Tuesday, January 15, 2008

What's Your Wine Style?

There's a new wine retailer in South Pasadena on Mission Street: Wine Styles. This is the latest franchise in a chain of stores that hopes to break down the mystery of wine purchasing by focusing on styles of wine (mellow, spicy, crisp, etc.) so that consumers who think "I only like Chardonnay" may actually be motivated to try Albarino instead. (interior of Fresno Wine Styles franchise from Valley411.com)

I have to admit I was deeply skeptical of this concept, and was braced for the worst when I entered the local outpost. I left pleasantly surprised.

Kathy Bergstrom (who owns the store with her daughter) was warm and welcoming and let me browse to my heart's content. The shop has stucco niches for the wine (very old world, and it makes the most of the deliberately small store selection), and I was struck by the fact that many of the wines were not on every other store shelf in the LA area. Sparkling German Riesling? They've got that. Portuguese table wine--of the sort we were all searching for a few months ago?--yeah, that, too. Smaller labels like Anglim? Yes. A great selection of Italian wines, like the Di Majo Norante Ramitello and bottlings from Renato Ratti? Absolutely. And a good selection of 2000-2005 red Bordeaux for under $40? Check. They've also got their own line of Clos la Chance "style" bottlings, but I'm not sure why you'd go for them when they have so many interesting options under $20.

One of the real enticements for those strolling through South Pasadena is the tasting area, which is 1/2 of the store. Cozy leather chairs, tables, and tall bar stools provide ample room for sitting down and enjoying the wine and nibbles they feature at their wine tastings which are held Thursdays from 5-9, and Friday/Saturday 5-9:30. Even with all that seating, the place can get crowded Fridays after work. The cost for tasting 5 wines varies by selection, but is usually $10-$15. Last Friday, for instance, they had a lineup of California Zins for $10, including the 2003 Red Horse Ranch and the 2005 Klinker Brick Old Vine.

Wine Styles does have a wine club, which gets you two bottles of wine for $34.99 a month as well as discounted tastings and purchases.

If you are local, or visiting Pasadena, check it out and see what you think. This is not a chain like BevMo, with an enormous stock. The selection is small, but nearly every wine I saw was interesting and tempting. Well worth the stop, if you are in this area.


Anonymous said...

Dr.--Must disagree with you on this retail concept. There's one of these in a local plaza near me. Selections are well chosen (though hardly unique), but the prices seemed consistently 30-50% above large regional chain near me. Frankly, the chain employees know more about wine than this particularer franchisee. So I'm not sure what you're getting for the mark up...fake display caves?

Anonymous said...

There are quite a few of these stores in Austin, and a girlfriend loves her local one, but I've never been. Keep meaning to... It does seem to be a good way to encourage people to drink new wines, though within a safety net of their preferred "style."

Velvet Fog said...

They are all over Chicago as well.
I've not been either. A friend got a bottle for me at one and it was the same price as everywhere else.

Anonymous said...

Hi Dr Debs
I definitely applaud the concept, but have not had any experience with them as I don't think there are any here in Virginia. But anything that can encourage people to get into enjoying wine and taking away any "scary stigma" that they may have in their head about this fabulous beverage is a great idea. Maybe I need to start my own here in Richmond!! :)

Dr. Debs said...

Anonymous, I of course can't speak to where you live but where I live the wines they had are not on other wine retail shelves for the most part, and they are not above market, either. $15 for a red blend from Di Majo Norante is not overpriced in my book. And I agree with the other commenters--the concept could really help move timid beginning drinkers from their comfort zone into more adventurous wine territory.