Have You Become a More Informed Pandemic Wine Buyer?

I owe you an apology. At the end of last week’s column, I fear I may have left you bewildered and befuddled in my presentation of the factors that influence our wine buying decisions.

So here you are. What thought process do you go through in your pandemic-induced wine buying experiences? The research study I referred to last week analyzed the factors that many wine shoppers consider when confronted with a purchase decision.

Do I perceive a tectonic shift in the future of consumer purchasing habits? No. However, if we can better understand our wine psyche, we all will be making more informed choices. And this process will enhance, perhaps even refine, our individual palates.

I’d like to believe that in a post-pandemic era we will have benefited from an enhanced awareness of how we relate to our instinctive preferences and choices.  

Here is my assessment of the criteria presented last week in a study by The American Association of Wine Economists (AAWE), which narrowed our purchasing criteria to quality, price and packaging.

  1. Quality. The perception of quality wines has changed dramatically since the dawn of the 21st century. Consumers were likely to equate quality to price. The new perception, rightly so in many cases, is that a) quality wines are being produced in ever-greater abundance and b) price competition is more prevalent than ever before. This bodes well for your wallet. But how to discern one perceived quality wine from another?
    My recommendation: Follow my personal mantra. “Continuous experimentation results in instinctive behavior.” Seek out new wines; develop a mental “likes and dislikes” profile for a number of wine regions, grape varieties, even vintages. By building a personalized sensory database, your choices can be more selective and your purchases more reliable.
  2. Pricing. Many quality producers were forced to lower their prices during the Great Recession, and continue that practice today – to the benefit of bargain-hunting consumers. A friend of mine is waging a one-man campaign to promote the wines sold in Trader Joe outlets. His premise: the buying power of Trader Joe enables it to purchase and bottle the oversupply of excellent wines harvested during highly regarded vintages. Unique bottlings of lesser-known grape varietals, from specific vineyard plots, has resulted in significant bargains under $10 (but higher than “Two Bucks”).
    Generally speaking, foreign wine producers have capitalized on this trend toward lower prices. As a result, more than ever before, it is unlikely that a blind purchase of a sub-$20 bottle of wine will wind up down the drain.   
  3. Packaging. Product placement and marketing are more sophisticated than ever before. Wine marketers and advertisers know how to press our hot buttons to entice us to purchase their wines.

Every American demographic has wines specifically marketed to them. This is most evident in bottle labels. Many of you have seen Fat Bastard and Marilyn Merlot, but how about Evil, Scraping the Barrel, Cardinal Zin, Vampire (red, of course) and The Full Monte (pulciano). Plus, the esoteric: Educated Guess, Chaos Theory and Debauchery. Which salacious label is most appealing to you?

After all of this analysis by the AAWE, they concluded that the overriding criterion that influences the average consumer is not what’s in the bottle or on the label, but what’s in his or her wallet. Beyond any ethereal rationalization or sensory overload, price is the driving factor in purchasing wine on our own.

Hopefully, your next trip to your favorite wine shop will be enlightening. A decision cloud has been lifted; your intuition gains a threshold. You see a bottle of Italian Aglianico for $16. You realize that you’ve rarely been disappointed with Italian wines, that the new Italian grape varieties coming into the United States have been popular in Italy for centuries and that value-priced wines have always been an Italian hallmark.

As you head to the cash register, walking right past the wine adviser you relied on exclusively in the past, he offers: “Did you find what you were looking for?”  “Yes,” you answer with your best Cheshire cat grin.

Nick Antonaccio is a 40-year Pleasantville resident. For over 25 years, he has conducted wine tastings and lectures. Nick is a member and program director of the Wine Media Guild of wine journalists. He also offers personalized wine tastings and wine travel services. Nick’s credo: continuous experimenting results in instinctive behavior. You can reach him at nantonaccio@theexaminernews.com or on Twitter @sharingwine.