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Advice For The Overwhelmed Consumer

It's ok. I was once one of you. Nearly everyone who loves wine was once in the market segment that was just given its first official name by one of the largest studies ever of wine consumers: The Overwhelmed Consumer.

Constellation Brands, the behemoth wine and spirits company responsible for a sizeable portion of the Earth's wine production, recently commissioned a study to find out more about wine consumers. Their findings (despite being billed as the revolutionary results from a study "comparable to the Human Genome Project") were pretty prosaic. They identified six major groups into which all wine consumers fall. One of them, which contained about 25% of all wine drinkers, was labeled the Overwhelmed Consumer, and represented the folks who found the task of shopping for wine or selecting a wine off a wine list to be a daunting and unpleasant task.

My response: ONLY 25% !?!?

I would have thought it was higher. But no matter. The point is that even though this study wasn't nearly as impactful or insightful as it claims, there most certainly are a whole group of wine consumers that continue to be intimidated, confused, vexed, bothered, afraid, and yes, overwhelmed by the world of wine. Some of these folks don't care. But many of them do -- they'd rather not feel this way.

So for them I have some advice that if followed carefully, can go a long way towards moving you out of the Overwhelmed and into one of the other silly categories they came up with, not to mention help you enjoy your wine more.

1. Understand that it's OK if you know next to nothing (or even less than that) about wine. Really. It's OK. Wine knowledge means nothing to your worth as a human being, your intelligence, your worldliness, or your prospects for becoming anything you want to be. You may THINK you should know more than you do, maybe because your a businessperson who takes people out for dinner sometimes and can end up being responsible for ordering the wine, or maybe you hang out with people who know more about wine than you do, but none of that means you are deficient if you don't know squat.

So don't worry. And don't feel bad about yourself.

2. Ask questions and ask for help. I don't care if you are in a supermarket wine section wondering for the hundredth time which bottle you should choose, trying to choose a wine by the glass at a cheap restaurant, or pouring over the 25 page wine list at a three star dining room -- asking for a recommendation IS A GREAT IDEA. It's a smart idea. It will make your life easier and it will, ninety percent of the time or more, teach you something.

Here's why. Everywhere that sells wine (except for the really down and out corner convenience stores, 7Elevens, and the like) has people working there that know something about the wine. In supermarkets there are wine buyers, in little restaurants the staff has often tasted many of the wines, in fancy restaurants there are sommeliers whose entire job is to pick wines for the restaurant and to help customers pick wines for dinner.

All of these people are willing to help you. Not only that, they WANT to help you. Of course, sometimes you find other Overwhelmed people just like you, and they won't be able to give you any advice, but most of the time, they will save you a lot of heartache and worrying.

One final note: for all the guys out there whose ego and pride make them think that if they were real men they would know which wine to order for dinner and that asking for a recommendation or help figuring out what the hell kind of grape Auxerrois is anyway : GET OVER IT! Asking someone who knows even slightly more than you for advice is the smartest thing you can do. And it's sexy. Try asking for directions at the gas station when your girlfriend suggests it next time.

3. If you want to learn, LEARN. Learning takes effort. Not much, but some. As a starting point, I humbly submit my Five Stages of a Self Education in Wine. If that helps you get started, I'd be very pleased.

Most importantly though, no matter whether you are a current or just a recovering member of the Overwhelmed Consumers -- keep drinking !!

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Required Reading for Wine Lovers

The Oxford Companion to Wine by Jancis Robinson The Taste of Wine by Emile Peynaud Adventures on the Wine Route by Kermit Lynch Love By the Glass by Dorothy Gaiter & John Brecher Noble Rot by William Echikson The Science of Wine by Jamie Goode The Judgement of Paris by George Taber The Wine Bible by Karen MacNeil The Botanist and the Vintner by Christy Campbell The Emperor of Wine by Elin McCoy The World Atlas of Wine by Hugh Johnson The World's Greatest Wine Estates by Robert M. Parker, Jr.