Anyone who drinks wine knows how to find it, but the path bottles take from faraway wineries to local bottle shops is often elusive and mysterious. Often, the journey involves a myriad of importers, distributors, sales reps and buyers. This week, we caught up with Regal Wine Imports’ Sales Representative Shaheen Zarnagh, who has navigated the middle tier of the three-tier distribution system since her departure from the service side of the wine business in 2012. And she’s aware of what it takes to get coveted bottles from distant wineries to thirsty drinkers, as well as the pitfalls in between.
VinePair: What’s the best part of your job?
Shaheen Zarnagh: Wine, duh!
VP: What’s the worst part?
SZ: Schlepping a roller bag full of wines up and down NYC subway stairs. In the snow!
VP: What does your average day look like?
SZ: I usually spend my mornings sending and answering emails, then prepping for appointments. In the afternoons I’ll often taste with buyers–my favorite part!–and I’ll finish the day with an in-store tasting at a wine shop or professional happy hour. And then more emails.
VP: Can you explain how you choose what to taste with buyers? What’s your strategy in a new place?
SZ: I always take a look at what wines are currently being offered. Is there an area of focus? Are the wines regional, natural, or obscure? What’s the average price point? From there, I choose wines from our portfolio that I believe excel in their category. I try to be discerning so that my buyers feel comfortable with my recommendations.
VP: Any secret tasks you didn’t expect to be tackling?
SZ: Keeping track of my buyers. I need a GPS on a few of them, since they bounce around the industry so much! But I love it. There seems to be a constant supply of opportunities to showcase new wines and to build and strengthen relationships.
VP: Got a favorite nickname for your job?
SZ: Professional drinker!
VP: Is there anything glamorous about being a sales rep?
SZ: Having your wine poured at some of the best restaurants in the nation feels pretty special. And of course, frequenting those restaurants.
VP: What are some of the ‘best’ restaurants where your wines are sold? Any brands or bottles you’re really excited to represent?
SZ: Bar Boulud, Reynard at the Wythe Hotel, Perry St, and The Modern, among others. Our Rhône section is killing it, with brands like Domaine Les Bruyeres (Crozes-Hermitage), Domaine du Coulet (Cornas), Jean-Michele Stephan (Cote Rotie), Domaine Villeneuve (CNDP). Jean-Claude Lapalu is another favorite from Beaujolais. Hobo Wine Co. in California, Castellroig in Penedes, Parusso in Piedmont…I could go on and on!
VP: Would you go back to the service side of the industry?
SZ: In a heartbeat! I love the sense of urgency that comes with the dinner rush.
VP: What’s the worst or most embarrassing thing that’s ever happened to you during a tasting?
SZ: I was a little nervous for my first appointment with a well-seasoned Master Somm, and I was describing a wine in depth while trying to pour. I totally missed the glass and poured on to the table. Of course, this happened at one of the above-mentioned ‘best’ restaurants. My flushed cheeks could be seen from a mile away!
VP: At the end of a long day, what’s your go-to drink?
SZ: Bubbly! Give me all the bubbles!!