Wine Discount Center, founded in 1984,
has several stores in and around Chicago,
with an emphasis both on value and
“friendly expert advice” at each location.
In-store tasting events, like this one at
Wolfe’s Wine Shoppe in Coral Gables,
FL, are an ideal way of helping customers
develop a sense of trust in both the
overall quality of the store inventory and
the staff’s ability to recommend wines.
Given that Americans’ culinary awareness,
in general, is ahead of their vinous aware-
ness, it makes sense that food can be an
ideal bridge to a savvy retailer’s wine recom-
mendation. At Pairings Portland, owner-op-
erator Jeff Weissler, whose first stint in wine
retail was on the East Coast, has tapped into
Portland’s foodie-ness in a big way.
The store’s website states upfront: “We
like to think of a glass of wine as one of
the ingredients in your dish, and we’ll help
you find the wine that makes your food
sing.” And the physical store is dominated
by a huge chalkboard adorned with stylis-
tic terms and food-pairing notes relating to
bottles displayed on mini-shelves.
While the store’s format is built for
recommendations with food in mind,
Weissler is always happy to cross-sell based
on grape variety or wine style. For some-
one looking for Italian Pinot Grigio, he
likes to suggest Soave, especially ones that
are 100% Garganega, or Austrian Grüner
Veltliner or Spanish Albariño.
On Pinot Noir, Weissler says, “If some-
one likes Pinot Noir, it depends on the
price category. If they’re budget-minded, I
often like to explore Mencia from Spain,
and Beaujolais. In the mid and higher
range it’s tricky—Pinot Noir is its own
beast.” And for bigger reds with not so big
price tags, he says, “I'd take folks to blends
from Washington. They frequently have
a little more acidity and get a little more
food-friendly. Aussie Shiraz could do the
trick for the lover of dark.”
Interestingly, one wine he typically
cross-sell is Moscato d’Asti. “I
can’t remember ever talking anyone out of
it. I just talk folks into it as an add-on,” says
Weissler, adding, “At the shop we have a
fun cocktail we do that’s four parts Mosca-
to, one part Nebbiolo Chinato. Yum!”
What emerged clearly from each of
the retailers contacted for this article is
the sense that cross-selling is a skill, and
a tool. Recommending wines that fit a
shopper’s preference is a fundamental
aspect of good service. And whether it
means turning them on to a new way
to enjoy Moscato or exposing them to
a brand new grape or region, these ex-
changes are vital to happy customers and
Always start with a question, not an
The idea is to have the shopper
give you information; unsolicited advice
can have the opposite effect and make
the customer defensive. At the same
time, asking something too generic (“Can
I help you?”) may not only fail to elicit a
useful response, it may be interpreted as
a throwaway line.
Use style, and logic.
make a specific recommendation, include
the reason. For example: “Pinot Noir has
a smoother texture than big reds. Well,
so does Barbera, and it has the zing to go
great with tomato-based foods.”
Mind that budget.
says they are looking to spend under $20,
respect that. If, based on other factors,
you feel compelled to recommend a wine
over $20, make sure that is a second
option, not your only suggestion.
Wines have attractive labels
for good reason: they are pleasing to the
eye, and sometimes even provocative.
When suggesting a wine as a gift, don’t
hesitate to point out that a certain wine
has a great look as well as great taste.
Sometimes people need a green light to
buy by the label.
Sometimes they just gotta have it
Say a customer is looking for a very spe-
cific wine and you don’t carry it. You may
be able to suggest four or five comparable
wines, but if that original bottle is the one
they simply must have, then be honest.
Look it up in your Beverage Media, tell
them you can order it and can have it
in the store next week and it will cost X
dollars. That may be just what they need
to hear; or it may prompt them to be more
open to another suggestion that they can
take home today.