Missoula's aspiring sommelier

Jim Daanen, an energetic 25-year-old with long blond hair, glides around CVS's wine department sliding bottles to the fronts of shelves to replace the ones customers had just plucked away.

"We've always done really well with my Bellas and Franzias and Almadens," says the store's precocious wine buyer, motioning to the least expensive wines. "Those keep the lights on...And they give me the opportunity to spend some time introducing people to things like Pepper Bridge Reserve. More and more I have customers I talk into buying a really nice bottle, and they're coming back the next week and buying six more. It's that look on their face: 'I just couldn't help it. It's such an amazing bottle.' I know it's such an amazing bottle!"

Daanen, who holds a bachelor's degree in English from the University of Montana, has come to be known in his year at CVS as one of the most knowledgeable—and most passionate—wine purveyors in town. He's been around the business since age eight thanks to his parents' German deli and wine shop near Coeur d'Alene. He's already passed the introductory course from The Court of Master Sommeliers, and dreams of one day earning the title Master Sommelier, the highest distinction a wine professional can attain. There are only 170 worldwide. He boasts of being the only retailer in the state stocking certain bottles, like the E.J. Church Cabernet Sauvignon and the Domaine du Vieux Télégraphe from Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Wine Spectator's No. 3-ranked wine in the world last year.

"There are a couple bottles that changed my life," he says, "and one of them was a '92 Caymus Special Selection. I had just turned 21 and I was having Christmas with my parents. My dad, who's got a pretty extensive cellar, cracked a bottle of Caymus out—a bottle of '92 Caymus and a bottle of '90 Hungarian Royal Tokaji. Before I drank those two I had no idea wine was this good. I mean, it absolutely blew my mind. That's about the time I started thinking I might want to do this for a living."

Daanen begins rubbing his hands together, as he often does, and gazes at the bottle perched at eye-level, whispering, "Yeah, Caymus."

"The nice thing about CVS," he says, "is that...I can pick up a bottle of Caymus Special Selection and put it in somebody's hands and say, 'Yes, this is a $135 bottle, but it's going to be $175 everywhere else.'"

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