Why would you want to become friends with your neighborhood wine shop? The simple reason is that there are so many wines! There are nearly 10,000 wineries in the United States and roughly 1,000 in Washington state. Just in the Lake Chelan area, where we make wine, there are almost 40 different wineries and tasting rooms. If every winery produces 4-12 different wines, that translates into a lot of wine! And that doesn’t include French wine, Italian wine, Australian wine, wines from South America… You get the picture.
If you are trying to develop your palate, explore different wines of the world, or find a new “house wine”, your local wine shop can be a great resource.
What makes a great wine shop? For the most part, it comes down to three things; the physical shop, the wine, and the people. It shouldn’t have to be said but beware of stores that have bottles in sun-filled windows or too warm temperatures. The store should organize their selection in a way that makes sense. Most stores are organized by varietal or region. A few stores are experimenting with organizing their wines by taste. Whichever way the store chooses, it should be clear so that you can easily find your favorites.
I like it when a bottle shop also has a focus on education, tastings, and training.
They might do a tasting of a single variety from different regions or a tasting using different kinds of glassware. It’s nice when they host winemakers for a special event so consumers can get to know the people or the stories behind the wines, not just the brands. Some bottle shops host tours and trips through different wine-producing areas of the world. Tastings that involve food are also a favorite of mine!
The selection at a bottle shop can be thrilling. Some wine shop owners have a passion for a specific area of the world or a specialization based on their travels or background. They may have an interest in certain kinds of wine, like rhone style blends (aka grenache, syrah, mourvedre, or GSM) or sparkling wines. Ideally, their selection will include wines under $50 and a lot of wines in the $20 range. It’s also appreciated when they support local wineries by stocking their wines.
Last, but certainly not least is the staff at the wine shop.
They should be knowledgeable, friendly, and not pretentious. Often, you will see shelf talkers with staff descriptions and reviews. Helpful staff will try to understand what you like, what you don’t, and share selections that you might appreciate. I love it when they aren’t hardcore about the “rules” of wine. Their recommendations can lead to some fantastic new wines for you.
When talking with the staff, share your budget, or if that makes you uncomfortable, point out different wines in your price range. If you know the regions or grape, that is helpful. Is the wine that you are buying for a special occasion, a gift, or to pair with dinner? How adventurous do you feel? You can also talk about other wines that you have liked and why.
When you become friends with your wine shop by signing up to be on their mailing list, joining their wine club, shopping once or twice a month, or engaging with the staff, it’s a good thing. You usually hear about specials, get access or advanced notice of special events or varieties. What if the next time you visited your favorite wine shop, they had set aside a bottle that they thought you might like? That’s a good friend!
Here are a few of our favorites
The Vogue in Chelan–Where the locals hang out
The Wine Shed in Winthrop–Fun to explore
Norwood Wine Bar in Wenatchee–A fun experience
Seattle Wine Co. in Bellevue–Good price points
Hellams Vineyard in LaConner–Lots of special events
All Things Wine in Renton–Frequent tasting events
Plateau Wines in Enumclaw–Very knowledgeable
Compass Wines in Anacortes–Open, inviting, and great at getting hard to find wines
The Grape Choice in Kirkland–Good selection
Pete’s Wine Shop in Seattle–Huge selection and very knowledgeable
Village Wines in Woodinville–Great atmosphere
World of Wines in Redmond–Truly great wines from all over the world