By Ron Blumenfeld
People have been making wine since they discovered that fermented grape juice was an appealing alternative to water.
It’s hard to know how wine tasted thousands of years ago. But the wines we enjoy today are usually quite drinkable and often delicious. And wine’s gone truly global, with a huge range of price points and styles.
The paradox: how to find wines you like amidst all this plenty. The fact is that most of us could use a little help, and wine stores can be one place to find it.
At one end of the spectrum are the wine supermarkets like the national chain Total Wine or the rapidly-expanding BevMo!, with outposts in California and Arizona. Both outfits offer massive choice and good prices. Still, generally, when it comes to choosing a wine that will suit your taste and pocketbook, you’re on your own. That’s fine if you know exactly what you want, or if the occasion calls for a well-priced “mass market” wine (like big beach parties or BBQ’s where wine is not a focus).
You’ll have a very different shopping experience at a place like West Side Wines, located on Columbus Avenue and 83rd Street. (West Side Wines stocks bottles Domaine des Bories; I’m a part-owner.). It’s just big enough for the owner, Andy Besch, to offer a personally-vetted international selection, favoring smaller producers, often from lesser-known regions. He devotes no floor space to mass-market wines, and isn’t influenced by wine ratings. He sells only what he likes, and loves to send customers home with wine they didn’t expect to buy.
Then there are stores that offer a little of both—some mass market selections and some hand-picked ones. You may be confronted with stacks of wine at the door, but further inside is often a more intriguing selection, and a wine geek who can’t wait to tell you about it.
Explore wine stores until you find one (or two) that you can call your wine home. Make yourself—and your wine tastes—known. Ask questions. Stick to your favorites, but from time to time, let knowledgeable salespeople guide you outside your comfort zone.
Ron Blumenfeld is part owner of French vineyard Domaine des Bories.