A few years back, I wrote a story about people in certain vocations being asked for advice in social settings, especially golf pros and software experts, but also a podiatrist who had a woman stick out her bare foot at a bar mitzvah. This kind of query happens to me regularly, although I'm usually sniffing something more fragrant than a foot.
Some FAQs (frequently asked questions) that I encounter:
Is there any way to avoid some of the exorbitant corkage fees at local restaurants?
Depends on the venue, and perhaps how often you go there. Some places stick with a no-exceptions policy even for frequent customers, but others are flexible.
First, call ahead and ask if a manager is available. Inquire about the fee, and especially whether it can be waived if you buy one bottle off the list for each one you bring. (And seriously, check out the wine list in advance and do not arrive with anything that's already available there.)
Also, consider paying it forward. During your meal, ask who the wine buyer is and offer her/him a small pour of a wine you brought along (and/or the rest of the bottle if you don't finish it). It might help the next time you go to the same restaurant.
Of course, in some cases it might be preferable to fork over the $25 and bring in something special rather than buy something that might be marked up just as much, if not more.
What's the next big thing in wine?
The keynote speaker at last month's Wine Writers Symposium in Napa, Jancis Robinson, probably is the most respected wine writer in the world. When she was asked this very question, she quickly cited South Africa and then Chile.
I agree, to a point. While South Africa is a lot like Australia in that most of the really good stuff never leaves its borders, the wines that are getting here are more distinctive and tasty than ever. Racy chenin and sauvignon blanc, sturdy syrah, stout cabernet and even some renditions of the oft-maligned pilotage (try the Lion's Drift) have been grabbing more shelf space in local stores of late.
And while I've given up on Chile's carmenere becoming the next malbec, it is proving to be a great blending grape with cabernet sauvignon. The value-priced sauvignon blancs (Yali, Casa Lapostolle and especially Santa Ema) still shine more brightly than the reds currently in our market.
What ought to be coming on strong are Portuguese reds. No wine category is hotter than red blends, and virtually all the Portugal reds are blends. But the grapes are unfamiliar to most consumers, and the prices are a notch above the Apothics and Marietta Old Vines of the world.
With all the money out that way, why aren't there more good wine stores in the western suburbs?
Actually, there are plenty. The problem is not that there are few, but that they're far between, clustered together in certain locales.
The Ridgedale area includes arguably the Twin Cities' best Byerly's and Haskell's stores, plus a Big Top, all within a mile of each other. Farther out the 394/12 corridor in Long Lake, and even closer together, are Lakeside Wine & Spirits and the under-recognized (except by cork dorks) Liquor Barn.
And now tiny Excelsior has two worthy retail outposts. Longtime stalwart Excelsior Vintage has been joined by a stellar new store on Water Street, the Wine Republic, which is focused on organic, sustainable and biodynamic wines.
I found (or inherited) some really old wine. Where can I sell it?
The answer almost invariably is "nowhere." The folks who buy decades-old wine will insist on knowing the wine's provenance, where and how it was stored since the initial purchase(s). Unless the wine has been in a cool, dark cellar the entire time, it has zilch resale value.
Examine the bottle(s). If there's leakage, it's probably vinegar in the bottle because of air seeping in. Sunlight and heat are also enemies of old (or young) wine bottles.
If you're sure the wine has been stored impeccably, contact an auction house such as Christie's or Sotheby's. Otherwise, your best course is to sit back and enjoy the wine. At your next dinner party, break out the wine(s) for your friends. Don't decant, and serve in nice wine glasses. Even if the wine is shot, the exercise is entertaining. Oh, and be sure to have some backups handy.
Bill Ward writes at www.decant-this.com. Follow him on Twitter: @billward4.