By Pete Dulin
Photos courtesy Marco Polo Selections
Local wine lovers aren’t likely to easily find Turasan Misket, a Turkish wine that drinks like a Moscato, or an Avidagos Red from the Douro region of Portugal. Marco Polo Selections, a new wine shop in Waldo (336 W. 75th St., Kansas City), aims to change how fans of small-production wineries can discover lesser-known gems at an affordable price.
Owners Nate Riley and Emily Maher opened the retail and online shop to bring hard-to-find wines from Turkey, Portugal, Spain, Argentina, and Italy to a new audience. The pandemic created logistical issues for many family-run wineries in these countries to find placement in the market. “As a result of COVID-19, small- to medium-sized brands of wine were no longer appearing on restaurant menus and wine shops. Shelf space shrank to feature better-known brands,” says Riley, who has worked in wine distribution, retail, and supply for 15 years. “These wineries, especially from Europe, needed placement but they couldn’t sell directly to consumers.”
Marco Polo Selections solves that problem. Riley and Maher decided to focus on selling high-quality wines at a good value sourced from family-run, small-production vineyards. The storefront model enables guests to view and experience these wines as well as order them online. Riley and Maher also recognized that some wine connoisseurs still seek unique, high-quality wines that can’t be found everywhere. Further, many wine drinkers in the U.S. don’t necessarily know as much about Old World wines compared to wines available from California and the Pacific Northwest.
“There’s confusion about what an Old World wine is,” Riley says. “We want to expose those regions to people so they can learn about the countries and producers of what they’re drinking. We want to be a place that educates and not just be a liquor store.”
Old World wine countries certainly include familiar western European nations and wine powerhouses such as France, Italy, and Spain. The designation also encompasses regions of Turkey, Austria, Croatia, and other countries in the Mediterranean and eastern end of Europe. Their wines are unlikely to appear in the Midwest without a dedicated importer and distributor.
“Turkey has been producing wine for thousands of years,” Riley says. “Small family-run wineries there make beautiful wines that are vibrant and bright. We want to let people know about them.” That history and generations of winemaking skill make a difference in what winds up in the bottle.
Marco Polo Selections focuses on selling affordable wines. Eighty percent of the shop’s wines range from $13 to 30. A black signboard on a wall lists the portfolio of wines available. The shop offers snacks but no food, and isn’t a lounge. The intent is to help guests learn, discover obscure wines, and take them home. Customers may also shop online and swing by the store for curbside pickup.
“We’re a small family operation, people with a passion for wine,” Riley says. “We’re not trying to reinvent the wheel. We want to expose people to their ‘new favorite wine’ in a non-intimidating way. The wine industry can seem intimidating and pretentious. We’re a neighborhood place. We’re selling hand-selected wines you can’t get elsewhere in the city.”
Marco Polo Selections, 816.551.8594, marcopoloselections.com