1WD reader Matt (that’s all your getting, as I don’t have permission to print the person’s full name here) recently wrote to me via an email with a title so intriguing, it sparked the first-ever “reader mailbag” style post on this site in its seven-some-odd-year history:
“Trying New Wine Is A Pain In The Ass”
There’s much juiciness to be squeezed from Matt’s email, so I’ll first reprint it here before addressing Matt’s questions in detail:
“Let me rephrase that… Trying new *quality* wine is a pain in the ass, literally in the wallet. Its all a gamble really and I’d bet that the average person, let alone the active wine drinker wants to bet on a $50 bottle. We are not all in your position where nice wines may be shipped to us for tasting purposes in hopes that you blog about it.
So… My reason for contact is this. Today I read the article, ‘Wine execs are scared of the craft beer and spirits growth.’ You probably read it since its well circulated. Following the gambling terminology, beer and spirits have a relatively low buy-in. If that bet pays off and I like it, then I can opt for the higher price points. Quality wine, on the other hand, does not have this low cost of buy-in. It’s all or nothing and if you get burned once, then you will likely never go all-in on a 50+ bottle again.
I’m curious, do you have any opinions on opportunities of low buy-in options for higher priced wines? The tasting room is the only opportunity I can think of and that is not exactly mass market. When exactly does the average person opt for that $50 bottle cab? marketing fluff? friends advice? impressing the boss? Do wine drinkers randomly buy expensive wines that they have never had before? If not, when are they exposed to them that creates a buying opportunity? I’d love to hear your comments and what your readers may think. I’ve never met a wine I didn’t like… to try. Thanks Joe! Matt.”
Talk about food (or drink?) for thought! And Matt seems to want to hear your responses to all of this as well, so it’s giving us a nice opportunity to argue in the best internecine fashion that is the hallmark of modern wine discourse!
Well, Matt, following are my responses. I hope you don’t mind the delay, I just wanted to share the dialog with a (much) wider audience!…
You’ve basically summed up why anyone turns to experts in the first place. Particularly for fine wine, which isn’t cheap. The reason is that we’re looking for validation; we don’t want to get burned (by purchasing something that we won’t like).
This is where quality ratings (most especially numeric wine scores) fail us miserably. I can taste and rate a wine an “A” BUT… if it’s a Shiraz laden with blueberry fruitiness, and you hate blueberry fruitiness in your Shiraz, then that “A” means precisely f*ck-all to you. The wine may be resplendent, and an incredible example of the place, grape, and style; and if you dislike wines from that grape, that place, or in that style, well, then, you just wasted some Benjamins.
Lots of otherwise rational and smart people freak out in the wine aisle, while those same people would never reach the same level of freak-out when trying to buy beer (as you noted), or mustard; at only a few bucks a pop even for some of the better stuff, the stakes between stone ground, yellow, and spicy brown are just way lower.
[ Editor’s note: As per the article that you cited, wine really ought to be afraid of beer. And coffee. Both are trying to steal wine’s customers, given how strong the potential cross-overs are. Case in point: there were some big beer sponsors at Taste Washington in Seattle this year. Why? It’s a cheap way for them to try to grab customers away from wine, right under the wine business’ roof! Beer might even have more desperation right now, combined with deep pockets, which is a combination that often makes for a formidable marketing foe. ]
The best thing (the royal) you can do in terms of wine, in my opinion, is taste as much as you can, learn your own taste preferences, and then maybe find a critic or two who seem to share your sensibilities and follow their recommendations. There are some apps out there that can help, but most of them aren’t dealing in the high end wines arena (yet).
But you already knew all of that, so here are some thoughts to directly answer your questions:
- While not inexpensive, one way to get to taste a lot of juice is by taking one of the WSET certifications that incorporate wine tastings as part of the exam. The chances that you will get bad wine to taste as part of these classes are just about zero, so it’s a good way to get exposed to broader categories that might tickle your palate fancy.
- Meet up with like-minded wine geeks and create a tasting group. I cannot recommend this avenue highly enough, in terms of getting yourself exposed to new, interesting, different, and high-quality juice. I did this with sommeliers, restaurateurs, and wine biz folks in southeastern PA, to great personal effect.
- Set a new wine budget and stick to it every month. Use that budget specifically to try new things. At the risk of sounding facetious, it helps if you focus on making enough money that you don’t care too much (within reasonable limits for you) about the price tags of the wines. I recognize that’s a long shot for most people, but I did it myself to some extent, so I know it’s possible.
A call to the 1WD peanut gallery: what advice would you give to Matt?
For a recap, here are Matt’s specific questions on which he wanted your input:
Do you have any opinions on opportunities of low buy-in options for higher priced wines?
When exactly does the average person opt for that $50 bottle cab? marketing fluff? friends advice? impressing the boss?
Do wine drinkers randomly buy expensive wines that they have never had before? If not, when are they exposed to them that creates a buying opportunity?
Shout it out in the comments!