Skip to Navigation Skip to Content

How to Buy Wine: Some Purchasing Tips

Paul Einbund is the wine director of the Slanted Door restaurant group including Out the Door Bush Street and Westfield Centre as well as Heaven's Dog. He also runs the beverage program at Frances, and has worked at Coi and more. Look for him here every Tuesday. Follow him on Twitter @pauleinbund.

It’s time to replenish your wine cellars after all the holiday parties.  Here are some tips on how to have the most successful purchasing trips.

1. Go Local.  There are good wine shops located in almost every neighborhood in San Francisco.  Find one near you with a friendly, and knowledgeable staff, and follow the steps below.

2. If it’s warm inside, the wines aren’t being stored properly so turn around and move on to the next shop.

3. Embrace the sale.  Usually being approached by a sales person, of any kind, is cause for annoyance, but in a wine shop we need their help.  Only the staff can know the little details; what are the best deals, exclusive wines, house labels, cellar acquisitions…

4. Try this!  Go into a shop and strike up a conversation with a sales person.  If you seem to be speaking the same language, ask them to recommend an inexpensive bottle of wine for dinner that night.  Give them a budget of under $10, and don’t forget to ask their name.  Take the wine home and check it out.  If it’s good then go back and ask for that same sales person and up your budget this time to $15-$20.  If the wine was good but could be better, tell the sales person, and try again.  If the wine sucks, try another shop.  The idea is to develop a relationship with one particular sales person so that when something special, or right up your alley comes in, they call you.  This is also the best way to learn their palate and let them figure out yours as well.  By doing this you have a better chance of consistently getting wines that you like.

Buying wine is like going to the movies.  A critic may have bombed the movie that you love, or said one was great, and you were snoring 15 minutes in.  But if you read the same critic frequently, you will learn what they call good and bad, and how it compares to your tastes. 

Finding a wine shop that really works for you can be like finding a soul mate – only this mate gets you all boozy!  A match made in heaven.