A reader recently wrote me and asked why I don't always recommend a specific bottle of wine, instead often making more generalized recommendations of grapes or regions. In part, this is because I know how varied Arkansas' wine geography can be. What's available in Bentonville or Little Rock is quite different from what's available in Marvel or Monticello.
But also, it's because I want you to turn wine shopping into an interactive process. Not all wine shops and liquor stores were created equally, but regardless of where you shop, there are some things you can do to get the most out of your local spot.
◼️ Make sure you're visiting a quality store. Are the bottles dusty? Is the store too hot or too cold? Are a majority of the bottles lying down or standing up?
All of these are ways to determine the quality of care the shop gives to its products. Wines that are stored at either too high or too low a temperature can turn. Likewise, a deep layer of dust on a bottle can signify that the bottle has been on the shelf for a long time without being moved. With most wines, especially finer wines that are sold less frequently, you'll want to see them laying on their side so that their cork is wet. This ensures that the cork won't dry out and ruin the wine.
◼️ Ask questions. Sometimes it can be hard to admit that you don't know a lot about wine, but this is the perfect time to let a staff member teach you. Use them as a sounding board: ask them questions, tell them what meal you plan to pair the wine with, tell them which wines you've liked or disliked in the past. If you have a photo of a bottle you liked in the past, they can find it for you again or suggest something similar.
◼️ Be upfront about your budget. A good wine shop will be stocked with quality wines at every price point. There is nothing wrong with buying a wine for $10, and the staff at your local wine shop is more concerned with repeat business than up-selling, so they'll be happy to find a $10 wine that suits your needs. All too often, I had guests looking for a bottle that's not "too expensive," but that's a very subjective guideline. Being upfront about your wine budget allows the person helping you to both stay on budget and not waste your time with bottles that are out of your price range. Remember, a wine shop is a judgment-free zone — we don't care how much your bottle of wine costs as long as you're satisfied with your experience.
◼️ Be open to new things. A good wine shop's inventory is constantly changing, with new things from all over the world arriving weekly. Don't be afraid to try something new that catches your eye. Maybe it's an unfamiliar grape or perhaps it'll be a familiar grape from a new place. Trying new things is a great way to broaden your horizons and deepen your knowledge of wine.
◼️ Get social. Like most stores, your local wine shop will have an active social media presence, a website, and an email newsletter. These are great ways to stay up to date on sales and promotions as well as in-store events and tastings.
As always, you can see what I'm drinking on Instagram at @sethebarlow and send your wine questions and quibbles to firstname.lastname@example.org