I've always wanted to own a wine shop. I didn't realize this until I crossed the threshold at The Wine Store at 523 S. Cascade Ave. In an open brick-walled, steel-girdered space (part of the old trolley garage), wine racks line the walls. Open cases fill the middle spaces, inviting a casual browse. This is not your average liquor store.
First and foremost, it offers only wine. No six-packs, no hip-pocket pints, no mixers, no beef jerky. Nor is there any wine snobbery -- the kind one fears when the sommelier in some snooty restaurant sneers down. This is a labor of love, by wine lovers for wine lovers. This is how people follow their dream.
Bob Small and Beth Kirk-Small lived in Colorado Springs before Bill's job at the YMCA took them to Wisconsin. During their years there, they opened a wine shop with four other couples equally interested in wine. Imagine children opening a candy store. The Wisconsin store was open only on Saturday (it's now open three days a week). They've now returned to Colorado and opened the Wine Store last December.
Driven by curiosity and a lifelong passion for wine, they stock wines they like, wines they've read about, wines they've sampled with their many distributors. The shop is heavy on pinots, for example, because the Smalls are fond of pinots. Their hope is to have a shop "where people feel comfortable bringing their kids," a shop where talking and learning about wines with customers is an ongoing process. They track wines you've purchased by computerized sales receipt so when you forget that great Chardonnay, they can remember for you.
By now you may be seeing dollar signs blinking like neon lights. Dispel that image. Seventy-five percent of wines they offer are under $15. Case discounts of 10 percent are available on orders as small as six bottles -- mix or match. Sure, there are some very fine and dearly priced premium wines for special occasions, but the goal of the Wine Store is to offer excellent wines for everyday consumption. With that in mind, we had a little wine-tasting party to sample wines none of us had previously tried.
There was neither rhyme nor reason to our selections. Bob recommended some; others we chose by label alone (oh, admit it: you've done that, too). We ended up with four countries represented by three reds and three whites.
We opened a 2001 McLaren Vale Shiraz from Yangarra Park, an Australian winery affiliated with Kendall Jackson; a bottle of the 2002 The Prisoner, a blend of Zinfandel, Syrah, and Cabernet Sauvignon, chosen for its Goya-esque label of a tormented soul in chains; and Jest Red, a happy, light, silly blend of seven different varietals. The tasting team, made up of longtime amateur wine aficionados ("We Like Them All") felt this light red would be fine for sipping outdoors on a cool summer evening. It had echoes of plum and a slight effervescent finish. The Syrah was dismissed as astringent, less cherry-ish than we expected. Despite the disappointment, I should point out that the bottle was empty by night's end, so someone liked it. The Prisoner was the most impressive of the reds. An initial spicy bite finishes with a mellow fruitiness. Its full body held up well with some strong cheeses; it would probably hold its own against a meal of barbecue ribs or a spicy Moroccan stew.
The whites included Shepherds Ridge, a 2002 New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc; Maculan, an Italian blend of Tocai, Pinot Bianco and Pinot Grigio grapes; and a Viognier from Colorado's Bookcliff Vineyards.
Shepherds Ridge got good, though mixed reviews. One either loves the grassy greenness of a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc or one doesn't: they tend to come on stronger on the palate than California Sauv Blancs; Shepherds Ridge was lovely with a nice fruity finish.
Our past disappointments with Colorado wines were dispelled with one sip of the Bookcliff Viognier. Our comments included "woody," "crisp," "sparkly," "sweet," "tasty" and "over the top." Viogniers do tend to be a bit schizophrenic. This wine, made entirely of grapes grown near Palisade in Colorado's Grand Valley, would do nicely with fish accompanied by a fruity salsa.
The clear white favorite was one Bob recommended: the Maculan blend. Dry, simple and just plain drinkable, it was deemed perfect for picnics of cold shrimp salad, apples and grapes, and perfect for sipping by itself.
Not sure of how to begin your exploration of wines? A night of sampling like we did is always fun. Bill and Beth are planning some summer tastings at Hillside Gardens; stay tuned for more information about that. The best way to start would be a visit to the Smalls at the Wine Store. Theirs is the grape equivalent of missionary work; they want to win you over. Their enthusiasm and knowledge are at your service.
One thing they don't know: This is the shop I was meant to own, and I'm buying it bottle by bottle.
The Wine Store
523 S. Cascade Ave.
Open Tuesday Friday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Saturday, 10 a.m. 5 p.m.