Walking into a wine store and being faced with hundreds of bottles can be bewildering. It helps to find a store where the staff knows its stock and can talk intelligently about it. There's no shortage of knowledge or opinion at Bell Wine & Spirit Shoppe (1821 M St., NW; 202-223-4727), where brothers Bob and Fred Luskin, with the help of manager Khalid Mohamed, preside over 2,400 wines.
"We buy by taste," says Bob, "and reject 90 percent of what we taste." Their specialties are France and California–"France," Bob says, "because that's where it all began and California because the prices of French wine doubled almost overnight in 1970." Bob began seeking out then-little-known, low-priced California alternatives to French bottles.
Since 1971, the brothers have conducted weekly tastings on Saturday afternoons in the store. They select ten bottles, and the only rule is that participants taste them in the order in which they're set out. The tastings are so popular that out-of-towners sometimes bring bottles they want opinions on. The Luskins also conduct monthly tastings at Borders Books & Music at 18th and L streets, Northwest (202-466-4999).
Washingtonian staff contributing to this section were Chuck Conconi, Sherri Dalphonse, Susan Davidson, Mary Clare Fleury, Cynthia Hacinli, Thomas Head, Stephanie Jones, Ann Limpert, Drew Lindsay, Chad Lorenz, Leslie Milk, William O'Sullivan, Cindy Rich, and Jeremy Stahl. Also contributing were writers Cathy Alter, Ann Cochran, and Jenny Sullivan.