Friday, May 1, 2009

Expert Opinions

It’s said that the most effective form of merchandising is an expert’s opinion – even if it’s an expert you don’t know. Even if the expert only goes by one name, like Elizabeth. I learned this firsthand when I was shopping in Astor Wines and Spirits ( yesterday where they have several shelves of wines designated “staff picks” by people named Ali and David and yes, Elizabeth. “People look for wines that someone has recommended, “ said David Phillips to me. David –friendly and forthright– is a wine consultant at Astor (and the “David” of staff-recommended wines like the 2003 Mastroberardino Radici Taurasi – although he tends to recommend more Italian whites than reds, said David. "I'm all about Italian white wine." )

The staff picks are designated by little cards complete with short descriptions of the wines and the names of staffers that are attached to the shelves. They may be computer-generated or hand-written - though the latter tend to disappear “Sometimes people take the cards off the shelf and take them along with a bottle,” David noted.

How did staffers choose their selections? “It might be after a tasting with an importer, or it might be a wine that I took home the night before and really loved,” David replied. The staff picks are always interesting wines with real character, he insisted.” Most of our choices are very reflective of terroir. They are like our wine list of the store,” (David used to be a wine director of “two-star Italian restaurant” in New York that he declined to identify.) But there’s a pragmatic side to the staff picks as well. “I’m not going to choose some wine that we only have 12 bottles in stock. I’m going to choose a wine that we have a lot of, “David noted. Did David have a favorite among the many staff-chosen wines? He did – and it happened to be one Elizabeth’s wines. The 2007 Beaujolais Blanc from Chateau de Chatelard for $13 imported by Wineberry ( “It’s a good transition for someone moving from New World Chardonnay to Burgundy,” said David. “And it’s unique- how many Beaujolais Blancs have you had? And it’s good. “ He had tasted the wine when the importer brought his wines to the staff. “He has an excellent portfolio,” David noted of Wineberry owner Eric Dubourg. But the Beaujolais might mark the end of Elizabeth’s wine recommendations. According to David, she’ll be moving to France soon - to work on her thesis about the effect of globalization on wine.

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