Wine stores can be intimidating to the casual wine drinker. But Food and Wine has a surprisingly practical list of tips for being a smarter wine shopper.
The tips discuss how wine stores are laid out, the ways to crib advice from store employees, and how to discover bargains or freebies. Most are common sense, but a few are practical bits of advice that are good to keep in mind. For example: Dust on a bottle in the bargain rack is a good red flag.
In addition to the advice from Food and Wine, I'd throw in a few more suggestions. The first of which is, don't be afraid to state your budget clearly to the person helping you. If they know that you want to spend only $10, it's going to make the shopping experience more pleasant and a lot faster. Plus, you won't feel obligated to buy something more expensive because you're taking their time.
If you're looking for something to pair with food, consider beer or
spirits as a possible alternative to wine. Especially as the weather
turns cooler, your guests might enjoy a cocktail or a dark beer. Wine
stores usually carry an interesting and focused selection of beer
-- if it's made it to the shelves of a wine store, it's not your
average six-pack -- that the employees don't get to talk about as
often, so they might have some spot on recommendations and be able to
point you toward craft beers you're never tried.
You should treat your local wine merchant like your butcher or your favorite movie critic. Find someone whom you think has the same taste and a bit of expertise and then have that person make recommendations for you. It's how you end up expanding your palate without having to make some of the mistakes that happen without a guide.
[Image via Flickr: William Couch]