Get ready DC, the wine scene is changing and there’s a new man on the block.
Eric Rohleder, owner of Cordial Wine Shop, challenges the status quo as he brings customer service in wine retail to a whole new level. Just as DC locals supported the craft beer movement, they’re now embracing wines from single vineyards and boutique wineries with structure, style and respect for Mother Nature. Eric’s positioned to deliver the goods with his new artisanal wine and beer shop located in DC’s latest hit, Union Market. Due north of the H street corridor hot spot, an entrepreneurial spirit blossoms.
As a sommelier myself, I can’t help but to be drawn to Cordial. It’s more than just the name and its intimacy packed in a neatly organized space, but rather the staff’s passion and knowledge of wine that drives product selection. In an eye-catching display, wine bottles adorn the walls in a vertical sprawl while two steely fridges—full to the brim—gleam from the center-floor, subconsciously calling “step inside and discover what’s within.” Aesthetics aside, Cordial Wine Shop lives up to its name with its team of wine and beer experts who are equipped to answer any question you fire with twenty plus years of wine and food experience under their belts. They are the epitome of the word cordial, delivering gracious, sincere customer service you instinctively sense upon entry. All in all, Eric Rohleder and his staff harness passion backed by a serious case of the “wine bug.”
The hand-selected product lining the shelves stand testimony to Eric’s whole message: small is the new big. Today, the words artisanal, sustainable, grower and craft are living out their golden age. Mass produced wines may always be with us due to their attractive, low prices and their catchy wine labels; but small production drives the latest buzz. For such a small space, sheer energy pulsates from the wine-lined walls. Not one bottle is dull. Not one bottle is average. When your finger swipes thru Cordial’s iPad inventory app, you can’t help but to notice specialty wines with character accompanied by a unique story to tell.
Eric wants his customers to be able to shop for everyday wines while they shop Union Market for their cheese, charcuterie and fresh produce. Even though he knows he’s up against a challenge by selling unknown, small production brands, he knows Washingtonians are ready for the challenge.
Here’s what I suggest you pick up when you visit Cordial yourself.
Cracklin’ Savie, a non-vintage Sauvignon Blanc sparkler from Marlborough, New Zealand for $18.99 that makes you wanna go mm mmm good. For even better synergy, you should snag this bubbly and stop by Righteous Cheese for the perfect cheese pairing, possibly a square Brebirousse d’Argental—a creamy, sheep’s milk brie-style cheese.
You should also attempt a Portuguese red, Quinta Do Crasto Duoro DOC 2010 for only $15.99, with concentration reminiscent of Port. Stuff a bottle of this in a brown bag and shop the Red Apron charcuterie counter next door for a meaty pair.
If you prefer a more sophisticated route, Eric purchases a number of Spanish rare finds stocked by a gifted importer, Jonas Gustafsson, who has a knack for discovering Spanish gems true to their origin and pure in character. Eric pointed me to one of his favorites sourced in Catalonia, Celler Escoda-Sanahuja Les Paradetes 2006 for $38.99, which is a Grenache-Carignon blend heavy on black fruit and body.
The list of unique finds goes on and on to the tune of more than 240 different wine labels. But if that isn’t enough incentive, Eric and one of his managers, Summer Whitford, have devised a customer rewards program that is innovative and compelling for customers to keep coming back. Cordial tracks your purchases, honors you with points that you can cash in for tangible rewards that the customer has a hand in selecting.
After leaving Eric’s humble shop, I keep retracing my steps wishing I had a wine vendor like him closer to my home. I know from experience, that the wine retail world has gotten slack on customer satisfaction. Few shops can say they have staff with in-depth wine knowledge.