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Where’s Your Cold Beer? My Year in Wine Retail

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My year in wine retail was a valuable learning experience. I tasted a ton of wines, I learned a lot about the retail wine world, what sells in America, and what the American public likes to drink. And, I met some wonderful people along the way.

I also had some amusing (and exasperating) questions/moments. Here are some of the highlights:

Where’s your cold beer?
By far, the most common question. Several times a day. Every day.

Do you work here?
No, I just really, really love name tags and uniforms.

Where’s your Red Bull?
I’m still not sure why people come to the wine department to ask this question, but it happens all the time. For reference, aisle 11b.

Where’s your vodka?
We keep it at the Virginia ABC store, down the street. (Seriously, it’s against the law to sell hard alcohol at a grocery store in the state of Virginia.)

Can you recommend a good red sweet wine?
God, no. But I can show you where they are.

Can you show me a good Champagne to make Mimosas?
No, but I will show you an $8 Cava. You can thank me later.

Can you show me where your red Chardonnay is?
My what?!?

Can you recommend a good wine for me to mix with water?
For the love of Bacchus . . . why?!?

You’re out of wine xyz on the shelf. Can you check in the back?
This is the best. People are convinced that “the back” is some kind of magical place where we can go to pull bottles of wine out of a magical wine hat. Just know, when you ask this, we go into the back, grab a drink of water, check our cell phones, and come back out. Nope, nothing in the back.

Sometimes, though, customers are hysterically honest when asking for help:
Can you help me pick out a wine? Because I wouldn’t know the difference between a Chardonnay and shampoo.

People come into the store all the time in search of a particular wine they had that was “really good”. But nine times out of ten, they can’t remember the name of it. And they didn’t take a picture of the label. It’s awesome.

  • Do you have that wine, with the number on it?
  • Or that wine with the flower on the label?
  • Or that wine, with the guy. Holding a shield?
  • I had this wine in a restaurant and I really liked it. Here, I brought you the cork (which is literally blank, except for a cluster of grapes). Do you carry it?

I’ve gotten pretty good at name-that-wine:

I’m looking for a wine called Varsolo.  It’s Italian.
You mean Marsala?
No.  It’s Italian and starts it starts with a V.
Red or white?
Was it sweet or dry?
How about Valpolicella?
Yes.  That’s it!

A lady came into the store late one evening, picked up a bottle of sake (of all things) and asked, “Will this get me a buzz?” Um, everything in this department will get you a buzz at the right quantity.

(And around the holidays)
Customers: Can you help me pick out a wine that will go with Thanksgiving/Christmas dinner? I need something that’s not too dry, not too sweet, not too red, not too white, not too expensive, not too cheap, and with enough alcohol so I can stand Aunt Nancy.

Me: Have you met bourbon?

I remain absolutely gobsmacked at the number of parents who let their kids run around in the wine department. You know, the one that’s filled with thousands of bottles of glass. Breakable glass. The kind that could hurt you. But please, let your kids play tag.

Customers who yell (or SNAP!!!!) at me across the room. Seriously? Did you just snap at me? Oh, I’m gonna walk real s-l-o-w now.

Customers who know they’re right.
I had a customer who insisted Bordeaux was right on the border with Spain, in the Pyrenees Mountains. I can let a lot of things slide, but geography isn’t one of them. When I told her Bordeaux wasn’t actually on the border with Spain, she got all huffy and insisted it was. So I had to (I HAD TO) get out a map and show her.

One afternoon, I was talking to a woman who had her toddler in the cart. He was eating a tomato like an apple. Good on you, little man. But then he dropped the tomato. S-P-L-A-T!! This woman casually bends over, picks up the tomato, LICKS IT, and then gives it back to the boy. 🤢

The one silver lining (if there is one) with Covid-19, is that it succeeded in removing all the open food bars from stores. I’ve always been leery of food bars and buffets, but after working in a grocery store, I will never, ever, ever eat/buy anything from them again. Because people are disgusting. The number of people who just dig into those bars with their bare hands and stand there and have a snack? Staggering. And gross. So, so gross.

Also, Christmas music is permanently ruined for me.


Armchair Sommelier Wine Tasting Guide

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