Trying to select a bottle of wine to accompany dinner can be daunting for even experienced wine drinkers. Walk into the wine section of an average grocery store and you’re confronted with hundreds of labels from producers all over the world. Now walk into a wine shop and the selection explodes. It’s impossible to know all of the producers you like even within one region. Can you imagine if you had to have that kind of comprehensive knowledge for a test in school. No way. How can an average mortal be expected to find the right bottle for dinner? Let’s not even talk about finding the right wine for a special occasion dinner with someone you are trying to impress.
Here’s an idea – go to a wine shop with incredibly knowledgeable, unpretentious and attentive staff who are eager to match your preferences with a great bottle of wine. There are shops like this in every town. In Austin, one that you can count on for fantastic advice is the Austin Wine Merchant. This shop on W. 6th street has been demystifying wine buying for schleps like me since 1991.
This isn’t a wine mega-store, but they have a fantastic selection. Co-owner, John Roenigk, and his staff choose wines with an eye for what customers will enjoy at prices that make sense. How do they know what customers want? They keep track. You can let the Austin Wine Merchant keep your purchases in a database. The next time you visit, they can make recommendations based on what you like the last time. It takes the guessing out of it.
I overheard John counseling one customer, “Do you really want to buy a $15 Burgundy? I’ll tell ya, the best $15 Burgundy is a Côtes du Rhône.” That’s the kind of help that makes the difference between having some wine and having wine you like.
I talked to a couple of customers in the store about what they like about the shop. They drive out of their way because they learn something new about wine every time they visit. They like the large selection of small producers and old world wines that are priced competitively. They admitted that they were initially intimidated by the higher-end appearance and assumed it must be an expensive shop full of trophy and first growth wines for oenephiles. They were pleased to see that despite a serious approach to wine and some higher-end selections, this is a store that caters to casual and expert wine drinkers alike. Oh, and they love the wine tastings held every Saturday from noon to 3:00 p.m.
What do I mean by “serious about wine”? The first thing is that keep the entire shop chilled to 65 degrees F and at a constant humidity. Take a coat if you plan to shop for a long time. This is one big wine cellar. They also arrange wines geographically by appellation within regions. That might not be unique, but it sure is helpful.
After watching John dish out advice to several customers. It was my turn to let him find a nice bottle for me. I bought two right away. I intended to review those wines, but, uh, Beautiful Wife and I liked them so much we drank them in one sitting with a fantastic dinner. I didn’t take the time to write a single note. I guess I’ll have to go back and buy more.