With so many avenues to buy wine these days, how can you be sure which is the best?
In my new column for Certified Piedmontese Magazine, I share a few tips for navigating & finding the best route for you! Check them out.
Purchasing Wine by Sommelier 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. With buyers on the rise, and 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 and tastings, to 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.
First, let’s start with my favorite avenue for exploring and purchasing wine— local retailers. Think of this option as an interview process, as it’s 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 it can take a bit of time to find the best fit, this option actually holds the greatest payoff. One, hopefully the retailer you end up selecting is close to your domain. That way, if you run out of your favorite juice, then it’s just a quick jog to grab more! Secondly, if you’re buying from that little specialty bottle shop just down the street, you’re certainly supporting your community’s commerce. And last, you’re building a one on-one relationship 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 wine education (through in-store tastings, wine classes, et cetera) so that you are able to step beyond your usual drinking bounds, and potentially discover grapes that you hadn’t tried in the past. It’s a process that can provide more than just wine, rather a wine experience.
Other options for exploring wine include wine clubs, many of which are online. These sellers ship wines directly to your door according to your likes and dislikes, food preferences, budget, and a number of other factors. These subscriptions generally focus around information gathered through a short survey about your preferences. Some ship wine 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 an additional cost to ship more wine to your doorstep. Half bottles also provide only a short window of time for consuming them. It is often the case that wine clubs package their own wines with a variety Purchasing 42 Certified Piedmontese of bulk wine purchased on the open market. Now, the packaging is often savvy and cute, but the wine is typically not held at any quality standard. Don’t be fooled by cute labels! Other wine clubs select wines for you based on price point, and feedback meant to gauge your taste preferences, which can be especially inaccurate. Another disappointing factor to me is that these clubs rarely tend to be run by longtime wine professionals or experienced sommeliers. Most are simply into wine, and sharing wine that is sold at discount, relabeled, or bulk.
Other options include catalogs, websites, and retailers that send a box of wine your way at a monthly fee. I’ve tried a number of them, and, disappointingly, generally one or two bottles (out of a 12- pack case) end up tasting just okay. These inexpensive offers are enticing, but they aren’t necessarily the best value for your dollar. Wouldn’t you rather enjoy one good bottle, over several that are so-so?
A Personal Approach
Ultimately, while clubs can be a fun way to experiment with wine, your local wine shop is often a better investment. Best of all, many of these retailers offer their own wine clubs, and are happy to put together fun wine boxes when you’re interested in trying something new. What’s more, as they get to know your preferences through conversations you’ve shared face-to-face, you’ll enjoy wines picked specifically for you, based on your likes and food interests. 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.