Tuesday, March 16, 2021

How do people choose which wine to buy? An informal survey

Last month I was staring at three bottles of wine. Each was the same grape variety and from the same basic region (but not sub-region). I didn't know anything about the producers so there was no reason to blind-taste, but before diving in nose-first, I got to wondering -- if I was in a store or restaurant, and these three very similar bottles were on offer, which would I choose?

This is a question that comes up for wine lovers all the time. You're in a store; you want, say, Sauvignon Blanc. There are three from a region you like from producers you don't know. How do you choose?

I put the question on Twitter. My Twitter followers are not a randomized group. I have never done any data analysis (and don't worry, I never will), but I assume that at base, they are people very interested in wine and in learning more about it. This is a niche in the wine market, but one that spends a lot of money on wine. So what would my followers say?

What most surprised me is that most people did not mention price. Also, very few people mentioned critic's reviews, though several mentioned social-review aggregator sites.

A few wine retailers suggested asking the retailer for guidance, and I support that suggestion, but it's not an option at big stores that don't specialize in wine (Costco or supermarkets, for example) or restaurants with no sommelier on duty.

I collected some of the most enlightening responses. I wasn't looking for wit (though I got plenty; my followers are clever.) Instead I was looking for honesty: a window into why people choose the wines they do. 

One thing is universal: the label matters. We may all interpret its message differently, but it matters. For many years when I bought French wines I was a sucker for a bottle with a croix on the label; I'm not religious so I can't explain it. I can explain some of my other parameters: lower alcohol for me is is a plus, though I don't apply it to differences less than 0.5%. Organic or biodynamic viticulture is a plus. I try to avoid wines where the tasting notes on the back label sound like something I wouldn't enjoy (very helpful with Chardonnays.) But would I pick a single-vineyard wine over a regional wine of the same price? I'm not sure.

Here is what my Twitter followers said (each is a separate comment; I haven't formatted all as tweets):

actually, I would purchase all 3, taste them, and only then go back and purchase the one I liked best.

Assuming I didn't know any of the producers and couldn't research them on my phone: vintage especially for places like Bdx, any tech. info like pH and oak aging to determine the style, and finally the price.


I would choose the label that has an animal on it.

Region for varietal, then price as a guide, then interwebs/ Vivino for reviews


Probably the label that WASN’T touting ORGANIC and BioDynamic whatnots...

If I were in a retail outlet, I’d ask their opinion. Otherwise I’d see what they said online as well as what others said about them online. Failing either of those options being available, either the most resolutely old-school in its packaging or the confidently off-the-wall. 


I’d check the back labels, see who the importer was, and go with the one I was familiar with. 

Bio of owner/winemaker. Looking for people I know about in their background. I have found a lot of great new wines by following winemaker's interns. Then CellarTracker, Wine Berserkers, or industry people who I trust and align with their palates.

Two answers: 1. ABV%, Vintage, $. 2. Champagne


Producer , importer , price

Artistic merits of label.

Fun question. Assuming I knew zero about the producers, I’d have a quick look at Delectable/CellarTracker, scan avg takes, look for ppl I recognize and how they describe the character.

Vineyard 1st. Failing knowledge or Google the label.

I face this question all the time and it's the reason I go with the recs of a retailer I know and trust. Lacking that, I look for something distinguishing on the label, such as certified organic grapes.

Prettiest label.


This one is my favorite, because I assume he's telling the truth and it's an interesting idea:


You know what nobody at all mentioned? Closure type. Nobody said they would buy the one with the screwcap, or the one with the cork.

The data is not at all scientific, but one of the most interesting things about an exercise like this is to learn that even among people with similar interests, we all think differently.

Follow me on Twitter: @wblakegray and Instagram @wblakegray and like The Gray Report on Facebook.


Bob Rossi said...

Assuming I'm not in a store that I feel I cou8ld ask for advice, I'd take into account things like organic/biodynamic certification, alcohol level (although r5arely enough to make a difference), producer (estate bottled? cooperative? negociant?), and the importer. Also, the label, if only subconsciously.

Jack Everitt said...

I would first choose based on importer.

Second would be lowest alc.