For a wine novice such as myself, choosing the right wine can be a bit of a daunting prospect. Usually I’ll just run in to the wine aisle of the supermarket and look for the French reds – I know where I am with these; they’re my fall back on, adult safety blanket.
However, how many times have you been perusing for something a little different and, if you’re lucky to find a member of staff at all, have you been answered with; “well this one’s from Australia so it might be spicy,” “have you looked at the label?” or ”sorry I don’t usually work this section, just on ‘cos Andy is ill.” And so you’re left with questions unanswered and you run back to those French reds, even though you’re having a curry with a bunch of white drinkers.
It took me a long time to summon up the courage to walk in to an independent retailer. I shy away from human interaction at the best of times and have an overwhelming fear of failure; so the thought of openly admitting that I didn’t know what I was talking about to a complete stranger filled me with enough dread to sink a battleship. I needn’t have been worried. In every independent wine retailer I have ever visited I have been treated with care, understanding and the utmost friendliness.
At no time have I ever been made to feel stupid because I don’t know what I’m talking about – in fact, staff have been overly keen to help; their passion for their products has shone through.
I may be singing their praises, but there are a few rules I apply when entering an independent –
1. Never be afraid to discuss your budget – be upfront, if you only have a tenner to spend the shop will find the best possible match for you and it’s a bit embarrassing when being spoken to for a full ten minutes about the advantages of this amazing, sulphite free, small production wine to have to put it back/bankrupt yourself when you get to the till.
2. Have an idea of what you do and don’t like – don’t make someone give you a diatribe on reds when you only drink white. If you have a few parameters you’ll get a wine so great for you, you’ll wonder where it’s been all your life. I know I don’t like overly tannic reds or very flinty whites; this always helps the retailer and together we pick the best wines for my tastes.
3. When/where/who with/how are you going to drink the wine – if the retailer knows what company and setting you require the wine for they can find the most appropriate suggestion. Most wine shops are brilliant at wine and food matching and their staff have likely tried all the wines in the shop, so they’re well placed in their suggestion.
4. Go back and tell them about the wine – didn’t like something you were recommended? Loved it and want something along the same lines? Not only is it polite to let the shop know how things went, but if you go back and discuss what was good/bad, the next time you buy wine with them you’ll get an even better suggestion – in time they’ll be suggesting new lines as soon as you walk through the door.
5. Foster a relationship – be polite and thankful. Chat with the staff that serve you. Next time you go in you’ll be remembered, you may get invited to tastings and you’ll always be recommended something that’s just right for you.
Shopping at independents is a serious business; if we don’t give them our custom they’re not going to survive. With many high streets becoming either becoming ghostly collections of empty stores or identikit storescapes, we need to prop up our local retailers.
Not only will the purchasing experience be as good as the drinking experience, not only will you find wines you’ve never heard of before and not only will you be socialising – you’ll be supporting your local economy.
Unlike supermarkets that operate on a quantity over quality principle and take money out of the local economy to give to shareholders; the owners of independents most probably in the same area – so money spent with them stays local and your support brings jobs to that ever-crumbling high street.
Some of my favourite places to buy wine:
Hangingditch – Manchester. These guys love wine so much; you can even drink it in the store with them. A small but superbly stocked shop with friendly, knowledgeable staff. There’s many unusual wines here that start from under a tenner, so it’s perfectly pocket friendly.
Spirited Wines - Manchester. This store used to be part of the Nicholas chain; however staff bought out the shop and now run it themselves. A bunch of super dedicated people who really care about choosing the right wines for you.
Corks Out – Chester. The most beautiful and historic of shops – the roof is stone vaulted – but it’s not style over substance here; well stocked and welcoming, it’s a big hit locally and more people should give them a visit.