Retailers across the country are investing in high-tech wine dispensers, in-store education centers, reserve rooms, upscale tastings with bottle signings, and community related events. These investments are paying off—now, there’s added intellectual value for consumers. “Tastings are important for people interested in learning, exploring, and experimenting,” says Tom Dorow, owner of Wine & Spirits Warehouse in Libertyville, Illinois. “The tastings go beyond the wine or spirit.”
For its part, Wine & Spirits Warehouse offers wine and spirits tasting classes to the public and also hosts various private events at its learning center. Local producers like North Shore Distillery have done presentations on holiday and summer cocktails. Other tastings are themed, focusing on one topic, such as the impact of Port or Sherry casks on aging spirits. The learning center programs typically charge $25 with a $15 purchase credit.
Gone are the days when retailers relied on in-store vendor partner tastings. While such tastings still play an important role for retailers, they’re now fortified with numerous other tasting opportunities, which are usually held on the weekends. Premier Wine & Spirits’ three locations in metropolitan Buffalo, New York, for example, offer wine tasting classes, producer samplings, reserve room tastings, and flights at in-store tasting centers. “With people shopping online, tastings give consumers a reason to come into our stores and be more social,” says Jon Notarius, wine director at Premier’s Amherst location.
Offered across all locations, Premier’s tastings are held in education centers and include such classes as “Hardy Cognac with Special Guest Bénedicté Hardy,” “Wines for Thanksgiving Celebrations,” and “Irish Whiskeys from Tullamore Dew.” “Tastings can be intimidating for a lot of people,” Notarius says. “But sit-down tasting events build camaraderie and trust.” These events, offered as part of the Wine Mind Tasting Class series, are classroom seminars that fill up quickly, holding up to 45 people per class. Premier also does beer tastings at its gourmet store in Buffalo. Twenty craft beers are available at its Pegas CrafTap growler-filling station. “Craft beer drinkers are always looking to try something new and different,” Notarius says.
Many retailers, including Premier, utilize Napa Technology’s WineStation 3.0 to dispense fresh wine at the ideal temperature. Wine & Spirits Warehouse has two WineStations, each dispensing four wines. “When a customer inquires about a wine, we can walk them over to the WineStation and offer them a taste of something they might be considering,” Dorow says.
Customers can also purchase a glass of wine or beer and relax on a couch or at a high top table at the Wine & Spirits Warehouse lounge. While informal wine tastings are held every weekend, the store also puts on several larger annual events; its recent Big Red Sale showcased six distributors and offered 35 wines for tasting. Dorow also holds wine tastings at the nearby David Adler Music and Arts Center and the Libertyville Lincoln Sales car dealership. “We have people at the event tastings who become regular customers,” Dorow notes.
Wine, beer, and spirits tasting will continue to evolve at the retail level. “Tastings are important to beverage alcohol because it’s such a sensory experience,” Dorow says. “There are so many different aspects of wine, beer, and spirits, and people enjoy trying beverages before they buy them, in order to determine whether or not they really like them.”