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Top questions to ask in the bottle shop (when you know next to nothing about wine)

We’ve all been there. Standing in the bottle shop in front of the fridge or in the bargain aisle, trying not to look like a fool in front of the staff. Just leave me alone to pick my poison roulette-style and get out of here, already!

Enough with the shot-in-the-dark wine shopping. If you’re looking for a New Year’s resolution, make it this – stop hiding from bottle shop staff and make use of them. Ask them questions. Stupid questions. That’s what they’re there for, after all!

Some bottle shops offer wine tastings on certain days of the week. If your local shop does this, take advantage – it’s the ideal way to see if you like a wine before committing to purchase

The all-mighty Jancis Robinson says we should treat our wine shops like book stores – if you get to know the shop owner, they’ll get to understand what you like, and help you try and discover new wines you’ll love, tailored to your taste and budget… and it’s worth it for them to give you this experience, because in return they get happy, recurring customers.

If for some reason you don’t like your wine shop, find the staff unhelpful, annoying or rude… find another one! These days, we are pretty spoiled for choice with bottle shops – even if it’s a bit further away from home, it’s worth establishing this rapport if you really want to get into and enjoy wine.

Bottle shops can be a minefield if you don’t know anything about wine – ask the staff to help guide you in the right direction

To help get you on your new journey, here’s a few questions to begin with:

1. What are you drinking?

One of the best ways to discover new wines is to ask the bottle shop staff what they’re into at the moment. Chances are, as wine nerds, they’ll have plenty to say about the wines they’re currently loving, and will give you an honest review of the stuff.

2. What’s new?

If you don’t know where to begin, and are up for trying some potentially great, interesting and fun wines, asking what’s new in the shop is an easy option. This will likely include the latest trending producers and varietals, so you’ll look pretty cool when you bring a bottle of this to your next get together.

3. I like X, what should I try now?

This is probably my most frequently used tactic. I know I like acidic white wines, like those from the Loire Valley. Can you recommend something similar? I love Yarra Valley Pinots. What should I branch out to next? You get the idea. There’s no shame in lacking the knowledge of which grapes are similar to others or which producers make wines in a similar style… that’s the staff’s job! This is a pretty reliable way to go outside of your comfort zone and without too much risk.

4. We’re eating X for dinner, what should we be drinking?

An obvious one, but an easy one. If you’re worried about finding the right wine to pair with dinner (especially when you’ve got people coming around for a meal), simply let the staff know what you’re eating and they’ll help guide you to the right bottle. If you like what you tried, make a note so you know for next time.

5. Do you have any X in the $X range?

In the same way there is no shame in being transparent about what you know or don’t know, there is no reason to hide what you’re hoping to spend. There is a wine for every occasion, which is why wine shops provide a variety of styles and price points. Give the staff a range of what you’re willing to spend, and any other specifics – i.e., I’m looking for a medium to light-bodied red around the $30 mark.

Once you establish a relationship with your local bottle shop, further questions will come naturally and you’ll start to really understand which wines you like and why. Most likely, your five minute pop into the store to grab a bottle will turn into a coveted hour of exploration and conversation.
Want to become a wine expert? Check out some of our other helpful tips, like how to read a wine label or how to order wine at a restaurant.

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