A common phrase in the wine trade is “hand-sell,” connoting a product that doesn’t “sell itself” by reputation, but instead requires an extra effort on the retailer’s or waitstaff’s part.
As Tana Wold, wine buyer for the three Eden Prairie municipal stores, puts it: “Hand-selling wine to a customer is an art. You must fully understand what your customer is looking for so that you can ‘wow’ them with a unique suggestion. I love when a customer comes back and says, ‘I love what you gave me last week. Can you suggest something else?’ ”
Pam Johnson of the Little Wine Shoppe in St. Paul agreed. “It’s my favorite part of the wine business, finding that beautiful wine for the occasion, be it dinner, sipping on the patio or celebrating a special event” and sharing it with customers.
This, by the way, is how I do most of my wine shopping, asking retailers I trust which wines have surprised and/or delighted them of late, where they’re seeing the best value.
In a metro area packed with savvy wine-mongers, it was easy to find nine who could answer this question: “What under $20 wine do you particularly enjoy ‘hand-selling,’ convincing customers that this is something they need to try?”
One of these folks, Bill Fillmore of Richfield Liquors, had a tough time choosing just one, so he went with three wines that he said were food-friendly and ideal for summer: Piattelli Malbec ($12.98, “makes any food taste good”), Sella & Mosca Cannonau di Sardegna ($14.99) and Cune Rioja Crianza ($12.99, “nice for BBQ”).
Johnson also passed along three recommendations: “Domaine Sainte Léocadie’s white wine [$10.99], a blend of marsanne, vermentino and muscat, hails from the Minervois region of southern France. Their winery’s red [$10.99] from that region, a blend of grenache and syrah, is still stomped by foot, beginning the natural fermentation process. Scaia Rosato [$13.99] from Veneto, Italy, is a delicious rosé of the rondinella grape that sports a glass cork (don’t use a corkscrew), with strawberry, pomegranate and raspberry [notes] and a refreshing finish.”
Wold called the Cracklin’ Savie Sparkling Sauvignon Blanc ($18.99) from New Zealand’s Marlborough region “a fun wine to sell since most customers have never seen or tried a sparkling sauvignon blanc. This wine is pure fun: bright fruit aromas with a crisp, medium body, and throw in some bubbles to put it over the top. A perfect crowd-pleaser.”
Rob Bonelli of 1010 Washington in downtown Minneapolis said that while he “loves hand-selling Muscadet for under $20, what really comes to mind recently is Italian white wine for under $20. It really gets overlooked, and there is so much great stuff out there. The Dei Martiena [$14.99] is a blend of malvasia, grechetto and trebbiano, and it is medium-bodied with some nice apple fruit. I would hand-sell this to somebody looking for a pinot grigio or an interesting medium-bodied white. It would be brilliant with linguine with clam sauce.”
Wine buyer Arpad Nagy of Ken & Norm’s in south Minneapolis touted the Villa Maria Cellar Selection Sauvignon Blanc ($12.99), calling it “a pure expression of Marlborough sauvignon blanc, with aromas of grapefruit, melon and fresh herbs. The palate is powerful and juicy, and it has fantastic mid-palate weight. Perfect for these hot days.”
At France 44, manager Dustin Harkins says he’s “a huge fan of the Marchesi Pancrazi ‘San Donato’ Rosso [$19.99]. When someone comes in and is looking for a typical lighter bodied red, I always ask them if they would like to step out of their domestic comfort zone. I then head to the Italian section and present this 50/50 blend of gamay and pinot noir, which presents a beautiful balance of florality, acidity and moderate alcohol. Tuscany is not always all about sangiovese; you can often find hidden gems like this.”
Peter Houghtaling of Sentyrz Supermarket in northeast Minneapolis “loves the wines of the Loire for their quality and value. When people try them, they usually find they’re fantastic. The Cave de Bourgueil Lieu-dit ‘Beauregard’ is a good introduction to cabernet franc, which a lot of people don’t always understand. It’s lighter bodied with a great aroma of violets and herbs. It’s quaffable but tastes a little bit serious. I can tell people, ‘This is what cab franc is. If you like earthy mineral reds, you’ll like this.’ It’s inexpensive and pairs with almost anything. I like it with a light chill.”
Finally, two wine guys from the east metro chose the same wine: Lugana Ca’ Lojera Trebbiano di Lugana ($18.99), a brisk white from grapes grown on the southern banks of Italy’s wondrous Lake Garda. John Lenzmeier of On the Rocks in Hugo calls it “a fantastic buy with great flavor and structure. I think it’s the best white-wine buy in the store for the price/quality ratio.” Jeff Huff of Revival in St. Paul’s Lowertown district cites “intense structure with a delicately perfumed bouquet that gives it an unmistakable characteristic all its own. This wine goes fantastically with fish and mild cheeses.”
I second (or actually third) that emotion. This is one of my favorite white wines. But all of these wines — and stores — are worth checking out.
Bill Ward writes at decant-this.com. Follow him on Twitter: @billward4.