Posts Filed Under wine buying
My friend Rémy Charest has been reporting on events from the London Wine Fair over at PalatePress.com, and one of his recent reports really struck a chord with me.
What stood out for me was the concept of “infinite substitution” introduced to Rémy during one of the conversations that he had at the Fair. To the tape (emphasis mine):
Dan Jago, category director at Tesco, the supermarket chain that is also the largest retailer of wine in the United Kingdom, pointed out that in the wine world, a major difficulty is what he called “infinite substitution”. “There is always another product that will do the trick, in any shop. And if you do anything new, there are 45 others that will jump in and do the same thing”, he summed up, pointing out how most customers in supermarkets or large wine stores pick bottles rapidly, to get a price point and taste profile.
This stood out for me because Jago effectively summed up the vast majority of wine brands available right now in the U.S. For a sense of the volume we’re talking about here, Rémy mentioned a conversation he had with another friend of mine (damn, this wine world really is small!), Nomacorc’s Jeff Slater, who told him “there are something like 700 different wines in an average US supermarket.”
It sums up the vast majority of the 1200 or so bottles of wine samples that have overtaken my basement, and if they’re any indication of the U.S. wine market at large (and I’d certainly argue that they are), then the average wine consumer has learned something very important about how to shop for wine, something retailers have picked up on and have already factored into their stocking approach:
Most wine brands, within certain flavor profiles, taste the same and are priced the same; and so they are effectively interchangeable. And that is bad news for a lot of wine brands….
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It seems that venerable news-aggregator has stumbled upon the apparently news-worthy advice that shopping in the “Bin End” section (so named, as I understand it, because these were often literally bins of wine stacked up at the end of the aisles in wine shops) of the wine store is a good place to find vinous bargains.
To the tape:
“…you can also score some discounts by looking for your wine or liquor store’s “bin ends” section, or bottles with scratched labels, wines or vintages that are bout to be rotated out of stock, or just not a great seller at that store.”
But not all is a bowl full of rosés in those end bins. The trouble with the bin-end-bargain advice quoted by Lifehacker (which is a re-blog of wine buying tips from TheKitchen.com – the rest of which are much more sound, by the way) is that quite often the wines offered in bin ends aren’t much of a bargain at all.
If you’re not careful, shopping those bin end bargains might actually leave you more disappointed than a Steelers fan after an improbable NFL post-season Tebow-ing (full disclosure: I’m a long-time Steelers fan, so, yes, this is cathartic for me, okay?)…
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Several days ago, a lively discussion took place here in the comments on a post (okay, “rant”) that challenged wineries in emerging wine regions to focus on fewer, higher-quality bottlings, and not to pawn off poorly-made (or not-quite-ready-for-prime-time experimental) wines onto customers at their tasting rooms (a scenario which I’ve experienced first-hand).
In those comments, frequent-visitor and formidable-wine-blogger-in-his-own-right Thomas Pellechia raised a couple of fascinating related questions, about which he, in turn, challenged me to write:
“…is there or should there be a relationship between what the wine ‘press’ prefers and what the wine ‘tourists’ buy? And who’s got the upper hand when it comes to establishing the success of a winery?”
Put another way, if critics say a wine really sucks, how relative of a measure is it? Do people act on that assessment when it comes to buying wine? And if they do, should they? Could a winery still manage to pawn off its crappy stuff to newbie consumers in the tasting room, even if critics pan the bejeezus out of it?
Not easy questions to tackle. In fact, they’re like trying to tackle Jerome Bettis in his heyday. If I’d have had any clue just how deep a rabbit hole I’d be diving into after promising Thom I’d take on the topic, I would have told him (politely) to get bent and stop leaving such profound comments on my blog.
And this rabbit hole goes pretty deep, boy. What I found in my quick-and-dirty investigation reveals a lot about how we buy wine, calls into question the future relevance of wine criticism generally (including my own modest contribution to that sphere), and tells us why it still might be possible for wineries to close many a tasting room sale on their crappiest offerings.
So take the red pill, if you dare, and I’ll show you just how deep the rabbit-hole goes…
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I was recently interviewed for an article that appeared on financial management website Mint.com’s Frugal Foodie blog, titled Will Joining a Wine Club Make or Break Your Budget.
The topic (obviously) was the potential financial implications of joining a wine club, and how to find the right club without getting fleeced. This was strange one for me; although (obviously) related to wine, the only experience I have with wine clubs is (enviously) assisting other people in selecting the best ones to fit their wine goals and budgets.
That’s because I live in the Communist-wealth of Pennsylvania, whose state-run monopoly of alcohol sales and distribution essentially make joining a wine club, for me, impossible (or, at best, economically infeasible).
My basic take is that it’s probably never been easier to find good deals on a wine club. Why? For one, there’s a great deal of competition, despite the strange archaic state of U.S. alcohol shipping laws – and there are even a good number of international wine clubs cropping up. The other factor possibly fueling high competition and good deals in the wine club space is that there’s still a glut of wine inventory that has built up due to the down global economy. My guess is that people can wheel-and-deal their way to some sweet buys with those wine clubs – at least until the market picks up.
One of the key differentiators (if not THE key) between wine clubs is customer service. Given the level of competition, if a wine club isn’t willing to customize for you then it’s probably not worth giving them your hard-earned cash.
Many of you out there will have much more practical experience than I do with wine clubs. Are you a wine club member? Have you ever had to ditch a wine club? Shout it out in the comments!