Shopping for Wine in Specialty Shops
Wine specialty shops are small- to medium-sized stores that sell wine and liquor and, sometimes, wine books, corkscrews, wine glasses, and maybe a few specialty foods. The foods sold in wine shops tend to be gourmet items rather than just run-of-the-mill snack foods.
If you decide to pursue wine as a serious hobby, wine specialty shops are the places where you’ll probably end up buying your wine because they offer advantages that larger operations cannot. These advantages include the following:
Wine-knowledgeable staffers on the premises
An interesting, varied selection of wines at all price levels
Wine shops often organize their wines by country of origin and — in the case of classic wine countries, such as France, by region (Bordeaux, Burgundy, Rhône, and so on). Red wines and white wines are often in separate sections within these country areas. There may be a special section for Champagnes and other sparkling wines and another section for dessert wines. Some stores are now organizing their wine sections by style, such as “Aromatic Whites,” “Powerful Reds,” and so forth. A few organize the wines according to grape varieties.
Some wine shops have a special area (or even a super-special, temperature-controlled room) for the finer or more expensive wines. In some stores, it’s a locked vault-like room. In others, it’s the whole back area of the store.
Over in a corner somewhere, often right by the door to accommodate quick purchases, there’s usually a cold box, a refrigerated cabinet with glass doors where bottles of best-selling white and sparkling wines sit. Unless you really must have an ice-cold bottle of wine immediately, avoid the cold box. The wines in there are usually too cold and, therefore, may not be in good condition.
Near the front of the store you may also see boxes or bins of special sale wines. Sometimes, sale wines are those the merchant is trying to unload because he has had them for too long, or they’re wines that he got a special deal on (because the distributor is trying to unload them). When in doubt, try one bottle first before committing to a larger quantity.