When I began my wine explorations two decades ago, one store in DC I
regularly visited was Mayflower Wine & Spirits, on M St NW. The
store specialized in Italian wines, but it had a great selection from
around the world, and a very helpful staff. A lot of people who
currently shape the DC wine scene spent some time working at Mayflower.
One of Mayflowerâ€™s attractions was its monthly sampler. Each month,
the store owner, Sidney Moore, would send out a self-published
newsletter (a lot of work back then in the pre-email era) with various
sale offerings, including a six-bottle sampler. These would be wines
that she wanted to feature for one reason or another, sometimes
following a theme, such as Tuscan reds, or northern Italian whites, or
two whites and four reds from Piedmont, or syrah from around the world
â€“ whatever struck Sidneyâ€™s fancy that month.
When we visited the store, there would be six-pack wine boxes, the
type wineries use for their tasting room sales, stacked on the floor,
filled with that monthâ€™s sampler selections. They were typically
priced with the case discount, and Sidney had printed fliers with her
descriptions of the wines.
I didnâ€™t buy the samplers regularly, but once in awhile when two or
three of Sidneyâ€™s descriptions caught my fancy, I would splurge and
lug a box home. The wines may not have been ones I was eager to run back
and stock up on, but they were good, and I learned about wine as I
explored different grapes and styles. And the sales staff â€“ the same
people selling me wine today at various stores or working for importers
and distributors in the region â€“ got to know me better and help shape
my wine palate because of my reactions to these wines.
Mayflower is long gone, and Sidney Moore (now Sidney Margolis) is retired from the wine business, happily making furniture in
DC. But I wonder – why donâ€™t more stores offer samplers
today? Many still do in-store tastings, allowing customers to try a wine
before purchasing, but the samplers offered something else, a sense of
experimentation and exploration, a hope that in that last bottle, the
one I never would have purchased if it wasnâ€™t part of the pack â€“
part of Sidneyâ€™s recommendations â€“ I might find a real gem.