By Dennis Carroll, Head Hooligan
Have you ever been to a dinner at a restaurant and seen the terror in people’s eyes when the wine list comes to the table? You would have thought someone put the proverbial “elephant in the room” on the table the way people try to avoid having to pick up the list. I know, I have been there. The only thing worse is when you have Wine Guy at your table who not only wants to select all the wine, but wants you to know how much he knows about wine…..I don’t care how much you know!
When you are talking intimidation, wine gives the `85 Chicago Bears a run for its money. I have seen incredibly smart and competent people reduced to timid, awkward souls when the subject of wine comes up.
When I tell people I am in the wine business, they usually tell me, “I’m no expert, but I like brand X”. They put that disclaimer in front of their statement so they won’t be embarrassed if I look like I don’t agree with them. How sad, that we have developed a consumer product that makes the buyer feel like they need an outside opinion to judge whether it is “good” or “not”.
Do you ever hear people make that disclaimer when they talk about beer? Hell no! People have no problem with telling you they like Coors Light or Guinness. They simply like what they like. I wish wine could be that simple. Although beer is beginning to go down the path with “craft” beer knowledge…..I am happy to share the pain.
Can we really blame people for being intimidated about wine? We have developed a product that is perfect for “shaming” others. There are several “shame” points you can be subjected to when selecting wine that you should be aware of and laugh at.
I think we have all been “educated” by Sideways about Merlot. Holy cow, most people can’t tell the difference between most red wine varietals. Why did poor merlot get picked on.
ABC-Anything But Chardonnay. What other industry makes fun of its largest category? Don’t be shamed at the table if you like chardonnay. If you like it, you like it.
Pinot Grigio-It’s like water. Well, maybe I like water.
God forbid you think cab is merlot or syrah is zinfandel. The varietal police may lock you up for a felony. Why can’t we just like the way a certain red or white wine tastes.
There is no doubt that where the grapes come from can make a difference in the taste of the wine. I will leave it to others to determine the quality aspects of that difference. However, when we expect people to be able to make buying decisions based on appellation and specific vineyards, I think we are asking a lot of the consumer and of course ramp up the shame possibilities. I have literally heard people talking down to someone about not understanding vineyard “designate”…..that should help to develop a wine culture.
I don’t know how many appellations there are in the United States. I’m not sure I want to know. It hurts my head. When it comes to imports….I tap out.
Ah yes, vintage. The perfect shaming vehicle. Even if you have the varietal and appellation down pat, you run the risk of picking the dreaded wrong vintage. This usually occurs with Wine Guy. Let me give you my best vintage shaming story…….years ago, someone gave me a very expensive `98 Napa Cabernet, which I brought to a party. I thought I had brought a respectable bottle of wine (one that I wouldn’t be made fun of or look cheap) until Wine Guy picked it up. He looked at it, looked at me and said, “Oh, `98 not `97”. I looked at him quizzically and asked him what was wrong with `98. He proceeded to tell me all about how `97 was a far superior vintage to `98 for about ½ an hour. I became bored after about a minute….l am hard to shame.
That covers the informational aspect of developing the intimidating product. Now to the physical…..corkscrews. What other industry would create a product that requires a special tool to open it? If you have opened a gazillion wine bottles, it doesn’t matter what kind of corkscrew you use or what kind of bottle you are opening. When you open a few bottles a year, it’s INTIMADATING. It’s probably during the holidays when the family is over. You have nightmares about not being able to get the cork out and your brother in law laughing at you. God bless screwcaps.
Wine is a lot like golf. Look up the late great Robin Williams take on the Scottish guy talking about inventing golf. #Priceless.
All this intimidation culminated in an experience I had years ago while selling wine in a Bevmo. I was tasting people on a Syrah (not Shiraz….OMG what’s the difference) I was selling at the time. I convinced a woman to try the wine. She did. She drank some wine, looked at me and asked…..was that wine any good? I chuckled a little bit and said, “well I don’t know, you tasted it”. She laughed and said, “well, I don’t really know anything about wine”. I told her it only mattered what she thought. She wound up buying the wine.
The point is…..drink wine. You like what you like. If you drink enough wine you will figure out what is good or bad to you. At the end of the day that’s all that matters. Don’t let Wine Guy intimidate you. Don’t feel you have to have a Phd in wine to have an opinion. Don’t be afraid of the corkscrew…you can always buy screwcaps.
Somebody asked me one time, what my target consumer was. I told them it was anybody who was over 21. I don’t ever want to intimidate a potential customer!