Previously, I wrote a column soliciting comments from readers and area wine professionals about a number of issues in local and state wine culture, and I’ll spend today delving into some of the responses I received. I’ve split the topics into two broad categories: regulation-based, which I’ll present today, and service-based for a future column.

Replies regarding service (restaurant and retailer quality) were probably the juicier and more controversial, while those on the effects of various regulations on how wine is distributed and consumed take a more technical angle. Still, as with so many subjects, the most important matters are ultimately determined by the details, so stay with me.

For my correspondents, the most pressing regulation-based issue regards how wine retailers who want to promote intelligent buying are prevented from sampling wines for customers. Most civilized countries acknowledge that sampling this way (as opposed to the more formal method of licensed tastings) encourages education, interest and community.

(Restaurants are more free, and can pour a small amount of a wine for a customer to taste before ordering, leading to informed conversation! Like it? Great, how about a glass? No good? Well, now I know more about your tastes, and here’s a different suggestion.)

As Ned Swain, owner of the Maine distributor Devenish Wines, put it, “Allow shops to sample people on wine. If they’re in good standing (and) not selling alcohol to minors, having a sample bottle open wouldn’t harm anyone. It would make it a lot easier for shops to sell new, unusual, unknown wines.” (I’ll add: The state liquor authority could conduct undercover monitoring of a one- or two-ounce maximum per customer, to prevent an increase in public inebriation.)

Prevented from easily trying a new wine she’s interested in, a customer will usually rely on flawed sales markers like label art or point scores. Or she’ll just keep buying that same safe/boring bottle she knows she likes, and life will contract rather than expand.


Local wine writer Bob Rossi suggested to me that given the recent change in state law increasing to 36 the number of public tastings a shop can hold per year, creative wine retailers could be doing more to show more wines to more people.

“Most shops pretty much seem to have continued with one-a-month,” he wrote, “occasionally adding one here and there as the occasion presents itself.” Moreover, allowing “an open bottle or two available for tasting whenever the mood strikes would require a total change in the mechanics of the tasting laws.”

I think such a change would be worth it, but David Joseph, owner of Davine Wine Selections, notes there are some basics still to be covered. “The state of Maine needs to computerize the whole wine licensing and registration offices,” he wrote. “They are living in the dark ages with papers in boxes.” I didn’t know (but am not surprised) that our state’s system is so obsolete.

What if you know enough about wine and own a nice enough bottle that you want to bring it to your next special meal at a restaurant? In Maine, no go. Hard to know why, though I’m guessing most restaurants are happy you can’t BYO so they can keep charging an average of twice-retail prices for their wines.

In most states, restaurants can charge a “corkage fee” to cover the cost of service, glassware and at least a portion of the missed sale from BYO; in return, they get loyal customers seeking active engagement with their menus. BYO with corkage encourages a healthy, exciting culture of wine and food.

Interestingly, perhaps some restaurants in Maine are subverting the no-BYO law. A reader wishing to remain anonymous wrote me: “The corkage fee thing bothers me. … Is $25 ‘reasonable’? That’s what I paid a couple of weeks ago at one of ___’s finest restaurants.” I do think that’s reasonable, given what corkage is designed to support, but of course the market could be left to determine its fees. (Meanwhile, I might travel to ___ so I can bring a 2001 Vieux Telegraphe I’ve been holding.)


Also, as anyone bringing their own to a BYO-legal restaurant should know, it’s common courtesy to alert the restaurant ahead of time, and offer a taste to the sommelier or bar manager and in some cases the chef.

These comments are worthless if they serve only as a soapbox for complaint. As a recent repeal of the Maine law banning shops from holding wine tastings when children were present shows, a small group of people calling their elected representatives with intelligent comments can quickly kill misconceived laws. Or, you can tell your favorite Maine Wine Retailers Association-affiliated shopkeepers and restaurant managers to push for legislative revision.

Meanwhile, stay tuned for an upcoming column on service-related topics. For that one, there’s still time to weigh in: go to the Aug. 17 column with those questions by clicking here.

Joe Appel works at Rosemont Market. His blog,, continues the conversation, and he can be reached at:


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