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Changing the way we find the right wine

There is an ocean of wine out there and at times it can be daunting. This wall of Chianti Classicos was on display this spring at VinItaly.

There is an ocean of wine out there and at times it can be daunting. This wall of Chianti Classicos was on display this spring at VinItaly in Verona. There about 600 members in the Chianti Classico Consortium.

Last week at Fisher’s Liquor Barn I saw what’s becoming a rare sight: A person pacing back and forth in the California Cabernet aisle, apparently overwhelmed by the hundreds of wines available.

What’s rare about this is not what the customer was doing, since we’ve all spent our share of time looking here and there and not quite finding what we want, but the manner in which she was doing it.

Not a cellphone, iPad, mini-tracker or any of the other online wine guides was in sight.

Instead, she was looking for wine in all the right places: On the shelf and, shortly, in the good company of Rick Rozelle, the store’s wine buyer and resident go-to wine guy.

There are scads of wine guides available (just Google “wine guide”) online and in nearly every newspaper and glossy magazine you’ll see a wine columnist offering his or her breathless advice.

Learning about wine used to be personal: Just you or a small group of friends, going one-on-one with your wits and a bottle of wine.

HazardsBut that’s all changed, says author Jancis Robinson in a recent article.

Thanks to the cellphone and the multitude of wine-specific apps at your fingertips, “screens, not books or newsletters, now provide the world’s wine lovers with easy ways to make buying decisions.”

And it’s not just at home but as common in restaurants, bars and liquor stores.

“I used to see people come in here every week with the wine section of the New York Times but now they all have their iPhones out, tapping away,” Rozelle said recently. “There’s way too much information out there.”

As Robinson notes, there are apps for scanning labels (Delectable and Vivino), websites that compare prices, availability and DYI wine reviews (Winesearcher.com, About.com) and even websites for novices (wine-4-beginners.com).

“It is not surprising that today’s armies of wine consumers feel bold enough to share their opinions of those wines,” Robinson said.

To her dismay, Robinson is finding her voice and her 40 years of experience tasting and writing about wines getting lost in the maelstrom.

“I am increasingly aware that my voice, once one of just a few, is now one of an army of wine lovers confident enough to voice their opinions,” she writes. “I would honestly be delighted if every wine drinker felt confident enough to make their own choices … But I do recognize that for many people it will always be simpler to be told what to like.”

It’s easy to take part in what Italian wine expert Alfonso Cevola calls the “Babel standard.”

“It also speaks to how we get our information and what kind of currency we subscribe to (regarding) perceived expertise, whether it be a recognized one or one among our peers,” Cevola writes. “I find also the aspect of trust plays into this.”

Ah, yes. Trust. Which is what you build when you find and use that source of expertise. It might be in some shiny magazine or the online video, but it’s often just as easy, and more reliable, to find a salesperson who makes the effort to know you and your taste.

It takes time, but maybe not 40 years.

Which is why, once Rozelle asked the young lady what she had in mind, it took him but a few minutes to have her smiling and moving toward the check out counter, the right wine in hand.

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