It drives me nuts when I go into a wineshop, hoping to find something interesting and different, that may take me a bit out of my comfort zone but will totally suit my palate, only to have the shop guy crush my hopes right after “Hello.” I usually go incognito, as an average wine consumer, to see how they handle me, what questions they ask, and what wines they steer me toward. Too often, their only question is, “Red or white?” before they point me to whatever they are trying to get off their shelves.
They turn me off when they tell me what’s most popular, because frankly, I don’t want to think that I have an “average” palate. Do you? The lemming mentality is at least partially responsible for the sameness in many oaky California chardonnays. “If the neighbor kids jumped off a bridge, would you jump, too?!” (Depends on the height of the bridge, the heat of the day, and the depth of the water below.) There are some popular wines that I also enjoy, but there is a special pleasure in finding something new to introduce to my wine-loving, bridge-jumping friends.
It doesn’t help to tell me what they personally like unless they talk about why they like it, and start by making an effort to try to establish if our palates are similar. Without some frame of reference, I could be taking home a bottle recommended by someone who would rhapsodize over something I would pour down the drain.
For the same reason, I have no interest in wine ratings, because I know that I don’t care for many highly numbered wines. I found this out the hard way, when I was young and foolish and easily impressed. I won’t discount a wine just because it has a high ranking, but I’ll do my best to determine if I will like it before I plunk down my hard earned cash. That requires a recommendation from someone I know and trust, and who knows my palate.
Don’t get me wrong – I am all in favor of building a good relationship with a couple wineshops, so they can get to know me well (and hopefully I’ll get to know them, too). However, it only takes a minute to ask the average wine drinker some important questions, that might make all the difference in their enjoyment of the wine they take home. After all, the wineshops love repeat business.
This is what I would ask if I were in their shoes:
1) Will you be sipping it on its own or having it with food?
2) What kind of food?
3) What wines have you enjoyed in the past, and what did you like about them?
4) When you’ve had wines you didn’t like, what was it about them that put you off?
5) Are you looking for something to enjoy right away, or put away for a few years?
6) Do you prefer challenging yet rewarding wine experiences, or just something easy to drink?
7) What price range are you looking for?
Once we’ve established a relationship, maybe by my second or third visit, then it’s time to ask the fun questions:
8) What was the best wine experience you ever had?
9) What was the worst?
So please tell me your #8 and #9. I’d love to hear them!