Posts Tagged ‘buying wine’

I recently came across three different wine related items that I wanted to post on. Fortunately, I was able to meld these into a single, succinct trifecta post for your reading pleasure.  Each of these  deal with a topic I tend to talk a lot about at my Wine and Food Experience events: Buying wine.  Why is buying wine so difficult?  For you, that is, since you’re reading this.  Not wine nerds.  We find it pretty easy.

Freakanomics Radio:
Take a listen to the podcast.  It’s only about 5min. long.  In it, they talk about the economics of wine, because it is and industry after all, just like everything else.  The question they ask is how do we as consumers know what wine to buy.  We buy wine to enjoy it. So how can we make sure we’ll enjoy the bottle we buy? They reference an article by the Journal of Wine Economics  that states the people enjoyed expensive wines slightly less than they enjoyed cheaper wines.  The reasoning behind this (mine, not theirs) is simple. Buying wine, like buying anything else is a value proposition.  As long as we think we’re getting a deal, we’re more likely to enjoy something.  If we just bought a Picasso to show off to our friends, the experience will be…well, rather fleeting.  Because the general public in America knows next to nothing about wine we look to the experts to tell us what to get.  In the podcast they mention the 100 point rating systems that are common these days, but what they neglect to mention is that these rating systems are rating the wine quality not whether you’ll enjoy it or not.  This is much like a movie critic rates a movie.  Critics are wonderful for these purposes of judging quality of something because there are some hard and fast values that they are judging.  Much like a movie of a certain genre needs to contain certain elements (quantitative) and those elements can be graded (qualitative) wines are critiqued in the same way.  For example, all Cabernet Sauvignons will have similar aromas.  There is a range of what a Cab Sauv can smell like.  It smells like Cab Sauv or it doesn’t (quantitative).  Now how prominent that aroma is and the blend of the unique aromas within the range can all vary on a scale (qualitative).  All these ratings tell you is how good of a spot was picked to grow the grapes and the level of craftsmanship of the wine.  It won’t tell you whether you like it or not. Unfortunately, the podcast ends with no conclusion, no help and little information about how to actually buy wine. They even insinuate that only wine “snobs” buy more expensive wines and everyone else should buy cheap wines.  I always get a little worked up when people say things like this because it is simply untrue.  True wine nerds (or geeks) buy wines at a wide range of prices, because we appreciate the experience we have with each of them.  We also know that sometimes the best wine to pair with a meal, given our mood, is a cheap, simple wine.  Therefore, you can easily spot a true wine snob who doesn’t actually know much about wine if they flatly state that they won’t ever buy “cheap” wines.  The price you pay generally has to do with either the legally designated ranking of quality within the country of origin or because the wine is a premium brand.  Let’s face it, with everything else you buy sometimes you get whatever is on sale and other times you like to treat yourself. Wine should be no different.

Consumer Reports:
The second item I came across was while I was pursuing through the latest edition of Consumer Reports.  Apparently, they are rating wine now.  They are also doing it very poorly.  I have no idea how long they have been doing this, but they should either stop or rethink how they are doing it. Electronics, for example are rated on a number of factors like battery life, features, etc.  They’ve rated wine on…well, seemingly nothing except price.  Wine prices range between $3 to $1,000+ a bottle with most wines consumed in the US being in the $10-$30 range.  The wines listed in Consumer Reports ranged between $7 and $22, but what were they rating them on? If they truly wanted to do it right, they would rate wines by how good of a bargain they are. Let’s say there is a wine that sells for $14, but its quality is at a level that it could sell for $20; that’s a good deal! They could even use existing rating systems.  Let’s say a wine is rated by the Robert Parker system at 89 out of 100 points and it’s priced at $12.99.  Or maybe a delicious wine that has been aged for 10 years in oak, crafted from the oldest vine in a highly regarded vineyard going for $50 when it could easily be sold for $75.  Consumer reports could say “We recommend!” but alas, they have taught the consumer nothing about wine.  Epic fail, CR. Epic fail.

Wine Spectator:
The last item I came across was an article from Wine Spectator detailing the current conversation our American wine industry is having about naming conventions.  Herein lies our answer!  Let’s face it, reading through wine labels is confusing.  Each country subscribes to different rules as to what can be put on the label.  Some countries are very stringent (France, Germany) and some are quite lenient (USA).  This means that when you see the word ‘Reserve’ on a bottle of French wine it means that it’s been aged in oak for at least three years.  If you see that on a bottle of American wine, it has most likely been aged in oak for a few years, but that doesn’t have to be the case by law.  So to make it a whole lot easier on the American public, we could define what terms like ‘reserve’ or ‘estate-bottled’ actually mean so you know what to look for.

In the meantime, always remember that location is important.  So below is a quick list of some good regions to find certain varietals of wine.  If it’s a blend of different grapes (varietals) make sure the at least the primary grape is grown in a region that fits it.  After you find the region you are looking for, then you can determine how much you want to pay.  Always know that the more specific they are about the location, the more unique and fun it will be.  Keep in mind that the list below of regions or collections of regions is not exhaustive by any means, but the chances of you getting a bad wine while using this list are minimal.  There are many great wines in varietal or blend form from numerous other places in the world.  This is my “play it safe” list and I’ve limited it to just the Noble varietals.  It should also be noted that you’ll rarely find a <$10 bottle of wine from these specific regions (however, one of my favorites from Paarl Hills, South Africa frequently goes on sale for $6.99 a bottle!). Legally speaking, their governments have established standards that they must meet so they can justify that their wines are of a certain quality.  Want to know what the difference is between a $3 bottle of Merlot from California (not specified where in the state) is compared to a $30 bottle from the Napa?  You’ll have to try it.


  • Burgundy (France)
  • Napa or Sonoma (USA)
  • Southeastern Australia (Most regions)
  • Piedmont (Italy)

Sauvignon Blanc:

  • Loire Valley (France)
  • Bordeaux (France)
  • Marlborough (New Zealand)
  • Casablanca (Chile)
  • Sonoma (USA)


  • Mosel or Rheingau (Germany)
  • Alsace (France)

Pinot Noir:

  • Willamette Valley (USA)
  • Russian River Valley (USA)
  • Burgundy (France)
  • Southern New Zealand (Most regions)


  • Bordeaux (France)
  • Napa Valley (USA)
  • Walla Walla or Columbia Valley (USA)
  • Tuscany (Italy)

Cabernet Sauvignon:

  • Bordeaux (France)
  • Napa Valley (USA)
  • Coonawarra (Australia)
  • Tuscany (Italy)
  • Colchagua (Chile)
UPDATE:  Consumer Reports returned a message I sent them with some helpful considerations:

Dear Mr. Aaron Berdofe:

Thanks for taking the time to contact Consumer Reports®.  It is always a
pleasure to hear from our readers!

We appreciate your taking the time to write to us regarding our report on
wine.  Your correspondence has provided us with invaluable feedback on how
we’re doing.  Please be assured that our readers’ comments and thoughts
help shape the work we do.  I will, of course, forward your correspondence
to the appropriate departments for their review and consideration for our
 future reports.

Thanks again for taking the time to write.  Your interest in our work is
 greatly appreciated.

[Name Removed]
Customer Relations Representative

Autogenerated epic fail.

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