Friday, July 10, 2009

Lying about wine: is it really "bold" and "full-bodied"?

Nobody should be surprised by the NY Times story this week showing the correlation of different adjectives with wine prices.

What the Times missed was how these studies are used.

The story talks about statistical research on Wine Spectator and other reviews, and its conclusions are overly simple:

1) Expensive wines that writers like get a different set of adjectives than cheap wines
2) Expensive wines that writers like get longer reviews

Well, duh! Good expensive Cabernets taste different than good cheap Grenaches. And if you give a wine a really high rating, you have more to say about it. They didn't bother to interview a single wine critic, who could have told them this.

No, what's missing is a discussion of how wines are described by marketers on the back of the bottle and on point-of-sale materials and the like.

Good marketers are smart enough to read these studies and learn how expensive, highly rated wines are described by critics, and to mimic the vocabulary.

Frequently the descriptions used to market wines have no relationship with how they taste. I know one company that calls all of its red wines "bold" or "full-bodied," whether they are or not. Descriptions of wines are sometimes ordered to be rewritten until they have no connection with the actual character of the wine.

Who has enough confidence in their palate to return a wine because it doesn't taste like its description? And even if that's true, who would give you your money back?

Since these studies have been published, look for a raft of wines marketed by the "expensive" words: “elegant,” “intense,” “supple,” “velvety,” “smoky,” “tobacco” and “chocolate."

The last one is a great marketing word. I've heard so many tasting room staffers say, "You get a note of dark chocolate in this wine." Sometimes I actually do; more often, I watch credulous tourists reach for their wallets because they don't trust their own palate.

Moral of the story: When you read a wine description that really appeals to you, think about who wrote it, and why.


Anonymous said...

"You get a note of dark chocolate in this wine." Sometimes I actually do;

Yeh I agree, when tasting and some one says that, it better taste like that to me and I do trust my buds. It is true others will just buy on whats on the bottle or what some else says. My brother and I have the same taste so I trust his opinion. Alway fun to come by and visit.

W. Blake Gray said...

Hey Jo, funny thing is, tonight a good friend opened a Williams Selyem Pinot and she swore she tasted chocolate. I did not, but last night I got a note of cocoa in the sake I had with dinner. So it definitely happens. But you're right, you have to taste it for yourself.