Put your money where your mouth is

Eric Asimov’s trying to eliminate my job!

In his column yesterday (which is currently the #3 most emailed on the site), the NYT chief wine critic and chief wine blogger says that the best thing for wine newbies to do is find a trusted wine shop and put $250 of your wine budget in their hands and walk out with a case of wine. It’s better than even taking a class he argues.

As a wine educator (with three classes this week), I have to object! But he does make a good point–two good points, actually.

First, my objection. In my classes, I select wines, organize them thematically or stylistically, pair them with food (granted, just cheese, bread, and occasionally olives not a full meal), show maps, images, and talk about the politics, people and history of a wine. We also talk about how to find the best wine buys locally, wine-friendly restaurants, where to taste wines for free, how to serve, and much more. The two hours fly by. And all participants get to talk, sip, and discuss, so there is a social aspect as well. So don’t write off classes too quickly, even for newbies! They can have much to offer.

But Asimov still has a fundamentally good point: there’s no substitute for learning through tasting. Not everyone will have wine classes available near them or perhaps the time to take a class so then I absolutely agree that you should put your money where your mouth is via a local retailer. This lowers the barriers of entry so that anybody can do it, regardless of level of wine geekdom.

The second good point that Asimov makes is to trust a local retailer, hopefully two retailers. Why? Well, for one, they have the wines available to sell you. Many times you can read about great sounding wines on the web or in print but then you can’t find them near you. Trusting the retailer doesn’t lead to that frustration.

Moreover, you can have feedback. Unlike a critic whom you may never meet, you might visit your retailer once a week or once a month. So there’s accountability. They want to make you happy and keep you coming back, not sell you wine a hedonistic fruit bomb if your preferences run more toward the earthy and the minerally.

But one subtle distinction: the custom case is the way to go over the pre-fab case. Many wine shops put together cases at various price points or for different flavor preferences. While these sometimes can be good, I’m always leery that they are putting wines that need to “move” in such cases. When you choose a staffer to put together your case for you, not only is it more customized, but it’s more likely to be wines chosen simply on their merits, rather than economic reasons.

So, why are you still in front of your computer? Get thee to a shop!

Add some juice to your wine dollar: buying tips” [Dr. V]
Making a case: 12 gift wines” [Dr. V]

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9 Responses to “Put your money where your mouth is”

  1. A real interesting article I’d like to see is how to learn wine by tasting on a limited budget (much less than 250), do you have any suggestions?

    -Brad Maier

  2. Great point! You should be able to repeat the experiment at all price points, eg a case for $10/bottle or even $50/bottle. Really put your retailer to the test!

    And keep notes!

    If you want some of my picks for wines under $10 I have a whole category of them (with more coming soon): http://drvino.com/category/wine-under-10/

  3. While I agree that tasting is fundamental to learning about wine and your own tastes, I don’t think there’s any substitute for taking a class that explains to you the history and traditions surrounding it. Personally, knowing the story behind a particular wine or vineyard makes drinking the wine that much better.


  4. Yay, Cassandra!

  5. Love the new look! I am now back in the world of the living and networking. Nothing beats first hand experience when comes to learning about wine. But the beauty of wine is that you can never learn enough so it is fun to mix it up a bit. Read text, taste wine, take notes, have fun, Take Dr.Vino’s class, have fun, keep a community of knowledge growing, talk to other people about wine you have had, have fun, and listen to what other people think about wine you have had, take Dr.Vino’s class and did I mention have fun?

  6. Having taken a class with Dr. Vino, I completely agree with Cassandra’s comments. (But also LOVE the idea of drinking through 12 bottles of new and different wines.) The funny thing about the Eric Asimov article is that he was a guest in Dr. Vino’s class last semester and, if I remember correctly, mentioned this exact mixed case experiment. I felt like I had a preview of the article!

  7. Thanks EVWG! Glad you’re back in action!

    And thanks, Dave!

  8. I read somewhere else that the cases madeup for Asimov were tweaked to his particular preferences, which accounts for the unabashed Francophilia while lack of any big juicy monster shirazes, zins or cabs. A “custom” case certainly can be the way to go for more experienced tasters, but most novices have a very difficult time describing their likes & dislikes.

    I personally feel that with more complex nuanced Old World wines (like the ones mentioned in Asimov’s article), “wine flights” paired with appropriate food are the best way to educate your palate. It seems that restauranteurs are starting to take notice gaging by the popularity of tapas-style wine bars springing up on every corner here in LA 🙂

    btw- Great blog Dr. Vino! Cheers!

  9. Dr. V–I concur that wine education is key to establishing a base of wine information, knowing what to look for in particular wines and distinguishing likes and dislikes, among many other things. At the same time, in my view palate development really can only occur through drinking regularly. I’m a more advanced wine enthusiast and get most of my education from reading wine magazines and books and, of course, from the glass. I wish I had time for one of your classes though (two 5 year olds also keep me close to home!) My problem with Asimow’s suggestion is that I don’t know if the retailer is merely moving slow inventory to me or whether he/she is trying to introduce me to something new and fabulous, whatever my budget. I would rather buy something (usually over the internet) that I read about and find interesting then travel to a retailer and say, what’s new?

    Best, Barrld


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