The holidays are upon us and with them come a slew of social gatherings and the need to show up with a little something to get drunk on. Don’t get stuck wandering through a store. Here are some tips to help you find a great bottle of wine for the dinner table, for your boss’s wife or for your fiancée’s friend from college.
Know your wine seller.
Yes, seller not cellar. The easiest way to take the pain out of wine buying is to build a relationship with the staff at your favorite wine shop. They will always know more than you and if you come back regularly they’ll get to know your tastes, steer you away from wines you might not jive with, and introduce you to new bottles in your wine wheelhouse. Sommeliers Brandon Ford and Devin Proch at Pogo’s on Lovers Lane are responsible for introducing me to a lot of winemakers I never would have found otherwise. Have they taken a few points off my credit score in the process? Perhaps, but I love them for it.
Keep it local.
The aforementioned kind of relationship is not as easy to cultivate at a national chain or grocery store, so keep it local. Larger stores have such large inventory that it can be hard for the staff to have firsthand experience with each bottle and the same large inventory requirement makes it difficult for them to stock wine from smaller producers who are often making the most exciting juice.
Some of my favorite Dallas wine shops are Pogo’s, Bar & Garden, Scardello, Neighborhood Cellar and I would be remiss if I didn’t also mention Jimmy’s Food Store, a place that, in my mind, is as close to heaven as we are allowed to visit in this fallen world. While I’m waiting on my hot Italian sausage sandwich, I always peruse their excellent selection of Italian wines arranged by region.
Know your importer.
No one could hope to memorize the millions of individual wine labels and understanding the multitude of grapes and regions takes a bit of elbow grease, so I recommend everyone find a favorite importer as a shortcut. An importer’s job is to go find exciting wines from abroad and bring them to the U.S. market for sale and most tend to have a consistent philosophy behind their choices. If you find an importer you vibe with, all you have to do is check the back of the bottle for their stamp and you can be pretty confident that wine will deliver.
Two great ones to remember are Kermit Lynch and Jose Pastor selections, both renowned for importing from the best traditional, honest, and independent winemakers in France and in Spain, respectively. If you’re looking to go more freaky and fermenty, Goatboy Selections is a great choice for natural wine.
When you find a bottle you like, always get one to rock and one to stock!
When I find wines in the $15 to $25 range that really impress me, I hoard them to an extent that has started to consume my closet space and worry my friends and family. As long as you store them in dark and cool place, they’ll be ready to bust out whenever you’re late for a party and need a gift. So when you find a bottle you like, always get one to rock and one to stock!
Don’t bring wine at all.
Time to undermine all the previous tips. If you’re really stuck this holiday season, zag while everyone else zigs: Leave the wine at home. Instead, grab a special release sixer from a local brewery like Celestial Beerworks or Pegasus City. Swing by the Corner Market flower shop and pick up a nice arrangement. Track down an excellent wheel of cheese or a few ounces of caviar. Bring some ice-cold vodka with cornichons chasers, memorize Polish drinking songs, and shout “Człowiek nie wielbłąd, pić musi (Man is not a camel, he must drink!)” at your fellow party-goers. Maybe don’t do that last one at the office Christmas party, but the others should work.