I wish I could be the Gordon Ramsey of Wine Shops.
Went into a wine shop yesterday in and around union square while I was waiting to meet my wife for dinner. I don’t often go into other wine shops. I’m not sure why. It’s not a competition thing. I am confident enough in our selection of wine. Maybe it’s that I just feel bad scouring the shelves really looking at every bottle, assessing the inventory probably looking like a discerning customer with a lamb roast waiting at home to paired with the perfect bottle and this is the place that will have it…only to walk out.
I felt bad for a minute
The indications for wine regions were all off by a shelf, therefore, where it said Spain there was still a couple of Italian mixed in. The California wine didn’t seem to have a place because beyond the Cali “section” where lone shelves with Cali wines. They seemed so lonely and out of the way grappling for identity. My favorite was the section that was labeled “French Pinot Noir” and had one Louis Jadot and the rest was from New Zealand and California yet there were New Zealand and California sections elsewhere. It was so confusing and this is my industry.
I had fifteen minutes until my wife showed up so I decided to test the wine knowledge of the staff. Nothing crazy just some general questions they should absolutely know the answer to.
The poor soul that had asked me if I needed any help when I waked in was still milling around with an energy that said I do not want to be here. I don’t get paid enough for this kind of stress. I walked up to him and took him up on his previous offer.
My first question was to ask where the Southern French wines were because these are the wines that help the customer feel a sense of self-enrichment. They are drinking an amazing red or white wine that cost them less than twenty bucks and if they are with friends and are a novice, wines from this area of the world mostly still have the classic French labels that look all old school and fun to have on a table. They also have great complex flavors for all kinds of dishes and are usually crowd pleasers.
I sadly followed the poor guy around the shop as he hemmed and hawed looking at every shelf and then smiled at me saying no he did not think he had any. Really? Too bad. To have a shop like this and not have great affordable wines from the Languedoc- Roussillon (Faugeres, St. Chinian) or Provence or Bergerac makes one think it’s all about the liquor pints my man.
Next question. Okay so they did not have Southern French wine. If I had that lamb waiting where would I go next? For giggles and shits I then asked about the French Pinot Noir selection. He did a bee line straight to the afore mentioned labeled section feeling very proud of himself and smiling pointed to the wines on the shelf. He even grabbed a bottle and handed it to me…it was a Kim Crawford New Zealand Marlborough Pinot. I wouldn’t have said anything to him after showing me this section if the dude had not done the deed of putting the polar opposite of a “French Pinot Noir” in my hand. I pointed out that this was a New Zealand wine and he just stared at the bottle and then me and then the shelf. Reality set in as, I think, he realized the majority of the wines in the “French Pinot Noir” section were from places other than France.
Time was ticking and I had one more question. I asked him where the California wines were. This guy was desperate at this point to get something right so he bolted straight for the shelves labeled California. I followed him and began to gaze at the shelves. My eyes shifted to the left past the Organic section and the Kosher section to the back corner of the shop and asked him what those wines were because they didn’t have a label in the section. Dude had to go over there and confirm what the wine was only to come back not tell me they were California wines but that he didn’t know where they were from! Imagine going into Barnes and Noble and the shelves are mislabeled and nothing is where it should be like Fiction spilling into World History and such. It would be maddening.
Take the time to reorganize. Make a night of it. Pop a bottle and put on some music and redo the whole thing. Make sure the sections are right. Really make sure. If you don’t know the wine that well have the reps drop off shelf talkers and either put them on the shelf or have them behind the register to look at every once in a while to have some good selling points. Give a shit. Fire people that don’t. This city is filled with men and women that want to learn more about wine and need jobs. Get someone in there that has fervor and will eventually maybe help improve the selection process.
How am I not supposed to be upset at the possibility that the New York government will allow wine to be sold in supermarkets when there are wine shops that buy wine on price and name and not quality. Most of these joints have a lot of booze, which is their moneymaker. The surrounding wine selection seems mostly to be decoration for the store. Put a Stag’s Leap in there. Make sure there is a Chateau Something in the Bordeaux section. And dump all the wine you know is crap up near the register in pretty wooden crates saying value. And we wonder why people don’t know how to really get into wine.
This city has a discerning palate. Having a restaurant and following the trends you see New Yorkers taste and cringe or taste and swoon and either way everyone knows about it. It is great. But when it comes to wine retail things get a little different. Having a wine shop I see that wine is harder to wrap ones head around. We are little more daring here in the Big Apple when it comes to food. We will try just about anything and pay high prices for it. Kobe beef burgers…need I say more.
For some reason wine makes people pause and second-guess themselves. And I believe places like the one I endured this week have contributed to this lack of confidence and it is my life goal to bring that confidence back.
So this is why I am glad to see that the bill to put wine in grocery store across our great state has been taken of the table. There are rumors that it will be back in the summer and we will just have to see what happens. If it ever does pass I will consider it a challenge like running a restaurant in a cutthroat market or having a wine shop on the edge of Alphabet City. Bring it on. I don’t think it’s a good idea but I am here to show New York that wine does not have to be expensive to be good and that it is the job of the wine merchant not the customer to make sure wine is accessible from the minute one walks into a wine shop to that last drop in the wine glass after dinner or at the pinnacle of the party. We work hard and we deserve better.
If you find that one of these shops is the only thing in your area stick to Chilean and Portuguese wine. If the merchant is buying on price and name only the deals will be in these sections. France and Italy are a gamble as is California unless you recognize the name and know the wine of course. If there is a Southern French wine section with the labels Languedoc–Rousillon, Southwest France or Provence then you can have a little fun. These are mostly great old world wines that tend to be medium bodied and herbaceous with some nice complexity.
Wine To The People!