Wine guys, in our experience, are passionate, well informed, and honest. But just to be sure, Andy Besch and Ellen Kaye, authors of The Wine Guy: Everything You Want to Know about Buying and Enjoying Wine from Someone Who Sells It (Morrow Cookbooks), offer a few questions to help tell how your wine seller measures up.

I’m looking for a good red wine. What do you recommend?

A simple question, but if it doesn’t provoke a probe into food pairing, body, style, preferences, and price parameters, move on.

I had a Cakebread cabernet last night in a restaurant and flipped over it. Do you have any?

You’ll probably get a “no” (Cakebread is rarely available at retail). But then the wine guy should offer a suggestion for a similar cab that the shop does carry, like one from Grgich Hills.

I need to buy a gift and am willing to spend around $30.

If he immediately pulls out a bottle for $29.99—or worse, tries to upsell you—wonder about his integrity. If suggestions include less expensive wines (of which there are hundreds of choices), then this may be the guy for you.

If it says “reserve” on the label, it’s a cut above, right?

Wrong—at least, in most cases. Only Spain and Italy have laws regulating the use of that word. Everywhere else, it’s simply the winemaker’s subjective opinion or a marketing ploy.

Do you have any sulfite-free wine?

Sort of a trick question, because there’s no such thing. All wines contain sulfites—they’re natural compounds. So if you’re among the 1 percent of people negatively affected by sulfites, the best you can hope for is a wine with no added sulfites.

What is tokay?

You may have to spell it. Tokay or tokaj is a Hungarian dessert wine made primarily from the furmint grape. Tocai or tokai is a grape for white wines in Italy. And tokay pinot gris is an Alsatian pinot gris that used to be called tokay.

Do you carry any Mexican wines?

Not a fair question, but an interesting one. Mexico is the Western Hemisphere’s oldest wine producer and has lately achieved some success with tempranillo, cabernet franc, viognier, and sauvignon blanc.

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