However broad its selection, a wine store is only as good as its staff is helpful and knowledgeable. As a test, we sent interns to six wine stores. They said they were having an important dinner party and wanted a wine that would be a good accompaniment to a main course of chicken with garlic. They mentioned a price range of $10 to $20 but didn't specify red or white. Then two of the magazine's wine-and-food editors tasted the wines along with a chicken-and-garlic dish. Surprisingly, there were ties for first, second, and third place.
1. The salesperson at Schneider's of Capitol Hill (300 Massachusetts Ave., NE; 202-543-9300) selected an Australian white, Margan's 2003 Vintage Verdelho, from the Hunter Valley ($14.99). One tester said it had a "nice, spicy nose–not too sweet." Its finish was "long-lasting."
At the Dupont Circle location of Best Cellars (1643 Connecticut Ave., NW, 202-387-3146; also in Arlington; bestcellars.com), a salesperson recommended a 2004 Valminor Albariño, a Spanish white priced at $15. "This works really well with a chicken dish," a taster said. "It has a lot of vanilla to calm down the garlic."
2. A clerk at Montgomery County Liquor & Wine (14937-E Shady Grove Rd., Rockville, 240-773-2018; 24 other locations; montgomerycountymd.gov; click on Departments, then Liquor Control) chose a Ca' Montini 2003 Pinot Grigio that cost $13.89. "Pretty good," a reviewer said. "Not a big wine, but well balanced."
At Finewine.com in McLean (1351 Chain Bridge Rd., 703-356-6500; also in Gaithersburg; finewine.com), a staffer suggested a 2003 Domaine Borgeot Chardonnay from France's Bourgogne region ($16.99). "A good, medium body," one critic said.
3. A salesperson at the McLean location of Total Wine & More (1451 Chain Bridge Rd., 703-749-0011; seven other Northern Virginia stores; wineaccess.com/splash/totalwine) selected an Apex Chardonnay from Washington state for $14.99. "Too sweet," a reviewer said.
At Arrowine (4508 Lee Hwy., Arlington; 703-525-0990; arrowine.com), the lone red of the group was recommended–Santa Barbara Winery 2003 California ZCS, a Zinfandel-Cabernet Sauvignon blend priced at $14.99. Said a tester: "It has no depth of flavor."
Washingtonian staffers contributing to this section were Cristina Abello, Susan Baer, Susan Davidson, Ken DeCell, Rebecca Dreilinger, Kim Isaac Eisler, Mary Clare Fleury, Kimberly Forrest, Brooke Lea Foster, Garrett M. Graff, Cynthia Hacinli, Thomas Head, Todd Kliman, Ann Limpert, Chad Lorenz, Leslie Milk, Aparna Nancherla, William O'Sullivan, Cindy Rich, and Chris Wilson. Also contributing were Cathy Alter, Ann Cochran, and Matthew Graham.