At one of Seattle's oldest wine shops, one of the newer employees, Kiwi, is always willing to greet you at the door, show you around the store, and listen to how your day was.Of course, she'll also lick your face, catch price tags in her tail, and come dangerously close to knocking wine off the shelves with her boundless enthusiasm.
Kiwi is the Portuguese Water Dog that mans (dogs?) European Vine Selection most days of the week with her owner, Doug Nufer. Nufer is one of eight owners of the independently-owned wine shop, and you'll find him behind the counter most days of the week since he's also the manager.
"I couldn't imagine having a job where I couldn't bring Kiwi," he told me, smiling and patting the friendly, black dog. "She's got lots of people and dog friends who come visit her every week. People get really sad when she's not here."
While Kiwi is definitely great, she isn't the only draw to European Vine Selection. More than 40 years old, it's about as unpretentious as a wine shop can get, with handwritten labels, boxes on the floor, and an overall casual atmosphere. This isn't one of those uber-modern, slick, shiny-floored wine shops with dozens of fancy gift bags.
Instead, the focus at European Vine Selection is on unique wines with good prices. You won't find most of their wines in almost any other store in Seattle. Don't let the strange names scare you away though, Nufer is always happy to give suggestions or answer questions.
"Wine doesn't have to be intimidating," he told me. "Beginners can start by just trying wines made from a certain kind of grape to get used to how things taste. It's great if you can get a group together for tastings so you spend less money. Everyone can bring a bottle. You could do a Rosé night if you want to go low-calorie. Or do a cheap night where all bottles have to be less than eight dollars."
Nufer says that type of communal tasting and drinking of wine was one of the reasons he became so interested in it decades ago. And he says it's amazing how much things have changed in the wine world since the store first opened.
"Back in the early 1970's, almost nobody in Seattle sold wine," he told me. "I think Esquin was around and Champion Wine Cellars. The QFCs and Safeways had hardly anything. The people who started this shop really just wanted to be able to get good wine."
Nufer says sometimes he looks back at old receipts and is shocked at how cheap the prices were.
"Back then you could import directly from chateaus in France," he said. "You didn't have all of the layers of distributors and importers and exporters to go through. In fact, you used to have to get one bottle imported and then send it to the state chemist at the University of Washington. They would test it and attest that, yes, it was 12.5% alcohol. I'm sure they then drank the rest of it after they were done. And then we were free to import it directly."
Despite the changes to the industry, Nufer says he couldn't imagine a better place to be than in Seattle and on Capitol Hill.
"We're so lucky here. We get a great selection because we're a port city," he said. "Our prices are always at least few dollars cheaper than in other cities, like New York. And I love this neighborhood. We just re-signed our lease and we're so glad to keep this space and our customers."
European Vine Selections522 15th Ave E
Seattle, WA 98112