Wine is still too confusing, though some effort has been made over the past several years to make it easier for wine drinkers – new and experienced – to understand what’s going on. Check out this newspaper article from 1977, and you’ll see what I mean:
The result of all this is that any but the most experienced wine aficionado often will (1) buy a very expensive wine, equating high price with quality; (2) buy a very cheap but unpleasant wine and then throw it all away; (3) buy the same wine all the time; (4) not buy wine at all.
Depressing, too, given so little of that has changed in almost 40 years. But there are five things that can be done to make wine less confusing. The list, after the jump:
These suggestions are aimed at the everyday wine that most of us drink, and not the exceptions that the Winestream Media wants us to have with dinner three or four nights a week. Two-buck Chuck, for instance, has used cheaper bottles for years, and it's one reason why the wine has remained so inexpensive.
• Stop worrying about vintage. One of the few things that every wine drinker knows is that vintage matters, even though that’s becoming less and less true. Vintage – the year the grapes were harvested – matters for an increasingly small percentage of wine; most of the stuff we drink every day is made to taste the same regardless of the vintage. In fact, Barefoot, one of the most popular wine brands in the U.S., is non-vintage (its grapes come from different harvests). It’s actually possible to make better quality wine this way, mixing and matching the best quality grapes from various vintages. One example: the $10 Little James Basket Press wines.
• Use less expensive bottles: It’s one thing to use a heavy, costly, imposing bottle for a $150 cult Napa cabernet sauvignon. But producers who don’t use the best made and least expensive bottle for a $10 wine are raising the price of the product without adding quality or value. For example, why do most wine bottles still have punts – the dimple on the bottom of the bottle – when it’s cheaper and just as effective to make a bottle without one?
• Stop obsessing over oak. High-end wines that need thousands and thousands of dollars worth of oak to pull their various parts into a coherent whole should spend time and effort describing the oak process and how it works. But the rest of the wine we drink – 90 percent? – either doesn’t need oak or uses a substitute, like staves or chips. And these wines are often perfectly fine. Sometimes, they even make the $10 Hall of Fame.
• Appellation isn't the be all and end all. Appellation – where the grapes were grown – matters almost not at all for most of the wine we drink, and consumers (especially younger ones) are paying less and less attention to it. They want malbec or moscato, and they don’t really care where it’s from. And, truthfully, given modern winemaking techniques, the goal is (as with vintage) to make the malbec taste like malbec, not like it came from California or Argentina. This is another opportunity to make less expensive, quality wine by mixing grapes from different appellations, and not worrying whether the bottle says California or Argentina.
• Write back labels in English: One wine that costs around $10 promises things that are all but impossible for a wine at that price: “chocolate and hints of licorice.” Or, to go to the other extreme, the wine drinker who buys another wine “prizes the simple things in life: spending good times with close friends.” Both do the consumer a disservice. They’ll assume they’re wine idiots because they couldn’t taste chocolate and licorice, and be totally confused by what the second wine is supposed to be. One solution, as advocated by W. Blake Gray: simple terms that we all understand, like rich, robust and fruit.