Wednesday, October 16, 2019
   
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Whitebread Illusion of Choice

Wine Industry

bread

The wine doldrums are available at most convenience-factor retailers and one-stop retail consumption vacuum warehouses.

Avoid them. Support the palate ticklers and shop wine where it counts. Search out the wine folks that search themselves, at a venue that exudes knowledge share and life epiphanies. You’ll know when you’ve found them.

No identity. Much of what I try on a daily basis at many different price points tastes like “a red wine” or “a white wine”. I have few clues as to what the wine is or where it is from. Sales people use the same terminology/marketing/adjectives over and over in their sales pitch (”this Pinot Noir is very Burgundian in style”, “hands off winemaking”, etc.), losing term definition and rarely reaching goal. Working backwards from a blind perspective, I end up with “the liquid’s color” in conclusion. Nice. Factory-tasting juice made more for numbers on paper than enlightenment. Trigger rarely pulled. “Wa-hoo” shotgun in the dark approach vs. surgery. Would it sell? Probably, but we already have hundreds of boring options that fit that bill. What makes this boring wine better than that one? Margin? Market promotion? Relationships and favors? Inexperience?

Austin has many warehouse-type formats/stores to buy wine, loudly claiming to have 3,000 to 7,000 wines. That’s great. I have a lawn with millions of grass blades, all scientifically unique (… not sure how much residual sugar is in each one, though…). Do you need thousands of wines to get the point across? How many wines do you really need? A large selection of what, exactly? How many of those bottles have merit for a placement on the shelf or wine list?

When you filter the white bread out, you’re left with the worthy few. Probably won’t find the worthy few while you are picking up some milk, buying diapers, or paying for gas. Probably won’t find them stacked at the County Jail visiting room… I mean warehouse wine & spirits “store”. Why would I shop at a “large selection” retailer that carries many of the same spiritless wines I could buy at my local supermarket that I must go to anyway for my daily needs (unless they truly happen to deal with fine wine, too, which a few of those examples DO exist in the U.S.)? Or I guess I could shop at the “large selection” retailer for their unknown “control brands” with bla-dom on the palate and huge margins ripping me off. Corporate/Machine chains carry corporate/machine products… corporate/machine wine. It’s how they are successful. Generally, they don’t waste their time with attention to wine typicity or mom and pop passion. There is little Quest for the Best.

It’s about the pump. Dehumanization. Liquid Superficiality. It’s not worth their time. It’s strictly about product quantity and numbers. Vintages don’t matter. It’s about the lowest common denominator. Fast food and the commodity prey. You might as well be buying Spam. They tend to deal more with the “strictly order-takers side” of big importers and distributors that ALSO don’t have time for attention angles. They have corporate red tape to get new wines setup, price changes, and strongly prefer to not have wines with lower production that might run out of stock. (Runs true with restaurant chain wine lists, too) There has to be large-enough production to be worth the trouble. The small, cool-and-clever shops ARE willing to “waste” their time. This doesn’t mean that the smaller shops have a better selection or have more educated talent working the floor, necessarily. It’s just that you might be dealing with the actual buyer or someone who “has a say” in purchasing, which potentially can add a lot to your wine buying experience. And hopefully, you ARE dealing with someone who is talented and works at that cool & clever shop because he wants to tickle, give, and impart brilliance discovered. And I’ll add that the large importers and distributors tend to have a cool & clever wing, too, but it tends to be more of an “add-on portable” at the back of the building and you must enter through a broken window in the lightless-cobwebbed basement, while Marilyn Manson/Vincent Price techno music plays at 18 RPMs in the background.

Austin has many “convenience” liquor stores with a pretend, on the side, wine set. Most of the wines you find at those stores you can purchase next door at a grocery store, and probably at a lower price. Why would I shop at a convenience retailer that carries many of the same moth-eaten wines I could buy at my local supermarket (possibly next door) that I must go to anyway for my daily needs? Aside from also purchasing hard alcohol there, it’s about in and out.

gtrforest

“fogslide” gtr ‘98

Austin has a few cool-and-clever shops that are trying to inspire attention. Identity novelties. Hopefully dealing more with fine estate wines (vs. sourced grapes, lower operations cost per bottle, endless supply), these stores tend to deal with many distributors, don’t have to play the field as safe, as the handsell pays their bills.  Most big chain buyers consider multiple distribution houses a headache. It can be a strength of a cool-and-clever shop to do business with many suppliers, sourcing rockstar juice from passionate producers with homemade cookies in the oven, and a homegrown intensity for what’s in the bottle.  These stores should rarely carry grocery wines, not even as a loss leader unless some aspect of the clientele just requires it… These should exist to turn the customer on, educate, and separate. Give the customer a reason to go there, as a destination. Lead. Lead. Lead. Pull. Push. Slap. Inspire. Kickstart. Pull. Lead. Lead. Lead.

I will say that grocery can help “spread the wine word”. In Austin, for instance, many of the grocery stores have a huge selection of wine (many with 2 sides of 100 foot long aisles), some with wine stewards to help guide the customer. Much of the wine tends to have little personality or little distinct geography traces, and relies on the stand-out factor being price. HEB, a San Antonio-based Grocer, has many wines that in other wine markets wouldn’t be considered “grocery wines”, but in Austin due to the very competitive wine market, are on an 80,000 sq. ft. grocer’s shelves. I love my local HEB Supermarket, but please, I beg you to leave the grocery black hole to toothpaste, band aids, and toilet paper.

All wines taste the same. All music sounds the same. All foods taste the same. All people think the same. All political views are the same. All art is the same. All religion is the same. You get the point. Help break the white bread cycle, the illusion of choice.

The invasion.

 

Preaching to the Converted

Wine Industry

So many of the wines I taste on a daily basis are insanely boring. Aimed at the willing and forgiving, this wine marketing agenda darts out like a generic grocery store pie with no arrival gate, full of fructose corn syrup and white-bread recipe lists. I recently attended a high-end tasting, presented mostly to restaurant buyers, where I became more and more frustrated as the evening carried on (as I usually do). I never get over the nothingness and offensive pricing of so many wines. Highly sought after wines! If these wines were actually tasty, I’d be much less concerned. What a missed opportunity to turn your clientele on to killer juice. If you are after a certain ‘taste’ profile, there are thousands of wines out there at a much smaller percentage of the price of most of these cons. Try these wines blind!

Read more: Preaching to the Converted

 

A Rant on Wine Scores, Wine Ratings, and Reviews…

Wine Industry

Bottom Line: We need more “ungabunga” in wine reviews.

 

Wine Point Scores

1st – most of the ratings given on the 100 point scale are between 80 -100 points, and very rarely under 70. So it is diluted, since 70% of your rating options aren’t utilized. In this scenario, do you only need 30 points to score a wine?

Read more: A Rant on Wine Scores, Wine Ratings, and Reviews…

   

Wine Sets of the Ungabunga

Wine Industry

Restaurant Wine Lists and Retail Wine Sets.

Wine lists are generally organized regionally, varietally, by progression, color coded, by price, or a blend of the bunch. Organizing the retail wine set by varietal could very-well be the future for retail. Currently, this is common in restaurants.

Most of the restaurant lists I’ve helped have been set by varietal (I don’t expect the consumer to be fluent in wine geography) or the progressive, by the body weight of the wine (which I’m not that big a fan of). I believe that both of these options equalize the playing field. Ordering wine from a list can be risky. Taking advice from a waiter or retail wine steward can be, as well. Like a good butcher, your experience and expense might just rely on them.

On the retail side, organization usually reigns in geography, followed by varietal. My question is whether the future of retail wine sets will be organized by varietal. It appeals to the ungabunga side of U.S. shopping. Though not traditional or classic, it’s probably smart.

Pick pinot noir on a restaurant list, for example. Instead of having California pinot noirs separated from other pinot noirs on the list, maybe having California, Burgundy, Oregon, and New Zealand all mixed together under “pinot noir” spreads the wealth. If anything, it tends to hurt California pinot noir sales. It helps Burgundy. It helps Oregon. It helps New Zealand.

A wine list is essential and the presentation is extremely important. It can overwhelm or educate. A good one will sell you wine without much intervention. The current trend on restaurant lists is for more “by varietal”. Retail continues to stay aligned with “by place of origin”. For many consumers the crossover from California Pinot to French Pinot can be a big valley to cross. Some may say that placing all pinot noirs in the same pile dilutes the respect Burgundy deserves. I understand that and mostly agree. But, let the juice speak for itself.

After all, many “by varietals” are actually blends disguised as single varietals.

Let’s pick on “single varietals”, use pinot noir as an example, and consider the differences in wine laws. Notice the following discrepancies in labeling

When a pinot noir is from a Burgundy Village, it must be 100% pinot noir. By law. (wink.wink.)

When a pinot noir is from Oregon, it must be minimum 90% the varietal listed.

When a pinot noir is from the south of France, it must be minimum 85% the varietal listed.

When a pinot noir is from California, it must be minimum 75% the varietal listed.

This means that the remaining percentage can generally be whatever. Syrah anyone?

Sounds dishonest, doesn’t it? Who wins here? It’s a marketing game.

Obviously, education is the key. But, does everyone want to be educated?

More to come, but I’ve got to go right now. J

 

Wine Palates Know These Flavors

Wine Rants

Interested in training your “wine-descriptor” palate?

It can be truly difficult to communicate what you like about a wine (assuming you want to communicate). Sometimes, I actually smell the bacon that grandma’s been cooking down the hall in the kitchen when I sip a Cote-Rotie. Sometimes I taste “Just Add Shiraz Syrup” in Australian Shiraz (fake, over-the-top, high-octane nastiness). I believe that much of the time when someone refers to a Sauv Blc as ‘grapefruit’, it is actually a reference to citrus, not grapefruit. If a wine reminds you of Captain Crunch’s “Crunchberries”, then that is what it tastes like to you. The more you open your head to associations, the better…

Make up your own experiments! Take my starter list (below) and go shopping (even if you are confident you know what these taste/smell like!). Sit down. Focus. Get tasting! Clarify your take on the universal wine association descriptions.

Here’s a starter list:

Apples (all) / Apricot / Ashtray (fresh & stale) / Asparagus / Bacon (raw and cooked) / Bananas / Blackberries / Blueberries / Broccoli / Cherry (Black & Red) / Chocolate (Milk & Dark) / Cigars (not lit & lit, humidor) / Cinnamon Sticks / Cocoa / Coffee / Cranberries / Currant (Red & Black) / Dr. Pepper (Dublin & regular) / Earth (dirt) /Fig / Grapefruit (explore) / Honey / Jalapeno / Jams (explore) / Kiwi / Lamb (smoked) / Licorice / Lemon (ripe, tired, peel) / Lime / Mango / Milk (whole & 1%) / Mushrooms (explore) / Nuts / Olives (explore) / Orange (ripe, tired, peel) / Papaya / Pears (all) / Pepper (White & Black) / Peppers (bell, red & green) / Pineapple / Popcorn / Raisins / Raspberries (Black & Red) / Rosemary / Sage / Soy Sauce / Strawberries / Sweaty Sock / Tea Leaves (explore)

   

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