Tuesday, September 1, 2009

The Noble Writ's St. Louis Grand Crus: Paul Hayden, the Wine & Cheese Place

Posted By on Tue, Sep 1, 2009 at 11:30 AM

Page 2 of 2

click to enlarge Inside the Wine & Cheese Place in Clayton - DAVE NELSON
  • Dave Nelson
  • Inside the Wine & Cheese Place in Clayton
If you've followed this column, you may have noticed that I purchase quite a lot of wine at the Wine & Cheese Place. This is a testament to the breadth and quality of the selection as well as to the excellent consumer/retailer relationship I've established with Hayden. If I'm looking to feature a particular location or category I often begin (and frequently end) my shopping here, as Hayden will have a quality, representative bottle at a good price. Over the years, Hayden has taken the time to learn my palate to the extent that even if he's on the opposite side of the store, I can hold up the bottle, and he will give me a very accurate thumbs-up or thumbs-down. He's always approachable and able to discuss any wine he stocks in depth.

This is an even more commendable trait given the vast difference in palate preferences between Hayden and me. Hayden is a big fan of larger, rich reds, particularly those from California and the Southern Rhone. He attributes this, in part, to the demands of his job -- tasting hundreds of newly-released wines leads him to appreciate the intense fruit that these wines offer. By contrast, I'm much more into subtlety, acidity and non-fruit flavors like minerals, rocks and flowers. Yet Hayden is able to recognize and stock fine examples of wines that suit my palate, which is testimony to the sharpness of tasting ability.

No conversation about wine retailing is complete without a mention of the impact of the poor economy. At the Wine & Cheese Place, Hayden has seen two interesting trends. First, and not surprisingly, people aren't drinking less -- they are, however, drinking cheaper. Many customers who once bought a $40 bottle will now buy two $20 or four $10 bottles instead. Second, high-end wines that have been unavailable to retailers for years (or even a decade) due to strong direct sales or restaurant sales are suddenly available, and available in quantity, often at discounted prices. For now, these are still selling quickly when they arrive at the store, but it's evidence that the top end of the market is experiencing some real difficulties.

Dave Nelson is the author of the blog Beer, Wine and Whisky. He writes about wine for Gut Check every Tuesday.

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