T he stacked wooden boxes and tall shelves at Odd Bins Bottle Shop are filled with an international array of wines, from delicate whites to outspoken, robust reds.
But which to choose? “Finding a good wine for the best price, that’s the challenge. That’s what I like,” says owner Ajit Patel from behind the counter. It’s refreshing—like a crisp, populist Pinot Grigio on a hot summer day—when a proprietor is so aligned with his customers.
Unlike the experience at liquor superstores, where seemingly endless rows display every varietal under the sun, shopping at Odd Bins feels manageable; you won’t get lost browsing Patel’s inventory, and you probably won’t get stressed, either. (The classical music Patel prefers to play helps with that.) Indeed, perhaps contrary to the implication of the name, Odd Bins is about careful curation.
“If I can’t find a good wine, I won’t carry that kind,” Patel says of occasionally leaving a shelf space empty if he doesn’t have access to a good-enough Pinot Noir, for instance. He doesn’t see the need to flood his customers with choices, either. “Why would you need to have twenty different kinds of Sauvignon Blanc?” he asks, instead interested in maintaining a controlled collection that he can vouch for.
Patel, who’s usually in-shop running things, owns Odd Bins with his wife Rita. He insists that buying wine should be an affordable activity, and it’s no doubt a popular philosophy, especially in a university town.
While he carries some vintages on the expensive side—say, $50 or more—he personally doesn’t see much point in carrying lots of über pricey bottles; for one thing, that’s not what his particular customers really want, he says. Most of the wine in the wood-paneled shop comes in under $20, and the store also carries hard liquor and beer, including a noteworthy selection of specialty large-bottle brews housed at the back of the store.
Twenty years ago, when Patel first became involved in Odd Bins, he didn’t know a thing about the wine business. He did have something of a head start, though. Originally from India, his father was a tea merchant, and Patel grew up learning about that trade, including evaluating tea by its aroma, body and color. Not so different from wine.
What he first lacked in direct experience he made up for with enthusiasm. Over the years, Patel has learned on the job…and when the job is running a wine shop, that’s not such a bad gig. “I started opening up the wines,” he says. “That’s how you learn.”
To keep the education flowing, and to source new bottles to sell, Patel regularly attends formal wine tastings in nearby cities like New York and Boston, bringing his favorites to the shop.
In turn, Odd Bins invites customers to sample the goods at wine tastings occurring most Saturdays at 4 p.m. It’s a chance to try out a new wine or two, and to glean a bit of Patel’s expertise, before committing to a purchase.
Those first few sips could very well be all you need, according to Patel, who says that he loves wine for both its flexibility—pairing so well with so many sweet and savory foods—and also it’s complexity. From the moment you open the bottle, the wine begins to change, and with a great wine, that change is a very good thing.
“The wine should grow on you,” he says. “The second sip should be better than the first. The third should be better than the second. And the fourth should be better than that.”
What a promising trajectory.
Odd Bins Bottle Shop
1 Whitney Avenue, New Haven (map)
Mon-Sat 10am-9pm, Sun 12pm-5pm
Written and photographed by Cara McDonough.