A random stop demonstrates how some boutique groceries are appealing to wine consumers based on the absolute lowest common denominator.
It was a lazy Saturday afternoon. We'd just returned from a wedding and were en route to pick up our son from my brother's house, when we stopped in at the Market of Choice in West Linn, to pick up dinner for an impromptu barbeque.
After selecting a few meat dishes from the deli, I quickly grabbed a few Spanish cheeses from the cheese bin, including Manchego, a favorite of mine. A store employee came by and offered assistance.
"I'm just looking, thanks", I said, though turning to the wine area behind me, "however, I AM about to head over there."
"I can help you with that too", commented the employee.
I walked over to the wine selection and was immediately struck by the organization, or lack thereof. "Misc. Red", "Misc. White", "Dessert", "Rosť".. and that was about it. This is how they'd organized the wines in the store. Oregon wines were interspersed with Spanish wines... very confusing. I spent a good ten minutes just trying to locate a few common wines. Not only were the prices 30% higher than at New Seasons (which is also a bit on the pricey side, though their vast range of excellent foods makes for an agreeable trade-off between economy and selection), but the wines at Market of Choice were simply sprawled out.
Finally locating a few wines, my wife mentioned it would be nice to find a lighter, semi-sweet white for the barbecue, as the weather was hot and she wasn't really up for a bold, meaty red. All right. So I tried to locate an early Muscat, a style of Muscat wine that is a bit sweet but also lower in alcohol. Seemed a good option. The wine steward (also the cheese steward) came by and offered help. I asked if she could find an early Muscat.
I was thinking she'd point me to a Sylvan Ridge. Better yet, I was really hoping she'd have in stock a bottle of Bridgeview's highly anticipated early Muscat, which is edging towards a bit more frizzante and slightly higher alcohol content (overall, just a fuller flavor) than other regional producers. It wasn't to be.
She instead handed me a bottle of French Muscadet.
Muscadet... yes,... it LOOKs like Muscat, but it's an entirely different type of wine. Like Pinot Noir as opposed to Pinot Gris -- Similar in spelling only, yet completely different genetic strains of grape.
Trying very hard not to be rude, I said, "No, I was asking about Muscat, not Muscadet", thinking she'd just overlooked the label.
Her reply? "But it's the same wine".
Yikes. I was really trying hard still.. and simply said, "I'm sorry, but it's not the same wine. It's a completely different grape. Besides, Muscadets are much drier than Muscat... they're bone dry".
She said, "Oh, I'm sorry, I didn't know that".
Finally, the first bit of honesty she'd uttered.
But then, she proceeded to walk away.
I said, "No problem, we're fine here". I then hand-picked a bottle of 2005 Brooks Riesling. It turned out to be the single best bottle of Riesling we've had in a very long time.
Honestly, we're not wine snobs, but we also cannot help knowing a lot about grapes. It comes with having done a lot of research into what makes a good wine.
What we do have a reaction against, though, is when a self-acclaimed "boutique" grocery charges high prices for common wines, and worse, tries to swindle well-intentioned clients into selections assuming they know nothing about them.
After the fact, my wife told me the girl had initially asked, "what price range of wine are you looking for?" instead of "what kind of wine are you looking for? Now, we do look at prices, yes... but it weighs in as a secondary factor next to brand, quality, and experience in knowing what to look for in a good wine.
In any case, this experience drives home why we initially began OregonWines.com, and why we try hard to keep all of the information in it up-to-date: so you, the consumer, the person with the voting power of the dollar in your hand, can make an educated decision the next time you're at a wine shop. Educate yourself. Read. Study. Learn. It's all there. Google it if you have to. In the end, you'll end up knowing far more about the kind of wine you're about to purchase. And as a result, you'll enjoy the entire experience all the more.
And, if after all that, the steward gives you flack for asking too many questions, simply suggest they work the cheese section for a bit, because they've stopped being a "sommelier", and simply started being "smellier".
All the best,
p.s. Jimi Brooks, we miss you. And yet, we can help keep your dreams and vision alive by buying the wines your successors continue to produce in your name: Brooks wines.