Aside from a few bottles that I get from a couple of wine clubs, I have three primary places that I shop for wine – the grocery store, a really large scale chain liquor store with over 15,000 types of wines, and a small “mom and pop” wine store. I love all three and each serves my wine needs in a different way. I’m fortunate that the grocery stores I frequent have very good wine selections, including some fine wines. So it’s very easy when I’m grocery shopping (it seems as if I’m required to feed Thing 1 and Thing 2 on a daily basis) to pick up a couple (or 6) bottles. Bananas? Check. Ooh, look – wine! I also love the big mega store with the huge selection of wine. It’s truly a candy store for adults. I just love to wander the aisles and look at all the wine. Really makes me happy. Really. And then I’m able to relate to how my kids feel when we walk into a large candy store or toy store. If I’m within five mile vicinity, I always find a way to stop in. But it’s the last category that I want to talk about – the small “mom and pop” store. It took me a while to start shopping at this type of store. Part of it was just not being secure enough in my wine knowledge, fear of judgment, and the loss of anonymity that such a small store presents. Of course I was being silly! It’s taken me a while, but I’ve learned that these places are great and serve an important purpose in my wine buying regimen as well. And none of them have bitten or otherwise scared me.
In my city, Houston Wine Merchant fills this niche for me. And I’m so happy that they aren’t closer to my house as I’d be in real trouble. And then there are times that I wish they were closer because if you’ve been here, then you know that Houston traffic sucks! They are nowhere near the size of the mega store, but I find that they stock a unique and diverse selection of wines (yes there are more than the 15,000) and they offer such a personal touch. I recall going in to ask about Barbera a while back. I didn’t know much about Barbera producers, so I talked to them and asked for a recommendation and they pointed me to a great $20 bottle that I loved. That marked the beginning of my Barbera love affair. Seems like that may be worthy of a blog post, but I digress. I also remember going to them when I was really beginning to venture into Bordeaux. I just went in and told them that I want a Bordeaux, that I don’t know much about Bordeaux, these are the types I wines I like to drink, this is how much I want to spend, and given that I might get hit by a bus tomorrow, I have to be able to drink it now (even if it requires an hour or two of decanting). No problem! They REALLY do want to help. By steering you to something you love, they’ve provided a great service and have gained a customer. When you tell your friends, they’ll gain even more customers.
In addition to the personal touch, Houston Wine Merchant also hosts multiple tastings each week – FOR FREE! They usually host a Friday evening and Saturday afternoon tasting, but also do the occasional weekday tasting as well. And what better way to learn about new wines? They have been such an invaluable tool for me in learning about new wines. I’ve been introduced to things I’ve never heard of or never would have tried on my own. The theme of the most recent tasting I attended there was “Wild and Wooly Reds.” They wanted to highlight reds that were either usually found in blends or were somehow different.
The first wine was unusual in that it was 100% Cinsault and Cinsault is usually blended (often with Grenache) and rarely found on its own. The Zinfandel was featured because it was unusual in its body (one of the lightest Zins I have ever seen) and because of its production method. Instead of crushing the grapes to extract the juice to begin the fermentation process, the wine is made using a technique called “carbonic maceration” where whole clusters are thrown in and the fermentation occurs while the juice is still inside of the grape although the bottom grapes get crushed by the weight of the grapes on top of them. You end up with a much lighter, fruiter, and less tannic wine since there is limited contact with the skins, hence this being one of the lightest Zins I’ve ever encountered. A California Zin at that! Like the first wine, the third wine was featured because it’s rarely featured alone and is typically found in a blend. Mataró is also known as Mourvèdre. The last wine was a red blend from South Africa. The wine was mostly comprised of Pinotage, but also had some Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Cab Franc blended in. And boy was it wooly! The finish was literally like a taste of rubber on the palate!
Would I have gone into a store and randomly chosen these wines to taste? Not very likely. And that is why I love visiting Houston Wine Merchant.