Wineducation: Choosing Wine 5: Price

Towards a more comfortable wine selection process with our ‘Tier system’

Last time we looked at how the wine market is looking to make wine choosing a simpler, easier experience with systems like ‘The Wine Sign’. This time we’ll look a little at those very phrases used to convey a feeling of what to expect in a wine.

strong and complex

Phrases have sprung up that give indications as to a wine’s fruitiness or weight of body for example and this can help to navigate the ‘wine field’. But what exactly is ‘fruity’? Or ’rounded’, ‘opulent’, ‘firm’ and ‘spicy’. I guess when you experience them and discuss them seriously for the first time (if that is your want) the light dawns.

One must bear in mind that subjective phrases are sometimes bandied about with broad brush strokes that can mean little, or rather unhelpfully; different things to different people. But there’s a romance to them too that is more appealing than the surgical starkness of anything the surgeon general might  have to say.

‘Soft and fruity‘ doesn’t actually cut it when one is trying to describe a wine in a serious, detailed manner for the intermediate or advanced customer but it is somewhere to begin if you want to understand a general style of the wine you might be considering purchasing.

In reality, how often does it matter? How often do we merchants encounter customers who actually want to know the particular intricacies and nuances of a wine? Not that much, as it turns out.

About 5% of the time, it’s an issue. That’s about it. 5 in a hundred sales, a customer will want to know what the wine tastes like before they buy it. Amazingly low for something that is put onto taste-buds.

My wife, bless her, prefers, soft, weighty, sweetly fruity yet dry reds from the New World made from Malbec, Merlots or Shiraz. Does it matter that she can’t put that into words. Not really.

If she can’t find that which she recognises, or forgets that she likes pretty much all red grapes starting with the letter ‘M’, she can always fall back on the honeyed, rich, off dry Sparkling wines she so loves, or practically any dry white wine. It’s not life and death for her. She knows there’ll always be another chance for pleasure, if today’s wine moments weren’t so perfect. She also has me as a back up plan. She married well.

It actually turns out that price has been (and maybe always will be) the overriding factor in most customer decisions, not taste. It holds the casting vote. That’s the nature of the beast.

Rich and interesting‘: Ok, the phrase might be vague, especially when it’s applied as a throw away line in a overly simplistic description; rendered meaningless and perhaps even misleading by careless vendors. But it does give customers a pointer, when used accurately, if the customer has already encountered arich and interesting wine previously.

However, what the liquid costs trumps everything else.

When one remembers how the vast majority of wine drinkers feel about their wines, these phrases may be superfluous. They want it to be simple to grasp; non-threatening and helpful. ‘Soft and fruity’ is also relatively easy to grasp.

These phrases do help consumers to navigate towards the desired, ‘safe-bet’ purchase. A good wine consultant will always be able to help with any tricky choices or recommendations.

Perhaps a globally adopted, alpha-numeric or a colour system (or similar) that easily translates flavours, textures and weight into a coherent code for consumers is coming; The Wine sign (see the previous post) certainly is a neat and simple step in the right direction if that is ones goal. Time will tell if it proves to be a helpful guide or another step towards mediocrity and banality by standardisation that some argue is the result of Robert Parker’s points system.

I’m sure there’s not as much controversy about wallpaper selection as there is about wine buying- and you have to look at that for years if you get it wrong…

Our tier system forms part of our long term commitment to providing a comfortable buying environment. By that I mean that we will aim to introduce increasingly simpler systems for customers to identify their favourite styles and make purchases that are better informed.

The tier system is our first step based on The Wine Man’s experiences and conclusions about how the majority of people make that purchasing decision: Price.

Our Tier System categorises wines by price into levels.

  • Tier 1 up to RMB119
  • Tier 2 RMB120 to RMB219
  • Tier 3 RMB 220 to RMB359
  • Tier 4 RMB360 to RMB499
  • Tier 5 RMB500 to RMB759
  • Tier 6 RMB760 to RMB1000
  • Tier 7 over RMB1000

When we design mixed cases we name the price levels the wines are drawn from. If they wish, a customer can discover more about any particular mixed case by reading the descriptions on the mixed case page or delve even deeper on the individual wine’s specific page, where often further comments, reviews and scores from independent commentators are found.

Taster Pack 3 (Tier 1 & 2) 12 bottles

Sometimes the wines in a mixed case may come from a single tier. Less often they are vertically arranged across two or more tiers. This will enable consumers to compare styles and quality levels themselves and learn more (if they wish).

A Journey Through Italy (Tier 1, 2 & 3) 6 bottles

It certainly helps customers to make informed choices about the various mixed cases we sell.

Explore a few mixed cases and the tier system to see if it helps you to decide which wines might be right for you. We have around 26 mixed cases (I lose count!) of which up to 5 are put onto special offer each month in our promotions area. All are reduced in price from our standard price which is already below the recommended and ‘real’ retail price. Double discount madness, if ever I saw it.

Also, check out Napa, who I believe are the only Wine Bar offering the Wine Sign service in Shanghai at the moment. It may be right up your street.

Our spring and summer 2012 Wine Evenings are up and running. Enjoyed as standalone single region/country/styles sessions, they also build into quite a splendid journey through some rather special wines from all over the world. Each month a different major wine producing country and the major and lesser known grape varieties will be sampled. First up is Italy; we have Barolo, Barbaresco, Chianti, Amarone, etc, waiting in the wings.

These evening run in 3 venues:

  • Jugend Art Space in TaiKang Terrace (Luwan), 1st Wednesday of the month
  • Pinocchio Italian Restaurant in Gao Jing Lu (Xu Jing), 2nd Wednesday, and
  • Cafe Du Village in Baole Lu, Huacao (Minhang), 3rd Wednesday.

Also, we take bookings for Private parties, self-hosted or with my informal snippets of know-how thrown in for good measure..

The Wine Man

January 2012 (edited March 11)

next time: bringing all the elements together.

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