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Dear Dr. Vinny,

I get overwhelmed when I shop for wine in a big store. I tend to focus on known brands but fear I'm overlooking other great wines. How can I get the most out of a trip to the wine store?

—Steve, Bedford, Mass.

Dear Steve,

For starters, you might be more comfortable in a smaller wine store. I’m serious. A big part of my wine education took place in my neighborhood wine shop, where I developed a relationship with the staff there, pointing out what I tried last week and asking them what they’d recommend I try next. And don’t be shy: It’s OK to be direct and tell them exactly how much you want to spend (or not) on a bottle. Use their guidance and ask for their help in developing a vocabulary. They want you to be happy so you’ll come back and buy more wine.

If that’s not an option, then I’d suggest having a strategy before you walk into one of those big stores, so you’re not just staring at the wall of wine looking for inspiration. Focus your next few bottles on exploring a region, or a grape type. Maybe you’ll read a story in a wine magazine or website (ahem) about a style or part of the world that is new to you. And just because the store is big doesn't mean it won't also have a friendly and knowledgeable staff eager to help you. Another of my best pieces of advice is to track your purchases and impressions, to help you better understand what’s working for your palate and what’s not. Good luck!

—Dr. Vinny

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