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Customers of the seven-month-old Vinic Wine Company, 1509 Chicago Ave., benefit from owner Sandeep Ghaey’s refined taste in wine. They also profit from his nose for business.
Mr. Ghaey is a Wilmette native who sees the “diverse culture” and “great restaurants” of Evanston as an ideal setting for a wine outlet. He says he tries some 200 wines per week and offers a “dynamic” selection of 1,000 kinds, both to keep customers interested and to save them money.
Perhaps his is an acquired taste. Three years of work in restaurants and retail no doubt contributed. So have continuing studies with the Court of Master Sommeliers, where both he and his one employee, Evanstonian Tom Boyle, have reached the rank of “certified sommelier.” That means they have passed the second of four tests en route to the imposing title of “master sommelier” held by only 120 people in the country.
But as important to customers as Mr. Ghaey’s palate is his seven-year background in wine distribution. What he learned in the field helps make it possible for him to offer choice wines at competitive prices.
“It’s important for [customers] to feel that what they spend is what they get,” he says. The process of ensuring value begins, he says, with his “knowing what wine is supposed to cost.”
Beyond that, he says he has to “know where to look” for wine at good prices. His search starts in countries where the dollar is strong – Eastern Europe, for instance, as well as Argentina and Chile.
Experience has taught him, too, that “great brands [of wine] get lost in portfolios, so at the end of the quarter the seller has to get very aggressive.” In other words, he can get a good deal when distributors need to turn over their stock.
Bargaining also comes into play. “As a distributor, I finagled,” he says. Mr. Ghaey does not hesitate to request the restaurant rather than the higher retailer price, or to ask the distributor to hit the price point he is looking for.
“I pass the savings along to the customer,” he says. “I want customers to trust us and feel comfortable here.”
His most expensive wine, a Lucien Le Moine Richebourg, sells for $900 a bottle. “There are only 23 cases in the world,” he explains. But nearly 400 of his 1,000 wines are priced at less than $25 a bottle, he says, and “a lot are under $10.”
One of his goals is “to demystify wine,” which, he says, “has become a luxury, as opposed to something that can be for everyone.”
While he is interested in democratizing his product, Mr. Ghaey does not overlook its romance. Calling it “passion in a bottle,” he says he admires the ardor of the small producers he encounters and tries to convey their enthusiasm to his customers.
“The best thing about wine is the times for sharing it,” he says. To that end, he has collaborated with two upscale Evanston restaurants on multi-course dinners accompanied by special wines. Quince featured a three-course Austrian wine dinner and Oceanique, a five-course meal with the wines of Hartford Court.
But Mr. Ghaey is serious about making wine accessible to more people. By midsummer he says he hopes to showcase his wines alongside the less lofty fare of Edzo’s Burger Shop on Sherman Avenue. The chef at this downtown Evanston eatery, says Mr. Ghaey, is a veteran of Chicago’s much-esteemed Tru and Nacional 27 restaurants who has turned his talents to ground beef and fries and his clock to counting more time for family.
Vinic holds casual tastings on Friday evenings and Saturday afternoons. Mr. Ghaey says he establishes a theme to “give people a context” for the wines. He might offer the same variety of wine from three different places in the world – or three different wines from the same producer. State law limits him to three one-ounce pours at a free tasting, he says. To make “in-depth tastings and courses” possible, he is considering a token charge – a dollar or two.
Wines in the store are arranged by country. Old World wines are divided by region, with a name like “burgundy” reflecting the importance Europeans place on the quality of a region and its soil. New World wines are separated into varietals with names that express the quality of a fruit, like “pinot noir.”
Mr. Ghaey is happy to help customers find their way around and to propose wines appropriate to the season. For summer he says, “Bring out the rosés.” Traditionally these wines are dry, he says – “like whites with floral notes.” Excellent with salad and grilled seafood, he says, rosés are “great porch wines.”
Another warm-weather alternative is a New Zealand sauvignon blanc. With their high acid content, he says, sauvignon blancs are “crisp and clean … with tropical fruit notes – grapefruit and kumquats” and “go well with lighter fare.”
For a wine to pair with grilled meat, he suggests an “unoaked red.” Aged in stainless steel instead of oak tanks, these wines are “as rich as other reds but a little softer. Oak gives too much flavor. Summer’s about keeping things flowing; you don’t want to fight the food,” he says.
Good wine, good food, good weather – it sounds like a toast to good times.