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Lest We Forget the Average Wine Drinker....

It's quite easy to be lulled into a false sense of reality in any number of ways in our lives. We extrapolate so much from our own experience that we tend to forget that most of us live in little bubbles, amidst an outside world that often bears little resemblance to ourselves.

I very much appreciate, and in some cases seek out, opportunities to be reminded that the world of wine I live in is not the world of the average wine consumer. While I tend to buy most of my wine from the smaller, independent wine merchants that I recommend my readers patronize, I enjoy browsing the wine aisles of supermarkets and big box stores to see what's on offer, and watch how people buy.

Likewise, I always enjoy the surveys that are published at regular intervals suggesting to us what "normal" consumers actually buy, and what they think about wine. One of those surveys is the periodic UK-based Wine and Spirit Trade Association's survey of British consumers. They ask a few thousand consumers about their drinking habits, and then report the trends.

According to Decanter, their most recent report included some questions about the importance of information about where a wine is from in helping consumers make their purchasing decisions.

Apparently less than half of British consumers surveyed said that the region where the wine comes from is an important factor in their buying decision, and only 58% said that even the country was an important factor.

In short, a large number of consumers don't really know or care where their wine comes from, or at least they don't use that as a criteria for buying their wine. Grape color, price, and grape variety seem to play a much greater role in decisions, presumably along with what the cute animal is on the front of the label.

As wrapped up as we get in our favorite wines, in learning about new wine regions, or in geeking out about wines with friends (or readers of our blogs) it's important to remember that we all have a greater purpose as wine lovers. We must all slowly, gently, compassionately, and lovingly, but whenever possible, offer to turn all these average wine drinkers on to some really good stuff. I'm not talking about brainwashing or pedantic lecturing. I'm talking about seduction.

Next time you get the chance to hang out with an ordinary wine drinker, slip them a really good wine and get them psyched about it. So maybe that the next time they head out to buy wine, they are that much more likely to end up with something they love, and that much more likely to want to learn more.

Back in the 60's there were (stupid, dangerous, and irresponsible) plots to dump gallons of LSD into various municipal water facilities as a means of "turning on" a lot of people who held strict prejudices against...well against a lot of different things.

I guess I can understand the desire to electrify a lot of people at once. The idea of having everyone's tap water replaced for a little while with a truly awesome white Burgundy for them to accidentally enjoy is worth fantasizing about for a few minutes anyway.

Hell, if they can do it in Italy accidentally, we ought to be able to pull it off around here.

Comments (4)

Dylan wrote:
07.16.09 at 8:52 AM

Ha. Alder, thanks for concluding with that allusion to the tap incident in Italy. That's one of my favorite stories to emerge in recent memory. Not as it's related to wine, but as it's related to story in general. Even if just for those few moments we can have reality take a bizarrely fun and unexpected turn--it's truly magic without the sleight of hand. As for the subject of the post I agree wholeheartedly.

No matter the subject, you must make it fun and inviting for people. Make it an experience worth being excited about and that excitement will carry them through at their own pace. It's no one's place to push another in a certain direction, but a persuasive nudge doesn't hurt.

tom merle wrote:
07.16.09 at 11:45 AM

I'm not following the logic of your post, Alder. You report that the average wine drinker is largely indifferent to where a wine comes from, though more than half pay attention to country of origin. Then you encourage your readers to slip their "ordinary" wine drinking friends some "really good wine" with no reference to terroir. What linkage are you drawing to the Decanter article? Maybe that terroir continues to be mostly irrelevant, so we should let it go. Good wines come from everywhere as you frequently note. Or do they only come from places like Burgundy? Please amplify.

Alder wrote:
07.16.09 at 11:56 AM


It's the finer point of that word "region" People notice the difference between a wine from Spain and a wine from France. The fact that a wine is from Rioja vs. Bierzo is totally unimportant to them. This is what the study seems to suggest.

I'm not sure I'm following you on the terroir front. Terroir is not irrelevant simply because ordinary wine drinkers have no idea what it is. Anyone who recognizes good terroir when they taste it has a duty to share it with friends. And when the friends get excited about the wine, to tell them, "well it comes from this little place called..." If the person really is excited about the wine, they'll remember that it wasn't just some white wine from France, it was a Sancerre.

Luke wrote:
07.17.09 at 4:07 PM

I am an ordinary wine drinker, who is in the early stages of learning what about wine, and what developing my own tastes. But here is my take on the terroir subject, as I understand it.

I used to think that terroir was something that the French used to make their wines special, which may be true, but it does have a definition. Basically terroir means "a sense of place" the substance (whether that be coffee, tea, wine, scotch...whatever) has certain sensory characteristics related to the location where the ingredients to make it were grown.

But it only goes so far, once a cluster of grapes is picked terroir has done it's job. Two different winemakers can make grapes from the same terroir taste completely different, but they will still share "a sense of place" and that is something that I feel is important.

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