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09.23.2005

Wine Knowledge Reality Check

Despite recent (bogus) news that wine has outstripped beer as Americans' social drink of choice, it's pretty clear that in general most Americans know very little about wine. A recent study conducted by WineOpinions, a statistical research company focusing on the wine industry, rams that fact home with unnerving certainty. In a survey of 500 Americans who drink wine on at least a "somewhat frequent" basis, a full 66% of respondents had no idea what the vintage date on the bottle referred to. 17% thought it referred to the year the wine was made, 37% believed it referred to the date the wine was bottled, and 12% said they had no idea. The sobering thing is that among the people in this group who drank wine "regularly" the percentage of incorrect answers was still 54%.

Among these folks, a full 48% responded that they "strongly agreed" that the best wines are blends of different vintages. That's right. Not varietals. Vintage years.

Unless a huge chunck of Americans are drinking obscure solera-style wines or non-vintage Champagne, we've got some work to do. Most of these folks also cling to the notion that under all circumstances the older a wine is, the better it will taste. Given the choice between wines of one, three, and five years of age, 44% would choose the older wine, regardless of varietal.

So here's what we're going to do. I want every one of you readers to promise me that the next time you are out drinking wine with friends, you make sure you take care of them. Don't be pedantic, don't be arrogant, but should the opportunity arise to figure out how much they know about wine without making them uncomfortable or self conscious, I want you to at least teach them that the vintage date is when the grapes are picked and that many wines don't in fact get better as they get older. Then maybe they'll teach someone else, and they'll teach someone else, and at least we'll get this fact straight.

Comments (9)

Terry Hughes wrote:
09.23.05 at 5:22 PM

Alder, I think we should also ridicule their penchant for buying Australian animal wines.

Kidding, kidding...but sometimes it does get VERY frustrating to deal with the happy, even wilful, ignorance of so many wine drinkers. Especially when they present you with absolute swill when they come over for dinner. And you're expected to drink it right then and there. Grrr.

Jack wrote:
09.23.05 at 10:58 PM

"the best wines are blends of different vintages."

Well, doesn't everyone love industrial Champagne!

Big Bob wrote:
09.24.05 at 7:29 AM

One might want to consider this discussion
in the context of other "main stream"
consumer products:
- Is it important for consumers to
have advanced knowledge of how beer
is produced in order to enjoy it?
- Does anyone think the folks marketing
snack foods have an advanced information
program to educate American's about the
proper consumption of their products?
- Very few Americans have any idea
how their car actually works but we still manage to put gas in them and drive to and from our destinations without incident.

Perhaps wine education is not really that important. We should all be happy that the American consumer is exploring the world of wines and growing in awareness and interest in wine.

Alder wrote:
09.24.05 at 9:17 AM

Bob,

Fair enough point. However many people don't have good experiences with wine (they don’t like the wine they buy or they choose poorly at restaurants and it doesn't enhance their dining experience) and generally I think most Americans have incredibly low expectations when it comes to wine (not to mention insecurities). Education about wine, even just a little bit of knowledge -- not the "advanced knowledge" you reference below, can help. I consider this the oenological equivalent of knowing whether the date stamped on your yogurt is the date you should buy it, or the date you should throw it away.

boyd wrote:
09.24.05 at 11:07 AM

Alder,
Would you prefer that the vintage date on a wine label state that it is the "born on date"?

Karen wrote:
09.24.05 at 9:27 PM

Alder,

Consuming wine without advance "education" can contribute to unhappy experiences. In turn, people tend to steer away from drinking wine...believing the ridiculous theory that "wine is wine!" Admittedly my knowledge of wine is limited, but I am aware of the difference between vintage and varietal. However, most people I discuss wine with would likely fit into a "clueless consumer" category. I have to wonder if this is simply because they are truly not interested or because their experience in drinking wine is tainted or minimal. Another variable to consider is personal preference. Some people honestly don't care what they are drinking...if they've heard of a wine from an acquaintance or an advertisement...it must be good...hmmmmm!!! Whether or not a certain vintage of a particular varietal pleased their palate is inconsequential. People interpret information in different ways so changing terminology would do nothing for the ignorant consumer. I'm including the following comment to illustrate the point of the topic at hand. Does the "born on date" refer to the date the vine, grape, or finished product was born? So...the best thing for everyone is factual knowledge, knowledge, and more knowledge. Alder, maybe you should add a "crucial wine fact" of the week to Vinography. You could include important terminology, historical facts, dining/serving tips, and other such things. For those of us starting at "square one" it would be such a helpful feature. I consider myself to be a fairly intelligent person...I know plenty about beer, vodka, gin, tequila, and the like, HA! Generally speaking when a subject is relatively complex (as I view wine to be)the best way to learn is through actual education and experimentation. Unless a person is willing to experiment with tasting different wines and accept that not all wine is equal they are likely to be disappointed at some juncture in their journey with wine. Based on the percentage of Australian animal wines I see in stores, as duly noted by Mr. Hughes, visual appeal must have more to do with consumption than perhaps it should! Grrr...owl and happy drinking to you!!!

HugeJ wrote:
09.25.05 at 10:03 AM

Big Bob's point about beer needs some further exploring. Most beer consumers buy Bud\Miller\Coor's\etc and have limited interest in going beyond "the pale" (tee-hee). One mistaken purchase of a syrupy barely wine or an oatmeal stout, and most people become convinced they don't like "dark beer". Give them a Guinness blindfolded and you can change their minds (and their life!).

My point, then, is that just as with wine, beer too can be improved with education and experimentation.

I do, however, agree with Bob that it is a good thing that wine consumption is growing. Its up to the industry, however, to help people learn about what they like and don't like.

/huge

Karen wrote:
09.25.05 at 11:54 AM

So true! I agree with /huge about Guinness and the blindfold test. From there...one might even try a bottle of Chimay (known to some as liquid bliss.) Locally, Empyrean Brewing Company does an excellent job of promoting their products. This fact alone contributes to the reason why many of my friends and acquaintances drink beyond "the pale." For the last three years a weekend feature of the Nebraska State Fair has been a pavillion--featuring Nebraska wines. Because of the venue it is not as intimidating to a novice as an actual tasting event or dinner might be. Instead it provides a great forum for learning, and promotes wine in a very comfortable manner. For those of us who don't live in a major (coastal)metropolitan area the promotion of wine can be rather sporadic. Vinography has provided me with some great knowledge about wine and wine consumption! As Bob said...with a growing awareness and interest in wine, people will likely become more educated. Alder's suggestion of tactfully sharing knowledge with friends is excellent.

Seth Hill wrote:
09.29.05 at 7:32 PM

Alder-

Love your blog.

You bring up an important point about sharing knowlege, and Huge's comment that "Its up to the industry, however, to help people learn about what they like and don't like" is right on.

Stormhoek's trying to address it, at least. The model is open communication- this is who we are, what we do, and why we do it.

Regardless of knowledge about what vintage is, it's important to know what it means in the context of a particular wine. In our case, we're releasing ready-to-drink bottles of fresh, clean, reductively-made wine. And rather than a "born on" date or relying on an understanding of the appropriate age for the varietal, we're trying to make it easier on the consumer. Hence we're printing a "window" of time when our wines will be at their best right on the bottle.

Stormhoek's "Ultimate Freshness Indicator" doesn't take up a lot of real estate on the back label, but it's a big idea. Hopefully it will give people a foundation for knowledge that, to use our tagline, "Freshness Matters" in the wines that we're bringing to market. And who knows, maybe it'll spread.

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