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Wednesday Warblings
Looking For Discounted Wines In All The Wrong Places

By Stephen Eliot

I stopped at a large local discount grocer the other day on the mundane errand of picking up milk, bread and eggs, and I could not resist making a quick stroll down the outlet’s lengthy aisle of heavily-marked-down wines. It is, in truth, something I do with some regularity as both a means of checking out which wineries and/or distributors are the latest to run into financial woes and, quite simply, because like most anyone else, I am always interested in a bargain.

I have, over the years, found a number of outstanding wines at ridiculously low prices from said grocery store, but the number of interesting bottles has diminished rather dramatically of late as the wine market very much seems to have recovered from the slump of a couple years back. I suppose I should be pleased that the wine business is robust and recovering, but I had gotten used to finding a fairly regular stream of very good wines at very low prices as producers thinned their inventories in leaner economic times, and I must confess to at least slight disappointment at the slim pickings these days

What inspires today’s early-morning musings, however, is not the fact that there are far fewer vinous steals to be had, but rather a conversation, or more accurately a monologue, presented by the store’s blue-tunicked “wine advisor” that I overheard while en route to the bread racks at the rear of the store. It went something like this.

A couple who I presumed had asked for guidance in picking out an inexpensive red wine for dinner was being subjected to a passionately presented explanation that the $6.00, close-out wine in question was a great deal because it was only 13.5% alcohol and, unlike most California wines, it was sure to age into grandeur. The poor couple nodded politely but looked downright bewildered, and I could not but feel a bit sorry for them as they suffered though a lengthy lesson on the rights and the wrongs of competing winemaking philosophies.

I have gotten used to such didactic displays in the wine world’s more esoteric realms, but to hear such spouting of high-minded dogma amidst stacks of cheap wine was downright surreal. They were words without meaning as if mindlessly recited from a hip-sommelier’s floor show in the latest, cannot-miss, new “destination” restaurant. This “expert” was not helping. He was showing off, and doing a damn-poor job of it at that.

I wondered if the folks who ultimately walked out with the bottle would enjoy it, and, if they did not, would they think the fault was theirs for not truly understanding the wine. I wondered if they would be back.

Great retailers and great sommeliers, be they employed in the grandest of venues or those that cater to us of more modest means, share in the commitment to meet their customer’s needs, and there is no way to know those needs lest they are willing to listen. I have deep and abiding respect for those who do. Both are noble professions and require expertise and humility in large and equal measure. Sadly, neither was evident in this unfortunate instance.

There is a time and a place for education and debate, and there is no question that even grocery-store wine aisles could do with small doses of each, but the preaching I heard was oppressive and downright dismaying, and I was genuinely surprised at just how far the latest brand of new wine pedagogy has reached.


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by Blake Gray
Posted on:8/7/2013 9:51:07 PM

What kind of advice do people buying $6 clearance wines from a grocery store want? My guess is they don't want advice at all, they want validation.

For that matter, what kind of advice can we expect from the guy who works in the clearance aisle of a grocery store?

You get what you pay for.

You Get What You Pay For
by Charlie Olken
Posted on:8/8/2013 12:35:28 AM

Does that apply to winewriting as well?

No Subject
by Richard Mora
Posted on:8/8/2013 3:58:30 AM

Thanks for reminding people that quality oriented wine stores with wine passionate staff are worth going out of your way for, at our place you get neither ignorant dogma nor boorish elitism. We focus on our wine and our customers. We give you real service not just warm bodies, oh and we hunt down the closeouts too, and buy the GOOD ones. We also keep the place like an icebox, you should have mentioned the unconscionably high temps and sunlight in too many "fine" wine shops.

Rich Mora, Mora's Fine Wines

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