We checked the selection of all the local wine stores while assuming different personalities. We played dumb: "So is this rosé like a white zin?" We acted snobby: "Oh, those South African cabs, their impertinence amuses me." We asked legit questions: "What's the difference between Pouilly-Fumé and Pouilly-Fuissé?" We even 'fessed up: "We just need a decent bottle of red for under $15 to take to a party because we don't know anybody there." Try as we might, we couldn't beat the responses we got from the Wine Merchant. To the clerks here, there are no stupid questions, just opportunities to educate and to introduce customers to something they're genuinely excited about. No pretense, no hype. Enthusiasm runs high here, but not the in-your-face, gushing variety. It unfolds as the clerk patiently finds out what you're thinking, what you like, what you want to spend. Don't have that kind of time, or feeling reckless and wild? Grab a bottle or two from the many boxes stacked near the front door -- always under $12 and always worth a try. Besides the wines, there's a great cheese bar, a huge selection of fancy hard liquor, all sorts of wine accouterments, even a cigar humidor. We're giving the nod to the centrally located Clayton store, but for the county dweller there's another location at 12669 Olive Boulevard in Creve Coeur (314-469-4500).