Does choosing wine leave you lost? Visit the supermarket sommelier

  • By Andrea Brown, The Herald
  • Thursday, April 24, 2014 9:54am
  • Life

There are 4,000 bottles of wine on the wall, and Lois Shumski feels personally responsible for all of them.

She wants every swig to be paired with the proper food and enjoyed to the last drop.

The blond-haired, red-lipsticked wine goddess with the bright smile and hearty laugh is an icon at the Mukilteo QFC store.

She’s the wine expert and the entertainment.

Every week, she hosts tastings at a makeshift bar by the produce section, serving wine with platters of snacks. Happy Hour in Aisle 1 is a Friday ritual for more than 100 shoppers, fans, friends and followers.

Shumski, 61, is in demand all week. In person, by phone and by text.

On a recent day, no sooner had she finished answering a customer’s questions about scotch than her iPhone buzzed with texts from 1,000 miles away.

“One of my customers wanted to know where to buy wine in Arizona,” she said. “I called the vendor and said I need the contact in Arizona where they sell it.”

The vendor texted her the site.

“I get calls from people on vacation. They say, ‘Oh, Lois. I’m in New Zealand and I don’t know what to order for dinner.’ It’s hilarious,” she said. “Or they’ll be in Las Vegas and call and say, ‘I’m at Wolfgang Puck and they have this great wine list and this is what we’re having for dinner, what should we have to drink?’ “

If you think Shumski has a familiar face, maybe there’s a reason.

“I grew up in Edmonds,” she said. “I went to Woodway High. The original Woodway. I was in the second graduating class there.”

Shumski didn’t set out to be a sommelier.

“I started out in retail at House of Values and then I went to work in restaurants and tending bar and cocktailing and then catering,” she said.

Her first marriage ended in divorce. “I was a single mom and I had to have insurance so I came into the grocery industry,” she said. “I started out as a checker and then I went into core management.”

She remarried. Her second husband died.

“I was widowed at 42 and my whole life changed,” she said. “I stepped back and I revamped and I went to work for Mike Olson. And I landed in wine and I just loved it.”

After the 2010 closing of Olson’s Food Emporium in Lynnwood, where everybody knew her, she became the wine steward at the QFC store in Mukilteo.

“They followed her over here,” said QFC manager Kevin Heuser. “She knows her wine very well. She’s a cornerstone.”

She’s also versed in vodka, whiskey and other spirits.

The store tastings are limited to wine, typically five different kinds. Shumski plans the sessions right down to the pretzels.

There’s a science to her spread of meaty, cheesy, fruity, salty and sweet snacks. Even with a swarm of thirsty imbibers at her pouring elbow, she dictates that each bite be paired with the correct wine.

It’s not a slurpfest. State law limits consumption to 4 ounces. Shumski doles out metered 3/4-ounce pours. She somehow knows who has had what and how much, all while laughing and carrying on multiple conversations at once.

She checks the IDs of anyone under 40. “The older I get, the younger they look,” she said.

Most wines at the tastings are under $20. As she puts it: “Good wine that’s affordable.”

Shumski tastes the selections in advance, as well as many of the other vintages she stocks.

Rough job, huh?

“Yeah, but you don’t get to swallow it,” she said. “You just get to taste it, roll it around in your mouth.”

Then out it goes, into the spit bucket in the back stock room, away from the tidy aisles where customers stroll.

It’s OK with her that she can’t drink on the job. “You have to be professionally composed,” she said. “Not only that, you have to remember, and if you’re drinking, you’re not going to remember.”

What’s her favorite wine?

Easy.

“The wine that’s in my glass at the time,” she said.

She wants customers to feel that way.

“That’s what I live for,” she said. “For me, it is the satisfaction of people coming back and saying, ‘Wow, Lois, that wine was perfect’ or ‘that drink was awesome with that.’ “

She not only can pair your wine, she can legally pair you with your mate.

“I became a reverend. I got certified online at the Universal Life Church,” she said. “I married about 20 couples. One day at my lunch hour I went over to the Embassy Suites and married a couple.”

As for Shumski, she’s living happily ever after with her third husband, Jeff.

“I’m so happy to have found love again,” she said. “When I met him 15 years ago, in his refrigerator was a box of wine that had been in there for a year and he offered me a glass and I politely declined.”

She’s not a box-wine snob.

“Box wines are fine, but being in there for year? That’s a little long.”

Wine tastings

Free wine tastings are 3 to 6 p.m. Friday at Mukilteo QFC, 11700 Mukilteo Speedway.

Other stores that hold wine tastings include Fred Meyer, Safeway, Trader Joe’s and Albertsons. Not all locations have tastings. Days and times vary. Check with stores for details.

Pairing suggestions by Lois Shumski

  • Cabernet: “Everybody knows it goes great with steak. It also goes with dark chocolate. It doesn’t go great with milk chocolate.”
  • Malbec: “Great with smoked meats. It is kind of earthy and it brings out that earthy and smoky flavor in meat.”
  • Tawny port, a Portuguese fortified wine: “It’s not just great with cigars, but also good with anything pumpkin or shortbread cookies. Try it on the rocks: 2/3 tawny port, 1/3 tonic water and squeeze of lime.”
  • Red zinfandel: “Goes great with anything that is barbecue or has a sauce or made on your barbecue.”
  • Merlot: “Awesome with lamb, especially if it has rosemary on it.”
  • Sauvignon blanc: “It’s the only wine that actually pairs with asparagus. Asparagus throws everything off. It’s great with eggs Benedict. It doesn’t always have to be champagne at brunch.”
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