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Strategy For Finding Bargain Wine

One of the best (and most counter-intuitive) tricks to find good bargain wines is to watch by-the-glass lists at very expensive restaurants with very carefully chosen wines. Prices are inevitably under $15/glass (usually well under), which means you can probably score a bottle for under $25 in wine stores. Basically, the sommelier does a ton of arduous triage for you, 'cuz he'd damned well better serve sleeper wines that cut the grade and taste expensive!

With that in mind....I'm a big fan of the wine list at a small, horrendously pricey special-ocassion place in Fairfield County called The Schoolhouse at Cannondale. So I'm pasting it in in case it gives anyone ideas. The numbers are prices by-the-glass followed by by-the-bottle. Most can be found for less than half the price in stores.

White
Marco Cecchini, Pinot Grigio, Bellagioia Italy, 2006 11/39
Sydney Ann, Pinot Grigio, Italy, 2005 8/30
Pie De Palo, Viognier, Argentina, 2006 8/32
Chateau de Bonhoste, Bordeaux Blanc, France, 2005 8/32
Highfield, Sauvignon Blanc, Marlborough New Zealand, 2006 11/40
Chateau D’orschwihr, Riesling Bollenberg, France, 2005 11/42
Huber, Gruner Veltliner, Austria, 2006 9/35
Norton Ridge, Chardonnay, Napa Valley CA, 2005 9/37

Red
Domaine Des Echards, Hautes Cotes de Beaune, Bourgogne France, 2006 11/42
Highfield, Pinot Noir, Marlborough New Zealand, 2005 17/65
Steele, Merlot, Lake County CA, 2002 11/40
Abando, Crianza, Rioja Spain, 2001 11/45
Bishop’s Peak, Paso Robles Cabernet Sauvignon, Arroyo Grande CA, 2004 9/37

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  1. OK, the problems with this are . . .

    -- Some labels will not available at retail. (The classic example is Wiliam Wycliffe, which nearly every retailer gets asked about several times a year and knows that it is a label used for restaurant sales only by Gallo). In this case, there is no "Norton Ridge," which is a label made by Joe Briggs from wine purchased on the bulk market.

    -- Some wines are no longer available. For example, I'd be quite nervous about a winery pouring the 2002 Steele Merlot; the current vintage is 2005. Not only would a consumer scouring the countryside for the 2002 vintage be disappointed, but they'd be missing out on what may be a better vintage.

    Clearly the wines will be less at retail, but so will ALL the wines on their list. I'm not sure these would be any more affordable/better deals than the bottles they offer. Not having their wine list at hand, I can't necessarily cite specifics, but my bet -- judging by these prices -- would be their wine list is between 2-3 times retail.

    Having had some pretty horrid wines by the glass at various restaurants across the quality spectrum, I'm not sure I'd sign on to this theory so quickly . . . .

    That said, CLEARLY, if one tries a wine that is available by-the-glass and likes it, they should certainly look for it at retail and they will no doubt find it for a lot less money.

    YMMV.

    Jason

    14 Replies
    1. re: zin1953

      I think you can count on BTG wines being good values only as much as you can count on the sommelier --(s)he could be really working to hunt down great wines that are good values, or could just be filling out the list with whatever they can sell at a good margin. I think a lot of places don't strive for anything beyond "innocuous," on the assumption that the person asking for "a glass of pinot grigio" isn't going to care much about whether it's a really great wine so long as it goes down easy.

      Zin, you'll probably know this, but my suspicion is that most wine list BTG prices account for the wholesale price of the wine with the first glass - in other words, the BTG price is right around the wholesale price and everything over that is gravy.

      Here's what winesearcher.com shows as the retail price on the ones listed (where's there are multiple prices I've averaged) ->
      Cecchini - $17
      Sydney Ann - $11
      Pie de Palo - $7 (!!!)
      Bonhoste - $11
      Highfield - $18
      D’orschwihr - $17
      Huber - $10
      Norton Ridge - $16 [zin - there's plenty of this available from online etailers]
      Echard - (06? must be 05, no?) - $17
      Highfield Pinot - $26
      Steele - $20
      Abando - $18
      Bishop's Peak - $17

      With a couple of outlyers, that formula would pretty much hold up here.

      None of which at all answers the question, "Are they good wines?" That's up to your own tastes, and it's great you've found some good values that way. My experiences with BTG wines have generally been much more mixed, to be generous.

        1. re: zin1953

          In mentioning that the restaurant's wholesale cost is typically recouped with the first glass, I should have added -
          And retail is typically around 1.5x wholesale.
          For those with experience in the biz, is that about right?

          Hunt - how exactly does someone successfully send back a wine that's already been opened because it's "too expensive"?

          1. re: Frodnesor

            Historically, at least here in California (but it carried across the US due to the wine industry being based here), the Winery "Suggested" Retail Price (WSRP) was legally posted with the State of California's Dept. of Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) -- California was a "Fair Trade" state, and the minimum retail prices were posted by the winery and/or wholesaler (in the case of imported wine) with the State. When "Fair Trade" was thrown out by the courts, the pricing "policy" (perhaps "pattern" is a better word choice) remained: wholesale + 50% = retail. So an $8 wholesale bottle would be marked up by 50% and retail for $12, and the $4 difference equaled 33.3% beginning gross profit (BGP).

            This is still the "standard" formula, but many "discount" retailers work on less -- anything from as little as 6% to 33% markups (equalling as much as a 25% BGP).

            As far as onsale (restaurants) are concerned, the markups vary widely, but range anywhere from 2x wholesale to as much as 3x retail. And wine-by-the-glass programs are generally priced more along the lines of "bar markups" than wine list markups.

            That said, there certainly are exceptions to every formula. I used to manage a wine bar where all of our wine list prices were a straight $5 over WSRP, period -- whether the retail was $10 or $60, the added markup was $5. The by-the-glass formula is a bit complicated to describe, but still cheap: we took the wine list price (retail + $5), added the sales tax, divided by five, and rounded up to the nearest 5¢. So, a bottle which cost $20 wholesale, carried a $30 WSRP. We'd add the $5, for $35. Adding 8% sales tax yields a total of $37.80. Divide that by 5 and you get $7.56. So, we would sell that by the glass for $7.60. We'd actually pour SIX 4 oz. glasses per bottle, so we'd make one extra glass of profit (so to speak) by-the-glass. That is, off the list, we'd make $15 beginning gross profit off that $20 wholesale bottle ($35 wine list); by the glass, backing out the sales tax from the six glasses, we'd make $22.22 BGP.

            Now I grant you, we were NOT typical. For example, Jed Steele sells his Merlot for a WSRP of $12. That means the wholesale cost -- with no discounts -- is $8. On the above example by Jeff Leff, the restaurant offers this wine for $11 per glass, or $40 a bottle. Not bad for a wine that only cost the restaurant $8 . . . (Other bottles are similarly over-priced.)

            1. re: zin1953

              "As far as onsale (restaurants) are concerned, the markups vary widely, but range anywhere from 2x wholesale to as much as 3x retail."

              I wish "as much as 3x retail" were the outer limits. Here in Miami it is increasingly becoming the norm in high rent districts (South Beach in particular) and I've seen 4x and even 5x retail on some wines. Indeed some places simply refuse to price any bottle for less than $40, or sometimes $50, and then will carry bottles that retail for $9-10 at those prices. Certain places in Las Vegas have similar markups (l'AdJR comes to mind).

              1. re: Frodnesor

                True -- I always forget Vegas (and Miami) when it comes to markups.

            2. re: Frodnesor

              Usually, by starting to make a scene. If the restaurant is more atune to service, they take it back. Also, if the sommelier, or server, has recommended a wine (not in the case mentioned), the restaurant often takes it back. For me, if I OK the bottle, and it tastes fine, I buy it, regardless if I decide that a Chablis would have been better than the Meursault, that I ordered, but maybe that's just me.

              I've found quite a few, that were not on the B-T-G list, that were available upon asking. If the wine has been sitting about, the sommelier usually does a taste test, before offering it. If it's freshly opened, not so often.

              Hunt

        2. re: zin1953

          I usually find "deals," though not for later purchase, but consumption, by asking the Sommelier for any "special" wines in the B-T-G group. Now, these are usually sommeliers, with whom I have dined for years, but there is almost always a 1er Cru white Burg, that someone sent back, because it was just too expensive, or something "off the beaten path," that the diner did not want, after opening. Now, some of the folk, may well crack a bottle for me, and then mention it to other diners, but I often get really fairly priced (as much as B-T-G is likely to be) wines, that are not on the list, just by asking. Had a wonderful Ramonet Bâtard-Montrachet @ US$25/glass not that long ago. Some supposed high-roller had ordered it, and his wife went ballistic. The sommelier changed out the wine, and was selling this btl. B-T-G. That may be the best score, that I've ever made (other than a free glass of Taylor '55, but that is another story).

          I realize that this is not what the OP is talking about, but about the only tiime that I get "deals," with B-T-G. Now, I will say that a good sommelier will research the B-T-G selection, against the chef's menus. That's why I usually get the sommelier's pairings, with the tasting menus, if offered. Heck, give me light pours of 9 wines with 9 courses, at a fair price, and I'm happy.

          Hunt

          1. re: zin1953

            Er, zin1953/Jason...

            I don't see any of those as "problems", unless you thought I was suggesting slavishly running out and expecting to buy every single bottle you ever see on any wine list anywhere...which would be sort of crazy and ill-advised.

            I chose not to state the obvious, but, for the record, yes: only do this for wines by-the-glass you really like. And don't expect to find every bottle via retail. And only get excited about buying en masse when you have a restaurant that's clearly invested mega time into surveying the field and unfailingly pleased you with its selections. And, in the end, enjoy drinking very high quality, very low-priced wines as a result of their desperate triage (wine directors at fancy restaurants have their work cut out for them finding $20 bottles to match $100/person cuisine to serve to picky customers who've surely tasted their share of upscale wines).

            1. re: Jim Leff

              Actually, Jim, I think it's rather easy to find "$20 bottles to match $00/person cuisine." I used to do it professionally, and now I continue to do it -- both as a consultant and simply for myself and friends.

              For me, what your list of by-the-glass prices above points out is how much of a rip-off the restaurant is, not necessarily what great deals the wines are at retail. Yes, I admit, to a certain extent that's a "glass half full/glass half empty" point-of-view, but anyone can take cheap wines and mark them up. I'd rather see the restaurant pouring better wines by the glass and/or not using such an outrageous mark-up.

              Steele Merlot is $8/wholesale. Wine list price of $40 is FIVE TIMES wholesale, or 3.33x the suggested retail of $12. That is exceptionally high -- $32, or 80% BGP. By the glass, presuming they pour five glasses per bottle, $47, or 85.5% BGP. (If they pour six, the numbers are $58 or 87.9% BGP.

              But that's me . . .

              Jason

              1. re: zin1953

                Jason,

                Being in the biz, you get to try a LOT of wines. Those of us who don't regularly tear through dozens and dozens of wines definitely do not find it "rather easy". In fact, most pros who taste a ton of wine don't seem to find it easy, judging by the mediocre grog I find all over. Same for wine writers, whose ratings are far from reliable.

                So, again, finding a restaurant where a really smart wine person has gone overboard ferreting out great $10/glass wines is a fantastic opportunity to piggyback on their knowledge and effort in order to buy up a bunch of really good $20 bottles for private use.

                1. re: Jim Leff

                  No, I would disagree, Jeff.

                  You write: "most pros who taste a ton of wine don't seem to find it easy." I would suggest that most "pros" don't look. Far more to the norm is the wine buyer who lets his (or her) wholesale reps "present" the wines, rather than seek them out. The wines are there; most wine buyers in most restaurants just don't look. It's really only the "high end" restaurants -- or those with "serious" wine programs -- that can afford to hire a full-time wine buyer. Most places leave the wine buying up to the bar manager, the restaurant manager, or the owner -- none of whom have the time it takes to seek out the best wines. Therefore they often let their favorite sales rep pick/suggest a few/some/a lot of the wines.

                  Keep in mind many wholesale companies -- especially the larger ones -- offer special deals/promotions for wines which are poured by-the-glass. This make take the form of very deep discounts (e.g.: 15% off on three cases, whereas normally you might have to buy 25 cases to receive a 15% discount), or delivering the wine in (e.g.) five case drops if you order 25 (most restaurants have no place to store that many cases of one wine), or special pricing or increased availability on some of the "high end" wines that are on allocation if you pour Chateau Cache Phloe by the glass, etc., etc., etc.

                  I find it much easier to ask my local wine merchant about wines I might like. A good wine merchant will take the time to get to know you and your tastes. He/she will ask you questions and make much better recommendations than you can ever get from a wine writer/magazine column, or by randomly trying various wines by-the-glass. Yes, the wines offerred by the glass will be much more affordable at retail, but a low retail price doesn't automatically translate to the wine being a good buy. There may be much better buys available that your wine merchant can turn you onto that never make a by-the-glass list.

                  1. re: zin1953

                    I don't think you're actually disagreeing. I think you're just been talking about different issues than I have throughout this thread. Which, of course, is your right. Same re: my name (it's Jim, but, hey, if Jeff works for you, that's cool, too).

                    1. re: Jim Leff

                      I can post. Who said I can read? ;^)

          2. I like to check the importer. If I'm in a wine shop, and see an interesting-looking wine for less than $15, I immediately check the back of the label to see who imported it. If the wine is from a trustworthy importer who hand selects his portfolio (Rosenthal, Louis/Dressner, and Eric Solomon, to name a few), I can rest assured that the wine will not be a total bust, and in most cases, it is a very good value.

            ~Eddie
            http://oeno.blogspot.com

            4 Replies
            1. re: Eddie H.

              Yes!

              For me, the first think I look for -- presuming I am not familiar with the wine to begin with -- is the importer. Certain importers are, of course, stronger in certain regions than others, but I often find very good-to-great buys from wines imported by (alphabetically by first name):

              Eric Solomon http://www.europeancellars.com/ (French wines mostly)

              Jorge Ordonez (great Spanish wines; no website that I know of, but this gives some good info on him: http://www.beveragebusiness.com/bbcon...

              )

              Kysela Père et Fils, Ltd. http://www.kysela.com/ (French wines mostly

              )

              Louis/Dressner http://louisdressner.com/ (French wines mostly

              )

              Neal Rosenthal http://www.madrose.com/htmlIndex.html (French wines mostly

              )

              Robert Kacher http://www.robertkacherselections.com/ (French wines mostly

              )

              Steven Metzler http://www.classicalwines.com/ (Spanish wines primarily

              )

              Terry Theise http://www.skurnikwines.com/msw/terry... (Austria, Germany, and Champagnes

              )

              Weygandt-Metzler http://www.weygandtmetzler.com/ (French wines mostly

              )

              and others . . . .

              1. re: zin1953

                Awsome list but when talking about value I would have to add Beaune Imports to that list. I find the wines in their portfolio to be interesting, traditional and shockingly inexpensive for their breed.

                1. re: bubbles4me

                  Agreed -- Beaune Imports has some wonderful, and affordable, wines.

                  1. re: zin1953

                    Beaune Imports is high on my list, as is Vinalia.

            2. One of the problems i have with winelists at even discriminating restaurants is the tendency for wine-buyers/sommeliers to fall into group-think and stock up on the hot region of the moment. Whether it's NZ sauvignon blanc, albarino, gruners or SRH pinots, if it's got some cachet among winegeeks, chances are good you'll find it by the glass at trendy winebars & high-end establishments. Very few wine directors are willing to go out on a limb and fill their lists with bottles outside of the comfort zone of their clientele... and I don't blame them since they're in the business of making money, not wine education.

              1. The problem with this strategy is that you have to go to restaurants .... lol.

                My strategy is simpler and less costly: I got to a local boutique wine store and talk to the friendly owner. He knows my preferences so he would tell me .. you would like this wine, it is very well priced. So I purchase a bottle, go home and try it. If I like it and will come for more and will even check online retailers if I can get a better price.

                34 Replies
                1. re: olasek

                  See I can't do that, if I use the specialized services of a local wine shop I fully intend to give them my business or they will likely not be there much longer. They can be more expensive but you are paying for service and people that will remember what you like and what you don't, people that know what they are talking about and aren't just pushing the "special of the week". A good wine merchant with a knowledgeable staff will always steer you in the right direction and find you the absolute best wine in whatever price range.

                  1. re: bubbles4me

                    Bubbles4me,

                    I feel the same way. I have several big-box stores, that sell wine (some good wines, at a significant savings), but there is a boutique grocer, just over the hill from me, that has a very good wine dept., for AZ. They are about +$3 - 5/btl., but I shop there, so that they will be in business, when I need them. They have a tasting bar, and a broad range of products, and, sometimes, price is not the only consideration. If I do not support them, when I need one more btl. of "fill in the blank," just before a big wine dinner, they will not be there, within 2 mins. of my home.

                    It's the same with my computers, my cameras, my wine and my travel - I go with the service and do not make a local retailer spend hours with my selection, to go shop price.

                    Hunt

                    1. re: bubbles4me

                      >> See I can't do that, if I use the specialized services of a local wine shop I fully intend to give them my business or they will likely not be there much <<

                      I fully agree, therefore I DO support my local wine merchant. Only when he runs out of a particular wine that I shop elsewhere. And by the way his prices are very competitive, I can't complain.

                      1. re: olasek

                        olasek,
                        Sorry, I must have read your post wrong, very glad to hear you are supporting your wine merchant! (Wine merchant here) I really believe that service is important and is worth the extra dollar or two...sorry for the mini rant.

                        1. re: bubbles4me

                          Great thread! very interesting reading for an industry outsider like me.

                          I am very much in favour of supporting the local wine merchant. I live in Quebec which has a bit of a wine monopoly. Because they have a monopoly, service is less attentive. It is hard to find people in the SAQ stores (the name of the monopoly) who are knowledgeable or interested in giving advice or spending time to get to know the clients' preferences. There is also a strong French bias, so forget about the rest of the world (now I do love French wine, but there is a lot of different wine out there!). I love going out of province and country to specialized wine shops to get the chance to speak to mercchants who are passionate about their products. It is both educational and enjoyable. And I buy a lot of wine outside of Quebec for this reason. Enjoy the resource people! As someone who is stuck in a much more onerous system, I can say "you don't know how good you got it".

                          As for restaurant BTG lists, the theory is good, but I have rarely found a really great bargain on a BTG list. I purchase from these lists if I think I can't finish a whole bottle and no reasonable half glass is available. Although i usually enjoy the glass well enough, I can't say I've ever been so wowed by a wine that I've rushed out and bought it retail. I tend to agree that these lists are more geared to what will appeal to the most common ground, because after all, they are there to move product. Not to say I don't appreciate having the choice of a single glass, even with the large markup. I would have many wineless meals without this option, as I haven't got the ability to drink large quantities of wine and still legally drive. But my best buys for wine in the $10-25 price range have not come from wine lists, but from the advice of a good wine merchant. And it is so much fun to learn about wine and exchange information with a professional who really seems to love the job!

                          1. re: moh

                            Guys, I might be missing something, but am I somehow less supportive of my wine merchant if I buy his wine without seeking his advice? Finding a wine merchant with my taste is as hard as finding a wine writer with my taste. Tto find such a person, I'd need to go to LOTS of stores and buy LOTS of klinkers. Wine shop advice is taken on faith, in that it does not come with a taste of the stuff. Whereas my suggestion involves discovering trustworthy palates by actually sampling in real world situations. Yes, olasek, this strategy means "you have to go to restaurants", but, hey, I figured the denizens of this site might dine out once in a while. :)

                            Since it seems like my line of reasoning is proving as unfathomable and obtuse as string theory or Hegel, let me boil it down to a helpful outline:

                            1. find restaurant with wines by the glass you find yourself consistently enjoying

                            2. figure that the person selecting them has gone to lots of trouble (a good bet), and delight in the knowledge that even expensive ones can be had retail for well under $30/bottle.

                            3. bring the restaurant's wine list to your local retailer and go on a buying binge.

                            4. enjoy interesting, carefully triaged $20 bottles at home.

                            1. re: Jim Leff

                              Jim, you are voicing a common misconception, to wit: "Finding a wine merchant with my taste is as hard as finding a wine writer with my taste."

                              This is TOTALLY unnecessary, and is the whole point of finding a wine merchant.

                              It isn't your job to find a merchant whose taste mirrors your own. It is the job of the wine merchant to understand your tastes, and make recommendations appropriate to your likes and dislikes.

                              If a wine merchant only carried the wines he/she liked, the store would have a very small selection indeed. The point is, there are hundreds of thousands of wines out there -- and thousands which will (probably) suit your palate. But what suits your palate may not suit mine, or Bill Hunt's or Olasek's or . . . . yet the wine merchant NEEDS to carry them all.

                              A good wine merchant will not sell you a bottle of wine ONCE, taking the profit and running off to the bank, but rather will take the time to make you (hopefully) a REGULAR customer by getting to know your personal likes and dislikes, your palate preferences as to style, flavor, character, and make recommendations tailored to suit you. He/she will also ask you for your feedback on previous recommendations -- what you liked about that bottle of wine you bought last time, AND what you didn't like. The more he/she understands your palate, the better the recommendations will be. (Think of it as zeroing in on the target, correcting for range, and hitting the bull's-eye time and time again.)

                              A wine writer cannot do this. It's a one-way monologue, not a two-way discussion. Few writers are consistent, and fewer still are consistent enough to learn how to calabrate YOUR palate to THEIR notes/reviews. So you end up buying the same wines hundreds if not thousands of other people do, and molding your tastes to the writer's preferences. Not a good way to go.

                              Your idea of checking out wines which are poured by the glass severely restricts you to that/those restaurant's selection(s) -- which you may or may not like. Buying "x" number of glasses of wine in dorer to find the one or two you like can turn into a costly proposition . . . not to mention, you need to eat out a lot. (This is slightly more affordable if, instead of going to a full-fledged restaurant, you can go to wine bars, and ask for "half-pours," but still . . . )

                              Think of the wine merchant as a "middleman." Yes, he or she wants to make the sale, wants to make a profit (especially if you are dealing directly with the owner, rather than the employee -- who doesn't have a profit-sharing incentive), but no wine merchant -- as I said above -- wants to see you only once. They want you as a repeat customer. So the role truly is that of a "middleman" -- he/she is working WITH you/FOR you to successfully discover wines that you like and enjoy, and not to reach into your wallet for that platnium credit card.

                              1. re: zin1953

                                I tend to disagree with asking wine merchants about any wines simply because taste is so subjective and inextricably tied to each person's physical make-up.

                                Here is an interesting experiment.

                                Tell a merchant "I enjoy wine A." Ask "Do you have any wines that taste similar to wine A?"

                                I think most will find that if they name 3 different wines, at least two will be dissimilar and many times all three. Not only to wine A, but to each other.

                                1. re: FrankJBN

                                  >> because taste is so subjective <<

                                  Not everything is subjective. Things like "full bodied", "heavily extracted", "concentrated", "high alocohol", "oaked", "fruity", "earthy", "spicy", "hot", etc, etc. are very well understood among wine merchants and wine customers. At least this is the language I am using when I talk to my wine merchant and based on his recommendations I never got a wine that would contradict my description so clearly such an exchange makes sense.

                                  1. re: FrankJBN

                                    Frank, I can only speak from 35+ years of primarily retail experience doing EXACTLY what I described here.

                                    First of all, let's look at a slightly more realistic conversation than "I like Wine A," shall we? (M = merchant; C = customer)

                                    M: Can I help you?
                                    C: No, thanks. Just looking.
                                    M: OK, well if you have any questions . . .
                                    C: Well, I'm looking for a wine to serve with dinner Saturday night.
                                    M: What are you serving for dinner?
                                    C: Um -- ____________________.
                                    M: OK, how are you preparing it?
                                    C: [blah-blah-blah-blah-blah]
                                    M: Well, I think [wine type] would work quite nicely with that. Do you like [wine type]?
                                    . . . and the conversation continues from there.

                                    * * * * *

                                    Or, it may be:

                                    C: I'm looking for a Chardonnay.
                                    M: OK, how much are you looking to spend? What style to you like?
                                    C: Uh, $25. What do you mean by style?
                                    M: Well, do you like your Chardonnays oaky and buttery, or do you like them with less oak, perhaps more steely?
                                    C: Steely? What's that?
                                    etc., etc., etc.

                                    * * * * *

                                    Eventually, the merchant may narrow it down to asking if the customer likes, for example, Chardonnays from Santa Barbara or Sonoma?
                                    C: Uh, hadn't really thought of it.
                                    M: Well, do you know the names of some of the Chardonnays you've enjoyed in the past?
                                    C: Well, I had the Winery A Chardonnay. That was pretty good.
                                    M: OK, well -- Blankity-Blank makes a very tasty Chard that is a little less oaky than that made by Winery A, with a bit more mineral notes . . . and this is a really delicious Chardonnay from Whosis that I think would work really well. It has the buttery notes of Winery A, but with [etc., etc., etc.]

                                    * * * * *
                                    Frank, of course all three Chardonnays (or Cabernets or Zinfandels or Italian whites or Austrian reds or _____________) WILL be different from each other. If not, why not just recommend the same wine three times? But the differences we're talking about are by degrees. Perhaps, in the above illustration, one Chardonnay may be MORE oaks than Winery A's; one will be LESS oaky -- this presumes that oak is the dominant feature mentioned by the customer, what he or she enjoys about the wine -- and the third may be considerably less oaky, offered as an alternative . . . and the fact that it IS different should be (and generally is) clearly explained, as should the reason WHY this is being included in the recommendations . . . indeed the reasons why each wine is being recommended should be clearly explained.

                                  2. re: zin1953

                                    My taste is for really really really delicious wine.

                                    Ok: ............go!

                                    What do I find delicious, you ask? Well, not a certain grape. Not a certain acidity. Not a certain age. Not a certain region. Not a certain tannin level. Not a certain "type". In fact, I don't want to stick to wines of a certain profile. What I do want is really really really delicious wines of any conceivable types

                                    Sounds hard to pin down and subjective? You bet. I'm a chowhound. I don't care about anything but the deliciousness, subjectivity be damned.

                                    And so I find my kindred spirits while actually drinking the stuff.

                                    1. re: Jim Leff

                                      "Sounds hard to pin down and subjective?" Actually, no. Jim, this is simple -- you really want to do this?

                                      You want "really, really, really delicious wines"? Fine, we still play 20 questions . . .

                                      Are you looking today for a red, white, rose or sparkling -- perhaps something fortified?

                                      Is it to drink now, or cellar? If it's to drink now, are you going to drink it alone, or with food (and if so, what kind of food)? If it's to cellar, how long?

                                      No matter how much you THINK you're being wide open, the fact is, you walk into a wine merchant and you're in the mood for something . . . just as you are when you're hungry and sit down in a restaurant to eat -- something catches your fancy, as it were, maybe it's a corned beef sandwich, maybe it's a hot fudge sundae . . . maybe it's seared foie gras -- whatever! It's no less true for wine; you're in the mood for something . . . something that sounds delicious, and tomorrow it might be something else.

                                      1. re: zin1953

                                        The trick is finding a very good wine merchant. Reallize there may not be one within 50 miles. If you try one, how many bottles does one purchase before you realize you're not connecting with the merchant?
                                        A 5-course wine tasting at a high quality restaurant may work for people wishing to sample and then purchase a variety of wine.

                                        1. re: tom porc

                                          I certainly admit to living in an urban area. I've lived throughout California for all but five years of my life, in the megalopolis of Los Angeles, the metropolis of San Francisco and Berkeley, but also in more isolated communities of 20-,30,000 . . . 50+ miles from the "big city," the nearest airport, the closest urban center.

                                          It's never been a problem for me to find a valued wine merchant in these small towns. Maybe it's because I'm in California? Maybe it's because I'm luckier? Maybe it's because I try the recommendations, and provide the feedback the merchant needs? I don't know . . . but at least I'm not confronted with the state stores of Pennsylvania or the restrictions of Utah.

                                          OTOH, if you have a restaurant that offers a five-course wine tasting -- I should think a quality wine merchant CAN'T be that far away! ;^)

                                          Jason

                                          1. re: tom porc

                                            >> The trick is finding a very good wine merchant.<<

                                            Honestly I never had this problem. If I described what I was looking for and used standard terminology (rather than "find me a delicious wine") I never walked away disappointed. Maybe sometimes I was pleased more than other times but it was never monies wasted. I live in the same area where zin1953 lives so maybe we are lucky having vibrant and knowledgable wine retailers.

                                            1. re: olasek

                                              There probably is more than one factor, but I'd expect being in California is a natural advantage.

                                              If you came here, to most areas of smaller towns in New England, and enquired about finding a reliable, knowledgable dealer in, or restorer of, fine Early American antiques...no problem. Within minutes you could have a list of sophisticated dealers and restoration experts, at different budget levels, noting specialists in your particular interest areas. I'm confident you would find at least several you'd be pleased with, including some who have built distinguished reputations on the national and international scenes.

                                              Why? Because we're rolling in Early American antiques and artifacts, ranging from poor or suspect to world-class quality. I've lived in three different areas of southern New England. In all of them, it seems like one can't drive a mile without seeing at least several "Antiques" signs. And that doesn't count the ones who only advertise by word of mouth or work through professional interior designers.

                                              Just as California has plenty of vineyards and all the types of businesses that attach to an economic and cultural engine.

                                              1. re: MaggieRSN

                                                Actually, it depends upon where in New England, I should think. Clearly Boston isn't a problem. New Hampshire -- with it's state stores -- is.

                                                One flaw in your logic is that wine doesn't only come from California. Indeed, with the large number of (e.g.) people of Portuguese descent, it's much easier to get some top-fight Portuguese table wines in New England than in California. So, too, French and Italian wines as most (but admittedly not all) the small boutique importers of top-flight European wines are based on the East, not the West, Coast.

                                                1. re: zin1953

                                                  Zin, I don't believe I made generalizations about the ease or difficulty, throughout New England, of connecting with a wine merchant with an inventory that goes beyond the basics.

                                                  Of course one can find plenty in the greater metropolitan areas of New York (southwestern Connecticut being simultaneously New England and greater NYC), Boston, Providence, Hartford, Portland, and also in other smaller cities and larger towns.

                                                  I did say it can be a challenge in the outlying exurban and rural areas, just as it may be difficult to find an independent butcher who supplies a wide range of products, a gourmet cheese shop, a fabric store, a bridal shop, or any number of specialty retailers.

                                                  As to the second point, I wasn't speaking about what merchants in California stock, or where the wines come from. I was saying that I'd expect wine is more important to California's culture. (And it's certainly seemed that way to me, in my visits there.)

                                                  And, you're right, in specific New England communities such as New Bedford, Newport, or Danbury--places where Portuguese immigrants and descendants are concentrated--food and drink inventories are tailored to include their preferences.

                                                  However, that wouldn't be an accurate statement about New England as a unit. It's certainly not true in my area, or the area I grew up in, which have no significant Portuguese concentration, and where I see stores stocking Mateus and maybe another wine, plus a basic selection of Madeiras.

                                                  In my general area, virtually any Italian wine, at any level, one could wish for is often stocked, due to the concentration of people of Southern Italian background in the cities closest to us. OTOH, I doubt very much that one could go into a wine shop in rural Maine and find the extensive range of Italian products that are present here.

                                                  Or we could have the same discussion about groups of other heritages.

                                                  What I tried to express down toward the bottom of that second post was that (paraphrasing), when a particular industry is a major economic engine in a state or region, due to being blessed with a specific resource or commodity, different "sub-industries" and businesses tend to grow up around it, both to support the parent industry, and because that parent industry becomes entrenched in the culture.

                                                  Now, you are the professional with regards to business of wine, and I would welcome the correction if I am wrong. But my point is that, when an area has a particular culture, that culture is one of the major factors that shapes the consumer market. And, then, in turn, the market dictates the number and types of retail establishments that are readily sustained.

                                                  1. re: MaggieRSN

                                                    Maggie,

                                                    There are plenty of places in California where finding a good bottle of wine (or a good wine merchant) is NOT easy, any more than it would be in rural New England. Obviously urban environments offer certain advantages; so, too, do rural ones. The same is true for disadvantages. It's easier to find a Global chef's knife in a major metropolitan area (and its suburbs) than in rural New England . . . or rural Iowa or rural California, for that matter. And it's easier to find a solid wine merchant in a major metropolitan area than in a rural one. But this doesn't mean a) it's impossible, nor b) one shouldn't look.

                                                    I confess, Maggie, that I've never been to Chesuncook, Maine. But I've found a really good store in Portland, Maine. (Not the same, I know.)

                                                    This has nothing to do with my having been ITB, Maggie -- I was in Maine on vacation. I wasn't working. And I'm not trying to argue -- with you or anyone. But I will say there is a widespread tendency to distrust retailers and not to ask/seek out their advice. And yet these are the people who can (and do!) help customers the most.

                                                    1. re: zin1953

                                                      I agree with you re California, carswell. I never made the point that it's easy to find a good wine shop all over the Golden State. I was merely responding to a point that zin and olesek made in response to tom porc's comment that it isn't always easy to find a good shop, that there may not be one within a convenient distance.

                                                      I was trying to explain that my experiences in two rural areas I have lived in have been similar to the idea tom expressed, and, frankly, I was sincerely asking for guidance from members on the board. I'm getting the feeling that somehow I phrased my questions about which type of merchant I should concentrate on in some way that they must have sounded like sarcastic complaints on my part, rather than ernest questions.

                                                      I wouldn't assume that the reason you located a good store in Portland is because you were in the business, Carswell. I've read enough of your posts to know that you have enough intelligence and acumen in general to be able to discriminate between effective and ineffective merchants. And so do I, though my knowledge of wines falls far short of many on this board. I know what you're saying about a general distrust of retailers, but that's not me. (I know you don't know me, and I understand if I have somehow given a different impression.) I assume that merchants and people in general know what they're doing and act in good faith until they prove otherwise.

                                                      I have a genuine challenge here in choosing between merchants who have inventories but not impressed me with their service and who are overpriced; merchants who extensive stock in terms of quantity, but not area of origin; and a couple of very accommodating merchants who are eager to help me and will order anything I please, but who have tiny, limited stores and, honestly, don't seem all that sophisticated on the topic. Understandably, I lean toward giving them my business, but if one of the purposes of cultivating a relationship with a merchant is to consult someone who can teach me, is that the right way to go?

                                                      These were my serious questions, and I'm afraid somehow they've gotten lost--in my own translation, perhaps? ;-). I'm not trying to argue, either, and I did NOT come here to complain about wine merchants just for the sake of complaining about wine merchants. I live in a sparsely populated area that presents certain characteristics and I'd welcome any advice.

                                                      1. re: MaggieRSN

                                                        Maggie, I'm not sure if you're addressing me, or addressing carswell, but you may want to check out this new thread:

                                                        http://www.chowhound.com/topics/465844

                                                        1. re: zin1953

                                                          My most recent post was in immediate reply to carswell's, but, yes, in general I'd say in my messages in this thread I was addressing you, too, and others. Your posts--the ones I've been able to see in my brief time here--have struck me as informative *and* instructive (as an example, your specific examples on this thread of initial conversations we could use to get to know merchants).

                                                          I'm so happy you started the new thread and look forward to following it. Thank you.

                                              2. re: olasek

                                                olasek and zin ... Consider yourself fortunate you have quality merchants in your area. I'm afraid economics is the determining factor in many areas. Merchants will stock what sells quickly. Liquor licenses have now approached (in NJ) $1.5 million plus Liquor Liability Insurance so mostly we have chain liquor stores interested in profit.
                                                The most knowledgable "wine merchant" may be a somm at a high quality restaurant. Surely he/she would enjoy discussing the wines they are offering and advise on the same things you have recommended to ask a retail merchant. Then afterwards you may be able to find a wine you'll enjoy at Buy-Rite without asking the teenager behind the counter.

                                    2. re: moh

                                      Probably a topic for another thread, moh, but I can't agree that we've got such a bum rap with the SAQ. Yes, Manhattanites willing to develop relationships with several stores have access to a broader range of wines than we do, often at lower prices (though good luck finding a bottle of the 2005 Clos des Papes that just blew through here at $69 including 14% sales tax for less than $100 before sales tax in NY). But compare the offer in urban areas similar in size to greater Montreal (2-3 million) or greater Quebec City (under 1 million), not to mention places like Drummondville and Trois-Rivières, and the picture suddenly looks a lot less gloomy.

                                      Yes, there's a predilection for things French. While that surely has something to do with the preferences of the SAQ's buyers, it has a lot more to do with the tastes of consumers. We live in a French province. Look at the fine restaurant scene: there's nowhere in North America that comes close to the number of French-leaning eateries per capita (in fact, it wouldn't surprise me if Montreal has more French restos in absolute numbers than NYC), while those of many other nationalities are underrepresented (German? non-tapas-bar Spanish? Korean? Indonesian? Turkish? non-sushi-bar Japanese? Caribbean? South American? Eastern European? southern barbecue?). And it's hardly like we're deprived of wine from other countries. The Italian offer is full of interest; the Cellier program has been bringing in all kinds of new products (60+ South African and Australian wines in November); many of the big German names can be found on the shelves; the Iberian selection, especially Portuguese, has significantly improved; we're starting to see interesting wines from Austria, Greece, Hungary, Switzerland.

                                      The main reason the SAQ doesn't stock a huge range of, say, California wines is because they don't sell particularly well. The monopoly may not be as quick as greased lightning but they have demonstrated themselves fully capable of adapting to demand; look at the South American section, for example, especially at the low end. Look at the recent waves of New Zealand, South African and even Lebanese wines. If the buyers are there, the SAQ will usually bring it in. And if they don't, you can often get it without too much hassle through the Quebec agent on a private import basis.

                                      Actually, while there are still wines I would love to see the SAQ carry, my real problem is that there are too many wines of interest for me to taste, let alone buy, and that's despite having a tasting group and attending the occasional trade tasting.

                                      As for service, I'm surprised at your comments since you live near the Laurier outlet, which has some very friendly, knowledgeable, enthusiastic and helpful wine advisors (and be sure to address your questions to them -- the *conseillers en vin* -- not the stock clerks, who are often clueless). At Laurier, Michel and Dominique are the ones I turn to most often; at Beaubien, Justin; but you should be able to zero in on the ones whose palates are compatible with your own.

                                      With respect to Leff's strategy, I tend to side with Jason and company. It's an interesting conceit but one that doesn't really pan out in practice. The main problem, I think, is that most by-the-glass lists are designed to (1) appeal to a wide range of tastes and (2) accompany a wide range of food. (1) means you’d end up buying a number of wines that don’t appeal to *your* tastes. (2) means many fun wines -- wines that are quirky or characterful or strongly/oddly flavoured -- will probably not make it onto the list, whereas many wines whose main appeal is that they’re none of those things will.

                                      1. re: carswell

                                        Carswell, your points about the SAQ are well taken. It may be a case of "the grass is always greener". I would agree that the selection has improved greatly in the past few years. And it is very possible that if I lived in other areas, I'd get sick of their selection and long for more interesting French selections. And I'd start to see the limitations of their other stock (what? can't they get any different New Zealand Pinot noirs?). Part of my perception may also stem from the fact that my French is not great, and so I don't establish the same relationships with the SAQ conseillers that I can with random English speaking wine merchants in other places. (although I don't think my French is that bad when it comes to food and drink). Still, there are a few points that I feel are relevant:

                                        1. I have gone into small wine stores all over the place outside of quebec and seen more interesting Austrailian, New Zealand, Spanish, etc. selections than here in Quebec. The selections have been very carefully chosen, and there are many wines I want to try (usually I am limited by how much I can transport home). I can't say I always feel this way in the SAQ. (What? they only stock two Priorato?). As you say, that may be changing (I'll have to look at the new Austrailian stock, thanks for the tip!).

                                        2. I may have been burned by one too many uninteresting French wines that I have randomly tried from the SAQ. For example, we recently had a tasting of 20 bottles, ranging from $9-25, to try to find a wine for a friend's wedding meal. Only one bottle was undrinkable, a French Pinot (not from burgandy). It wasn't corked, it was just not very good. I find very few bottles undrinkable, so this was unusual for me. But I don't seem to have good luck with randomly picking bottles from the SAQ: I rarely find good surprises. But when you go to a wine shop that has a smaller, carefully chosen stock, it seems like more of the turkeys have been filtered out. So your chances of randomly picking out a reasonable wine is much higher.

                                        3. I have had many really great bottles from other places, usually reccommendations from the people in the wine shop. I have rarely had really great bottles on recs from SAQ employees, even from the SAQ signature shop. Again, it may be my french. I will definitely try to look for the conseiller (again, thanks for the tip). But I frequent the Laurier SAQ often, and I do like the selection there. I'll often troll around the shop with a cart and browse the selection thouroughly. I have rarely been approached by the employees, although it is clear that I am planning to drop a wad. When I have asked for advice, I have rarely come away thinking "wow, that was realy helpful" Whereas I have often gone to wine shops in other places and left with great bottles, great advice and great memories. If the person I am talking with has not tasted a wine I am interested in, they will often find someone else who has. I have been introduced to many new producers, varietals, and regions from these interactions. I do choose the wine shops carefully, so maybe I am only seeing the best in that area. But I would think the Laurier SAQ could match them. Although I like the selection at the SAQ, I have to do my own research when I go shopping there. Which is fine, I do that anyway. But it is so much fun going in and talking with someone who is more familiar with the inventory. Let's face it, the SAQ doesn't need to win me over, they have me as a captive audience. It is not about service.

                                        4. When I am in the market for a sought after wine, I have a lot of trouble getting it in the SAQ. Try to buy the latest Solaia? Good luck. And that is even with doing the line up thing. Tried to buy some of the latest E. Guigal Cote Rotie single vineyards. No chance. I have no "in" here in Quebec, so I often buy these sorts of wine outside of the province. For some reason, although I have no "in" in these other places, I can often find wines that were impossible to purchase in Quebec. To go back to the Solaia, I have a complete vertical since 1994. Only one of these bottles was purchased in Quebec. Goodness knows I tried, but I have never been able to get in quick enough to get some of these bottles when they have been offered here. I have this feeling that most of these bottles go to restaurants and to special customers. In other places, people offer to special order bottles for you if they don't have them in stock, and they call you when they get them. I haven't had this experience here. I even had one SAQ employee berate me for wanting to special order a wine, stating "look around you. with this selection, do we need to order your wine?" Like I say, it isn't about service.

                                        I have had some really great experiences with some of the private importers, in particular Rezin. And as you say, things are looking up in the selections on offer. But I miss the smaller more personal wine shops I frequented in my two years in North Carolina (not exactly a wine region!). I drank and bought some really great wines down there, thanks to some very dedicated wine merchants. I've bought some really great wine in Winnipeg, again, thanks to some really inspiring wine professionals. The list goes on. I guess I like my Food professionals to be a little more warm and fuzzy...

                                    3. re: bubbles4me

                                      bubbles, a couple of years ago, after having lived for more than 20 years in DC and NY, I moved to an area of small outer-exurban and rural towns.

                                      Unlike living in New York or Washington, out here where the wild run free our little communities and sparser population can only support so many vendors. Sometimes you have to drive two, three, four towns away to find things that are plentiful in cities. And vendors can sell only so many items to the smaller population. So choices in all manner of consumer goods can be limited, and some prices can be bloated.

                                      There's a marked dichotomy here. We have a significant population of the more affluent metro-refugee professionals, second-home weekenders and summer residents (the upscale wine boutique cohort), and then old Yankee towns where the bread & butter for liquor stores tends to be Friday night beer sales for the weekend, plus a few mainstream wines or domestic bubblies for holidays and special occasions. Those stores understandably can't afford to carry broad inventories that don't sell.

                                      That wine merchant business--I agree with the soundness of developing a relationship with mine, if I could only find him/her. That's been a tough nut to crack.

                                      I have made a methodical effort to go to various shops here and in neaby towns, multiple times, looking for different things on each visit. (Oh, btw, I always buy at least one bottle, even when I'm not convinced. As a show of faith.)

                                      One merchant has a beautiful store, crammed with bottles from every corner of the Universe. But he was simply...hopeless, frankly...when it came to advising on wine. I decided finally I had to break up with him after I showed him a bottle and asked what he thought about it, to accompany a rack of lamb. He told me, sorry, he didn't know much about cooking. Perhaps he thought I was asking him to coat the lamb in Dijon for me or lend me his mother's recipe. I had just assumed that, maybe, his wholesalers might tell him something about the products, or maybe he read professional publications or attended industry events, or did whatever it is wine sellers do to learn about the things they sell.

                                      I deserted the Trendy Brothers, even though they stocked the type things that interest me, once I became sure of their modus operandi, which was to belittle (quite snarkily, I might add) whatever wine friends had recommended I ask about, just before they (the Trendy Brothers) redirected me to--surprise!--significantly more costly options. Good riddance to them, anyway. They weren't very genuine.

                                      Several stores I don't feel much about either way. There's nothing bad about them, per se, but there's nothing distinctive, at least not yet.

                                      Then I have candidates who have genuinely impressed me for their willingness to please and make an effort. I'm not wowed by either inventories, though, and I'm not totally confident in their expertise.

                                      One has a great deal of stock, comprised of: large expanses of California and Washington State wines, a significant Australian selection, a respectable Italian Chianti section, maybe a dozen wines from France, and none from Germany. The thing is, I'm most interested in traditional European wines, especially French, but also Spanish, German, and Italian, plus fortified wines.

                                      On the most recent visit, I asked the two young gentlemen at the counter if they had any nice Sangioveses, or at least Chianti that were heavy on the Sangiovese. One asked me to repeat "that word". The other looked startled, but upon regaining his composure, asked me to spell "Sangiovese" and began to fumble nervously on his keyboard, attempting to look it up for me. I was shocked that they didn't know "Sangiovese", but (being a softy) felt compelled to give them a B+ for attitude. The anxious one explained to me that he was filling in for his wife, the wine buyer, who was home with a cold. I was ready to give him a pass. Then he picked up the phone and called his wife, who spent a decent amount of time on my request, with the young man acting as our telephonic go-between. I felt by then he had earned an "A" for effort and changed his grade. The wine I took home was good, not great, but good.

                                      The other frontrunner is the store of a very accommodating gentleman who has a depressing inventory. Upon crossing the threshold, not much to see except vast drifts of "turning leaves". A few other options, but not many. But he's the type who's always ready to say, "Instead of the wine you've picked out, I have this, which is supposed to be similar, but for a few dollars less." He also cheerfully volunteers to order any bottle of wine for me, if I don't see it on his shelves. Which I hardly ever do, since he doesn't have very much to see. He was quite proud that he had managed to special order a bottle of Dom for "a lady up the road". I get the sense that he knows what he carries very well, but maybe not so much beyond that. I'm not sure he's a "wine mentor". Yet, he's always so *helpful*, and always mindful of whatever price range I mention.

                                      These are truthful representations of what I've experienced so far. Although my cheeky tone may reflect my surprise at what I've found (or haven't found), I'm not intending to insult the wine merchants (except for the snarky Trendy Brothers). I'm trying to convey that in some rural areas, it's not so easy to establish a relationship with a knowledgable wine merchant.

                                      I'll keep trying new places, though they're getting farther and farther away from my house. But if this is generally what I'm going to find, where do I do better? The service oriented guys with poor inventories? The big store with the owner who doesn't want to cook my dinner? The snotty guys who know wines and have what I want, but try to push me to more expensive merchandise?

                                      Would you have any advice for we country mice who don't have the world at our fingertips?

                                      1. re: MaggieRSN

                                        Maggie,

                                        Wow..sounds like you have done all you can with the stores that are in your area and as a wine merchant I applaud your efforts. I must admit that I have lived in LA my whole life so I can not relate to your problem. You mentioned that you lived in NY & DC did you have a favorite merchant in either place? When you said, "People that don't have the world at our fingertips" the first thing I thought was, "fingertips...keyboard...internet". I'm sure if you had a favorite shop they would be more than willing to ship you the wines that you adore or if you had a relationship with a particular sales person they would alert you when something they think you would love has come in the store. (Lots of wine shops put out newsletters...at least in my area so get on some mailing lists...they can be really fun to read)

                                        I wish you good luck and I'll be keeping my fingers crossed that you will be sipping on exciting and tasty wines in the near future.

                                        1. re: bubbles4me

                                          TY, bubbles. In this day and age, I misspoke, didn't I, when I talked of "[p]eople who don't have the world at our fingertips"? I probably meant, "...at our doorsteps." :-D

                                          Yes, I'm sure I would be able to do as you suggest and either re-establish a former, or establish a new, relationship via telephone with a vendor in either NY or DC. In fact, I do that for some other things we buy on a regular basis, and it's been working out very well.

                                          I guess I was hoping to find someone more local either instead of, or to supplement, a more distant merchant, for several reasons. First, I believe strongly in something Hunt said about supporting local businesses. I try to do that when I can, and, especially, when one encounters the two stores I mentioned that don't stock much I'm interested in, but do take great pains to help customers. One wants to support those types of sellers!

                                          And I realize I can even get wine overnight via shipment, but sometimes one just wants to run out on the spur of the moment and pick up something interesting for dinner, you know?

                                          But, also, being new to the board, I've spent some time going back to read the archives, and one of the most frequent pieces of advice veterans give to board newbies who want to learn more about wine is to develop a relationship with a local merchant. It's logical to me, and I was really hoping to find someone reasonably nearby.

                                          But...there's nothing to prevent me from continuing my search *and* ordering for shipment from NY and DC in the meantime. So thanks for the good idea.

                                          I had a question that perhaps you or someone could answer. One thing we don't seem to lack in the area are lovely country inns and restaurants with "serious" cuisine and extensive wine lists. Do restaurants generally buy their wines and liquors from wholesalers, reps or retailers...or whom? If retailers, I thought perhaps I could ask several sommeliers or maitre d's at places we like who they purchase from?

                                          1. re: MaggieRSN

                                            It may depend on the state but in CA they would have to buy wholesale so I think your idea is a great one! make friends with a sommelier and you just may have another friend in your camp searching out fun wines for you to try!

                                            1. re: bubbles4me

                                              All right, then. Nothing stopping me from pursuing all these avenues, so, as my MIL says when it's time not to give up on an objective, tally ho! TY.

                                              1. re: MaggieRSN

                                                One thing I would add is that small wine stores are like any other boutique provider you cultivate a relationship with, whether it's a sushi bar or a butcher or a cocktail lounge. You're trying to get them to point you toward the good stuff, not necessarily the most expensive or prestigious item, and it's sort of a game to prove you don't like want mojitos and California rolls.

                                                I don't know that much about wine, but I like oddities--I'll always try an obscure wine made from a grape or grown in an region I've never heard of. These are always good places to start a conversation and a relationship; a great wine merchant who wants to cultivate business will know what to steer you toward (adventure, value).

                                                Of course the other key is finding people who know more about wine than you to drink with. I imagine this is a bigger need outside a big city. But even in Northern California, I find drinking wine with most of my friends and family to be uninspiring. I bought a good bottle for Thanksgivind and ended up hiding it because I didn't want it to be wasted on people who wouldn't appreciate it...

                                                1. re: Windy

                                                  I understand the cultivation of good wino-buddies. I always try to include a few of these, even in "family" events, just so I CAN bring out the good stuff. If Aunt Maltilda wants 7-up with her Howell Mtn. Merlot, so be it. There are always at least four, who will appreciate it! You might want to think about the International Wine & Food Society, as they have a chaper in N. CA. Next, at wine tasting events, whether at wine bars, or restaurants or wineries, talk to the folk, who have a love for the grape, as you do. Invite a few of these to your next dinner. We formed a wine/food group with about six couples and did a dinner about every month. Usually eight to ten were able to attend and the events were great.

                                                  There is never a dearth of winos, unless one is in a heavy Bible-belt region, to attend a good wine dinner. Even there (Bible-belt), I'll bet that you can find like-minded individuals and couples, who would love to do wine dinners. They might not be at every table of your local Starbucks, but they are there. You just need to locate them, and invite them.

                                                  Hunt

                                                  1. re: Windy

                                                    Oh, I know what you mean, Windy. It's like going out and spending a fortune on the only pot one can use to spend four days carefully preparing your pheasant-stuffed-with-blowfish recipe, the one that requires the bird be trussed by dental floss made from silk emitted from the last eight known spiders in a certain species found only in a village in China before the fibers are hand-carried to be spun by eight vestal virgins swimming in a pool in Peru...and when you ask them how they liked it, they say, "It was okay". Dolts! ;-)

                                                    I want to find a merchant who loves Burgundy, no matter how cranky she gets, but can also tip me off to that tasty nine-dollar South African find, just for fun.

                                2. As someone who loves wine but consumes it primarily as part of a meal, I might add that the advantage of trying wines in a restaurant is to find out what foods they complement. I don't enjoy going to a wine bar that has nothing more than cheese and bread and drinking big bold reds.

                                  The best places to taste wine in San Francisco are not necessarily wine bars or wine stores but restaurants with interesting by the glass lists, especially those like Incanto that specialize (only Italian wine) and offer generous half-pours. But then we have a lot of well-crafted wine lists around town, and occasionally decent stemware.

                                  I will comment that wines by the glass in restaurants tend to be significantly more marked up at the low end; in part because it's harder to break that $10 a glass threshhold than to splurge on a $75 bottle. Personally I can't bear to pay $8 for a glass of wine that's $10 a bottle in the corner store. I'm too much of a value shopper.

                                  Makes me long for Australia and New Zealand with their no corkage BYOB policies. Especially a few years ago, when the US $ still bought a fine shiraz or Sauvignon Blanc...

                                  2 Replies
                                  1. re: Windy

                                    I agree but it is much easier in SF than say down here in the South of California...wine lists are less inspired and for the most part pretty bad. I almost always have to bring my own to have a great food and wine pairing.

                                    1. re: bubbles4me

                                      On the plus side, restaurants in SF are likely to post their wine lists on their websites. Unless it's something very exotic, it should be available in LA/Southern California.