by Eric Ginsburg

Blame it on Wake Forest basketball, but there is a television in this wine shop.

Wine Merchants Gourmet, a small store in a shopping center on the western edge of Winston-Salem, is only separated from the adjoining Vin205 wine bar by an open curtain. In the middle of a recent Saturday afternoon, 15 people lounged around in the bar and restaurant area, a number of them watching Wake Forest’s narrow win over Virginia Tech. And had any of them wanted to browse the bottle selection in the adjacent space, they could’ve done so while keeping close tabs on the Wake game thanks to a television perched on top of a meat cooler.

Wine Merchants Gourmet may appear to be a standard, mid-sized wine store, but one of its most significant distinguishing features — besides the TV, that is — are its regular, free wine tastings. Every Friday at 5 p.m. and Saturday at 2, visitors can sample a flight of wines at the back of the shop.

On Jan. 31, seven wines were part of the lineup, including several from Chilean wine producer of the year Valle Dorado and Alsace-based vineyard the Furst. Two of the options were reds — a cabernet sauvignon with a strong bell-pepper flavor and a merlot, both from Valle Dorado — but the whites may have been better.

The host cautioned that there are significant variations in vintages of the Furst’s dry Riesling, explaining some of the nuances of the various years and times of harvest in France’s Alsace region, bordering Germany. Good news: Wine Merchants Gourmet offers to keep track of each customer’s order history in it database, meaning it’s easier to show up and find the same wine and vintage purchased a month prior.

The pinot blanc, also from the Furst vineyard, is meant to be paired with food in part because it’s more acidic, explaining, perhaps, why it was less appealing on its own.

Too bad there wasn’t any foie gras or escargot on hand, two French delicacies the host said would stack up well with the pinot blanc.

Valle Dorado’s chardonnay delivered a more subtle taste than the fairly sweet pinot grigio, but the best of the bunch may have been the Chilean vineyard’s sauvignon blanc, a vintage just now available in the US, with prominent grapefruit notes and a light finish.

Only the Furst’s dry Riesling could strongly contend with the sauvignon blanc, but at about $9 a bottle, there’s no reason to argue.

The business also benefits from being tied to Vin205, where more than a dozen reds and five whites are on tap. There’s food too, like the current gumbo special, and a room large enough to seat a considerable number of people at various-size tables and a bar.

Being able to try such a spread of wines on tap, or an array at regular complimentary wine tastings, must be the easiest way for the uninitiated to dip their feet in. The tasting host lowered the bar further, automatically pulling up a map of France on an iPad and explaining the various regions. But even for a wine connoisseur, the arrangement provides an ideal setting to broaden one’s palate.

Visit Wine Merchants Gourmet or Vin205 at 205 S. Stratford Road, Suite N (W-S) or at

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