Buying and collecting wine from your favorite wine store doesn’t have to be overwhelming or left to last- minute (and often regrettable) impulse purchases. With a little patience and planning you can be on your way to your very own cellar in no time — whether that means a few special splurge bottles waiting for the right dinner party or a robust collection of tried-and-true favorites combined with newer, buzzier blends.
The bottom line is that investing in a wine merchant to be your go-to spot is as important as investing in a bottle itself — and is #adulting at its finest (and most enjoyable). While we can’t make doing your taxes any less painful, we asked Hortense Bernard, General Manager of Millesima USA and wine expert by birth, to share her best wine store hacks to help make your next purchase a little easier. Because at the end of the day, according to Bernard, “buying wine is about having a good time, not about running another errand.”
Shop the World Wine Web
There’s nothing like shopping for your new favorite bottle at your local. That is, unless it’s pouring down rain. Or 90 degrees. Or you’re carrying three bags of groceries already. And you’re late.
The good news is there’s a simple solution: Nowadays you can take care of buying wine anytime on the web. But that doesn’t mean Amazon should be your go-to for grand cru. Bernard says to make sure the merchant is someone you know and trust. “Find [a site] that has a lot of information about the wine, that is user-friendly, that you feel comfortable with,” she advises. “The more content, the better. You want to make sure that they know what they’re doing.”
Worried you won’t know where to start? Most sites, like Millesima, offer assistance when buying online, so even if you’re picking out a Pinot from your iPhone on the train, you’re not alone.
Find a Partner in Crime
The secret to building a great collection of wine is to find a wine merchant you trust. In addition to simply familiarizing yourself with the selection of wines, check out a merchant’s customer reviews, look for loyalty programs, and get to know the staff.
There are also a few tell-tale physical signs to look for in wine shop, Bernard says. “Make sure the store keeps the wine perfectly and properly. If the store is hot, do not buy there. The wine needs to be stored in a cool temperature, lying down.”
That’s right: Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Wine merchants are there to be helpful, and help you find the best bottle. Use their expertise to guide your next purchase instead of shelling out for a bottle that isn’t what you thought it would be. Hortense is not only a GM, but spends time attending trade shows, working the harvest at her family’s chateau, and above all else is passionate about wine, which is all to say she knows her stuff. “I was born into wine. Wine is my passion,” says Bernard. So ask away.
The people selling you your next bottle of Cab Sav are your biggest allies as they get to know you and your palate. “It’s really important that you find someone who will recommend wine that you appreciate,” Bernard says. “Life is too short to buy a bottle and not appreciate it.” This process takes time, but that’s what these folks are here for. Bernard agrees: “That is one of [Millesima’s] strengths — understanding [customers’] palates so we can recommend something. You have to go step-by-step.”
The Price Is Right
If there’s any doubt left in your mind after all these years, yes, good wine comes at every price point, so don’t be afraid to let your merchant know what you’re comfortable spending. “There is no shame to any price point,” encourages Bernard. If you’re on a budget, $20 can easily get you a good bottle of wine, and as little as $30 to $40 will get you a really good bottle, she promises.
One of the biggest things to look for when choosing a wine merchant to be your go-to is sourcing — especially if you are shopping for pricier bottles. “We buy only from the estates, so we know where it’s coming from and know it’s perfect,” says Bernard. “Most retailers buy from private collections and auctions. You have no idea how the wine has been stored or the quality.” For wines not sourced direct from the estate, the price point should be lower because neither the merchant (nor the buyer) has proof of the quality.
State Your Case
Another sign of #adulting when it comes to drinking wine is finally graduating to the world of buying wine by the case — even if you’re a New Yorker who’s short on space. Not only do most merchants like Millesima offer discounts on cases, but it has a surprising effect on your buying habit, according to Bernard: Buying a case to have at home actually encourages shoppers to try something new when they’re in the store looking for a one-off bottle. (Not to mention, getting to keep the bespoke crate used to ship the wine is a major bonus.)