Three tips from Jon Rimmerman for buying wine at your local shop.
AVOID THE MIDDLE
The eye-level rack at your market is usually dominated by shelf space “owned” by local distributors. Some of the top, smaller production examples are represented by tiny distributors that cannot pay slotting or marketing fees demanded by grocers for eye-level rack space. Beat them at their own game — look at top and bottom shelves or in poor visibility areas of a display — my gut tells me you will find a number of gems lying in wait.
ALCOHOL CAN FOOL YOU
High alcohol does not equal high interest. Alcohol can obfuscate the true nature and nuance of a wine — even with normally high-alcohol examples like Chateauneuf-du-Pape. Alcohol levels have risen to blackout levels over the last 10 to 15 years, spurred by a variety of sparks: a certain critic’s preference and possibly global warming. Don’t give in to the rise! Challenge yourself to look for reds under 14 percent and whites under 13 percent. My sweet spot is 12½ to 13½ percent for reds, 11½ to 12½ percent for dry whites.
TRUST OTHER DRINKERS
Use your smartphone to create a level playing field: community-based Web sites like Eric Levine’s CellarTracker (cellartracker.com) give you the opinions of your peers, those who have actually tasted the wine in question — not the opinion of a distributor or a magazine. You can easily pull them up while standing in front of a wall of a dozen unknown New Zealand sauvignon blancs, and all will start to make sense in a jiffy.