Beliefnet
Rod Dreher

I invite you to go into the comboxes in the latest PA wine thread, in which I’m arguing with commenter Andrew about the crazy Pennsylvania wine laws. The whole thread is worth reading, I think, for full context. Here’s something from one of my recent posts explaining why I get better value out of shopping at a wine store where I can depend on knowledgeable clerks helping me make my selection, as opposed to wine shops like the PA state stores, where there’s no guarantee the civil servant manning the cash register knows jack squat about wine, or bargain-oriented wine warehouses, which may save you money but can’t offer you expertise. Here’s what I had to say about all that; it’s a lesson in finding true value:

There is nothing wrong with not liking wine, or not caring enough about the way it tastes to be able to discern much difference among bottles. But I believe what I take to be your disinterest in the quality of wine blinds you to why it’s so important as a matter of thrift to have experienced help in the wine store. The PA model only makes sense for people who don’t care what their wine tastes like (e.g., one bottle’s just as good as another, so it doesn’t matter what you pick up) or people who are expert at wine, and who can negotiate the shelves with perfect knowledge and confidence.
I am neither. Wine is something I’m interested in, but I’m still a relative neophyte, and I love to learn. But given the relative expense of wine, it’s not a hobby I can afford to play hit-and-miss with. At Moore Bros., [the New Jersey wine shop where I buy my wine — RD] I’ve already established a relationship with a particular salesperson there. I talked with her when I first went in about the kinds of wines we liked, and the kinds we didn’t care for. This was valuable information, because it helped her draw on her knowledge of the store’s stock to guide us to bottles that would likely please us. It’s been a great relationship, because she’s helped us discover wines we wouldn’t have tried on our own, because of uninformed prejudices. Perhaps more importantly, we buy from Moore Bros. with confidence because we can be sure we’re not going to get a bum bottle. I’ve bought several cases from Moore Bros. since we moved here, and I can only think of a single bottle that I just flat-out didn’t like. That’s an incredible record, much better than I could accomplish on my own. In fact, I can tell you that most of the times I’ve been left to my own devices to pick my own wine in the state store, I’ve been disappointed with the results, and have felt more or less than I threw my money away.
The point here is that I only started getting seriously into wine when I discovered (in Texas) the value of finding a good wine store with knowledgeable, helpful staff, and establishing a relationship with them. I did that in Dallas, and I’ve done it here (though I have to go out of state to do it). This practice has opened up a wonderful world to me of wine-drinking and connoisseurship, and, more practically, it has taught me a lesson about value and thrift.
On the other hand, I guess I’d save money if I had to depend on the state store for wine, because I wouldn’t buy much of the stuff. The risk of throwing my money away would be too great. That, too, is a lesson in thrift, but is that really the one you want to learn, as opposed to learning from a positive example that brings a lot of pleasure, and even joy?

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