Five things consumers told me during the cheap wine book tours, from last fall through this month:
1. They’re really, really tired of overpriced restaurant wine. I heard this a lot, but one instance stood out. Phil Cobb, the legendary Dallas restaurateur, was at one of the signings, and he asked me why restaurants charge so much money for wine. He said he always thought 2 1/2 times wholesale was a fair markup, but he sees prices that are much higher than that — including the $50 he paid recently. If Cobb, who can afford it and knows how the system works, thinks restaurant wine prices are too high, imagine what the others told me. So why haven’t restaurants figured this out?
2. White wine is for women, red wine is for men. This is something, despite all of the writing I do about wine marketing, that never occurred to me, and I’m still not sure I believe it. But a couple of El Centro College culinary students said that’s the way it seems to them, and they made a convincing argument. Look at the some of the best-selling brands and their names — Barefoot, Cupcake, Little Black Dress — and their biggest selling wines. Not too masculine, are they? For another, they said, look at pinot grigio, which skews heavily toward women.
3. Stop recommending wines that aren’t available. Yes, even the WC, who understands availability better than most, goofed up here. We tasted the 2012 Charles & Charles rose during my seminar at the American Wine Society conference, and a woman asked me where she could buy it. This vintage is sold out, I said, but the 2013 will be out in the spring. If it’s sold out, she said, and she looked like my mom the last time I messed up her kitchen when the food processor went blewy, then why did we taste it?
4. Don’t confuse me; just tell me what it tastes like. Consumers may or may not like scores (I heard both sides), but at least scores make it easier to buy wine. What doesn’t is the winespeak many of them find when they Goggle a wine they want to buy. One of the biggest laughs I got, every time, was my parody of post-modern wine writing, with its vanilla and leather and pomegranate descriptors.
5. How come we never knew about sparkling wine and rose? Consumers, who thought all sparkling wine was French and expensive, and that pink wine was sweet and un-manly, have embraced each with an enthusiasm that makes me almost giddy. That they’re willing to try each, let alone enjoy it, speaks to how far we’ve come in getting them off the California varietal merry-go-round.