by Thad Cox, Jr., Ashes Wine & Spirits
What type of wine buyer are you? Do you buy a wine because you like a certain style? For instance, you discovered Pinot Grigio years ago and now that is the only type of wine you will drink. The same could be said for Cabernet Sauvignon drinkers, Pinot Noir drinkers, Sauvignon Blanc drinkers or Moscato drinkers. Or, are you loyal to a particular country or region, like say French Burgundy, Bordeaux, Tuscany, Spanish reds, Oregon Pinot Noir, Portuguese Vinho Verdes, or anything-but-California-oaky- Chardonnay! Or, do you find yourself buying wines based on ratings from wine publications like The Wine Spectator, Robert Parker, Jr.’s The Wine Advocate, Wine Enthusiast, Decanter, or Stephen Tanzer’s International Wine Cellar? Most of these publications base their ratings on an easy to use 100-point rating scale. Or, believe it or not, do you buy wines based on how pretty the label is? There was a study conducted about 10 years ago that said 90% of wine buyers bought at least half of their wine purchases based solely on the attractiveness of the front label. Imagine that! Or, are you the type of wine buyer that loves to go to a wine store and buy a mixed case of wines hoping to find that next $10-$15 Holy Grail stunner?
Of all of the types of wine buyers listed above, I believe that there are several buyers who are loyal to a particular type of wine. The big difference I see today is that because of the broader selection of wines available to the Knoxville market, the typical Chardonnay drinker has a larger group of Chardonnay to choose from. California is no longer the only game in town. You have a large selection of Chardonnay from Washington State, inexpensive white Burgundies like Macon, St. Veran and Pouilly-Fuisse from Burgundy. Pinot Noir drinkers now can include Pinot from several different regions throughout California, including Russian River, Sonoma Coast, Carneros, Monetery, Santa Lucia Highlands, Central Coast, Santa Rita Hills and Santa Barbara. And over the last ten years the Pinot from the Oregon’s Willamette Valley have entered the market at several different price points. Light, crisp white wines like Pinot Grigio and Vinho Verdes have exploded and are considered excellent values. Over the last six months I have seen some fantastic Rhone reds enter the market. And the same can be said for the Malbec of Argentina.
Are you a “ratings” wine buyer? Are you solely buying wine based on a rating from a certain publication like The Wine Spectator? I think that today’s wine drinker is much more educated about the type of wine that he or she likes to drink. Now I’m not saying that the prior generation was dumb about wine. What I am saying is that the amount of information available today via the internet and smart phones makes wine buying a less complicated process. Yes, sometimes a wine label can be difficult to decipher but I see less and less consumers asking for or looking at wine scores as a reason to buy a particular wine. And I think the reason for that is that the overall quality of wines offered in the marketplace today is far better than just ten years ago. I rarely taste a wine today that is just horrible or undrinkable unless it has been corked or affected by some outside element like heat. Today’s wines are made better because there have been more investments made in the vineyards and in the winemaking process. If you try to produce an “okay” wine in today’s market you probably won’t survive very long. The industry is very competitive and the big winner in all of this is the wine buyer! You might have a stylistic preference between how a Chardonnay is made (whether with oak or without oak) but I bet you that the differences in overall quality between two wines within the same price category is minimal.
Which then brings us to the shopper who buys by the attractiveness of wine labels? If the argument is that all wines within a similar price category are of equal value, then it should come down to the attractiveness of the labels. And I would have to say that nine out of ten times you probably would be happy with your selections. But, this is where your local wine store comes into play. If you have a favorite wine store where you like to shop, then do me this favor. The next time you go in why don’t you ask the wine staff to help you pick out a bottle of wine that you would not normally drink. Challenge both yourself and the wine staff to find unique wines based on your drinking profile. I bet that you will discover a new wine that will blow your palette away and I bet you will spend less than $20. For instance, if you are Pinot Grigio drinker, there is this really cool $10 Hungarian white called Evolucio Sec that is just spectacular. If you love Argentina Malbec, try the 2011 Chateau Lagrezette Purple Malbec. It is a fantastic, new-world styled Malbec but with a little twist to it. Instead of coming from Mendoza, it comes from Cahors, France! Have you ever tried a white Cotes du Rhone? What about a dry Rose? A white Port served as an aperitif? There are all kinds of interesting wines just waiting to be discovered.