Shopping for wine — Fun or Frustrating? Probably both. For this commentary, I won’t address shopping for fine wines to cellar for a while or to use as an investment. I’m responding to questions about shopping for daily-use wines.
My wife and I use wine every day. We live by the Eleventh Commandment we read some years ago: “Thou shalt not serve a red wine unless thou hast a white wine to precede it, nor shalt thou serve a white wine unless thou hast a red wine to follow.” So we sip on a white wine while we work on dinner and discuss which wine to do with dinner. Seldom any more do we look for a perfect match. If we’re simmering trout in an almond-butter sauce and hanker a red wine, so be it.
What it boils down to is that daily consumption of wine can be a significant budget item and so we buy with a discerning eye on bargain values. We project plans for the next month or so, count the number of dinners we’re likely to have at home, and sally forth with our bottle carriers to Ye Olde Wine Shoppe.
Wow! Total Wine with its 8,000 bottles; Liquor Barn with thousands of bottles; Big Red with hundreds of bottles; Whole Foods and Krogers with dozens of bottles; North Side and Jubilation with a quality selection. No matter how many times you’ve strolled past the bins, decision time can be a bit intimidating.
At the big box stores enthusiastic and helpful staff can always find one or two of their “favorite” or “best selling” wines. They can always tell you how many points the SPECTATOR, the ENTHUSIAST, and Parker have given every single wine in the shop. The younger ones are especially adept at finding the down-scale stuff. At the neighborhood shops, caring and thoughtful owners and managers can convincingly describe the character and individuality of their selections but seldom have wines in our daily-use price range.
We can carry our last month’s receipt into the big box store and learn that some of those wines have sold out or have been discontinued. Each visit can mean starting all over again. I hope it’s helpful for readers at all levels of experience to know that a person who’s been buying and writing about wine for well more than a half-a-century can still feel somewhat frustrated when satisfying daily wine needs.
We like variety, so we pick up a couple of these, a few of those, one or two of this and that based on the number of days we expect to use them. Occasionally we wish we hadn’t bought this one or regretted that we hadn’t bought another of that one. We tend to set $10 as a target and have been very pleasantly surprised at how much is out there in that price range of very appealing drinkability. We never overlook the discount shelves, and we find when all’s said and done, there are a great many good quality wines available at very favorable prices.
And we take comfort in knowing that just around the corner from our kitchen is a reassuring collection of splendid Napa and French Cabernets and Pinot Noirs. A Twelfth Commandment could very well be: “Never be without a back-up.”