Variety of wines in grocery store


Social calendars are filling up and gift lists are growing. All of the hubbub—along with the decision of what to give—can be overwhelming. With more and more people enjoying wine, we asked area experts for advice on how to go about selecting the perfect bottle.

St. Louis Cellars in Maplewood carries a couple hundred varieties, including some with themed packaging. Store manager Diane Blaskiewicz says the store is set up in two areas: one half includes selections less than $20 and the other half, referred to as “the splurge,” stocks choices starting at $20. The store is further divided into six taste categories: mellow/medium-bodied whites, rich/full-bodied whites, fruity/light-bodied reds, easy/medium-bodied reds, big/full-bodied reds and sweet/dessert wines. If you are giving a bottle as a hostess gift, Blaskiewicz suggest sticking to the classics. A full-bodied Cabernet like Educated Guess from Napa Valley is a good choice for the winter and perfect for those not familiar with wine, thus the name. Segura Viudas, reserva dry Champagne from Spain, is the perfect celebratory drink and a steal at $23.

Located in the Central West End, West End Wines carries selections ranging from everyday wines to the rare collector’s gem. Selections include 350 to 400 varieties, priced from $11 to $400, and are organized by regions. Sommelier John Sears recommends pinot noir, as well as zinfandels for general giftgiving. “Zins have a lush, versatile fruit flavor and are American made.” One of his favorites is Rutherford Dust Zinfandel by Neal Family Vineyards, with notes of raspberry liqueur, sweet vanilla oak and fruit combined with hints of spice for layers of flavor. If your gift list includes someone who has eclectic tastes, Sears has a diversified background in wine and cuisine and is happy to lead you off the beaten path.

Balaban’s Wine Cellar and Tapas Bar in Chesterfield offers a versatile selection of approximately 500 wines. Wine professional Aaron Zwicker encourages shoppers to ask for advice and be specific about your price range; and if buying for a dinner party, have a sense of the menu being served. “Offering advice is what we do and we enjoy doing it,” he says. Zwicker stresses that those who have a limited understanding of wine can help themselves by being prepared. If you’re making a selection to pair with traditional holiday fare, Zwicker recommends choosing a medium-bodied Cotes du Rhone or pinot noir. For a white wine crowd-pleaser, try an Oregon pinot grigio.

Still stumped? For the wine enthusiast, eliminate the guesswork by purchasing a wine club membership or gift card. West End Wines (westendwines.com) offers gift cards starting at $25. Balaban’s wine club (balabanswine.com) includes selections of two bottles per month at three different price points. St. Louis Cellars (stlouiscellars.com) has a set club price of $35 which includes two bottles per month, inclusion in special events, wine tasting and discounted classes.