An Ode to Wine ShoppingNov 01, 2022 09:00AM ● By Terence Lane
A trip to the wine store isn’t always planned, but can sparkle up in my prefrontal cortex while running errands for lesser necessities like car parts, clothing, and food. Wine shopping can always be looped in with something else. Occasionally that means a fifteen-minute detour into downtown Ithaca on a Friday afternoon to check out what’s new at the Cellar d’Or. Shopping for wine is something, like writing, that I really need to do alone in order to be effective. My girlfriend loves wine, drinks more of it than I do, but has no love for my shopping style. She claims it takes way too long, but I have no way of knowing for sure if that’s true, because when I’m in the aisles, making my internal calculations, I have no sense of time.
There is a methodology to my shopping. I always need to check out the French Burgundy section just to be sure there isn’t anything good that I absolutely can’t afford. Loving Burgundy is a tragic, unrequited love for someone who doesn’t have money burning out of his shirt sleeves. It’s like falling in love with the weather girl. Five or six years ago, you could find good regional Burgundies priced between eighteen and twenty dollars, but not anymore. At any rate, I still enjoy the browsing. Checking in on wines I love and can’t afford is actually pretty fun, too.
Some wines are nostalgic, the way a song can transport you to a different time in life. At Northside Wines and Spirits in Ithaca, they carry an uncommon French sauvignon blanc by Goisot that I hadn’t seen in years, since working in Manhattan. At first sight, my hands balled up protectively, remembering how many times my colleagues and I used to cut ourselves on that aluminum capsule. When opened with a wine key, the thin, unyielding metal was as sharp as concertina wire. Goisot foil was a sick joke among our team. During lulls in business, we’d make “would you rather” jokes like, “would you rather have to open two cases of Goisot, or drink two bottles of corked malbec?” On the train home after a long night of service, I’d often gaze wearily into the nest of hairline slices on my fingers and palms, considering all the ways we take our work home with us.
At wine merchants throughout the Finger Lakes, I have my “for later” bottles. These are bottles I know that I want to purchase, but not necessarily right away. Before I buy anything, I first need to check my apps to compare prices against my go-to online retailers like Wine.com and Saratoga Wine Exchange. I will sometimes refer to Vivino for a general reaction to the wine and then consult Wine-Searcher.com for world-wide average price. Wine-Searcher.com also provides valuable vintage information. In general, I prefer to buy wines from a brick-and-mortar retailer. It supports local business and eliminates the exorbitant cost of shipping.
My standby regions for great value and quality wine are found in New York, Italy, Austria, and Spain. If you can’t find something to suit your palate and price point in these places, then you’re probably a seltzer junkie. For a sultry and savory red, try wines made from Mencia in Spain’s northwestern Ribeira Sacra region. Comparable reds can be found in Austria made from blaufränkisch, St. Laurent, and zweigelt grapes. Italy is so full of incredible value it’s hard to know where to start. For outstanding Italian whites, I always reach for trebbiano, falanghina, verdicchio, and arneis. Great examples can be found for under fifteen dollars. These whites are zesty, mineral, and lightly oaked (if at all); excellent on their own or with seafood, cheese, and herbed veggies. The ultimate quality-to-price red in Italy has to be Chianti Classico. The famed sangiovese-based wine always delivers the perfect punch for pizza, pasta, steak, and cured meats. For sparkling wines, Spanish Cava and Finger Lakes bubbles are the best way to stay within your budget. Cava is made in the bottle-fermented champagne method but at a fraction of the cost of champagne. If you’re looking for locally made suds, Lakewood Vineyards in the Finger Lakes produces the wildly popular Bubbly Candeo, a fruity prosecco-inspired sparkler great for dry and sweet drinkers alike. If you enjoy a good wine cocktail, the Bubbly Candeo can be enhanced with a splash of orange juice or Campari. In addition to local wine, world-class cider has taken the Finger Lakes beverage scene by storm and restored the popularity of one of America’s oldest beverages. Eve’s Cidery and the Finger Lakes Cider House are two top producers making complex and thoughtful ciders perfect for all the sweet and savory flavors of Thanksgiving dinner. A far cry from so many childishly cloying commercial versions, these fine ciders drink like brut champagne made from uncommon heirloom apples.
Northside Wines, easily my favorite bottle shop in the Finger Lakes, offers a generous 20 percent discount on case purchases of wine. They have by far the best selection, volume, and knowledge in three counties. And if that wasn’t enough, they also have a “sales section.” A sales section in a wine store is a mercy. It creates an opportunity to try something new and unusual at a bargain, and there are gems waiting to be found.
Bear in mind, though, that many of the sales-section gems at Northside are no longer at Northside. Alas, I am incapable of passing up a great deal and have made my mark. Just know that what has been purchased has gone to a better place. Call it a bunker. A state-of-the-art, temperature-controlled storage facility beneath a forest of red pines. A home away from home that doubles as my parent’s well-appointed basement.