Kyle Meyer

Kyle Meyer does a tasting of wine from Cornerstone Cellars in the makeshift office of his soon-to-open business in Santa Ana. (Rick Loomis / Los Angeles Times / August 11, 2012)

He's 41 years old. He's just quit working at the wine shop where he'd been employed since the month before his 21st birthday. And now he's doing something he's never done before: He's buying wine with his own money. As a buyer at the high-volume Wine Exchange in Orange, Kyle Meyer spent most days tasting and evaluating wines. He had a generous wine budget too, and he brought bottles home to taste. In 20 years, he never had to buy wine for himself.

When he left the store in December, he had a 100-bottle stash, and by mid-February he was plain out. And so Meyer did what most of us do and went to the closest place where he could get reasonably good wine at a decent price.

For Meyer, that was BevMo in Corona. It took him an hour to pick out eight bottles of wine, because he was still in merchant mode, he says. "No, not this one. It's got this flaw. Not this one — American oak. Yada-yada. It was hard. I was looking for $10 to $20 bottles I could take over to the neighbors guilt-free for pesto Sunday."

He came home with Hedges CMS red from Washington state from BevMo's 5-cent sale (buy one bottle, get a second for a nickel). He also picked up a Bodegas Borsao red from Spain's Campo di Borja region and a couple of whites.

Funny thing: He claims drinking the Hedges and Borsao at home with his family, the wines tasted twice as good as before.

"I'm not a super über-wine guy anymore. I am Mr. Wine Customer. And now it's my money."

Before, he says, he was like a studio sound mixer attending a concert and obsessing over whether the guitar or the bass were a little off. If you're a wine buyer, whether it's a $10 or a $1,000 bottle, "you're that guy at the mixing board, going no, that's off. No, that needs to be tweaked."

What was odd, for him, was that for the first time he wasn't making any mental adjustments to that $8 bottle of wine.

This kind of blew Meyer's mind. "If this $8 wine is getting more enjoyable to me, what is that going to do to my palate? What's that going to do to the spin I put on how I buy wines for my next venture?" And he does have a project in the works, an online-only wine shop he and Bordeaux specialist Tristen Beamon are opening in September at http://www.bestwinesonline.com.

Meyer is the first to admit that professionally he's always been a "flaw monkey." But now, he says, "I've found another world of wine drinking out there. And it skews your philosophy. At Wine Exchange, we used special glasses that pulled flaws out of the wine — volatile acidity, brettanomyces, etc. But now wines can have a little flaw. They can have a little too much American oak. I can still drink it. I can still love it."

What else has he discovered? "What has surprised me is what I will actually drink!" Hanging out with friends, he finds himself enjoying wines he would have avoided in the old days.

Will that influence the way he buys wine for his new online business? Definitely, he says. He's still going to be looking for $10 wines that taste like $30, but maybe not that slightly more expensive, maybe even better Chinon that needs a few years aging.

Because what do you do with a $10 bottle of wine? "You drink it casually with friends as you're grilling. For 80% of the wine-drinking public, wine greases the evening. It gets people talking. It gets people hungry. It's part of that juju that makes your evening your evening."

irene.virbila@latimes.com