The Tasting Panel magazine

April 2015

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Page 120 of 140

120  /  the tasting panel  /  april 2015 A LONE STAR LIFE I n 1991, Austin was the 27th largest city in the U.S. Today, the Texas capital has grown to be the country's 11th largest city, with no signs of slowing down. But among all the new develop- ment, especially downtown, is the Austin Wine Merchant, which first opened in 1991. Although the Austin Wine Merchant sells fine beers and spirits, its namesake commodity has long been at the heart of its reputa- tion for carefully and enthusiastically curated selections. It's often crowded—and not just with customers, but also with recent shipments and ready-to-move inven- tory, neatly stacked up at the end of the aisles. The place feels kind of like a cozy bookstore (only with booze), where the anticipation of discovery is tangible. It's easy for co-owner and wine buyer John Roenigk to point out the impact Austin's growth has had on business. "Twenty-four years ago we filled a void for finding fine wines. Now we're faced with stiff competition from grocery stores, convenience stores and mega-liquor stores," he says. "But we still buy our wines with our clientele in mind." What Roenigk had in mind in early March was an "initiative with Italian wine." "People like to travel by way of wine," he says, while unpacking and shelving bottles. Although many of his customers have for a long time enjoyed discovering France through its wine, there's a purchasing shift going on these days. The high prices for Bordeaux and Burgundy wines are making some of his clients, whom he describes as practical and educated, look elsewhere. Hence, the Italian initiative. "Apart from the fact that people everywhere are continuing to discover Tuscany, our Burgundy customers are getting more in tune with Piedmontese wines," Roenigk tells me. "Nebbiolo from Piedmont has long been compared, in its own way, to Pinot Noir from Burgundy. Both wines transport you very quickly to those places." While increasing his Italian inven- tory, he also acknowledges that, of course, not everything changes, even after nearly a quarter of a century. Roenigk points to a stack of Marietta Cellars Old Vine Red, a non-vintage Zinfandel-based blend that he says har- kens back to old-fashioned Cal-Ital field blends. "We've been selling this wine almost since we began. We initially agreed to buy 28 cases but it quickly sold out. Now, we buy ten pallets every six months or so. Why? It's the honesty, the value. It's because when people buy this wine and drink it they want to buy another bottle." And that is, ultimately, what any shop- keeper in any size town is looking for. Because it's that kind of merchandise that, as Roenigk says, makes businesses last longer. "We're always trying to find another one of those bottles." John Roenigk, co-owner and wine buyer of the Austin Wine Merchant, stands amid the carefully curated selection of wine in his store. Wine and the City THE AUSTIN WINE MERCHANT COMES OF AGE by Anthony Head / photo by Kirk Weddle

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