CVIndependent

Thu07092020

Last updateMon, 20 Apr 2020 1pm

The first thing I do when I move to a new town is find the local wine shop.

I do this, in part, because no one needs a glass (read: bottle) of wine more than the person who just bubble-wrapped their whole life and went on countless Home Depot runs for more boxes, because they had no idea they had this much crap. (OK, maybe that’s just me.) Specifically, I look for the independent wine shop, because I am a wine super-nerd looking for other wine super-nerds. I know that, in these little stores tucked away in strip malls and located off frontage roads, I will find great wines—and more importantly, great people.

The guys and gals who run local wine stores do it because they love wine. They are passionate salespeople who not only know what they’re talking about, but are genuinely interested in helping you find your new favorite wine. They enjoy the stories behind the producers and regions where the grapes grow. They discover what great winemaker just started his or her own label; the new up-and-coming hotspot for value wines; and funky and rare varietals going mainstream thanks to young, intrepid winemakers. All the behind-the-scenes action and geeky factoids are the things that make wine exciting and fun to drink.

On any given day, these shop owners can be visited by wine fairies, wheeling bags full of opened bottles, waiting to be tasted and procured. These fairies line up bottle after beautiful bottle—each ready to be swirled, sniffed and sipped—all while telling great stories of how these wines came into being. The merchants carefully analyze each offering to ensure quality and value, all while keeping their demographic in mind. OK, so they’re not really fairies as much as they’re wine reps peddling their hooch, but it sounds so much prettier this way, dontcha think? Either way, the point is that these guys are constantly being presented with the latest offerings from known producers, as well as up-and-comers. These independent retailers are your window into the world of wine. It’s all in a day’s work.

This is what separates your little local wine shop from your mega-retailer. Are you going to get a better price for your Santa Margherita pinot grigio at a big-box store? Maybe. They have the buying power to secure hundreds, if not thousands, of cases, which will garner a lower price. But you should ask yourself: Do you really want to always drink a wine that’s made by the ton? Sure, it’s nice to grab your old standby—the wine you’ve had 1,000 times and know like the back of your hand. You don’t need to give it any thought; you’re in and out of the store lickity-split. That’s what these mega-retailers are good for. However, if you’re sick of the same-old, same-old, and want to try something new, these wine superstores quickly become your worst nightmare. I find that even I, as an “old hat” in the wine business, get completely overwhelmed and go a little cross-eyed at the massive selection these stores offer. What makes the wine-buying prospect even more daunting is trying to navigate the floor-to-ceiling offerings all by one’s self. I feel confident making this assumption: If you happen upon an employee, and can steal them away from the four other people clinging to them for help, he or she has not personally tasted each and every wine on the shelf, and therefore will have little help to give. If you’re lucky, you’ll come across a gem who knows there’s a difference between Ketel One and Opus One.

When I moved back to the Coachella Valley, I was shocked to see that an old favorite, Dan’s Wine Shop, was a thing of the past. He was a man who had developed a loyal following and whose wine opinion was highly regarded. Therefore, I decided to investigate this new incarnation called Desert Wine Shop on 111. Talk about some big shoes to fill.

There, I met Matt Young and fulfilled my quest to meet a fellow wine super-nerd. Within minutes, Matt was helping me explore the selection and filling me in on what new, interesting wines he’d just brought in—specifically, the Hatzidakis Santorini 2015, an aromatic, citrusy white made from Assyritko. (Greek wines are the new cool kid in town and totally worth checking out.) He also introduced me to the Raats chenin blanc, from one of my all-time-favorite wine-producing regions, Stellenbosch, South Africa.

Beyond the benefit of stellar service and a carefully curated selection, smaller wine stores often have tastings and even wine classes to help budding oenophiles sharpen their palates and expand their knowledge. One of my favorite places to pop in and uncork is The Tasting Room at Desert Wines and Spirits. Costa Nichols, owner, wine guru, and all around wonderful guy, hosts weekly tastings every Saturday from 4 to 5:30 p.m. For a meager $10 ($5 of that goes toward the purchase of a bottle), you can taste a half-dozen wines, nibble on complimentary hors d’oeuvres, and mingle with other wine-minded folks. During season, you might even find the tasting being hosted by the winemaker himself or herself.

If you’re on the east end of the valley and like a side of live music with your wine, check out The Wine Emporium in Old Town La Quinta. Part retail store, part wine bar and part dance hall, the Wine Emporium features local musicians starting at 7 p.m. many nights. If you’re noncommittal about your wine selection, this place has a create-your-own-wine-flight option, where you can select as many 2 ounce pours as you’d like of their wines available by the glass. I was like a kid in a candy store in their wine room, and grabbed a delicious bottle of EnRoute pinot noir. A little charcuterie, good people watching and some toe-tapping led to a mighty fine evening.

If you needed one good reason to drink more wine … I just gave you three. Now, go out and find your local wine nerds and make friends.

Katie Finn is a certified sommelier and certified specialist of wine with more than 15 years in the wine industry. She is a member of the Society of Wine Educators and is currently studying with the Wine and Spirit Education Trust. When she's not hitting the books, you can find her hosting private wine tastings and exploring the desert with her husband and two children. She can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Published in Wine

There is a new wine shop in town—a rare treat for us desert denizens.

It’s actually a reimagining of one of the desert’s few wine shops, Dan’s. No longer will you be greeted by Dan; most days of the week, you’ll find Matt Young, a tall, friendly, handsome young man who looks like a football player. There’s a reason for that: When he moved to the desert back in 2006, he was all set to play football for College of the Desert. However, an injury prevented him from playing, so he entered the fire academy to become a smoke-jumper, but he suffered another injury. He briefly trained as a fire inspector, but knew he “could not sit at a desk.” Shortly thereafter, Young found himself returning to the family business—hospitality and service.

Young grew up in Paso Robles, where his parents owned and operated restaurants. There, he was surrounded by wine and food, but didn’t really take to it until he started working at Roy’s in Rancho Mirage, where he met the woman who would become his wife; they fell in love with one another—and wine.

He continued working in restaurants and set up beer and wine programs across the valley. He was part of the opening staff and a manager at Whole Foods, and at the La Quinta Brewing Tap Room in Old Town La Quinta. Now he’s running the show at Desert Wine Shop, which promotes smaller and local wineries. You’ll still find your old favorites—but be sure to talk to Young about the store’s unique offerings. He and his partners hope to expand throughout the North America.

We chatted at the shop, where he answered phone calls, greeted vendors and helped customers—while simultaneously talking to me and tasting some Provencal rose: the 2016 Domaine de Cala.

The shop features tastings every Friday from 4 to 6 p.m. It is at 73360 Highway 111 in Palm Desert; visit www.desertwineshop.com for more information.

When did you first start getting into wine?

I grew up in Paso Robles, so wine has always been a part of my life. When I really started getting into wine is when I started dating my wife. We were both working at Roy’s, and we were put through a wine course, and we had planned a trip to Napa as well. After that trip and realizing this is what I grew up in, it hit me—and I have had the wine bug ever since.

What was your first wine love?

I have two: One, the 2009 Laetitia Estate pinot noir from Arroyo Grande. It was and is a medium-bodied, bright-red wine with fruit, medium tannins and clean acidity; it’s a food-friendly wine. Two, the 2005 Franciscan Napa merlot. I found both of these wines at CVS, and the merlot was on sale for $10. I will never forget it. I was just getting into wine, so I didn’t know much, and I had got off work late one night and wanted to grab some wine. I went into CVS, of all places, because it was down the street from my house, and they are open 24 hours. I looked around at the labels and varietals. I knew I liked merlots, pinot noir, red blends and some zinfandels at the time, so I grabbed six bottles and some other stuff and called it a night. When I got home, I opened the Franciscan merlot and was immediately hooked. The aromas that were coming out of the bottle were just so good, and in the glass, it was so smooth that I couldn’t stop drinking it. I went back the next day to see if they had any more, because at that price, I felt like I found a winner. When I left, there had still been six bottles. I got there, and they were sold out! I was so bummed.

The Laetitia was the first wine my wife and I took with us on our first vacation together to Laguna Beach. I had a seafood cioppino, and the pinot with the dinner was the first time I had done a real food pairing that blew me away.

What’s exciting about wine to you right now?

What isn’t exciting? The more I learn, the more I get excited, whether it’s a winemaker coming out with a new project, a new (American viticultural area) being designated, a wine that is so over-delivering for what you paid for it, showing someone a new wine they would have never thought to try—so many things excite me when it comes to wine.

What is the best part of your job at Desert Wine Shop?

Getting to know people’s palates and showing them something new that they would not have thought to try—educating people on the differences between areas and styles. (I get) to try new wines or wines that are rarely seen outside of restaurants or the wineries, and meet the winemakers, growers and owners—my job simply rocks. I get to do what I love and get paid to do it.

Your desert island wine?

I have tasted so many incredible wines that I could not choose just one, but I would not be mad if I got to drink a 2004 Merryvale Profile one more time.

Favorite food pairing?

Gewurztraminer with sushi. I do love a big red and steak, or syrah with a pork chop. Food and wine just don’t do you wrong.

Favorite wine book?

For education purposes and easy reading material, you can’t go wrong with Windows on the World by Kevin Zraly. I also really like The Wine Bible by Karen MacNeil.

What do you love about the desert?

It’s big, but small. There is plenty to do, and if what you want isn’t here, then we are only two hours away from whatever you want to do.

Your favorite places to go in the desert?

Honestly, I don’t go out as much as I used to. Now it’s all about my kids, so wherever they like to go is where I like to go. But on the rare occasion that we get to go out by ourselves, we are always looking at new places all over the valley. That is the great thing about the desert: You can find things new, delicious, interesting, cool and fun all over the valley.

Palm Springs native Christine Soto is a co-owner of Dead or Alive wine bar in Palm Springs. She can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Published in Wine