Navigating A Wine Store: Learn First, Buy Second

There are certain mysteries in life that seem to defy anything more than a basic understanding. An array of subjects exists that can intimidate even the most capable, such as money and accounting, cars and driving, death and taxes, wine and drinking.

While we won't attempt to unveil the mysteries of money, cars and taxes, we will delve into what we know best-wine and demystifying the elusive wine store.

While some stores may arrange products in unique ways, the basic anatomy of a wine store is somewhat universal. There are typically walls, shelves and racks of wine bottles proudly poised for purchase. Red and white wines may each have their own sections, while champagnes, ports and other specialty wines might be tucked away from main traffic areas.

In contrast, supermarkets, high-volume mass merchandisers and big-box retailers will typically group like wines together or shelve by a particular producer's label. Many wine labels carried in a supermarket are recognizable, since they tend to be high-volume sellers often supported by hefty advertising campaigns.

In a store devoted exclusively to wine and wine accessories, a consumer is more likely to discover lesser-known, exceptional boutique wines that don't enjoy the benefit of advertising dollars to promote them. Instead, these small artisan vineyards rely upon a savvy wine store owner to carry their label and a curious consumer to seek them out.

Perhaps the most powerful distinction of buying wine in a wine store versus a supermarket is in the knowledge of the wine offered for sale. If you have a question, supermarket shelves can't answer back, and employees are usually uneducated when it comes to wine.

If you're looking to try something new, how do you know which wines you'll like? Which wines are great paired with specific foods and which will be good standing alone? Are all zinfandels created equal, and what is a blend?

Every wine has a story. A wine store expert can tell you the story behind the wine, while helping guide you through the decision-making process. Most will know the questions to ask and the answers you're hoping to find.

But keep in mind that not all wine stores are created equal. Find a neighborhood wine merchant that is willing to spend time with customers talking about wine. Make sure you feel comfortable asking questions and that the staff is willing to help and assist. Finding a store with exceptional customer service in a warm, friendly and inviting environment should keep you coming back.

Dispelling the misconception of price, you can't assume that you'll pay less in a supermarket and more in a wine store. In today's competitive market a wine store might carry more than 100 labels priced at $25 or less.

Overall, finding something you like has less to do with price and everything to do with your palate. Understanding your palate is essential for determining the wines you'll like. For example, you may enjoy buttery chardnnay. If you open an oak chardonnay instead of a buttery one, it may not suit your palate. It doesn't matter whether you spent $3 or $50 on that bottle of oak chardonnay, if you don't like oak. The price doesn't change the wine.

So how do you begin to understand your palate? One way is to learn by doing-exploring the differences through tastings will help train and develop your senses. There's no reason you shouldn't be able to find the right wine every time once you understand your tastes.

Buying wine should be as enjoyable as drinking it. When visiting a wine store, look for something similar to our signature, trademarked barometer that gives you a flavor and body index to gauge where a wine falls on the fruity versus dry scale and the degree to which the wine is light or full-bodied. There's no right or wrong wine-only what's right for you. We think you'll be pleased with what is available on the market today at affordable prices.

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About The Author, Lilvino
Lil Lepore co-owns Vino 100 in Valencia (with Shari Frazier), California, a unique specialty wine store offering boutique, handcrafted wines from small, artisan vineyards, as well as a large selection of gifts and accessories. 661-294-6886