Finally, Someone Here Who Speaks English (Luigi Bosca And The Changing Tastes Of The World’s Wine Consumers)

By now, many of you reading this will have come across a handful of articles on the Global Interwebs proffering the idea that the current style of high-scoring, high-end fine wines (prominently oaky, complex, high on the alcohol and low on the acidity) will always reign supreme in fine wine sales, and that it’s only a matter of time before Millennial consumers “grow up” and stop buying higher acid, inexpensive imports and trade up to the “real” stuff.

Many of these arguments are well-written and intelligently presented. But to me, they don’t read like the Queen’s English; they look more like this: “Blah blah, blah-blah-blah, BLAH-BLAH!!!”

Some of the crystal ball gazing has been done by those with a vested interest in prolonging the reign of the current style of high-scoring, high-end fine wines, but I don’t really have any issue with that potential conflict of interest. Also, I’m willing to ignore the fact that one of the key pillars of their arguments – that an entire generation will “grow up” to fundamentally change how they interact with brands – has no previous viable example in the entire history of luxury goods consumption on planet Earth.

The real nail in the coffin of these arguments is that no data are ever offered in support of them.

Meanwhile, we have examples of exactly the opposite happening; younger consumers buying fresher, higher acid wines, because that’s what they can afford and therefore it’s the style on which they’re cutting their wine loving teeth, informing their future purchases and tastes from this point onward.

What examples, you ask? How about roughly eight million bottles, is that a good enough example for you?

8 million is the annual bottle production of Mednoza’s Luigi Bosca, a producer I visited during my stint earlier this year judging the 2013 Argentina Wine Awards. The results of that visit – aside from yielding a handful of tasty recommendations for you (more on those in a few minutes) – underscored nearly every aspect of the speeches I and my fellow judges gave to the Argentine winemaking community during the AWAs, and yielded one of the most telling illustrations of the changing tastes of younger wine consumers I’ve yet encountered…

Luigi Bosca has been producing wine since 1901, and is now managed by the third and fourth generations of the Arizu family. They’re still situated in the same building where they started (a former 1800s–era grain mill), in which five thousand (!) barrels are in use there at any given time, rivaling the woody volume of some of Rioja’s larger producers. They take wine so seriously at Luigi Bosca that they’ve developed a solemn walkthrough of the stages of winemaking, replete with church-like lighting and embossed frescos that are eerily reminiscent of the Catholic “stations of the cross” (seriously… it’s downright spooky…).

They make 8 million bottles a year, utilizing 700 hectares of vineyards to produce 35 different wines under 5 brand names that are exported to 50 countries.

During my visit, we tasted through a series of their wines while awaiting the arrival of Gustavo Arizu. Gustavo’s eventual entrance, though late, was like a breath of fresh air in the old, solemn LB tasting room, and not just because he spoke English, allowing me to abandon my horrendous Spanish for several minutes. The refreshing part was that Arizu, having attended our AWA speeches earlier that week, seemed downright perky about the fact that just about all of LB’s production was undergoing change, specifically to capture more natural acidity and therefore larger portions of the disposable income of younger wine consumers globally.

That might seem an impetuous move, but there’s nothing about Arizu that’s impetuous. He’s a corporate guy through-and-through: smart, donning a polo shirt, speaking in an even-keeled voice, offering a strong handshake, sporting a nice watch, and appearing physically fit and trim. A company LB’s size does not – cannot – change on a whim, or based on information from a few magazine or blog articles. Gustavo Arizu has a role with Wines of Argentina, and sells a boatload of wine, giving him access to a lot of consumer data on what drives sales in Argentine wines, globally. He likely has data on global Argentine wine consumption trends to which we just don’t have access. And he’s acting on it.

“We don’t have much success with Wine Spectator or Robert Parker. We don’t want to be trendy, we want to follow the same speed as the consumer,” without rushing into changes or styles, he told me.

“Our markets are demanding more freshness, so we’ve changed the way of picking, and our ripeness levels.” Over thirty years, acid levels in their wines are on the rise, because that’s what their customers want to drink and buy, he said. The slow turning of the enormous LB production ship towards fresher wines isn’t a fluke, it’s a business decision.

Gustavo thinks that wine consumers are getting smarter about brands and how to engage them, and about how they can communicate what they want from them.“Today, we have two different consumers: one that follows big, high-scoring wines, and one group seeking freshness, more acidity.”

As for the current style of high-scoring wines, Arizu sees them as a bit of a dead-end. “The low-end wines actually express more terroir sometimes than the higher-end,” he explained, due to the flavor profiles, blending, oak, malolactic fermentation, strict yeast selections, etc., often used on higher-end wines that are chasing after scores. “I want to taste an apple, not apple jam with cinnamon and some cloves inside!”

He also sees the evolution of LB’s wine styles as bolstering the global wine economy in general. “When consumers get too much high alcohol, and so often,” he warned, ”they move to non-alcohol lifestyles,” favoring drinks like soda and beer over wine. This kind of market shift in younger consumers is something that Argentina knows firsthand, by the way.

So, for my money, I can’t hear the “blah blah” of the ill-informed opinions stating that wine preferences never change, because their nonsensical voices are being drowned out by the sound of eight million higher acid wines being uncorked…

 

2012 Finca La Linda Torrontes (Cafayate, $11)

An “I’ve got an apple for you, teacher” kind of overachiever, in an almost annoyingly proficient kind of way. Floral and simple, but also sporting a ton of minerals in its tart,clean, crisp, freshly-pressed citric suit. A nice find when so many other Torrontes wines that gets shipped to the States ends up being too flabby to deliver on its aromatic promises.

 

2010 Luigi Bosca “De Sangre” (Mondoza, $20)

See, the creepy Catholic thing even “bleeds” into the wine names… see what I did there…? Ok, well, f*ck you, too! Anyway, a fresh Cab/Merlot/Syrah blend that comes off as fruity, savory, and deep, but not so deep that it loses its balance and falls into the bottomless pit of nondescript flabby dark fruits.

 

2009 Luigi Bosca “Gala 1” (Mendoza, $30)

Malbec, Petit Verdot and Tannat. Sounds like a blend better suited for the contents of a tasting room spit bucket. But here it’s a modern, friendly, silky, mineral-driven and, yes, fresh take on going for something that just tastes good, grape varieties (ok, and volatile acidity) be damned (but not damned in the spooky Catholic sense).

 

2009 Luigi Bosca “Gala 2” (Mendoza, $30)

Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot; more familiar territory for most people. In this case, the territory is dotted with tart red and black fruits, a sprig of herbs here and there, and a downright stately structural stride, tannins making up one long leg, acidity the other.

 

2008 Luigi Bosca Finca Los Nobles Cabernet Bouchet (Mendoza, $60)

I guess Cabernet Franc can, in fact, get its swervy on. Who knew? 65 year old vines, and more or less a field blend form the vineyard. They’re going for a smooth style here, so the result is silky and touch heavy on the VA again, but the combination of its tannic pucker and the spicy freshness of its dark cherry fruits makes this one of the few “sexy” offerings to grave the virtual 1WD pages for months.

 

2008 Luigi Bosca ICONO (Mendoza, $140)

Speaking of sexy (a double-team!), this 60/40 Malbec / Cabernet Sauvignon split is very, very, very deep and savory. Currants with bedroom eyes the color of obsidians, and they’re in a not-to-be-denied lock stare with your sorry ass. Tea and tobacco leaf compliment a mineral-water like mouthfeel. It’s like drinking a slightly aged Cab, so I’m not sure how well it will hold up in ten or fifteen years, but there’s really little reason to wait, anyway.

Cheers!

21

 

 

    Comments

  • pawineguy


    How many of his 666,666 cases are sold in the US?

    • 1WineDude


      PA – don’t know, I only know they are sold in the US. Does it matter?

      • pawineguy


        Yes, because if he sells to 50 countries including a domestic market, as far as we know the wines could be a flop in the US. Your post also talks a lot about young consumers but you don't cite any demographics for the purchase of his wines.

        • 1WineDude


          So only US wine consumption matters? And only younger consumers? The case is stronger with those data, certainly, but I'm not sure it's weak without them…

      • pawineguy


        It seems you've done the same thing you've criticized, you're presented an argument with no data to back it up.

        • 1WineDude


          PA, wrong (sort of), I’ve not presented the detailed data you’re requesting, which is different. Their wines are carried by wine.com, total wine, and according to at least one report are hot sellers in the Houston area: http://www.shankennewsdaily.com/index.php/2012/12/28/4761/argentinas-upscale-producers-say-bulk-labels-could-diminish-categorys-prestige/ As for the demographic breakdown, I don’t have that and i would probably have to pay to get it from those retailers, but I’ll defer to what they told me at LB, which was that the tastes seemed to be changing across all age groups. So I’ve presented more (or I hope at least as much) data than just about any other oped piece on the topic, if it’s not up to your standards then there’s little I can do about that except thank you for reading :-)

          • pawineguy


            My point is that you you seemed in your intro to be making a point about young consumers, criticized others for lack of data to support their argument, but you haven't presented any data that is related directly to young consumers.

            • 1WineDude


              PA – I understand your point. My point is that I can’t necessarily get the detailed data that you think us required to prove the opinion to be correct. The data and examples I’ve got are what I’ve presented, which I’d argue is far more than what others have presented in support of their conclusions about that consumer age group.

  • gabe


    Really interesting read. I have definitely noticed the pendulum shift from dense, high-extraction wines to light, high-acid wines. In an ideal world, consumers should be able to appreciate both styles. I think the best wineries make wines that are not a certain style, but rather an expression of the vintage (cooler vintages = higher acid).

    • 1WineDude


      Hey Gabe, hope all's well! Agreed on all counts, brother. I was just sick of hearing the arguments that one style will dominate from now until time immemorial, which I think we can both agree is just… not correct ;-)

  • Michaela


    Thanks for the great report, the Mendoza wines from 2008 sound really interessting. Its a pity, that they are quite expensive..

  • Bob Henry


    JOE,

    REGARDING THIS COMMENT . . .

    " . . . younger consumers buying fresher, higher acid wines, because that’s what they can afford and therefore it’s the style on which they’re cutting their wine loving teeth, informing their future purchases and tastes from this point onward."

    . . . ISN'T THAT THE STYLE OF TRADER JOE's "TWO BUCK CHUCK" ?

    WHILE ALL RED WINES GO THROUGH MALOLACTIC FERMENTATION TO REDUCE THEIR OVERALL ACIDITY AND MAKE THEM DRINKABLE, T J's CHARLES SHAW WHITE WINES CAN'T AFFORD THAT EXTRA ELECTIVE PRODUCTION STAGE.

    NOR CAN THEY AFFORD ON THE LEES STIRRING OR OAK BARRELS.

    ~~ BOB

    • 1WineDude


      Bob – no. They're drinking European wines, at least the ones who are wine savvy are doing that.

      • pawineguy


        Hold on, so if you're a wine savvy young consumer you drink European wines, and if you're not wine savvy…?

        • 1WineDude


          PA – you’re reading too much into it. The point is that younger consumers have access to more information than previous generations at their age, so are more savvy consumers about wine in general. I.e., they don’t necessarily flock to two buck Chuck or barefoot, they can seek what they view to be more interesting alternatives at similar price points, including wines from outside the United States.

          • Bob Henry


            Joe,

            I can't speak to what wine brands/countries of origin that Millennials are drinking., because I don't have access to IRI grocery store check-out line scanner data.

            My observation narrowly focuses on wine "style" and retail selling point. T J's "Two Buck Chuck" is not unlike to a single-digit dollar priced European import.

            ~~ Bob

            Selective news reports:

            "Pressing Data Into Great Wine Brands"

            Summary: This is where VinTank jumps in with its particular listening platform focused squarely on people …

            Link: http://www.forbes.com/sites/rawnshah/2013/11/05/p

            "Premium Wines Drive Off-Premise Growth"

            Summary: Table wine volume is up a modest 2.3% through November 3 year-to-date in SymphonyIRI channels.

            Link: http://www.shankennewsdaily.com/index.php/2013/11

            "U.S. Wines Grow 6% Off-Premise in October"

            Summary: Convenience store sales up 25%; Chardonnay and Pinot Grigio lead

            Link: http://www.winesandvines.com/template.cfm?section

            "Let's Drink to That: U.S. is World's Largest Wine Market, with Sales Expected to Expand"

            Summary: It's been a very good year for wine and wine sales. Sales of domestic and foreign wines in the U.S. last year were reportedly up two percent compared to 2011 — to a record 360.1 million cases with an estimated retail value of $34.6 billion.

            Link: http://www.benzinga.com/news/13/11/4073501/lets-d

            "Five things to know about the global wine industry"

            Summary: The charts that tell you everything you need to know about the global wine industry.

            Link: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/10414807/Five-

            • 1WineDude


              Thanks for the Links, Bob. You’re right, without that data we can’t make definitive conclusions. But I know which conclusion I’m betting on based on the data that I have seen and the anecdotal examples to which I’ve been exposed. Cheers.

  • Bob Henry


    Joe,

    Disseminated in this morning's Wine Business Monthly e-mail news blast (which tangentially relates to this and prior postings):

    "Recap: Mastering Balance and Vineyard Expression through Lower Alcohol Wines"

    Summary: Napa Wine & Grape Expo Panel with Steve Matthiasson, Duncan Arnot-Myers, Jon Bonné, Paul Draper and Nick Gislason.

    Link: http://www.winebusiness.com/news/?go=getArticle&a

    ~~ Bob

  • Paul


    Back in 2006 I spent a month travelling around Argentina, and there was a lot of Luigi Bosca wine consumed. Apart from it being both tasty and well priced, the other thing that stood out is that it was well represented on winelists across Argentina. When I arrived back in my part of the world after that trip I wasn't able to find it, but seeing this article made me go look again, so I think it is time I got reaquainted

    • 1WineDude


      Paul, let us know how you fare!

  • 1WineDude


    Not just in the USA, either: "Regular wine drinkers under 35 with relatively high incomes and an interest in wine now account for a quarter of the total spend on wine in the UK, as older consumers rein in both spending and drinking habits, according to the Wine Intelligence UK Portraits 2014 Report"

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