

15- Don’t ask them to hold the wines you bought at BevMo behind the counter because you don’t want them getting hot in your car while you attend their wine tasting.

For Wine Tastings

1- Don’t wear smelly junk! It messes with everyone, they are there to taste wine, not you.

2- Don’t tell the person pouring that the wine was shit. You may not like it but it isn’t shit, someone liked it enough to bring it in the store…could just be the person pouring for you.

3- Don’t treat the person pouring like a server, you’re not tipping them.

4- Don’t hit on the women pouring…it’s still not Hooters.

5- Don’t ask, (while being poured) “What does this wine taste like?” taste it and decide for yourself, we may be wine dorks but we don’t live in your mouth.

6- Don’t be a slob, mind the schmeg on your glass…cuzz, ewe.

7- Don’t ask for more wine or a bigger pour of the most expensive one.

8- Don’t bring the kiddies, not that we don’t like them but we cannot have them in the tasting area…not OUR law, but the law.

9- Don’t grill the person pouring, if you really want to know something, then ask but don’t make them give you the history of the estate, the case production and the winemakers name…especially if you have no intention of remembering it, it’s okay to just taste.

10- Don’t say, “Can I try number 6 again, I just want to make sure that is the one I want to buy” we’ve heard that one before…a billion times, might I suggest taking notes? We have a one taste per wine policy not to be dicks but because pouring extra of any wine throws the bottle count off and that costs us money…..something no wine shop can afford.

So there you have it folks, a little cheat sheet of things to avoid when shopping for wine or attending a wine tasting….hope it’s useful!
Don’t fear the wine merchant, shit…even if you committed every flub on this list they will still help you find a great bottle of wine and the really good ones, they will wait until you leave before making fun of you or calling you a douchebag……wink.

All kidding aside I hope people get out there and support their independent retailers, it’s rough right now for them folks, just think about how much more the small retailer needs that $10.00 over the Vons or Ralphs which can and will survive on the other products they carry. If you want that store to still be there when you need that “special occasion” wine or gift then please keep in mind…..they need you now.
And that concludes this Public Service Announcement….I’m off to get a glass of girlie pink shit.


Michael Hughes said...

I love you.

Samantha Dugan said...

Awwwwww (blushing) shucks....

vickibarkley said...

Hey, I've violated a few of those rules, and you guys still talk to me! Ha!
And, I used to be shy in your store. Now, I know, you can't get rid of me!

Samantha Dugan said...

Nor would we want to, you are onr of the great ones! Never once have any of thought you were a jackass.

Benito said...


A few years ago I used to attend weekly wine tastings where Michael Hughes there was pouring. Hope I was never annoying, but I've seen some weird, degenerate behavior over the years. I'm really surprised that the nation's wine retailers didn't stop tastings altogether after the release of Sideways.

This may fall under your #5, but I'm surprised you didn't have a big "NO LIPSTICK!" rule. Sorry, that stuff ain't touching my good crystal.


John M. Kelly said...

So... nothing has really changed since the last time I worked in a wine shop (that would have been 1985-86). Oh, Sam! You are still so young... and fresh... dewey...

I seriously hope that someone will read your lists, take them to heart, overcome their fear, and take a chance. But the idea that any of the dirty douche nozzle behaviors you hate will change? Not gonna happen.

The ONE that I pray can be changed is the perfume/aftershave/cigarettes thing - oh gawd. One winery I worked at, we used to play "identify the smell" when visitors walked into the tasting parlor - some quirk of the HVAC funneled air from reception right back into our tasting lab. Ugh.

But people are people, and a constant percentage of the customers you serve will be asses. Some guys - every place they spend money is Hooters. Some folks, every transaction is a negotiation. Others - your role is to entertain them exclusively and answer every banal question they can dream up. My personal faves - the ones for whom wine will be forever for snobs and wussies. Why the f**k do you come into my shop you leaky colostomy bag?

Some of my other faves: "What's my price - I never pay retail." Or, from the semi-hot chick: "I will give you a hum number to Rule Britannia for that last bottle of 1986 Pinot." Or, from the guy whose boyfriend cheated him last night, after telling me his life story and tasting everything - twice: "So, just how straight are you?"

K Claret said...


Great topic! Seeing that I work in a wine store I could relate to every word. lmao! I got another one that I really hate..."Do you have cakebread chardonnay?" cheers!


Samantha Dugan said...

Can you just imagine what would happen if we told some woman, "We're sorry but we will not give a glass until you wipe that shit off your lips" lead ballon to say the least. I did once however, (back in the early days) have a customer say to me, (when I was talking to him about Champagne) "Sam, that's a nice lipstick, you are really good at picking lipstick, so why don't you stick to that" the middle of a Champagne dinner! I wanted to die but now I have earned his trust so we are all good, people man...they say the craziest shit.

Maybe I should change it to, "Don't hit on anyone that works there" sheesh....I'm not holding my breath on people changing, can be hopeful but...

I knew I had a few other retailers that read and was hoping they would chime in with their personal favorites, thanks for adding to the list....don't you carry Cakebread Chard?!

Ron Washam, HMW said...

My Gorgeous Sam, My Love,

I'm sort of late to this party. My apologies. My dangling participle got stuck in my zipper.

When I owned a wine shop, oh, it was long ago when screwtops were what women called low-cut blouses, I also had a few rules for wine tastings that you might want to borrow.

1. If a woman spilled red wine on her top she was forbidden from calling her breasts, "the girls," as in, "Shit, I spilled the Cabernet on the girls." They are to be referred to as boobs or tits or something else of your choosing.

2. If I can smell what's on your fingers you're out.

3. Don't plant your fat ass in front of the cheese and eat until your lactose intolerant fart ruins the Burgundy bouquet. We are not poodles. We do not eat everything on the plate before someone else gets it.

4. No upside down shots at the wine tastings unless we're featuring the wines of Temecula.

5. Don't breast feed your children while tasting wine. Especially the men. (No kidding, I actually had a woman do this at a tasting. And she rudely offered no one else a taste!)

So I hope this helps, My Sweet Luscious Sam. And tell that Michael guy to back off my squeeze!!

Love and Kisses,
Your HoseMaster

Arthur said...

For your first list:
1.a: Don't ask for "the best". If you are wearing Ed Hardy or similar, this may be a somewhat tolerable question.

William said...

So funny. Thanks.

But I think I might have violated one or two. Sending the link to friends.


Samantha Dugan said...

I'll add that one to the list.

As always you have flipped the skirt as it were...made us notice the things we might otherwise overlook, thank you. And trust me, there is plenty to squeeze between you AND Michael...aint virtual love grand?

Thank you so much! Seriously makes me grin from ear to ear, (this is when I wish I was one of those wide faced chicks...cuzz as it sits, my ear to ear is like 6 inches, but still) when a new person takes the time to post a comment. The only thing I ask is that you don't share the link with too many people, my stat counter has been wheezing like an asthmatic street walker ever since my Michael Jackson post. Thanks again, it really means a lot.

Michael Hughes said...


I never remember you being anything but friendly & genuinely interested in what was being poured. Some of the other crowd members....not so much.

Gerald at Weimax said...

Hi Samantha…
Loved your tips on proper behavior in a wine shop.

I would add a few others suggestions:

1. Don’t come in here to use the place as your “office” while you’re on a cell phone. We don’t need to hear your business or personal conversation, for one thing. For another, we actually know about the wines in our shop, so you don’t need to call your Wine-Spectator-subscribing pal for guidance in buying a bottle of wine.
--There’s a reason our parents and grandparents had phone booths…--

2. Don’t call us from some competitor to ask for an opinion on the wines they are offering. ((Yes, some bozo called me to ask about the quality of some Trader Joe’s bottling of wine, saying he figured I would be able to guide him, since the people in that store knew virtually nothing about wine.))

3. Don’t ask for a shop to provide service for the wine you purchased elsewhere. You want me to gift wrap and/or ship the wine you bought at Costco? Are you out of your mind???

4. When you have a “bad” or “off” bottle, please don’t expect the store to replace the bottle merely on your telling the story of it being undrinkable. Please bring back the bottle (with most of the wine in the bottle) along with the faulty cork and we will replace it. But we cannot expect the winery, distributor or importer to replace your supposedly flawed bottle without a little bit of evidence. ((A fellow purchased an older vintage of Opus One and brought it to a restaurant. The sommelier, who was probably not thrilled to be getting a percentage of the corkage fee of a bottle they might already have on the wine list, said it was ‘drinkable’, but not exceptional. The customer drank the wine but expected a replacement by merely telling his tale of woe. His final, parting shot was “Well, it didn’t taste like a hundred-and-fifty dollar bottle of wine.”))

5. We have a sign posted: “Are we merely playing Stump The Wine Merchant or did you wish to make a purchase?” This is especially directed at those who feel the need to stop by and demonstrate their superior knowledge of wine by asking if we carry the most esoteric of wines. In our shop, as in The Wine Country, one can find Chignin, Madiran, Ruché, etc. When someone asks if we have any Sagrantino, for example, and we show them a handful of good, soulful bottlings from five different producers, don’t expect that I also have multiple vintages of each one.

Continued below...

Gerald at Weimax said...

Part Two of my Long-Winded Missive:

6. Along the lines of Sam’s Rule #12: When we’ve asked about your taste in wine, price range, menu pairing, etc., please know we’re trying to help and want to match you with a bottle which will bring you back for more. A former Weimax staffer would tell people who would balk at taking his well-reasoned suggestion by saying “I’ve never heard of that winery” with a response of “Yes, that’s correct. If you had heard of this producer, you would not have needed me to recommend it!”

7. I do not know how many points some critic rated a particular wine. We can tell you about its aromatic and flavor characteristics, but since Robert Parker and the Shankenettes don’t work in our store, we do not rely on them to help us select the wines in the shop. I’ve tasted a lot of highly-rated wines which I find disgusting and undrinkable. Similarly, I’ve found very appealing wines with relatively “low scores.” Relying on someone to judge Beaujolais or Grüner Veltliner using a “Cabernet Measuring Stick” is foolish in our view.

8. The Wall Street Journal disgraces itself with some of the drivel written by two enthusiastic, but “rank” amateurs. Consumer Reports should stick to rating washing machines and TV sets, but please don’t offer criticism of something you (the WSJ and CR) are not capable of critiquing. I do far more “homework” in trying to find a good bottle of wine than most wine publications or so-called “journalists.” When a potential customer brings in an article from the local newspaper or these publications, the should (please) know they are indicating they have more faith in those writers than in someone who has, quite literally, “put his money where his mouth is.”

9. I’ll be happier to return the bottle of wine you’ve decided you’re not going to purchase, after all, rather than have you leave it in a bin, display box or someplace it does not belong.

10. Asking me to calculate how many bottles of bubbly and various table wines you’re going to need so you can go buy them at Costco is a sure-fire means of assuring you will burn in hell.

11. If the wine tastes good to you, that’s great. I’m glad you found something appealing, but don’t expect me to agree with your position, such as, “You know, that Charles Shaw Chardonnay isn’t bad for the price.” I can tell you, as well, “It’s not good for the price, either” and “Have you ever heard the saying ‘Life’s too short to drink crappy wine?” Well, now you have.

12. Expecting our shop to have a ten year old bottle of Moscato d’Asti (to replace the one you opened at your cousin’s house) is a bit like looking for a six month old carton of milk at the grocery store. Maybe replacing it with a bottle that’s actually in top condition and, oh-by-the-way, drinkable, might be a good thing to do.

I could probably go on, but I’m due over at some friend’s place where we’re going to open screw-capped bottles of pink shit and uncork red wines which may taste to some “like Merlot” but are not Merlot.

Samantha Dugan said...

Um, Yay! Loved your list, many of my other "favorites" that was freaking awesome, had me chuckling all morning!

Abel said...

OK, Sam— love your list. I swear, people are such idiots sometimes. Anyway, I think we can all agree that wine shopping etiquette is a two-way street.

Here is my short list of 5 Don’ts for wine merchants (yes, I have actually experienced all of these):

1. If I take the time to order a specific wine from you, from a specific vintage, at a specific price, take the time to call me to let me know that only a new vintage at a higher price is available.
2. If you fail to make the call in item number 1, and I take the time to go down to your store to pick up the wine that I have ordered, then honor the price that was quoted to me when I placed my order even if you can’t deliver the vintage. If you can't do that, then do something to let me know you appreciate my business.
3. Don’t tell me that you wouldn’t buy your wine in the store I am shopping in (and that you work in) because you can get a better deal from your connections in the wine trade.
4. Don’t tell me that you drink better (read more expensive) wine than I do (presumably because of those same wine trade connections).
5. A variation on your "Hooters" comment: Don’t ignore your male customers so that you can put the moves on each female that walks into your store.

I’ve never been to your store, but I suspect none of these would be an issue there.

Who knows, maybe some day...

Samantha Dugan said...

I love it, absolutely love it, and you are correct it is a two way street....wish more customers would share their wine store douchebag stories. I think this post is going to need a follow up with all the added "don'ts". Thanks for the view from the other side of the fence....and the reminder that we can be "wads" too.

Nancy Deprez said...

Love this post and the comments. Wow! You've uncorked a bottle of strong opinions! :)