Lessons Learned While Hanging Out in a Wine Bar

Close-up of transparent wine glasses in a rowWhenever I’m traveling and have a free evening, I try to check out a local wine bar.

It’s not that I’m looking for that next great bottle of wine, or hoping to enjoy one of my personal favorites. No, I go to wine bars to eavesdrop.

I know that sounds terrible, but hear me out. I see what I’m doing as playing the role of a “secret shopper” — not for the wine bar, but for the wine industry in general. Another term for what I do could be “market research.”

I’ve found that you can learn a lot about wine by hanging out in wine bars and listening to the conversations. When those conversations are about personal matters, I tune out. When they’re about the wine that’s being consumed, I tune in.

I have always found it fascinating to hear how people describe wine. If I’ve heard this conversation once, I’ve heard it a hundred times:

  • Bartender: “What kind of wine do you like?”
  • Customer: “Well, I like dry but not too dry.”
  • Bartender: “Red or white?”
  • Customer: “Red.”

The bartender will bring out what I call a “fruit-sweet” wine — one that is dry, but possesses bright fruit flavors.

The customer will taste it, wrinkle their nose, and then say, “That’s good.”

They’ll then proceed to barely touch the wine as they nosh on tapas or other small plates, and leave at least half of the wine in the glass when they depart.

They had received a wine that was just as they had described, found they didn’t like it, and then didn’t drink it. The bartender never asked if they’d like to try something else, so the customer left with knowledge of a wine they didn’t like, but with no knowledge of one they did like. They also left without knowing how to describe a wine they’d like.

Good wine bar-tenders will pay close attention to their customers’ words and their actions, with the goal of finding a wine the customer will like and then buy again and again. Paying attention would turn countless occasional wine drinkers into true wine enthusiasts.

• When in New York City, be sure to check out Aldo Sohm Wine Bar on West 51st Street. Aldo Sohm is like drinking wine in your (rich) best friend’s living room. The bottle and by-the-glass lists are impressive, and equally so is the charcuterie menu — including “The Tower,” which features all of the charcuterie selections and condiments, plus a Maison Kayser baguette. To learn more, go to: http://www.aldosohmwinebar.com

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