Recently, I defended Sam's when several posters took them to task for posting reviews on the shelves which did not correspond to the vintages actually stocked. After today's visit, I think they should be sued for some kind of wine merchant malpractice.
I haven't been to Sam's in several years. I am pretty loyal to Howard of Howard's Wine Cellar on Belmont. So, I either shop in my neighborhood, for everyday bottles, or, if I am treating myself, I go out of my way in Howard's direction.
Nevertheless, I found myself in the Sam's neighborhood, in need of some wine and pressed for time, so I went in.
Briefly, my mission was this: Get a highly characteristic Sangiovese-based wine (the principal grape of Chianti,(Tuscany)), and a Nebbiolo (the grape which makes up the great Barolo and Barbaresco wines of the Piedmont, as well as a host of other northern regional wines. This was all in order to introduce a small group of people to these two all-important Italian varietals.
Scoring a decent $10 Chianti was no problem, but there wasn't much Nebbiolo there, and what there was was pricey. So I began to rethink the plan and consider an alternate from the Piedmont - Barbera. Still a fine contrast with Chianti and a in some ways the most characteristic - if not the greatest - grape of the region, (at least in terms of volume of wine made).
Approached by a staffer, I accepted an offer of help figuring he would know what was in stock, what it cost and might even have an opinion to offer about producers I didn't already know.
Our discussion didn't set off any alarm bells until, as we were wrapping up, he said casually that even if I settled for a Barbera or a Dolcetto, though it wouldn't be anything like a Barolo, it would have some of that quality because Barbera and Dolcetto were clones of the Nebbiolo grape.
Now, this is not just wrong, it's Italian Wine 101 wrong. It's a bit like saying that your Volkswagen Bug will have Porsche-like qualities. Both worthy vehicles, both German, but related? No.
This was so wrong that I thought I had mis-heard and asked him to clarify. He said, very carefully, as to a slow child, that the Barbera and Dolcetto were clones of Nebbiolo just as, in Tuscany, Sangiovese Grosso (which makes Brunello) is related to the Sangiovese that makes Chianti. He then went away and returned with a 2nd staffer to back up this absolutely false claim.
If Sam's has people on the floor getting the fundementals this screwed up, then there's no hope. I mean, this is not like a confused waiter who can't quite describe the specials. This is one of the premier wine retailers in the country.
Am I off base here?
(I even double-checked my books and could find absolutely no reference to any relationship between Nebbiolo and these other grapes. Does anyone out there have any better info? I'd love to hear it if you do.)