Tag Archives: wine myths

Is the confused consumer a wine myth?

wine myth

“Confused by wine? Of course not. I’m so much smarter than the rest of you.”

The grocery store Great Wall of Wine is a wine myth, consumers are not confused by wine, and the Wine Curmudgeon has been wasting the last 20 years of his life. That’s the conclusion of a recent working paper in the Journal of Wine Economics, which found that wine drinkers don’t have too many choices and know exactly what they want to buy.

Hard to believe? Certainly, and that’s because the study left a lot to be desired. It was conducted among customers of a small chain of high-end wine shops in the northeast, who don’t seem very representative of wine drinkers in the rest of the country. For one thing, one of the stores is in Manhattan, where grocery stores can’t sell wine. For another, the stores have a much more limited selection than large chain retailers and supermarkets, as few as one-third of the wines of a typical Total Wine. Finally, more than half of the consumers in the study identified themselves as high-frequency wine drinkers, which puts them in the minority of U.S. wine consumers.

In other words, this survey was like asking men if they had ever been turned down for a raise or denied a promotion because they were women, and then reporting that job discrimination against women didn’t exist.

And I’m not the only one who noticed this. Becca Yeamans-Irwin, who writes the Academic Wino, said that “I am not too keen to accept [the results] with much confidence. While the concept of the study was certainly fascinating and has the potential to be useful in the wine retail/marketing setting, there are several problems with this study that negate my ability to say with confidence that choice overload does not exist in the general wine retail setting.” She cited, among other things that involve more math than I understand, a too small sample size and that the respondents were not representative of U.S. wine drinkers.

Nevertheless, one of the best wine bloggers in the country wrote that the study showed “the overwhelmed wine consumer is mostly a myth,” and I wouldn’t be surprised to see this report show up when the usual suspects want to beat down those of us who say wine needs to be easier.

In which case, I will remind them of what I learned from the legendary Richard Hainey, who regularly took a bunch of snotty college students and taught them how to be good reporters. Just because someone says something is true doesn’t mean it is true, Hainey told us, and it’s your job to ask enough questions to find out if it really is true. Would that more wine writers knew how to do that.

Four wine myths that confuse consumers

four wine mythsThe genesis for this post came from the Lifehacker website, which occasionally does wine items that make me want to throw something at the computer screen. The various authors mean well, but usually just recycle urban legends and wine myths that have little to do with wine in the 21st century.

The most recent was an item that claimed you could determine wine quality from the quality of the label. Just rub it, and if the label has raised lettering or if it feels like more expensive paper, then the wine is safe to buy. Otherwise, the wine is more than likely swill. There is some truth to this, in that producers sometimes put more expensive labels on cheap wine to entice the consumer. I have a label here, from a $10 wine from a multi-million case producer, that has raised lettering. The wine? No better or no worse than most $10 grocery store wine.

But to say that label quality has anything to do with wine quality is foolish (and Lifehacker was called on it by more than one commentator, including me). What determines wine quality? What’s in the bottle — and not what’s on the bottle, how the bottle is made or how it’s closed, or even if it is a bottle. The key to quality is finding producers who understand that and who spend their money on the wine and not marketing the wine. And you can’t find those producers by rubbing labels; you have to drink wine.

Keeping that in mind, here are three more myths about wine quality that come up all too often:

• Screwcaps: I still hear, almost 20 years after screwcaps became common, that they’re a sign of inferior wine. If that’s true, then I guess the only good wine in the world still comes from France. Because the screwcap myth is that outdated.

• Punt: That’s the hollow space on the bottom of the wine bottle, and it’s supposed to be a sign of wine quality. Two-buck Chuck (and most $3 wine, in fact) doesn’t have a punt. But most producers still use punts not because it makes their wine better, but because it’s easier — given how the bottle manufacturing process works — than switching to punt-less bottles.

• Legs: Those are the lines that form on the side of the glass, and are caused by the alcohol and sugar content of the wine. More alcohol means more legs, but doesn’t mean better wine. This myth probably dates to the mid-20th century (or even earlier), when most great wine did come from France. In those days, the exceptional vintages, which were usually warmer, yielded riper grapes that produced higher alcohol wines. Hence, equating legs with better wine.

For more on wine myths:
Five wine facts that aren’t necessarily wine facts
Can cheap wine do this?
Cheap wine and wine that is made cheaply