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The Truly Discerning Wine Buyer . . .


Rebel Rose
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Who is the more discerning wine buyer?

* A buyer who only purchases expensive wines, say $70 and up (and up, and up), purchases based on critic's scores and cellar consultant notes, and refuses to sully his/her palate with wines not on 'The List.'

* A buyer who prowls his local wine shops, reads the wine forums, shops for QPR experiences and bargains, delights in the delicious yet unusual, and refuses to pay unGodly amounts of money for a wine. (Unless his curiosity overwhelms.)

* A buyer who combines the best of both? Is there such a creature?

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Mary Baker

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What about the consumer who tastes a wide range of wines as they come onto market* and makes his or her own decisions about what is good and buys according to his or her own assessment of value, based on experience and maybe even spanning a range of prices from cheap to dear?

I don't know if this is partly self-selection by affinity, but the description above fits most of the experienced wine consumers I know and taste with, Mary.

* Greatly facilitated by tasting regularly with others, sharing costs and duties.

Edited to add: Tasting the new wines blind, need I add? (That used to be taken for granted.)

Edited by MaxH (log)
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"Self selection by affinity."

Ah, Max, you have such a talent for the perfect turn of phrase!

Yes, some of the wine forums I read have a majority of the first creature, some of retail shops I pour at occasionally have mainly the second creature.

And yes, I was being facetious when I asked "Is there such a creature?" There is, and you've descibed him perfectly, Max. Whenever I have a theme tasting for local industry folk, the few "civilians" who are invited to attend are generally in your camp--and very knowledgeable and pleasant they are, too.

But one day recently I was observing some bullying and passive-agressive resistance between two almost caricature-like examples of Buyer #1 and Buyer #2 and I thought, if I were their King and got to smite one, which one would it be?

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Mary Baker

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* A buyer who combines the best of both?  Is there such a creature?

Well, on a non-professional level, one of my housemates is the house wine-buyer (his dad was a sommelier until he retired). He does the expensive buy but also seeks out good bargain wines too, both thoroughly researched. One of his mottoes is "Anyone can find good expensive wine, it takes talent to find good cheap wines".

So he kind of combines both approaches, if i read you correctly.

Sinerely,

Dante

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One of his mottoes is "Anyone can find good expensive wine, it takes talent to find good cheap wines".

These words of wisdom should be engraved on a stone tablet somewhere. It nicely captures my wine-buying philosophy of primarily focusing on bottles under $ 50. I will go above that, but only if I have first tasted the wine and am blown away by it.

Regards,

Michael Lloyd

Mill Creek, Washington USA

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Who is the more discerning wine buyer?

* A buyer who only purchases expensive wines, say $70 and up (and up, and up), purchases based on critic's scores and cellar consultant notes, and refuses to sully his/her palate with wines not on 'The List.'

* A buyer who prowls his local wine shops, reads the wine forums, shops for QPR experiences and bargains, delights in the delicious yet unusual, and refuses to pay unGodly amounts of money for a wine.  (Unless his curiosity overwhelms.)

* A buyer who combines the best of both?  Is there such a creature?

Most of the true "wine geeks" I know (and I am one of them, too) combine the best of both. We do not rely on scores but rather, our own palates. I have a preference for Burgundies, others prefer Bordeaux, etc. And to find a great QPR wine is even better, and there are many many many examples out there. (Anyone can 'find' a first growth for $500 but to find a terrific wine for $25 often takes more talent). But...many of the best wines out there cost $$$ and one must 'pony up.'

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Is this divide mainly an American thing, I wonder. Most people I know who are interested in wine enjoy bottles at all price ranges. Very few of them would turn their nose up at a high-end Bordeaux or Burgundy, and would splash out on the occasional (or more frequent) bottle as budget allows, generally to be consumed on more special occasions. But similarly, for the old Tuesday evening tipple, most will try to find good, interesting, well-made wines at a more sensible price.

The question to me is like restaurants. Most "foodies" don't eat at Michelin 3 stars every time they go out, but try to find good food across all price ranges and styles. Sometimes that will include 3 star restaurants, sometimes it won't.

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Once again, Simon nails it. Buyers who consciously put themselves in any "camp" other than Craig's Camp, generally have a bit of ego involved, whether it is the one who only buys wines that score big or wines that he "discovered." There is nothing wrong with using critics as a guide or researching tasting wines as they come on the market to make individual decisions. It doesn't really matter that one only drinks top-notch wines. What really matters is that one enjoys the wines that one drinks no matter the source or the price!

John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

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- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

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There is nothing wrong with using critics as a guide ...
I agree, Doc, but with one emphatic reservation. (Like many wine geeks, I spent much time reading wine critics, and wine books for longer-term information, when learning wine and forming my tastes. All of that, incidentally -- all! -- motivated by noticing that my enjoyment of a wine, and that of other wine drinkers I knew, correlated poorly with retail price. Therefore knowledge was the obvious path to value.)

The striking exception, acknowledged by many in the trade at least privately, is that the arrival of popular score-driven buying in the US caused more people to seek wines once they were highly scored. This departed from US wine-buying habits I observed (in four states) before that. Here's one industry-informed 1988 Internet wine-forum comment that I read and saved:

The one thing [popular score ratings are] definitely good for is predicting retail prices.  Many retailers and consumers look at [these scores] and no further; thus you can count on a recommended wine being expensive and hard to find.

John Haeger later documented this effect more concretely in his 1998 article about it. The problem is not really anyone's "fault:" it's inherent with simple, widely-read guidance. Which, ironically, can increase the price a customer pays for a wine, compared to finding it by other routes. (But again validating that Knowledge leads to value.)

Edited by MaxH (log)
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I will not lie and suggest that if I had chosen a more lucrative profession I would not be more apt to lay out $50 plus for a bottle, and certainly with price often too follows quality. However, I really think that I would fall into the latter camp regardless. I just like the hunt for that Bordeaux supérieur, for instance, that is drinking more like one of the big boys.

I think looking at wine critiques is fine if it helps you make an informed decision, but think that most of this scoring business has become a bit fetishized and thus has led to an irrational increase in prices of the world's more established wines. By this I mean the wine takes on mystical characteristic or becomes an object of lust or status, as opposed to being purely aesthetic. I know this sound a bit pedantic, and perhaps a bit elitist, but do we pay the price, no pun intended, for those who simply point shop.

Personally I like the way Decanter does its scoring with stars and tasting notes: the stars give me an idea regarding overall quality while still allowing for a good deal of subjectivity; the notes help me to determine whether the wine would be a good match palate-wise.

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Personally I like the way Decanter does its scoring with stars and tasting notes: the stars give me an idea regarding overall quality while still allowing for a good deal of subjectivity; the notes help me to determine whether the wine would be a good match palate-wise.

As a point of history, menon, that also was the standard model for most US wine newsletters until about 20 years ago. (I have many of them on file.)

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To stray a little bit from your terminology, I don't know any genuinely serious wine lover who would scoff at a delicious low priced wine or be afraid to love it.

I buy many wines in the under $10 range, and leverage my buying dollars so that I can afford the wines that just cost a lot of money, like Burgundies. But I drink a lot of perfectly delicious wines from Alsace, France, and Portugal, that are less than ten dollars, and I'm not afraid to say so.

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Counterman: “Who’s going to sit and cut fruit all day, lady… YOU?”

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Personally I like the way Decanter does its scoring with stars and tasting notes: the stars give me an idea regarding overall quality while still allowing for a good deal of subjectivity; the notes help me to determine whether the wine would be a good match palate-wise.

As a point of history, menon, that also was the standard model for most US wine newsletters until about 20 years ago. (I have many of them on file.)

I was 16 so no wonder I missed it. :smile: What do you feel precipitated the change?

For the life of me, and perhaps due to weak palate, I have no qualitative inkling as to the difference between an 88 and a 92, but then again I have no idea of the demonstrable difference between a B+ and an A- either. It would be interesting if someone did a statistical analysis of the frequency of the various scores (and also ran a regression for price). I mean how bad does a wine have to be to get less than 80 points?

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To stray a little bit from your terminology, I don't know any genuinely serious wine lover who would scoff at a delicious low priced wine or be afraid to love it.

I buy many wines in the under $10 range, and leverage my buying dollars so that I can afford the wines that just cost a lot of money, like Burgundies.  But I drink a lot of perfectly delicious wines from Alsace, France, and Portugal, that are less than ten dollars, and I'm not afraid to say so.

I am with you, but sadly I have had friends and acquaintances in the industry over the years report that many of their patrons really believe that you need to spend at least $25 for a good bottle of wine. One liquor store owner I knew in DC told me once that when recommending a really excellent Ribera Del Duero that was superbly priced at $9 (I was a grad student at the time and could only afford a couple of bottles, but it was excellent), the patron chastised him stating that she could never serve her guests that. She ended up buying two very pricey Californian's, which I am sure were excellent.

Your "genuinely serious wine lover" comment I personally agree with, but it reminds me of the "no true Scotsman" rule in philosophy, which goes something like this:

X: Wine loving Scotsmen like good bottles that span the spectrum of price, prestige, and region.

Y: I know a wine loving Scotman who only likes wine from Domaine de la Romanée-Conti (never had one, by the way :sad:).

X: Well, no TRUE wine loving Scotsman likes only very expensive wines from one part of the world.

:wink:

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Taking these in reverse order --

I am with you, [markk,] but sadly I have had friends and acquaintances in the industry over the years report that many of their patrons really believe that you need to spend at least $25 for a good bottle of wine. One liquor store owner I knew in DC told me once that when recommending a really excellent Ribera Del Duero that was superbly priced at $9 (I was a grad student at the time and could only afford a couple of bottles, but it was excellent), the patron chastised him stating that she could never serve her guests that. She ended up buying two very pricey Californian's, which I am sure were excellent.

Touché! Game, set, match, and tournament.

A famously skilled wine merchant in the SF Bay Area where I come from remarked to me once about trouble interesting customers in an outstanding white-wine value with little US name recognition. "But I sell 800 bottles of -------- Chardonnay a week."

I read the posting above, recalled 15 years of seeking and finding, and buying sometimes in quantity, flavorful red Burgundies priced US $10-$20 and at the same time, reading people online dismissing that region because As Everyone Knows, all its wines all cost $50-$100.

As a point of history, menon, [coarse ratings plus notes] was the standard model for most US wine newsletters until about 20 years ago.  (I have many of them on file.)
What do you feel precipitated the change?
I can't presume to do more than speculate. Could be that the precise, authoritative look of two-digit numbers wooed the market; they seem to imply less ambiguity than zero to three stars plus words. This, the biggest change in the US wine retailing scene in fifty years, was so conspicuous to people who saw it as to render strange the fact that so few wine books really examine it. One thing it did was bifurcate the wine-geek world into one group that boasts of the point scores in its wine inventory, and another that heads in the opposite direction from a new wine people say scored highly.
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A discerning wine buyer uses whatever tools at their disposal to purchase the correct wine for the correct occasion. A light-bodied sipper for the backyard, a “Name Brand” to give as a gift, a cheapo bottle to bring to a party for novices, a case to be enjoyed in 10-15 years, etc. They are one and the same. Anyone with a big pocketbook that goes to the top of the price range regardless is anything but discerning, or knowledgeable for that matter.

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I'm with Gordon.

It seems to me that people new to wine use price and scores to supplement their lack of knowledge/experience (I know I did - and probably still do somewhat). People with big pocketbooks are able to err on the side of luxury (need to invite some of them over sometime :D ).

I'm not sure I'd consider myself discerning, but I know that I love finding those great QPR finds. I like to try lots of wine, so finding the cheap ones allows me to try more.

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