Say you want to serve wine with dinner tonight. Where are you going to find a nice bottle that you know will be enjoyable? Will you pick it up at the grocery store? The liquor store? Or even – am I saying this – the gas station? If your inclination is any of these options, read on.

Of course it might seem natural, if not efficient, to pick up wine at the grocery store while you’re shopping for dinner, especially since many large chain grocers now have a growing selection of both wine and beer. Picture this: you push your cart down the wine aisle and find yourself staring at markers, placed at the top of each section, indicating grape variety or region. Your mind swirls and you try to find a label that looks vaguely familiar or amusingly winsome. Meanwhile, the frozen items in your cart start thawing. Say your dinner menu consists of grilled venison with sweet potato fries, field greens and artisan bread. Okay, the challenge has begun. Unless you are a trained chef or wine connoisseur, your wine pairing might fall short. Sure, you may well choose a mouth-pleasing wine; yet it might do nothing to enhance your meal. If you’re like me, you will take meal-enhancement however you can get it.

Say instead, you choose to purchase the evening’s wine at a liquor store with a broader selection. Perhaps in this store, you will find a warm body to help you. But still. What are the odds the person will be able to spout off a “tasting note” of the wine for you, giving you an indication of what to expect and why it would pair perfectly with your dinner? In the time it takes to browse the shelves and sheepishly ask the clerk for help, daylight is burning. Seems we would much rather get home to the business of cooking – or grilling and chilling – all the while sipping.

That’s not to say it is a good idea to simply rush in and buy wine where you buy gas. Most convenience stores carry wines better suited for use in cooking or in making wine-a-ritas.  Let’s just leave it at that.

So we come to the ultimate solution: your local wine shop. These days, even many small towns have one. If you’re in a larger city, find one near work or home – that way, you can simply pop in as you leave the office. These shops can make buying wine painless; and believe it or not, they even carry affordable wines!

Your first assignment is to meet the owner and ask how he or she decided to open a wine shop. That’ll get the conversation flowing with your newfound friend. Wine shop owners have a passion for wine and love to share that passion. In turn, you can share what kinds of wines you like and dislike. And now a connection has been made. A good shop owner will remember what you like, stretch you to try some new things, and assist with food and wine pairings. Oh, and maybe pour you a sample or two to try for yourself.