I was in a wine store the other day looking for some wine for someone in my wine club. I knew exactly what I wanted – had seen that it was on the store’s website – but it quickly became evident that the wine wasn’t there. So I asked some advice.

And that is what generated the idea for this column.

The salesperson asked only how much I wanted to spend, and then quickly began to rattle off recommendations. She started with the most popular wineries, but they are the ones whose style of wines I don’t like much. When I referenced that, she just looked at me – and kept going. Finally, after a few minutes, I found a way to politely excuse myself from the store.

The point here wasn’t that the salesperson wasn’t trying to be helpful. It was – at least in my opinion – she was giving me the wrong kind of help.

When someone asks for wine advice, the first thing I always ask is – what style of wine do you like? Dry or sweet? Fruity or more herbal/woody? That then can lead me in the direction of wines that I think the person will like.

But what normally happens is the exact opposite. “This winery makes a great Cabernet, that winery makes a great Merlot”…that is what I hear. Nothing about what it tastes like, or whether that matches with what you like to drink.

For me, it is no problem – I know what I like, what is available, and I can just walk away. But for someone who is actually looking for advice, that person can – and usually probably does – walk out with something that he or she won’t like when it is opened.

So why don’t wine salespersons asked the right questions? I haven’t asked, but I bet it is lack of training. Or the fact that the so-called “big wineries” are the easiest to recommend, since they carry name recognition.

But if they really wanted to sell more wine – and have repeat customers – they would ask the simple question about style. And, assuming they knew the products they were selling, that would end up with a happy (and probably repeat) customer.

Last, but not least, is how do you take wine advice, whether you are a wine dweeb like me, or someone actually looking for it?

Politely, of course, is a good answer. It is never a good idea to insult anyone.

But it is also okay to ask questions and reply if what is recommended isn’t something you like. A good salesperson should respond to that (unfortunately mine didn’t in the example above).

The best way to respond to wine advice is the simplest – ask “what does it taste like?”. If the salesperson actually knows, he or she will tell you. If the salesperson doesn’t – or can’t – well, maybe it is time to find a different wine store!



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