And that's where the staff -- aka the translators -- come in. Ask for help. There's always at least one person in the store who's seriously into wine and can direct you to something appropriate and new. In fact, these folks often sample a heck of a lot of wine just so they can pass on insightful recommendations from their large assortment. A lot of shops sell vino out there, so if you ever get condescending service, politely wave buh-bye and motor down to the next spot down the street.
Wine shops can be separated into three categories: liquor/package stores (am I the only one who moved to Georgia and thought package stores were places to ship Christmas gifts to friends overseas?); liquor stores "plus" (places that look like standard liquor stores but have above-average service and/or wine selection); and boutique stores with smaller, succinct selections that often specialize in a particular variety or style of wine.
Inside the Perimeter, you can find great wine shops in each of the above categories. Everyone has their favorites, but these are the tried-and-trues that I find dependable time and time again:
Ansley Wine Merchants
Liquor store plus. Smallish selection, but the offbeat, knowledgeable personnel always have just the thing for you. Staff-written wine descriptions are a lot wittier than cutouts from the wine mags. 1544 Piedmont Ave., 404-876-6790.
Boutique. The adjunct wine and cheese shop to Midtown's Eno takes you by surprise. The choices here (60 or so labels) are so affordable! The Amano Primitivo sold here is my current house wine. 800 Peachtree St., 404-228-8817, www.eno-atlanta.com.
Liquor store plus. Green's has been around a long time, and interesting varietals not typically seen in other stores have a way of appearing on the shelves. Staff is good for enlightening, compare-and-contrast conversation. I'm partial to the store on Buford Highway. 2612 Buford Highway, 404-321-6232; 737 Ponce de Leon Ave., 404-872-1109. www.greensbeverages.com
Liquor store plus. One of the best reasons to trek to Buckhead. The folks here aren't just staffers: They're wine consultants and they really know their shit. When I'm fixing a special meal and need just the right wine, this is where I head. 3072 Early St., 404-231-8752.
Toco Giant Package Store
Liquor store. Pickings are slim wine-wise in this stretch of town, but local wine lovers (myself included) swear by this place. Ask for Steve -- he'll zero in on a winner for you. 2941 N. Druid Hills Road, 404-320-1905.
Tower Package Store
Liquor store. Here's a good choice for beginners looking for some astute suggestions. The employees who know about wine tend to hang in the back of the store. Prices are among the lowest in town. 2161 Piedmont Road, 404-881-0902.
-- Bill Addison
Did I skip a worthy wine shop? E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.