EVERETT, Wash. (AP) - Step away from your shopping cart and belly up to the bar.
It's happy hour at the grocery store.
In a roped-off section by the produce aisle, a cluster of Friday shoppers at the Mukilteo QFC are living it up. There's wine, laughter, platters of snacks and a bubbly sommelier.
"Come on in," wine steward Lois Shumski says. "How about if I start you with a little chardonnay?"
It's a scene played out in a growing number of supermarkets around the state, at chains such as Fred Meyer, Safeway, Trader Joe's and Albertsons. For now, it's wine and beer, but bills are being introduced this legislative session to allow liquor tastings.
Most stores do wine tastings once or twice a week. A few do it nightly.
It's all free, highly regulated and regularly attended.
"Going to `The Q'" is a Friday ritual for taster Susan Den Hollander and a motive to get dressed.
"I had to put on pants," she said. "I worked from home today and was in my pajamas."
About 75 to 100 people usually pop by Shumski's three-hour tasting, held from 3 to 6 p.m.
It's not a slurp fest. State law limits consumption to four ounces, which Shumski doles an ounce or less at a time.
And if you think Shumski is too busy pouring and chatting up the masses to do the math, think again. She's like a schoolteacher, with eyes in the back of her head. She keeps track of who has had what and makes sure it's paired with the proper food bite.
There's a science to her spread of ham, cheese, grapes, pretzels and chocolate. The ham adds "wow" to a grenache-syrah blend. Cheese makes the chardonnay softer and plusher. Under her watch, there's no mix-ups, though tasters can eat with reckless abandon between pairings.
State law requires wine stewards to be certified to serve and observe.
Shumski checks IDs. "I make a fool of myself. I card people who are 40," she said.
Minors must stay on the other side of the yellow rope.
Not a problem for parents with kids in tow.
"We've done this lots of times," said Sarah Jensen, whose two sons, 4 and 7, played handheld video games in a nearby cart. "This gives me an opportunity to try new things. I can try it before I buy it."
Jensen bought three of the five wines Shumski served.
Wine stewards choose what to pour.
"I keep it under $20," Shumski said. "Good wine that's affordable."
The recent tasting had a $7.99 French red and an $11.99 chardonnay.
Last cork is around 5:30 p.m., because Shumski has to dump out what's left.
For the store, offering up a dozen bottles, a few deli platters and social time with the wine goddess pays off.
"I really didn't expect to buy any wine tonight," said Al Love, clutching a bottle he couldn't resist after "tasting and pairing it."
The tasting sessions are more than whetting palates.
"What's nice is the community aspect," said Dr. Sridar Chalaka, an Everett Clinic physician who lives in Mukilteo. "We go to work, come home and watch TV. We don't go to bars and there's no get-together place."
It got the nod from his wife, Jessica Wang, who does childcare at the YMCA.
"I feel pretty happy," she said.
Information from: The Daily Herald, http://www.heraldnet.com
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