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Two decades of wine-merchanting taught me pretty much all there is to know about the field. From the inspirational to the comical to the mundane, each experience made me a little better at what I did. The #1 topic in the arena of wine merchant experiences – customers and, for the most part, their predictable buying habits. Wine merchants, by nature wine lovers through and through, are always politely pushing their customers away from their normal and drink with diversity.
Granted, I owned and operated a wine shop in Downtown Napa for 15 years, so naturally the top request would be Napa Cabernet. From a sales standpoint it was great. Stock up like crazy on Cabernets and Cab-based blends from Napa and watch them fly out the door. The wine lover in me, however, wanted to help my customers branch out. “Try this fruity, spicy Grenache as a starter, I would say. Or, “I know you like big reds, and this Petite Sirah is as big as wine gets. You’ll love it.” I had my fair share of customers who took my advisement, and they are all mighty glad they did. This customer is the exception rather than the rule, however. Mostly, I recommend wines (Napa Cabs primarily) that tasted as similar to one another as they possible could. Deviance from “the style” my customer likes was taken as a negative. Most of the time.
Free wine advice from a former Napa wine shop owner & sommelier
Now that I’m out of the wine retail game, I shout from the highest rock-outcropping over a hillside vineyard, EMBRACE DIVERSITY. Drink them all, enjoy them all, as every wine professional worth his or her salt does. Start with crisp light whites. Follow with aromatic white wines from around the world. Chardonnays take a bashing these days for being “too oaky, too heavy,” but that’s not all of them. Chardonnays make the greatest white wines in the world. With the exception of Riesling…all styles. Pinot Gris, Semillon. Oh and sparkling wines, for pete’s sake! As for reds, where to start…Gamay, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Franc, Zinfandel, Syrah, Merlot, Nebbiolo, Tempranillo, Cabernet Sauvignon. And these are just the best known of all the Vitis Vinifera grapes (of which there are over 5000, around 1500 used to make wine around the world).
Here’s What I Recommend:
Here are six wines culled from my March 2018 “This Month’s List.” All are available to purchase in California at the time of this writing (February 28). Enjoy these six wines, listed from lightest to heaviest, and you can confidently boast, “I drink with diversity!”
Domaine de la NOBLAIE Chinon Blanc “Le Grande Ourse” 2016 ($16/bottle).
Beautifully crisp, chalky Chenin Blanc from the Loire Valley.
GREY STACK Sauvignon Blanc “Rosemary’s Block” 2016 ($30).
Bennett Valley, Sonoma County SB bursting with delicious fruity pleasure.
Domaine SYLVAIN LANGOUREAU Bourgogne Hautes Côtes de Beaune “Clos Marc” 2015 ($24).
A pure, concise, honest expression of Red Burgundy.
FRITH “Frija’s Rule” Napa Valley Red Wine 2013 ($24). Grenache, Syrah, Barbera blend from Napa Carneros.
Bright, juicy, expressive berry smells and flavors.
FAMÍLIA NIN ORTIZ – PLANETES de VIN Priorat 2013 ($36). Garnatza/Carinyenes (Grenache/Carignane) blend from the hills of Priorat, Spanish Catalonia.
CERRO Petit Verdot, Napa Valley 2014 ($40). For power, concentration and tannins, think Napa Cabernet Sauvignon.
My list aside, with a little help from a good wine merchant you can easily branch out from your trusted grapes and styles and discover new wines you’ll enjoy and want to add to your collection. There is some risk with trying something new, but the right guidance will introduce you to wines that are inexpensive, thus reducing your risk. For an introduction to a new grape and/or style of wine, you shouldn’t have to spend more than $30 for a good representation. Follow a wine critic like me, and if you have a wine shop you frequent, ask them for suggestions. Let me know what you find. I’m always looking for something new to try.