Although grocery stores are convenient, and places like Costco can save you a few dollars, I’ve always been a huge proponent of shopping at my local wine store (or winery!). Here are a few reasons why:
Just one of my many finds from a neighborhood wine tasting- Xion Albariño.
1. A good store’s owner will have tasted every.single.bottle.
…Along with another 10 or 20 that didn’t make the cut! They’ve taken much of the guesswork out of the equation for you! They’re also constantly refreshing inventory, and there are always exciting new finds to try.
2. Most offer free wine tastings on the weekends!
This means no taking chances on fancy bottle designs only to be disappointed by the contents. Try before you buy and you’ll know exactly what you’re getting. These tastings often come with more information about the wine from the distributor or even the winemaker- they can be a great way to learn more about the wines you’re drinking!
3. As you develop a relationship with the proprietor, they will come to know your palette and make suggestions.
This has paid off for me more times than I can count. Owners’ recommendations almost always pan out, and I’ve even amended a dinner menu to accommodate a new find!
4. It boosts the local economy!
No one works harder than folks that own their own businesses- often on weekends and holidays. Support them!
5. They generally have more interesting wine!
Sick of seeing the same labels everywhere you go? Try a smaller, local vendor. They tend to work with smaller, independent wine producers who don’t necessarily have the volume to contract with major chains, but are making outstanding wines. If you’re not drinking these wines, you’re missing out on some of the best the wine world has to offer!
Where do you tend to shop for wine and why? Do you have a favorite local store?
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Don’t be overwhelmed by endless options!
It’s easy to become paralyzed in a wine shop when shopping for a wine gift. It’s hard enough to know our own tastes, but the task becomes exponentially harder if you don’t know the hosts’ taste- or what they might be serving.
So the next time you’re standing paralyzed in front of a wine aisle, consider these tips:
Pick a wine that plays well with others
These are wines that please a variety of tastes and potentially pair with a variety of cuisines. For a better sense of what this means and specific recommendations, check out my post on pairing with small plates, or this one on Thanksgiving pairings.
Have a budget in mind
This will be one of the first questions someone helping you will ask. A range of $18-$25 is typically what I stick to for basic dinner party wines.
Go with what you know
If you have a “tried and true” that you love, there’s a good chance your hosts will like it, too!
When in doubt, pick bubbly
Most people like it, and it pairs well with a variety of foods!
Rely on the sales staff
Staff at a reputable wine store will know their stock better than anyone, and I’ve found great new favorites by taking the word of a trusted shop owner. Trust me, they help people in your situation every day!
What are your favorite wines to bring to a dinner party?
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Although many reach for heavy red stand-bys like Cabernet Sauvignon and Bordeaux, I have a few lesser known favorites that are perfect for warming up in front of the fire!
This is the time to bring out your fortified wines– Sherry, Port and Madeira. Although there is huge variation within the category of fortified wines and they can get expensive quickly, there are delicious bottles in the $22-$25 range.
I recently tried Baco de Elite Olorosso Sherry, a medium dry sherry with toasted walnut notes. Derek Brown’s Mockingbird Hill is a great place to visit if you want to learn more about sherry! I’m also partial to Dow’s Boardroom Tawny Port for its caramel notes and lighter finish than Ruby Ports.
Forget budget Madeira and just splurge. It’s worth every penny! For a special treat, visit The Jefferson Hotel in DC, which houses the largest Madeira collection in America. Ask Jen, the Sommelier, or Ivan, an outstanding bartender at the intimate Plume bar, for a recommendation!
Although this grape is grown primarily in Uruguay, it was originally a French varietal. This is definitely one to decant and you will be amazed at how a Tannat will open up and develop as it is exposed to air! I recently poured Bouza Tannat at a private wine tasting, and it’s chocolatey notes and full body were a crowd pleaser. It’s not a grape you see every day, but if you like super full bodied reds, this is one worth trying! Tannat tends to be very high in alcohol- hovering at around 15%- so sip accordingly!
As mentioned in last week’s post, I adore red wines from this Spanish region. These powerful red wines are comprised of a blend of varietals including Garnacha, Carignan, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, and Merlot. Try the Menut or Zaumau- both are spectacular wines that offer spicy red fruit notes and pack a powerful punch. They’re great to pair with your favorite hearty winter fare, as well!
This Italian wine doesn’t come cheap, but is absolutely amazing when it’s cold outside. Made in the Veneto region of Italy, this full bodied, earthy red wine is made by letting the Corvina grapes dry out into raisins, heavily concentrating the flavors. Try Allegrini for a tried and true house that also makes an excellent “Ripasso” Valpolicella- frequently known as the “poor man’s Amarone”.
What is your favorite cold weather libation?
Forget everything you thought you knew…
When it comes to Chablis in America, there are a lot of misconceptions. Some think of their Grandmothers clutching crystal goblets. Others, jug wine on the bottom rack in grocery stores.
Perhaps most fittingly, I think of the illustrious character from Savannah. If you’ve read Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil or seen one of the Lady Chablis’ famous shows, you know how very misleading preconcieved notions can be!
I recently attended a winemaker luncheon at the always delicious Proof DC that illustrated incredible nuance among the wines. Over a 3 course lunch, we tasted La Piereleé Chablis 2011, Chablis Premier Cru Fouchaume 2010, Chablis Premier Cru Vaillon 2010, Chablis Premier Cru Les Fourneaux 2009, and Chablis Grand Cru Blanchot 2011.
In typical tasting fashion, each diner had a different favorite. Indeed, even my own favorites changed according to what I was eating- or if I was just sipping.
La grande dame of the afternoon was the Blanchot Grand Cru 2011, from one of only 7 Grand Cru designated vineyards in the region. It was exceptionally well balanced with firm acidity and outstanding minerality, exhibiting graceful citrus characteristics on the palette.
It was particularly incredible to note the vast differences in each wine when you consider how tiny the 3 appellations are in scope. The topography varies wildly, but is spread over less than 10,000 acres, giving these Chardonnays from Northern Burgandy extremely specific characteristics.
The cooler climate gives these wines a distinctive flavor- higher in acidity and less pronounced fruit notes than most Chardonnays. Perhaps most notably, Chablis exhibits minerality and flinty notes from the soil in which it’s grown. Argilo-Calcaire is a composition of limestone, clay, and tiny fossilized oyster shells, pictured below.
If you have any lingering doubts over Terroir‘s influence over a wine, one sip of Chardonnay from Chablis clears it up quickly!
The price point on even the Grand Cru is attainable, making these elegant and food friendly wines within reach for your next dinner party. I particularly like pairing Chablis with seafood, as Proof did, although they are quite versatile wines and have the potential to pair beautifully with many dishes.
To purchase the wines listed above, visit Calvert Woodley, Pearson’s Wine and Spirits, Weygandt Wines, Ace Beverage, McAuthor’s, or Arrowine. You really can’t go wrong with any of them!
Pictured with Jean François Bordet, a 13th Generation winemaker.
So the next time you see a jug of Chablis on the grocery store shelves… walk on by! But DO give this outstanding wine a try. It just may surprise you!
For more information on this tiny but mighty wine region, visit www.chablis-wines.com.