The wine industry is gearing up for its busy season -- more than a third of annual sales come in the year's final months, with discounts, special events and exclusive products galore for those ready to take advantage of them.
So, if you want the most out of your holiday wine enjoyment, now is the time to get to know a wine retailer.
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Ross' choiceVinturi Red Wine Aerator
• Suggested retail and availability: about $40, widely available at wine stores and housewares shops and at vinturi.com
I generally feel that wine gadgets are just another ploy to separate the gullible from their hard-earned income, even when recommended to me -- as Vinturi has been -- by palates as persnickety as my own. After months of tests and caution, the Vinturi Red Wine Aerator has won me over. The gizmo works by blending just the right amount of air and wine, adding the levels of flavor and textural appeal that wine gains by "breathing" in a decanter, but in a fraction of the time. A great gift for wine enthusiasts and connoisseurs, including yourself.
The first thing to decide is what do you want out of your retailer?
If you want convenient location, low prices and familiar labels, head to a chain grocery, drug or liquor store. You won't find much help with selection, but the major brands are crafted to sell on safe, wide appeal anyway.
If you're looking for distinct quality, head for a boutique wine shop. Be prepared to explore unfamiliar wines and neighborhoods, with higher prices to pay the salary of an informed merchant.
If only the finest and rarest wine will do, seek out an auction house or exclusive wine merchant. The world's most valuable flavors await for a collectible or special gift -- check your credit limit and speak in respectful tones.
Once you decide what you want, help your retailer give it to you.
Be able to describe the general flavors you enjoy and preferred price category. Are you looking for white, red or pink? Dry, sweet or in-between? In the $10 range, midteens or up? Information on a favorite grape, region or cuisine is a bonus.
A phrase like, "I like dry-ish white wine and I'm looking for something about $10, probably for pasta," will yield the wine you want and appreciation from your merchant.
A phrase like, "I had a delicious wine in Seattle. It had a house on the label and I think it was white. Do you carry it?" gets you nowhere fast.
An easy solution of today's tech-saavy vinophiles: for each wine you enjoy, snap a picture of the label with your smartphone.
In addition to product, retailers offer services to attract clientele. Before the holiday crush, ask about delivery, returns, gift wrapping, party planning, glass rental, online shopping and quantity discounts.
In-store tastings and off-site dinners are already in the works, so ask about a calendar of events or mailing list now.
The "stand-up, walk-around" tasting is the most frequent wine event and to navigate a tasting successfully be mindful of the simple etiquette involved.
No frills: Lacy cuffs and ties easily find their way into spit buckets. Dress in simple, wine colored and washable clothes. Eschew cologne and anything odoriferous that interferes with wine aromas. You'll be juggling a glass and possibly a plate, so pockets are useful to hold paraphernalia.
Eat: Eat before, during and after consuming any alcohol. Milk fat, meat fat and oil are the most effective foods to forestall intoxication.
Spit, spit, spit: No matter how small a sip, tastes of 80 or so wines add up. Practice at home in the sink if you can't hit a bucket from a pace off. At a certain point in every event, spit buckets begin to spit back.
Practice those manners at Friday's Autumn Bacchus Festival, a walk-around tasting featuring more than 80 international wines and a buffet of light bites. The tasting costs $50 and runs 7:30 to 10 p.m. (ET) at the Marina Grand Resort in New Buffalo, Mich. Reserve at thewinesellersmichigan.com or (888) 824-9463.
• Write to Advanced Sommelier and Certified Wine Educator Mary Ross at firstname.lastname@example.org.