To encourage customers to branch out from the same wines they tended to purchase out of habit, Uppala designed a wine tasting area where customers could sample featured wines. The plush leather chairs and barstools arranged around tables and at a bar sit in the middle of the store, just beyond the wine racks.
A wine station machine doles out measured amounts of wines, so customers may purchase a taste, half glass or full glass at tastings that Uppala holds usually two times a month. The events typically attract 40 to 60 people, who pay between $5 to $20 to taste eight different wines. Prices fluctuate with the value of the wines featured.
"It's a great way to sample a wine at a reasonable price, without buying a full bottle," said store manager Matt Meyers.
Customers may also purchase a card and put cash on it to use to pay for half and full glasses of the wines. Some customers join Grand Cru club, for $50 per person or $75 for a couple. Membership covers most wine tastings and provides a discount on purchases.
"Before, our selection was more narrow," said Uppala, who received his certified wine professional status through the Culinary Institute of America in Napa. "Now, it's tremendously improved. We've probably added 1,000 wines. We have more wines, not just large quantities of the same ones."
At the samplings, people try wines they don't expect to like and are frequently surprised when they discover a new varietal is to their taste. "I have people who say they only like red wine, who taste a white selection and say they love it. They branch out," Uppala said.
Sales of Malbec, a red wine from Argentina, Albarino, a Spanish white wine and Torrontes, a white Argentinean wine, increased after they were featured at tastings.
During the holiday season, Uppala answers lots of questions about wines to pair with special meals. He cautions customers that the wine should match more than just the main course. Versatile wines like Riesling and pinot noir pair well with a variety of foods.
For more specific holiday main course guidelines, Uppala recommends a full-bodied syrah, cabernet or zinfandel with roast beef. For ham, he suggests a pinot noir or syrah. If seafood is on the menu, as it would be for Italian families who honor the Feast of the Seven Fishes tradition on Christmas Eve, he recommends Sangiovese, pinot grigio or sauvignon blanc with tomato-based fish sauces and chardonnay with cream-based seafood dishes.
Uppala also makes suggestions for wines to give as gifts. Store employees such as Meyer and mixologist Dave Thomas answer questions about ingredients for cocktails, as well as wines.
"This is a one-stop store for all alcoholic beverage needs," Uppala said. "I believe we have the best selection of spirits, beers and wines."
The Liquor Company is open from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Saturday, and is closed on Sunday. Call 304-346-6000.
Reach Julie Robinson at jul...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1230.