Here are some answers to questions that we get asked a lot. I’ve also included some statements that people make that they really should phrase differently. These are also answers to questions that should be asked before making bold pronouncements.
Q: Is this wine dry?
A: Yes. With very few exceptions all wines sold in wine stores are dry. What does that mean? It means that all residual sugar has been fermented out and what’s left is fruit and alcohol. If you want something a little easy, try asking for a fruitier wine like a Malbec or Shiraz. These are more fruit forward and are sometimes what people can perceive as “sweet”. Knowing that (almost) all wines are dry can make your description of what you want more accurate, and can help you get a wine well suited to your taste. On the same note, if a salesperson in a wine store indulges your request for a sweet wine, make sure you are both on the same page, as they might not have a clue about what they’re doing.
Q: How long does it take to chill this bottle?
A: Less time than most people seem to think. In a pinch you can chill a bottle in about 15 minutes by following this easy hack: wet a piece of paper towel, wet the bottle, place the paper towel around the bottle and put it in the freezer for 15 minutes. That’s it, just remember to take it out.
If you’re in less of a hurry, it only takes about an hour in the fridge to chill a bottle to proper temperature. You should never drink a good bottle too chilled, you’ll lose the subtle flavors.
Q: Do you have any wines without sulfites?
A: One of the more common and certainly the most misunderstood question we get. Before I answer that question I simply ask “why”? For some reason people seem to think that they pour a bucket of preservatives into a wine before sending it off. A) They don’t. Most wineries add just enough sulfites to keep a wine stable (usually about 100 PPM). This is about the same as many food items, and much less than a piece of dried fruit or a bunch of other things. B) If you are reacting to something in wine, it’s probably not sulfites. Sorry, but it’s true. Argue all you want but even if you are “allergic” to sulfites you would still have a hard time getting a reaction from the trace amounts in a bottle of wine. The unsatisfying answer is that they really don’t know what really causes reactions in wine. If you react to certain wines and not others figure out what those are and avoid them. I hate to put it like that but it’s true.
Side Note: There is actually no such thing as a wine with NO sulfites. They are actually a natural byproduct of the fermentation process, which results in sulfites in minimal amounts of about 10 PPM. Wines are only required to be labelled “Contains Sulfites” if they are over 10 PPM.
Q: What do I need to spend to get a decent bottle?
A: A frequent and puzzling question. It is sometimes phrased as “I want a reasonable bottle” as if I have any idea what reasonable is to them. To answer the question briefly: know where you’re shopping. I like to assume (wrongly sometimes) that people appreciate the time and effort that we put into choosing the wines that go on the shelf. The implication being that all the wines we choose are “decent”. If you’re not in a good boutique store there will probably be a lot of processed wines (cheap stuff), which are not maybe what you had in mind. In that case try to avoid wines below $10-$12. That threshold is where wine tends to be (but is not always) less processed. See my post on additives to wines for further edification.
Q: Where is your Vive Cliquot?
A: Yes, I did spell it wrong intentionally. Did you even pick up on it? I can’t tell you how many people come in here and woefully mispronounce the name of something that they’re spending a decent amount of money on. When they hear that we don’t usually carry it, they sometimes look at us like we have 2 heads. When I explain that we are a boutique that feature small boutique products, and that while Veuve Cliquot is a fine “brand,” it’s not really something we want to present. There is Costco for that. Same with the other category-dominant “brands” that are priced way out of the range such as Santa Margherita. Why does one need to pay $30 for a Pinot Grigio if you’re in a knowledgeable store with a well-chosen inventory?
Q: How long should I age this $15 cabernet?
A: About as long as it takes you to get home. The vast majority (over 95%) of wines produced are meant to be consumed as soon as you get them. There are very few wines that are meant to truly age. People that come in and think that 2 or 3 year old vintages are too young look foolish unless they’re referring to specific Barolos or Bordeaux. Even many California cabernets have been made to be drunk sooner than later. Just buy it and drink it, unless otherwise specifically instructed.
Q: Which of these vodkas are gluten-free?
A: Without getting into the politics of gluten-free, it comes down to this: all vodkas (and any distilled spirits, for that matter) are gluten-free, even the ones made from wheat. Vodkas are distilled, and the distillation removes any gluten, so Tito’s claiming Gluten-Free on its label is just advertising buzzwords.
Q: Why haven’t I ever heard of the Bourbons?
A: Like our current golden age of TV, we’re living in a golden age of American brown spirits. That includes dozens of great new Bourbons, and the return of some old favorites. As with our wines, we are always trying to find new and interesting spirits. We try to leave the known entities to the other guys because we want to be a store of discovery. Stretch your horizons, try something new. If you really hate it, we’ll even take it back. Everything was new to you at one point.
Q: Aren’t you expensive since you’re on Madison Ave?
A: Certainly one of our favorite questions based in reality, but that doesn’t really hold water. Even a cursory glance at the prices of some of my local competitors will show that not only are we very reasonable, we often undercut them on price. Real estate is expensive all over, no matter where you are. Just an FYI, the closer you are to a subway stop the more expensive the rent will be, so in a word: No, we are not really that expensive. Plus you get all the perks of a great boutique atmosphere for no extra charge.