Independent wine shops can be an opportunity to expand your tastes and knowledge, but they can also be intimidating places to visit. Here’s how to navigate the indie wine aisles, with tips from merchants themselves.
A new wave of independent wine shops in the UK has added fresh alternatives to the supermarket aisles in recent years. But, how do you get the most out of it?
Both consumer and merchant lose out, as the customer mumbles ‘I’m just browsing’ before backing out the door empty-handed.
Insider tips on talking to wine shop staff
‘This is your one to one time with an expert, so make the most of it’
‘There is an unwelcome snobbery attached to wine,’ said Ewan Murray, of The Wine Society – a previous multi-prize winner in the Decanter Retailer Awards.
‘That makes customers reticent about engaging fully in wine and therefore always going for easy options,’
This snobbery causes some people to think specialist wine shops are only for wine specialists, but really the opposite is true.
The less you know about wine the more reason there is to choose the wine shop over a supermarket or a website. This is your one-on-one time with an expert, so make the most of it.
‘Get budget in early, to avoid disappointment later,’ said Murray. If you don’t want to talk numbers, point out two or three wines to indicate your price range.
Giving staff a sense of context is also important.
Here are some of the main things to think about, suggested by the The Wine Society sales team:
- What occasion is the wine for? ‘If it is everyday drinking then that is usually a cheaper wine. If it’s a gift, special occasion or a dinner party – more expensive.’
- What style of wine do you normally enjoy? ‘Try and describe what wines you like best as in depth of dryness and body. Perhaps a particular grape, country or region.’
- What are you pairing it with? ‘Knowing the food someone enjoys helps, food matching can be a great pointer to favourite wines.’
It’s also increasingly common for retailers to double up as bars, restaurants and venues for tutored tastings. Chances are, your local wine shop has something coming up.
What the merchants say
‘We organise workshops for our staff, to outline different customer profiles,’ said Bruno Cernecca, the co-founder and managing director of Vini Italiani, the runner-up of the Decanter Wine Retailer of the Year Italy Specialist award 2016.
‘For example there are the ones who want to impress — they bring along friends or associates so they can demonstrate their knowledge and tastes.’
Cernecca terms this ‘social wine shopping’, and finds Enomatic tasting machines play a useful role in the experience.
‘Then there’s ‘the browser’, who we give the full tour of the store, and offer aids such a regional map to suggest new directions.’
In larger stores, merchants find that creating a sense of low-pressure informality and freedom is important, to allow customers to get a full sense of the range before narrowing their search.
‘I’ve found that our customers really enjoy the fact that they are free to browse for literally hours,’ said Julien Le Doaré, store manager at Hedonism, which stocks over 11,000 product lines. ‘Then coming to us once they actually need advice.’