How to Shop for Wine (Without Sounding Like a Dick)

Categories: Wine Time

Photo by Jeremy Parzen
Shopping for wine can be a stressful experience. It doesn't have to be. And it shouldn't be.
For previous posts in our "how-to wine" series, please click here.

Like so many women and men across America, hundreds of Houstonians will head to their neighborhood wine shop today to pick up a special bottle of wine for a Valentine's Day dinner.

For some of them, it will be an extremely stressful experience. Sadly, most Americans shop for wine only a few times a year, and when they do, they usually invest their entire focus on a single bottle for a single occasion.

There is a lot riding on that bottle: What if it doesn't go with the food I'm preparing? What if it's spoiled? What if I paid too much? What if I spent too little? What if my lover doesn't love it?

Even sadder is the fact that the stress of buying wine for Valentine's Day (or any holiday, for that matter) often brings out the "not my best day" in a lot of folks.

The following rules of thumb are by no means the Ten Commandments of wine shopping. But they can serve as some general guidelines for how to shop for wine (without sounding like a dick).

antonio gianola.jpg
Photo by Jeremy Parzen
Wine salespersons are people, too. Antonio Gianola, buyer and retailer at the Houston Wine Merchant, is one of our city's leading wine professionals, and he's also a regular guy who happens to love wine.
Remember that the word salesperson contains the word person.

I highly recommend this post by one of my favorite West Coast wine bloggers, Samantha Sans Dosage, who runs one of the best wine retail programs in Southern California. Her blog is smart, sassy and sexy, and this rant -- posted during the run-up to Christmas 2013 -- offers some hilarious insights into what it feels like to be on the other side of the counter.

When told flatly that "friends don't let friends drink White Zinfandel," Samantha counters, "Friends don't judge; let them drink what they want. Dammit."

Do your homework.

Ten years ago, there were only a handful of wine guide publications, like the Wine Spectator and The Wine Advocate. You had to be a subscriber or pick one up at the newsstand if you wanted to take advantage of their editors' wine knowledge. Today, those pioneering mastheads have superb web portals that allow you to browse thousands of tasting notes at the tip of your fingers.

This story continues on the next page.

Location Info


Houston Wine Merchant

2055 Westheimer, Houston, TX

Category: General

Spec's Warehouse

2410 Smith St., Houston, TX

Category: General

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Best bet? Always remember that whatever a restaurant is charging for a bottle, you can get  it for about 300% less if you buy it youself at retail...a dirty little secret that the restaurants don't want you to to know.


Your best bet is to ask for a wine that goes well with molè...


Good piece, I like Jancis Robinson and Antonio at Wine Merchant. Think  you have to know what your wine guru likes...I know that Robert Parker has certain preferences and they may not be a critic of anything.

Btw, how can they win your trust when the top pic shows them storing the wine improperly, with the corks far away from contact witht the wine?

Bruce_Are topcommenter


That's a secret? You'd have to be a complete idiot to think this is a secret. The restaurant charges a markup for wine primarily because they can, but they also provide service and glassware. And if you get a bad bottle they take the hit.

Restaurants also mark up the food.  So avoid them at all costs.  Bastards.


@Bruce_Are @TomHelm 

yeah no shit, I used to be a bartender and a chef, no secrets there!

My opinion is that the wine markups should stay in the 20-50% range, that would move more product.

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