Wine rack at Grand Vin

Cork Competency

There’s something about that first experience of a carefully chosen bottle of wine.

The splashing sound as gravity pulls liquid from bottle; the color as it pools in a delicate, pristine glass, catching the light; the aromatic tang as it fills your nose and wakes up the nerves; and of course, the taste, though that’s a complex and chimeric thing, changing from one side of a swish to the other, and as the line in the glass sinks lower.

It’s a series of moments adding up to a discovery that, if your decision-making process has served you well, means a new source of joy for you and those you share it with.

But wine-drinking’s a very liberal art, a very applied science, and with so many wines out there, other drinkers’ opinions become vital parts of any sensible way forward. One group of wine lovers who share that view is the staff at Grand Vin in Fair Haven, where asking for help is most welcome.

sponsored by

Buon Natale at Knights of Columbus Museum

Perhaps that’s in part because proprietor Ben Tortora (pictured first, left) remembers what it was like when wine was just a hobby, not a business, though for him it’s been the latter way for over 10 years now. (He opened the shop in November 2004, the week before Thanksgiving, and the anniversary still gets a celebration every year, with several days of complimentary wines, cheeses and specialty beers.) Perhaps it’s also in part because, according to store manager Chris Fiore (pictured first, right), he and Tortora have personally tried “just about everything” in the shop, making their advice readier and more meaningful.

In its earliest incarnation, Tortora says, Grand Vin was geared toward fine wine connoisseurs and collectors. But the clientele has changed and, accordingly, so has the inventory. Grand Vin now caters to a younger, more varied crowd. Aside from racks and racks of wine, including what Tortora claims is the largest and best Spanish wine selection in the state, tall shelves extending past the register hold whiskeys, vodkas, tequilas and the like, with an overflow set of shelves carrying gins and liqueurs around the bend. In the back of the shop is a refrigerated section of beers, some of them local and crafty like Thimble Island, Two Roads, New England and Relic.

Near the register, some of Grand Vin’s popular $90 cases featuring mixes of selected wines wait to be picked up or delivered, often by Tortora himself. Door-to-door service isn’t normal for most retailers, but Tortora sees going the extra mile as a fact of life. “Service is the biggest asset we have as a small business,” he says. Grand Vin also carries cheese, crackers and jam so that a customer can pick up the essentials for a night of entertaining in one stop.

Tortora is almost as passionate about the goods he doesn’t carry. You won’t find cigarettes, lotto tickets or miniature, airplane-sized liquor bottles—otherwise known as “nips”—at Grand Vin. Excepting beer and spirits, “I don’t want to disrupt the continuity of the process with a wine buyer,” he says.

Those looking to learn more than they can from a quick shopping jaunt can request a wine class. Taught by Fiore and running about $30 per person, a class means gaining some basic understanding and trying a few different varieties in-store. The classes are “not pretentious,” says Fiore, and might be one-time or ongoing, catering to crowds with different knowledge bases.

The rules aren’t hard and fast. Three Wednesday nights a month, for instance, a knitting/crafting meetup calling itself “The Wooly Grape” gathers at Grand Vin from 6 to 8 p.m. For $5/person, Fiore gives a brief wine lesson, then the group co-works on knitting or other such projects.

Crafters, collectors, party hosts, geeks, newbies—Grand Vin accepts them all. They may come with questions, and they’ll most certainly leave with answers. Hopefully in bottle form.

Grand Vin
28 East Grand Ave, New Haven (map)
Mon-Sat 9am-8pm
(203) 468-7494

Written by Cara McDonough. Photographed by Dan Mims.

More Stories