Now that Sam’s Wine is but a cherished memory, the title of “Best Large Wine Store in Chicago” falls to Binny’s Beverage Depot. (Although I do love my neighborhood shop, In Fine Spirits, with its small but very well-chosen selection.)
I trekked down to Binny’s the other day in search of some unusual, delicious and inexpensive wine to pour at my upcoming wedding. I already planned on serving some Serbian Tamjanika and Vranac, but I needed some contrasting options.
After discussing the logistics of ordering and delivering the wine with “Michael,” one of Binny’s’ wine consultants, we hit the floor. I explained how I write a blog devoted to unusual and obscure wines and spirits, and asked for something a little off-the-wall. He led me to a display of Pillar Box Red, an Australian blend of Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon. Ah yes, an Australian Shiraz — I’m sure no one at the reception will have tried that before.
He next recommended the Peter Lehman Layers, a somewhat more interesting Australian blend once again dominated by Shiraz. I realized I must have been unclear. I explained again that I wanted something really unusual, “like the two wines I’ve already chosen to serve, a Serbian Tamjanika and Vra–”
Michael interrupted. “Oh, we don’t have any Serbian wine here.”
“Yes, I realize that,” I responded, “But that’s the level of ‘unusual’ I’m looking for. Maybe you have some fun Greek options?”
Michael looked at me like I’d just farted. “Ah, you know another good one is over here,” Michael soldiered on, ignoring the Greek comment. “It’s a really tasty Tempranillo from Spain.” A Tempranillo from Spain? Oh, the wedding guests will be shocked. Shocked!
After I finally coaxed a Monastrell recommendation out of him, we headed over to the sparkling wine section to consider options for the toast. I shouldn’t have been surprised, I suppose, when he recommended Moët & Chandon Imperial. Come on. You can buy that at Jewel-Osco.
Perhaps seeing my face, Michael acknowledged that it wasn’t the most unusual choice. “If you want something more special, that not every convenience store has, you should go with this Taittinger Brut.” I’m sure it’s lovely, but again, any Jewel-Osco carries it. Why recommend Taittinger or Moët when there are so many comparably priced grower Champagnes on the very same shelves?
I’d hoped Michael would steer me to some new discoveries, because despite writing this blog, I’ve only scratched the surface of all the wonderfully obscure wines out there. I’m sure the wines he suggested were tasty, but Michael didn’t listen to a word I said. He is why some people don’t like going into wine shops. No one wants to feel their taste in wine is unsophisticated or weird or somehow wrong. Michael treated me like a crazy person, rather than paying attention to what I wanted.
Contrast this experience to the service I usually get at In Fine Spirits, where I was first introduced to Vranac. A wine consultant should listen to what you want, respect your tastes and stay within your budget. If he or she can’t accept that you like sweet wines or that you can only spend $12 or that you want something weird, you’ve found a bad wine consultant. Drop them. Soon enough you’ll find someone excited to help you find exactly what you’re looking for.