So rumor has it among “the trade” (that’s wine industry speak for people who work in the industry) that there is a group of local wine lovers who taste wine every Saturday — for free. Want to get in on the action?
There are three great inexpensive ways to taste wine in the District: wine stores, local grocery store chains and wine bars/restaurants. The following is a list of recommended places that offer free or inexpensive tastings locally.
Whole Foods in Georgetown on 2323 Wisconsin Ave. has periodic in-store wine tastings for free called “Wine on Wednesdays” from 5 to 7 p.m. The store often offers wine samples, along with a bite of their favorite food pairing.
On March 25 from 7 to 8 p.m. there will be a “Wine Basics” class held in the 1440 P St. Whole Foods store for $15. To register contact firstname.lastname@example.org. $15 will be collected at the door.
Harris Teeter and Trader Joe’s have local stores with a surprisingly wide selection of wines from around the world, given their limited wine department space. Wine importers and distributors do free in-store tasting periodically at both chains. Call the store you are interested in visiting to check the date of the next scheduled wine tasting.
There is also a rumor that the new “Social Safeway” being built on Georgetown’s Wisconsin Avenue has planned a large wine department. [Editor’s note: It’s true. Current renovation plans include a expansive wine section, staffed by two experts.]
Pearson’s Liquor and Wine, 2436 Wisconsin Ave.
This Washington institution has since 1933 exuded the impression of a liquor store that sells wine. They offer daily tastings and have a knowledgeable, albeit intimidating wine staff. Beginners may not appreciate the curt reception and the “I don’t have a lot of time to spend with you” wine education, but knowledgeable wine enthusiasts will do fine here. Come for the free tastings and a chance to sample wines you may not get exposed to otherwise.
DeVinos, 2001 18th Street
This trendy wine shop is located at the lower tip of Adams Morgan. It’s a fun place to stop in to quickly select a bottle to go with Friday night dinner at home or on your way to a Saturday evening party when you are the one bringing the wine. Their selections run heavy on South American and Italian reds. Staff is friendly and knowledgeable. They offer free tastings Thursday and Friday evenings from 5:30 to 8 p.m.
The Wine Specialist, 215 M Street
This store has a great selection of Old and New World wines, a surprising amount of half bottle selections and some unusual finds (try a gewürztraminer from Italy and a red zinfandel from Australia). The staff is friendly and enthusiastic for you to taste. Their next tasting is being planned now for Italian wines on March 12. Check their Web site for a calendar of upcoming events or call the store at 202-833-0707.
There are more and more wine bars popping up all over the city and too many to mention here. Wine bars and restaurants are a great way to explore wine in an unrushed, relaxed setting, though there is usually a cost involved. These restaurants offer wine flights (usually one- to two-ounce servings of three different wines based on a theme or region) for a typical cost of less than $15:
Cork Wine Bar, 1720 14th Street
If you can tear yourself away from people watching, Cork offers several wine flights each weekend. On our recent visit they offered four wine flights, ranging in price from $10-15, which consisted of French and Italian wines including prosecco, southwestern French whites and a red wine flight made from montepulciano d’Abruzzo. Cork also has a retail wine store located up the street that offers daily tastings weekdays from 5 to 7 p.m. and Saturday from 3 to 6 p.m.
Bistrot Lepic and Wine Bar, 1736 Wisconsin Ave
The venerable French bistro located at the top of Georgetown offers free tasting every Tuesday from 6 to 8 p.m., and all wines by the glass are half price Wednesday to Monday 5:30 to 7 p.m.
Some parting tips:
Most wine shops have one or two days a week they have bottles open for complimentary tasting. Call around to local shops near you to check their schedules to verify tastings are being held and which day.
Sign up for your favorite store’s wine department e-mail notices. You will often be the first to learn about in-store or special tastings.
Don’t be afraid to talk to the person serving the wine. They are usually the wine distributor representative or importer responsible for placing the wine in the store. They get paid to educate you and stir up interest in the wines they offer free samples of, so use them as a source of information. Ask them where they will be doing their next in-store tasting. If you have more questions or don’t have time to get all your questions answered, ask them for their contact information or business card.
Use the dump bucket! It’s okay to spit and/or pour the wine out into the dump bucket, especially if you are going to be driving around afterward.
And one last tip: Enjoy!