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Buying wine. Simplified.

How many people can relate to the following scenario?

You are shopping in your wine store and you feel anxious. You know the salesperson is right behind you, lingering, about to ask that awful question. Here it comes…

“May I help you find something?"

“No, I’m fine. Just looking,” you say, as you frantically rush to pick a bottle, afraid he might ask you more questions you don’t know the answers to.

We’ve all been there. The "wall of wine" can be completely overwhelming but it doesn’t have to be. In fact, if you have no idea where to start, you can tell the salesperson three things and you will look like the competent wine buyer you fancy yourself to be.

Ask yourself these three questions before you go wine shopping:

1. What’s the last wine you had that you really enjoyed?

This can help the salesperson hone in on a country, region, style or grape. For example: You might say, “I had a red wine from Southern Italy. I don’t’ remember what it was.” The salesperson (detective on the case) is thrilled with this kind of information.

2. WHY did you enjoy that wine?

Here’s where you delve into the flavors of the wine and how it felt on your palate. Was the wine really fruity or was it more earthy? Did it taste like citrus fruits or dark fruits like blueberries and plums? Was it bright and acidic or was it rounded, toasty and buttery? Anything you can tell the salesperson about how you perceived the wine will be helpful. Remember, there are no wrong answers. Your palate is yours.

Just go for it.

3. What do you want to spend?

I cannot emphasize this one enough. Be honest and stick to it. There is no shame in staying on budget. You will save everyone time if you say you are looking for a bottle between $X and $X. Otherwise, the salesperson will spend a few minutes describing the perfect wine for you only to find out later it costs $50. Now you are back to zero.

For example, I was out of town and in a store I did not know. I walked in and said to the woman on the floor, “Hi. I need a bottle of Crémant, preferably from Alsace, in the $25 and under range.” She smiled and walked over to the shelf and pulled a bottle. I was out of there in less than five minutes.

And, if all else fails, remember that anyone who works in wine is likely a delightful nerd (I represent that remark). Ask THEM what they are excited about.

You might say something like “Hi. I am having lasagna for dinner and was hoping to pick up a nice red wine for under $20.” As one who has worked in wine retail, this kind of customer is a GEM. Now the salesperson gets to flex their wine muscle and all of the pressure on you is lifted. Brilliant.

My hope for you is that you will establish a relationship with the salesperson in the store. He/she will remember you and what wines you have tried. They will pay attention and start to tailor their suggestions based on your likes and dislikes.

And this is when the fun really begins.

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