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From Fitting Rooms to Tasting Rooms

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The average wine drinker runs into a number of problems when stepping out to pick-up a bottle of wine, not the least of which is describing the kind of wine he or she prefers. It’s like having to walk into a museum and describe your preference for art in order to actually get in to see any. For a lot of people, you only know once you have seen the art, or once you have tasted the wine. Cellar masters have been mulling this over for years: wouldn’t it be a lot easier on wine buyers if they could taste the wine before buying it? Washington State is now proposing a law that would allow major grocery retailers to do just that: give out 2 oz. beer and wine samples to shoppers.

While that’s great news for wine enthusiasts eager to try new things without having to risk spending ten dollars or more on an entire bottle, the fact that Washington state is the first to take a stab at the concept has some political repercussions. Grocery stores would indeed have a method in place to ensure customers couldn’t take advantage of the sampling feature, and while I don’t think anyone will be getting inebriated on 2oz of wine, the state legislature is notoriously inept when it comes to writing tough DUI laws. The apparent lack of willingness to make strong decisions regarding drinking and driving in the state is causing the sampling concept to come under extreme fire.

It would be a shame if the wine sampling privilege was lost to political problems the legislature is having in other arenas, particularly if it would hamper the effort of your local wine shop to offer the same service. It’s already begun in one or two wine cellars in the country – a shop in California offers samples of fifteen different wines each week for a couple bucks a pop. Buyers then get to taste new releases and featured recommendations for a fraction of the price.

Naturally, with such a privilege comes great responsibility. Cellar masters, grocery store managers and consumers would have to initiate the appropriate checks to ensure the system was safe from manipulation. With these in place, the benefits for the wine shopper would be tremendous: just because you wrote down a wine of the week or a recommendation from the Wall Street Journal’s wine team doesn’t mean it will suit your wine tastes. Samples give you the power to decide if it’s a good fit before you spend that money.

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About Tynan Szvetecz

  • Eric Olsen

    T, love your wine series, please keep it up. Thanks!

  • I know that my spouse and I drink more wine, more different varietals and labels, since coming to live in Sonoma County, CA. We go once or twice a month on a tasting trip, visiting wineries in Napa, Mendocino and Lake counties, as well as here at home.

    We set a reasonable rule: I taste all the wines, recommend my spouse have a sip only when I know the taste will please, and am (firmly) the passenger on the trip.

    I only drive when we go to purchase a wine we already have decided to buy, and then I don’t taste.

    Many, many people handle wine-tasting rounds the same way – so many that most wineries here have a soda on offer for designated drivers during county-wide events. Or people hire limos or wine-tour vans, whose driver does not partake.

    How is this different from the way rational people handle drinking at a bar or restaurant? No additional laws are needed, just common sense.

  • Absolutely! In fact, I think the only way to truly be safe when it comes to drinking and driving concerns is for rational people to exercise their common sense. However, in this case the Washington State legislature may have to bolster some laws for political purposes to help pass the bill.

    Of course, they’re getting gunned by the alcohol lobby to pass the bill, so it will probably ultimately come down to who has the bigger lobby: the religious conservatives who oppose it or the alcohol/tobacco groups who endorse it.

  • Interesting if the “unintended consequences” of such a bill are investigation into the imbibing of sips and gulps of communion wine in the churches!