12 Tips for Stress-Free Holiday Wine Shopping

By Fabiana Santana

HolidayWines1-480x369With all the stress the holidays bring, deciding on what to drink should not be an added worry on your list. Sure, you can opt for the kitchy-named red of the moment, but when you’ve gone to all the trouble of preparing an ideal meal, why not invest in learning how to pick the right bottle? Whiskey & Wine Off 69, a new destination spirits and wine retail store on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, is helping out. They’ve developed the Top 12 Tips for stress-free holiday wine shopping. Wine curator Beth von Benz explains, “People needn’t stress out over wine purchases for the holidays.  It’s just a matter of knowing what kind of wine you like and having an accommodating, knowledgeable wine retailer that can make appropriate recommendations for you.”

The recently opened store has already made a name for itself in wine circles by embracing restaurant-worthy, ready-to-sip wines, including grower Champagnes and New York State bottlings.

“Right now, we’re very excited about grower Champagnes like Gonet-Medeville, Jean Lallement, Pierre Moncuit and Gatinois.  In contrast to the large Champagne brands that purchase grapes from multiple sources and blend them to create a house style, these small, often family-run producers grow their own grapes and their wines have far superior flavor, nuance and character.  For folks who want to drink local, Dr. Konstantin Frank, Benmarl, Anthony Nappa and Paumanok are great New York State producers for the holiday table.”

The Top 12 Tips are as follows:
1) Remember the wines you like.
Whenever you’re at a restaurant and you like the taste of a wine, write it down, so you can begin assembling a taste profile.  Even if your wine store doesn’t carry that particular wine, if they know the kinds of wines you already like, they’ll make some smart recommendations that will match up.
WhiskeyandWineExteriorShot2) Find a good wine shop.
Sure, “big box” stores might feature lower prices, but some of their offerings just aren’t very good and don’t represent real value if they’re not pleasant to drink.  A good wine shop also offers extensive tastings, which is a good way to try before you buy.
3) Be adventurous and drink fearlessly.
Try new wines, grape varieties, countries and styles.  Generally, the more obscure a wine, the less it costs, as a simple function of supply and demand.  Try a rosé wine or perhaps a Greek wine.  Be brave and opt for something new, even if it’s hard to pronounce.
4) Don’t worry about being a wine expert.
No one is.  The wine world is simply too vast and ever changing for anyone to master it all.  Don’t be intimidated or afraid to ask questions.
5) Relax, because taste is subjective.
Your palate might differ from your dining companion’s or from a famous wine magazine.  There’s no right or wrong.  It comes down to personal taste.
6) Have fun!
Amassing wine knowledge is a yearlong venture that just happens to pay great dividends during the holidays.  Make it part of your routine, keep an open mind and don’t take it too seriously.
7) Don’t judge a wine by its label.
There are thousands of wines out there.  The most well known are usually premium priced or invest a lot in advertising and charge accordingly.  There are many excellent producers that are worth getting to know, even if you have never seen their label before, and they can often offer excellent value.
8) Befriend your wine shop’s sales staff.
A fine wine shop’s staff is there to offer personal service and will get to know your likes and preferences.  Make friends with them.  The better they know you, the better their recommendations will be.
9) Food is a big part of the equation.
Especially during the holidays, food is a critical part of the equation.  Let the wine shop’s staff know what kind of dishes you plan to serve at your holiday table and they will be able to recommend specific wines to complement them.
10) Don’t be shy about sharing your budget.
The wine shop’s sales staff will find something within your range, from an affordable bottling to a splurge.
11) Be social!
Follow your favorite wine shops on social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter to learn about in-store tastings, promotions, tips, new arrivals and more.  When you do find a great wine, share it digitally with your friends and family.
12) Be smart, use your smartphone.
Clever smartphone apps put in-depth wine databases and user reviews at your fingertips.  Snap a photo and up comes the information.  Snooth Wine Pro is a good place to start.
The specific wines that von Benz recommends for the holidays include:
Grower Champagnes
  • Gonet-Medeville “Tradition” Brut NV, $35.99
  • Jean Lallement Brut NV, $53.99
  • Pierre Moncuit Blanc de Blancs NV, $48.99
  • Gatinois Brut Rose NV, $56.99
New York State Wines:
  • Dr. Konstantin Frank, Rkatsiteli 2010, Finger Lakes, $21.99
  • Benmarl, Slate Hill Red 2011 (Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Malbec blend), Hudson Valley, $17.99
  • Anthony Nappa, Chardonnay “Sciardonne” 2012, North Fork, $24.99
  • Paumanok Late Harvest Riesling 2012, North Fork, $45.99