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Have no fear: how to tackle your local wine shop

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 (Meghan McGovern)

Walking into a wine shop can be quite an intimidating experience. 

It's no wonder with hundreds of bottles on the shelves with words you can hardly pronounce, let alone understand.  Adding to the confusion are colorful labels with pictures of everything from castles and landscapes, to roosters and rabbits.

People tend to avoid the smaller shops due to fears of looking foolish while trying to find what you're looking for or over concerns about coming across cheap while trying not to spend a lot.  But you may be missing out, as smaller wine purveyors often offer better service and have an abundance of local knowledge. 

So, where do you start?

To make your wine shopping a bit less stressful, follow these tips and arrive confidant and prepared.

1. What are you in the mood to drink, and what’s the occasion?

You may feel as though you know nothing about wine, but you do know what you like. Start with what you know. Are you in the mood for red or white wine? Will you be pairing your wine with food or drinking it on its own? Will you be giving it as a gift? These will guide the salesperson in the right direction on where to start. Not into white wine, but you want something more refreshing? Ask about chillable red wines. In the mood for something a bit on the sweet side, but still want to serve it with food? A Riesling might do the trick. Having a grasp of what you personally enjoy, not just what the "wine experts" tell you, will help you find the perfect bottle to walk out with.

2. Know your  budget, and feel comfortable speaking about it

A common misconception is that the more expensive a wine is, the better it is. There are many factors that go into a wine's pricing, and yes, quality does have a say in the price tag.  But it does not tell the whole story. If you request help at a wine store, typically the first question is how much are you willing to spend. More often than not, shops will want to "up-sell" their wines, meaning they'll offer a wine that is more than what you want to spend. Stay firm and confident. There are exceptional wines in the $11-$15 range, in both red and white varietals. South America and Spain are scoring very highly among wine critics, and both regions export a wide array of wine available at a lower price point.

The next time you feel self-conscious about picking a wine from one of the lower shelves, feel confident to ask the sales associate what they think of some wines in that price range. It’s almost guaranteed they have tried almost all of them.

3. Take advantage of your phone’s camera

Have you been in a situation where you’re at a restaurant and you order a glass of Cabernet, and it's by far the best glass of Cab you’ve ever had? Unfortunately some wine lists don’t tell you all the details of the wines by the glass.  Don't let that stop you. Ask the server to bring the actual bottle to the table and snap a picture of it with your phone. Create a mobile album of your favorite wines, and have it handy when you walk into a wine shop. You will also be pleasantly surprised to see that the price you paid at that restaurant for the single glass, might not be far off from what you’ll pay in a shop for the whole bottle.

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