Questions re "the Customer is always right:...

That’s exactly what I am talking about. Your description makes the wine sound great. Makes me, as a wine enthusiast, want to buy it. Unfortunately, it probably does taste like it is from meatville (or a slaughterhouse floor). You guys are being upfront, no doubt about it, and you all probably love the wine. Additionally, if I asked for a food recommendation to go with it, you’d have plenty of great suggestions and wax poetic about it. However, if I bought six bottles of this to serve to guests at a dinner party, they would likely be horrified. My point is that when I would read those shelf talkers, or listen to you and your partner (can’t remember his name, older gentleman, extremely nice) with stars in your eyes, I would start salivating. A couple of times I needed you to pull me aside, slap me around and say, “Dude, it really does taste like meat. Meat. Rotting meat. Get it? In your wineglass. And it’s wonderful…but only if you are in to that sort of thing.” At that point, maybe I would come to, or maybe I wouldn’t and I’d walk out the door with the wines. Regardless, some counterpoint warnings would be helpful, or at least a bit of empathy toward the unsuspecting public.

Thomas, a LOT of people want WINE, not fruit juice. Otherwise Kermit Lynch and Neal Rosenthal would not be famous “importers of wines of integrity, character and soul” but out of business. Likewise Chambers Street and Terroir in NYC and many, many others.

And, confronted with everything we say and print, shouldn’t YOU have been the one to ask “Hey guys, what do you have that I might like if I like ______?” We would have either given you something if we had it (NO one doesn’t like Ripasso Valpo) or sent you to The Wine House so you would be happy.

Roberto - I’ve had tons of Kermit Lynch and Neal Rosenthal wines. That is not what I’m talking about here and I trust that you know that. Additionally, I made it clear that I knew what I was getting into when I went to your store. The fact is, the average wine buyer does not, which is fine, but I think it means that you shouldn’t be surprised if they turn out to dislike the wines you carry.

Additionally, implying that the wines I like to drink are fruit juice and not WINE, is a bit derogatory. The wines I like to drink probably run the gamut of virtually everything that is routinely discussed on this website. Are all the wines discussed here really just fruit juice? Are the corresponding winemakers and winery owners just purveyors of fruit juice? I mean, we are probably talking about 95%-99% of all bottled wines here.

We have a repeat rate of well over 80% and, to quote the owner of the Wine House, “Roberto, I know we have more customers than you do but you have F-ing MISSIONARIES!”.

We do a LOT of charity pours to meet new folks and are often the favorite table by far as we bring scores of truly different THINGS, not just different brands of the same things.

Thomas, did you like bittersweet chocolate or espresso (or Ornette Coleman or Werner Herzog) the first time you tried it? Sometimes things grow on you…

Roberto- I need to visit your shop next time I’m down South. Dirt, rocks, and a one way ticket to Meatsville… what is not to like?

As Dan Fredman used to say when he worked here, “Come join the cult…the Kool Aide’s really good!”

Make sure and give me a heads up when you are coming by…here’s some homework:

We are often heard saying that tasting wine without appropriate food is like trying to listen to music in outer space or sending a restaurant critic the uncooked ingredients of a chef’s great dishes and asking for his opinion of the preparation and presentation of the finished delicacies. Many wines are simply not intended to be consumed as independent beverages (or judged by tasting with communion wafers and distilled water!) but are, in fact, one side of a binary flavor bomb just waiting to yield mega-tongues of pleasure on your palate when combined with either the foods they have evolved with since time began or with some left field, crosscultural döppelganger with the same flavor/texture/acidity profile.

As an example here is a consumer review of just such a wine: “Last night we tried a Chinon (aggressively herbal and acidic Cab Franc from the Loire, ed.). In the nose, some cherry fruit, lots of bell pepper, green olive and an earthy scent. In the mouth, light, sour cherry fruit, bell pepper, and a fairly nasty taste in the rear of the mouth, reminding me of extremely tart, unsweetened grapefruit juice. If 1990 is as ripe as Chinon gets, then I don’t think it’s my cup of tea.” We agree, don’t give this to aunt Tilley for an afternoon pick-me-up, but, served with, oh…say… salmon rubbed with olive oil, citrus rind and bitter herbs then burnt over aromatic woods, it might just make your meal one to remember. An interesting side-note is that just as once you’ve danced to great salsa music (or been to a Dead show!) your mind can relate to the music even when you’re sitting at your desk, so do the residents of Chinon’s synapses supply the missing fish-oil and burnt herbs for an interpolated (perhaps even virtual?) experience when they slam a chilled glass of this while working in the garden. NONE of which relates to how the wine would fare in a Speculator panel tasting.

Ultra-conservatives who insist on absolutes will be aghast when we assert that the true moral of the above example is that everything is relative, there is no “Wine of the Year” only the wine of the moment and even that changes with food, company, ambient temperature, budget considerations, ect, ect…ad infinitum. The ultimate result from a consumer standpoint is that some first time customers are irritated when they ask us “what’s the best wine?” (or “Best Merlot?” or “Best Barolo?”) and we insist that this is an unanswerable question and counter with something along the lines of “Who’s the prettiest girl?” or “Is Bob Marley better than Hank Williams and how does that relate to Leonard Cohen?” to try and ease them into realizing this is a continuum with an almost infinite number of variable axis filtered through millions of people’s individual, subjective senses and experiences which are contextually variable as well.

We believe that the reason more than half of Wine Expo-istas are female is that their answer to “What’s your favorite pair of shoes?” is “You need different shoes for different ensembles, events, moods and seasons and I don’t have nearly enough pairs for a statistically accurate assessment, let’s go shopping!” while us guys are trained by sports, war and car racing formulas to narrow the discussion so direct comparisons can be made. There’s no other way to assess that “Mine’s bigger / better / more powerful than yours”!!!

The point being: it doesn’t MATTER whose is bigger, better or more powerful!

I didn’t make my comments because I want to engage in a pissing match. Generally speaking, I really didn’t like to drink the wines I purchased from your store. But that doesn’t mean that I didn’t get anything out of them. That is why I kept going back to your store, albeit with much lower frequency than other stores. Learning what you don’t like is often as important as learning what you do like. And I did learn that in Italy, there is more to it than barolo, barbaresco, chianti, pinot grigio and aglianico. Maybe I’m more willing to buy that sagrantino off a wine list because of experiences buying from you.

But that really isn’t the point. There must be times when a, largely unsuspecting, customer comes in to your store to buy wines for a dinner or a party. Many of the wines at your store are simply not your average cocktail party or dinner party fare. Is that such a stretch? Couldn’t you see someone being disappointed with that “meatville” wine, even if they are used to drinking wines from all over the world? I mean, just because you don’t enjoy valtellina doesn’t mean you are a simpleton that can only appreciate yellowtail or gallo jug wines.

I know I’m being a bit unfair here because the three examples you cited in the original post would fall in the caveat emptor camp and are not really what I am describing. But, because I was a longtime customer, I thought I would make the point where I could see instances where the customer would in fact be right to be disappointed in purchases made from your store.

That is all. Keep fighting the good fight. The wine world is a better place because people like you make all types of interesting wines available.

This is exactly the right thing to do. There are a ton of wine lovers that think a rustic wine might mean a Robert Chevillon Nuits-St-George burgundy. Roberto will show you rustic. You want dirt, blood, etc.? Roberto’s got it in spades.

“There must be times when a, largely unsuspecting, customer comes in to your store to buy wines for a dinner or a party. Many of the wines at your store are simply not your average cocktail party or dinner party fare.”

This is why we always ask for a menu (as detailed as possible down to preps, sauces, acid levels and spices) and then pick exactly the thing that will make them rock stars. As we always say, "Our phone number, not yours, is on the back of every bottle.

I’m not sure if it was here or on the Parker board but within the last couple of months someone posted about a dinner they gave where we picked all the wines course by course and they were very hesitant on tasting the wines without food but then felt compelled to write a long very positive review after the dinner.

Re cocktail wines, we have lots of them: Rioja Blanco, whites from Alentejo in Portugal, Roero Arneis and various Friulian whites lead the aperitivo range and Ripasso Valpo, the phatter side of Nero d’Avola and several Umbrian Sangiovese / Montepulciano / Merlot blends cover the red side with no problem.

I appreciate your input and your past patronage but wish you would have brought this up THEN so we could have done something about it.

Here is that thread:

Tip o' the cap to Bobby John. Seriously. - WINE TALK - WineBerserkers" onclick=";return false;

Chris Freemont:

"There is no doubt that I have a sick sense of humor. One of the people whom I’ve always enjoyed needling (other than Herr Squires) has been our very own Roberto.

He is the king of esoterica. The champion of name dropping and, I’ll lay $1,000.00 on the table right now that for the first 25 years of his life he went by Bob.

An easy target for sure, but a lovable and passionate one and for that he’s always had my respect.

Well last night I joined fellow board member Craig Pichette at a wine dinner. Craig is a member of Chicago’s Connoisseur’s International - a group of Chicago wine lovers.

Craig is one of the cellar captains and decided it was time to pull an Italian wine out and setup a dinner. We met at Quartino’s and the cellar pull was a 1997 Barolo (right craig?).

However, there were roughly 6 other courses that required pairings and Craig’s group doesn’t have a deep, or wide, enough cellar to do this so he turned to our very own Roberto for advice.

Apparently all Craig did was send over a menu and placed the pairings in Roberto’s hands. Several wines showed up and away we went.

Craig and I arrived early to make sure wines were decanted property and not corked. We also tasted through Roberto’s selections.

I’ll tell you right now that my impressions were not good. And, I’m sad that I currently don’t have the wine list at hand and there is no chance I can come close to guessing what they were. I’ll adjust that later or perhaps if Roberto reads this he can chime in.

I have one memory of a particular wine - a Frappato. My initial review was simple. “wow, this actually pretty bad beaujo!”

Well, let me say this. One hour later the meal was served, the wines were poured and frankly, folks, Roberto nailed - and I mean NAILED - each and every single wine. With food these wines were nearly perfect. Harmony in the mouth was attained and the meal turned into something I had not planned on - in fact, I was contemplating working my way through multiple glasses of scotch.

Roberto, I say this with the utmost respect. Bravo. From the prosecco (which I really don’t care for, but it worked with the apps) to the final muscato which was spot-f’ing-on with a light lemon curd dish, you won.

Tip o’ the cap Bobbyjohn. I’ll never doubt your pairings again. I may still taunt you about the latest porn star to grace your store - but, you know your wine/food pairings.

Really, really well done."

Craig Pichette:

“I had a long day at work, so I was a little slow getting on this. Here is the menu and the wine matches. As Chris said, Roberto did a fantastic job pairing the wines with the food. What was amazing is that all he had was the descriptions below from a restaurant he had never eaten at. As Chris said, when drunk alone, the wines were, well, uninspiring. However, with the food, they were fantastic. It was truly amazing.”

Incorrect. Both oak and high alcohol are PRECISELY stylistic choices. I dislike both intensely (but nice try) but they are very much intended. In general, Brett isn’t. If it IS a choice of the winemaker then simply tell people that via the label, a shelftalker, a comment if they’re buying it and you don’t know them, etc. I’d do the same thing if someone was buying a very highly oaked wine and the label takes care of informing people about the alcohol.

Thomas’ posts are spot on - and yet part of the issue. If he was trying wines from Roberto’s shop and didnt like them, he should have said something. Wine store people aren’t psychic - they assume if you buy A and then come back and buy more A that you like it. They’ll try to sell you other things like A because, well, you like A. If you actually hate A, you need to speak up and tell them, tell them why and maybe adjust things (don’t drink it sans food, or with certain foods, etc).

I once did a tasting of wines from there and the group hated the reds (and loved the whites). My mistake was that they were tasted sans food - I might not have liked some anyway, but I can absolutely see that with the right food the wine would transform.

And now I need to send a man an email about some Radikon on clearance… 'scuse me.



I love this thread. Makes me realize that most of our customer are at least half way competent.

I once had a guy storm out a throw a fit and said we were “snowing him” (what ever that means) b/c we sold him Champagne without a vintage on it.

Another woman once called our VP a fascist b/c of our high prices (we easily have the biggest reputation of being the most price aggressive company in the country)

Another time we had a customer want us to pay the dry cleaning bill for the bottle of red wine HE dropped on his white carpet.


I’m just reading this thread now, but I wanted to say that I think you’re being more defensive toward Thomas P than you need to be. I can’t imagine you think that there are no good wines other than the ones that you sell, or that all wines that you don’t sell are K-J or white Zin? It is ok if some people like wines you don’t sell and maybe even don’t like the wines you sell, right? That doesn’t make them bad or inferior people, does it?

I’ll confess right here, I don’t like Jazz all that much. Is it ok if I go on living? [wink.gif]

OTOH I do think you handled all the situations in your first post quite well. The customer isn’t always right. . . . but they aren’t always wrong either.

No, Ken, I don’t think any of that. But Thomas seems to think that traditionally styled Italian & Spanish wines that are about rocks and earth and meat and somewhat specific food pairings are way out of the mainstream. They are not.

I also do not think the customer is always wrong in ANY way. We bend over backwards for any REASONABLE request. The genesis of this thread was identifying some UNreasonable situations.

On that part, I completely agree with you. And I for one would have been sorely tempted to tear into each one of the customers in your first post. “You f’ing moron . . .”

Then again, I’ve often been tempted to answer a question in my class with “They say there are no stupid questions other than those not asked . . . but I have to add THAT one to the list!”

Then again, I never have.

And I only just realized from this post that you must work for Wine Library. Dangerous store. I can’t drive over there for pesto without coming back with too much wine. Great pesto though.

You are correct!
Just like KFC, we put addictive chemicals in it to make you crave it fortnightly. [stirthepothal.gif]

FWIW, we do ship the pesto now, if that helps.

I’m sorry, you purchase a wine from me, and bring it back four years later, and I’m not giving you credit for it - I don’t know your storage conditions - you leave the wine on a wine rack in your 80 degree kitchen for four years and wonder why it’s bad? That’s what “too old” means -

And let’s face it Rick - how many people really know what “brett” is, or tastes/smells like - about 5% of the people who profess that they do -

I can think of one wine over the last 30 years brought back to me that actually had excess brett -