In recent years, like a lot of people, I’ve been buying more of my wine online. The picture I would prefer to hold of myself is the fellow who faithfully patronizes (perhaps plagues?) the local wine shops rather than browses some brightly arrayed screen. To be sure, I’d rather be there in person, discussing a wine’s qualities with an enthusiastic merchant rather than passively scrolling through professional tasting notes. And I believe in the importance of neighborhood proprietors (whether they sell wine or house paint) to a vital, thriving community; they’re the hubs of the real social network.
I enjoy delicate, mature wines exponentially more than their youthful, exuberant versions, and online retailers tend to have a wider selection of older wine, while most brick- and-mortar shops only have enough room to carry the latest vintages.
I enjoy browsing the nerdier ones, like North Berkeley Wine and the Rare Wine Co., which provide their own blogs or even photos of staffers’ tasting trips, essentially offering a wider experience of what it means to engage with a wine.
I’m admittedly a difficult customer, being a slightly delusional wine lover/collector, someone without deep pockets but who favors older, mostly European wines. My favorite online retailer is Mission Fine Wines, which is based in Staten Island, New York. As it turned out, that wine ultimately repaved the course of Palmiotti’s professional life. Joe was, of course, hugely enthusiastic about the wine, holding forth without an atom of snobbery or pretentiousness, his comments smart and comprehensive and nuanced, convincing me that I should try this richly fragrant, silken wine despite its “poor” vintage, promising me, too, that I could return the rest for full credit if I didn’t absolutely love it. I’ve found that most of the online retailers I regularly patronize are similarly accommodating, standing by their wines by offering credit for corked bottles (counter to what the usual stipulated “conditions of purchase” read). They want you to trust them, for it’s the only way someone will become a regular buyer, especially of more expensive, older wines; some even indicate on their websites, as Mission Fine Wines does, that they welcome visitors.
I’ve never seen such a collection of rare and valuable wine in so workaday a place. The organization is clearly a reflection of Joe’s mad-wine-genius brain, the bottles and cases arrayed in an idiosyncratic house of memory: There’s an open box of ’79 Krug Clos du Mesnil here, some ’96 Mouton there, ancient ports and Madeiras perched precariously on a narrow shelf.