By Mark Stuart
Leading wine professionals locate great wines at all price points, allowing the consumer to try new producers and varietals with confidence.
Kay Chae has been doing just that for the last 9 years as the proprietor of the family operated Wine Time at the corner of Pearl Street and La Jolla Boulevard. His goal is to be recognized for carrying the best wines for the price, no matter what the price may be. What this boils down to is the wine that he sells must taste superior to its retails price.
Chae, now 48, was introduced to fine wine in college while employed at a liquor store in Anaheim Hills, CA. His boss at the time was notoriously unkind to his employees. The grizzly owner often expressed that he despised lazy kids. However, Chae’s strong work ethic endeared him to the owner, who quickly turned from boss to mentor.
“Big Brother,” as Chae refers to him, taught him about the business and about tasting wine by offering samples each day. It was here that Chae fine-tuned his palate and built a foundation for his future endeavors.
One memorable afternoon, when offered a 1969 Lynch-Bages (from Bordeaux), Chae had his seminal wine moment. When asked, he can rattle off the exact tasting description from memory. Focused eyes and an impassioned voice will declare, “Dust and sediment with a hint of mint. Integrated fine tannins and berries, it finished from the back of the mouth to the front showing layers and layers of finish.”
The two remained friends and professional associates until Big Brother passed away in the mid-1990’s.
Insiders understand that just a few large wine publications have a massive influence on the consumer. However, these publications cover only a fraction of the wines that are produced each year. When a wine gets a good review, prices skyrocket and availability disappears. For wines that do not receive such exposure, supplies are adequate and prices stay reasonable.
Chae, the consummate wine professional, exploits this flaw in the system. Instead of offering the same labels that everyone flocks to because of mass advertising or a high score in the major wine magazines, his followers are exposed to the same classic varietals, but from intriguing and sometimes unfamiliar producers. Patrons will find many of the well publicized labels as well, but only when they offer excellent quality for the price. This approach requires Chae to taste every wine before he puts it on his shelf. There are no cutting corners in his quest for value.
Wine Time emphasizes wines from the classic growing regions of France, Spain, and Napa. Chae recognizes the old adage that wine is made in the vineyard and therefore states, “I taste all of my wines for balance and complexity and compare for value. I want to feel the winemaker’s passion.”
For the ultimate in quality and value, Chae offers his self titled “Kay’s Picks.” Found throughout the store, these distinguished selections represent the very best wines at that price. “Kay’s Picks” retail from under $10 to well over $100 and exist among all varietal categories.
Chae understands that not all consumers have the same palate and determining quality can be somewhat esoteric. “A T-bone steak tastes different than a filet mignon. How do you know what is better?” So he works on memorizing his customer’s preferences so he can make the best possible recommendations.
Wine Time customers recognize that no matter what they take home, they will be getting the best wines from the classic and emerging growing regions at the best value. They also know that there will be a few bottles lying around from Bordeaux by the name of Lynch-Bages as well.