The Best Cellar has a measly 220 or so bottles of wine and champagne for sale -- a pittance compared to what's offered by the alcohol emporium Beverages & More. But whatever Best Cellar lacks in quantity, it more than compensates for with a discerning selection and knowledgeable service. "My mother was born in France, and when I was four years old, I was drinking red wine," says owner Richard Stetler, who also honed his tasting skills while working as a maitre d' at upscale eateries. With few exceptions, such as wines from Robert Mondavi and champagnes by Veuve Clicquot, Stetler limits his selections to presses of no more than 5000 bottles. Aside from Italian, French, and Californian vintages, Best Cellar offers fine merlots and chardonnays from less wine-centric countries such as Argentina, Australia, and South Africa. "South African wines are the absolute best wines in the world for the prices," Stetler says. He cites the 1994 merlot from Bodega Farm on the Cape ($16.95) and a more exotic offering, the sweet South African apple wine from Pale Moon Winery ($7.99) as examples. To compensate for its size, Best Cellar offers a host of incentives. Customers who pay $250 annually or $30 per month get 15 percent off all purchases and a gratis bottle of wine each month from a choice of five. Members also receive free admission to the shop's Wednesday winetastings, which feature six to eight wines and spreads that include cheese, caviar, and pâté. Even if it's not Wednesday night, no need to worry; the gregarious Stetler always has a handful of bottles open for tasting.

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