There is no substitute for experience. When looking for wine advice, it helps immensely to ask those who have gone before.
Last month I received a warm and complimentary note thanking our staff for hosting a private wine tasting for his non-profit group. The theme of the tasting was "Taste Around the World," and as you can easily surmise, his group got to experience wines from France, Italy, Spain, California, South Africa and South America.
"There was a wine for every palate and opportunities to try something new and adventuresome," he wrote. "Who knew South Africa produced an amazing sparkling wine? The entire staff greeted our guests with smiles and treated them to a warm and welcoming experience!"
As happy as I am to receive letters that compliment our staff, there was one thing that jumped out of that letter:
"Who knew South Africa produced an amazing sparkling wine?"
Well, we did. We discovered Graham Beck bubblies long ago and have enjoyed bringing them to our customers.
Name a significant wine region in the world, and we most likely have discovered it and shared that discovery with our customers. Who knew modern Greek wines taste so good? We do. Who knew Spanish and Portuguese wines are of such high quality these days? We do. Who knew Italian white wines taste so good with fresh tomatoes? We do.
And on and on.
Recently a film crew visited The Wine Country to record promotional material for us. Among the subjects they shot were real customers telling the camera why they choose to shop here instead of big chains that advertise a million Chardonnays and two million red blends?
Personal service was a common theme, but that can only go so far in our cash-strapped economy. What our savviest customers have come to realize is how we go to such great lengths to find high quality wines at prices often lower than mass-produced wines with famous names.
Most of the world is satisfied with OK. In fact, for too many people, OK is just OK with them.
We want to be better than just OK. We strive to be exceptional. And high prices, we've come to discover, don't guarantee exceptional. Experience teaches us what is exceptional, and it has taught us there are amazing wines available that cost much less than people expect for high quality. Sometimes a lot less.
A customer came in the store today asking for a good $15 red wine for a prime rib dinner. Many wine consumers honestly believe it can't be done at that price.
Then I remembered a legendary restaurateur named Hans Prager who developed many prime rib specialty restaurants for the Lawry's Corporation, including the Five Crowns in Corona del Mar and Gulliver's at the John Wayne airport. A decade before Chardonnay was a thing, Prager would place a bottle of red wine on every table--a wine he believed would match up great with his superlative prime rib. More often than not, that wine was a Beaujolais.
$14.99 per bottle
Still delicious with prime rib!