6 Current Issues in the Wine Industry

And how to work around them


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6 Current Issues in the Wine Industry I have spent a lot of time among wine professionals and super consumers over the past few weeks, and I have to tell you that we are all amazed at how badly many wine drinkers are getting screwed.

It is a rampant problem you see, with multiple causes. Some of which are easy to fix, while others are ingrained problems. Though there may never be a true fix, there sure is plenty of blame to go around.

Let’s take a look at some of the more obvious issues in the current wine industry, and what we can do about them!

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  • Snooth User: Mark Angelillo
    Founding Member Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    2 5,324

    Thanks for the interesting article Greg. I always drink better wines when I shop at better stores. Some merchants simply care more.

    Nov 01, 2011 at 5:31 PM

  • Thanks for the honest assessment. My view, trust only your palate. That means you have to diligently taste wines often and be adventurous. You'll never learn if you don't work at it. That's not so onerous, is it? And if someone disagrees, great. That means you're both being honest. Keep at it and eventually it all becomes much clearer. The best part is that there are so many wines from so many grapes from so many regions, Its just a great journey. And you get to drink wine the whole way. Not so bad, eh!?!

    Nov 01, 2011 at 9:19 PM

  • Snooth User: JAGPR
    Hand of Snooth
    926048 2

    Here's my two cents: (1) the 100-pt system is so compressed between 82 and 95 that it isn't a true 100-pt system (which would be great considering much of Western civilization is familiar w/ such scales); (2) substitute "understaffed" retailers for "lazy" retailers, but save "lazy" for (3) since distributor sales people mostly just go for the slam-dunk sale per your Suckers in #5; (4) arrogance pervades much of the wine industry (I wrote about this a few years ago in my winejustis blog, but nobody paid attention). ... An re: your subsequent blog about BS: gutsy move on your part, so keep at it. ... And as a disclosure of my own: I take EVERY wine review w/ a grain of salt (as well as competition medals) because I know most of the critics plow thru the wines too quickly due to the large volume being taste. I have a pretty good palate, and often taste nuances in wines never mentioned in aforementioned reviews. ... Furthering the BS theme: many of the critics assume things that simply aren't true; e.g. they write that wine-flavor minerality is a direct function of soil minerality. That's BS. Of course, I've had winery clients who have staff members making the same assumption in their mkt materials and on tasting room notes. Thanks for being so direct!

    Nov 02, 2011 at 10:36 AM

  • Snooth User: Winemaven
    45331 30

    Unfortunately, spending too much time with "wine professionals" leads to group think and faulty conventional wisdom.
    The wine business is obsessed, really besotted with points. Consumers, for the most part, are not.

    Wine assessment and evaluation is not a matter of someone tasting a wine and on pure visceral reaction awarding some sort of score. It is a rigorous endeavor that is taught. It is a combination of objective evaluation and subjective opinion based on experience and knowledge. Any scale or evaluative system and a critic's criteria should be understood by consumers before reading tasting notes and scores.

    If we could not agree upon and communicate certain objective based truths about wine there would be anarchy in the market place. there would be no way for a person selling wine to meet a customer's preferences. Wine is at a basic level either white, red or rose. It is light, medium or full bodied. Dry, off dry or sweet and so on. There is a hierarchy based upon sound critical assessment. One can make a reasoned case that one wine is a better wine quality wise than another wine. The consumer (and even fellow professionals) may or may not agree but There are accepted reasons based upon accepted criteria that a Montrachet is a better wine than a Macon Villages wine from a co-op.

    The phrase "trust your own palate" which is usually tossed about by those offering advice (often unsolicited) is usually well intentioned but it is patently absurd. Imagine the advice to someone considering purchasing a car to:"remember buy a car in a color you like."

    There is an assumption in much of the wine world that somehow masses of consumers will be hypnotized by some wine critic and will buy a recommended wine and upon NOT liking said wine will continue to buy it. Worse, these same people will continue to return to the source of that advice.

    Here's a simple situation/test:

    A consumer enters a wine shop. They see three bottles of sauvignon blanc on the shelf one has a score of 90 and one has a score of 93 on a shelf talker the third does not does not. The consumer selects a lone bottle of chardonnay nearby that has a score of 95.

    What conclusions should the store owner come to?

    Nov 02, 2011 at 11:36 AM

  • Write your comment here.

    Nov 02, 2011 at 5:20 PM

  • there is no feedback in wine consumption. If a retailer, distributor/producer is offering a wine tasting for free, I wouldn't dream of telling them the wine gagged me. it is most unfortunate when I am unable to surpress the coughing that some oaked-up, unfiltered white nail polish remover [aka chardonay] causes. I wish the scoring could be broken down by aroma, taste, and i guess what you call finish. i need to reread your post on what the objective measurement mean, again. I know the high alcohol relates to no sweetness. pH Level: 3.71 the swimming pool water is supposed to be 7.2-7.4???

    Acidity: 5.4g/L ~ in terms of HCl, The pH of 0.14810357486375156 M hydrochloric acid is 0.83. ????

    Nov 02, 2011 at 7:03 PM

  • Snooth User: Winemaven
    45331 30

    Your post is a good example of what I am talking about. There could be plenty of useful feedback. It is a matter of the trade not really caring. They have already pegged the consumer as some kind of confused and afraid simpleton. They HAVE to sell their wine and of course, you don't have to buy it.

    There is no point in offering "feedback" to the people pouring that free wine beyond "that's not my kind of wine." However, if you are in the store to buy wine by explaining to a salesperson that you didn't care for the wine you just tasted and explain why; he/she should be able to point you in the direction of wines you would probably enjoy. A good question for a salesperson is "what wine have you had recently that you really liked?" Unfortunately, there are too few salespersons who even ask questions let alone know how to sell.

    FYI--scoring systems DO break down into aroma, taste, and finish! What you are talking about is how the wine tastes. Its flavor profile. No number or icon can possibly indicate a wine's flavor profile. It can not even tell you a wine is red or white.

    Even knowing the the critic who scored the wine will tell you little about its flavor profile in almost every case. This is another piece of misdirection on the part of a lot of wine writers these days. The truth is you need the tasting notes far more than you need the score. Too many retailers simply slap a number on a shelf talker with no score.

    Consumers have learned very quickly that just selecting wines based on a number says little about how the wine tastes or what style it is in. No consumer I know of makes a purchase solely on the basis of a number. (some may give a score more importance than other criteria the first time but..fool me once....).

    This is a result of a belief that everyone has a specific type of wine they like--it is grounded in that inane "trust your own palate" thing. The truth is that most wine critics and professionals assess wines they personally do not care for every day. It is a matter of evaluating a wine based on its quality and not its style! If, for example a theatre critic does not like musicals then what is the point in their reviewing musicals?

    Your citing all those numbers is another result of a misguided and misguiding wine industry. Wine is a very complex substance comprised of myriad chemical compounds. Assessing wine is done by tasting it. Not reading laboratory results. FYI--alcohol can and often does "taste" sweet. Noting the measurement of a wine's acidity tells one little about how it will taste because there are other elements in wine that impact its flavor. For example many German rieslings have high acidity levels yet do not taste acidic!
    Many wines with high measured alcohol do not taste alcoholic and many wines with low alcohol levels often taste very alcoholic.

    Yet too many wine writers and industry folks prattle on about alcohol levels or acidity. Topics more important to a wine maker than a wine drinker. Too often citing these elements in wines is the result of an agenda. Many people today like to subscribe to a wine world of good and bad. Good and bad having little or nothing to do with quality but having everything to do with style. Their trust your own palate nonsense goes right down the drain if "your own palate" prefers wines in a style they don't like!

    The romance of wine is too often used to sell poorly made wine. I recall many salesmen selling me thin sour crude wines as "reflective of their great terroirs." True the wines were reflecting their terroir--a poor growing season with hail problems! By the way, you noted ph levels. That wonderful story of how you will taste the limestone shale, the remarkable soils, is another half truth. Soil composition in wine is more about drainage and heat retention/dissipation than it is about transmuting the actual flavor of limestone. That "minerality" is really a factor of ph and other components NOT actual minerals!. Wine description is about flavors and senses that are evoked more often than not. The "cat's pee" present in many sauvignon blancs comes from a chemical not actual cats peeing on the vines or in the vats! So why do so many peddle nonsense about tasting actual rocks!

    The snobbery is rampant in the wine world. Assumptions are made all the time. For example if you happen to work at a gas station and spend every penny you can on obscure small production wines from certain anointed sources you are a noble wine lover. If you work in high finance and make a huge salary and stock a cellar with expensive wines you are to many, a disgusting "collector" who is status seeking, despite the fact that you may really love these wines as much as the gas station attendant loves his wines.

    The greatest myth is that there is a world of horrible mass produced wines made by greedy industrialists to be foisted upon an unsuspecting and easily misled mass of people who don't know better and need to be educated. All those idiotic stories of wealthy Chinese filling swimming pools with Lafite or mixing coke cola in their Montrachet! Remember trust you own palate....unless your palate prefers Yellowtail Shiraz over some small production enamel removing natural wine from a place no one has ever heard off.

    By the way there are wonderful natural wines. There's no good way to make wine or bad way. There are good small production wines and bad mass market wines and vice verse. If one is truly guided by their own palate preferences they will find wines they like. Despite the misleading conventional wisdom passed around by a jaded industry.

    Nov 03, 2011 at 10:19 AM

  • As owner of a wine retail/tasting room, I concur with most of your comments. But you missed the irony of The Arrogant Frog wine label from France. Having visited the winery that produces that line of wines, they are actually making fun of themselves and the way the world views French, and other perceived snobby, wine drinkers in general. And don't forget the arrogant wine buyers, the ones that love to name-drop high-end wines or loudly proclaim in a restaurant, "yes, I'll take two bottles of the 2002 Screaming Eagle, just put it on my Centurion Amex card..." I'll never forget meeting an 11th generation owner/winemaker in Chateauneuf du Pape and having him proclaim in his rocky vineyards, "I hope you enjoy our wines, remember, they are just fermented grape juices!"...

    Nov 03, 2011 at 2:52 PM

  • Snooth User: PeteMinde
    965755 0

    I spent over 20 years in the wine business in retail and primarily in distribution. I agree with JAGPR about the compression of the 100 point scale, although I think the range is more 88-95. I find it difficult to believe that reviewers can analyze 150 wines in a sitting.

    Nov 03, 2011 at 4:49 PM

  • Snooth User: billstar
    474053 2

    i find the 100 point system very useful if i use it relative to the same reviewer each time. I find that a high scoring wine spectator bordeax for example will be more of a finesse wine, whereas parker might find it lacking in fruit. Likewise a Parker high scoring bordeaux is going to have a lot of fruit and body to it. simplistic yes, but that is how i use some of the ratings

    Nov 03, 2011 at 5:06 PM

  • Snooth User: Winemaven
    45331 30

    Most of the discussion about the 100 point scale here is moot.
    Most critics explain their scale and how it is applied. The whole "compression" issue is really a red herring. The numbers or icons in any system relate to verbiage. Thus in most every 100 point system (or 50 points) 90 and above equate to an "outstanding" 85 and above a very good wine and so on. There is a 20 point scale used by many as well and numerous stars or glasses in icon based systems. All relate to verbiage amounting to good, better, best. Each has its pluses and minuses.

    These scales are not applied so cavalierly as most here seem to think.
    I fear many simply have little idea how any scale actually "works."

    With advances in grape growing and wine making, it would be very difficult to find a wine that would not be at least "average" in quality (70-79 points on the 100 point scale). Most critics do not bother reviewing these wines. What wine lover wants to pay to be pointed to simple "average" wines? Also most critics are not in the business of "not recommending" wines. That is denigrating substandard wine.

    Another red herring is the claim that no one can "plow through 150 wines..." in a sitting.
    This one is in the same category of "big scaled flashy wines always stand out in tastings and thus, get the highest scores..."

    If indeed, this were the case, it would simply not matter. This is too often hauled out to denigrate the work of critics. That is when all else fails, question their methodology. If any critic's work was not accepted as valid by a substantive audience, that critic would be out of business.

    Thus HOW a critic applies their skill is of little importance. The results are, in the end, what count.
    The 150 wines in a sitting conventional wisdom shows a lack of understanding of how wine is tasted and evaluated aside from being completely irrelevant.

    Nov 04, 2011 at 11:08 AM

  • Snooth User: Mponder
    340760 4

    Winemaven: I read your three comments and I'm still confused. You use too many words and discuss too many issues for me. Apparently you know much about wine and the business, but I feel overwhelmed by your long comments. Could you summarize your 4-5 key points in single sentences for me? Thanks.

    PS: As a statistician I spent much of my 40+ year career developing, analyzing, and explaining scales and indexes (they are not the same). Compression is one of the many problems with the 100-point scale. The meaning of each independent scale point is another problem (e.g., are the differences real?). Inter- and intra-rater reliability also are problems. These problems are not unlike those found in other arenas that employ scales for scoring (IQ testing, public opinion polls, sports judging, coffee ratings, medical diagnoses, etc.).

    Nov 11, 2011 at 5:01 PM

  • Snooth User: Winemaven
    45331 30

    Write your comment here.sed as to what is meant by "Compression is one of the many problems with the 100 point scale."
    What specifically are these "problems?"

    Nov 16, 2011 at 3:39 PM

  • Snooth User: Gavilan Vineyards
    Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    517320 40

    Excellent, excellent article...

    There are several score systems out there. While your true-blood wine retailer will find out what you like and recommend what you may like in the absense of such retailer you are in need of some help. While there are several scores out there publizised find out how your taste compares to each. Use the one that comes closest.

    The reality, nothing beats a good professional retailer that is a real wine freak.

    Bottoms up...excellent article Greg!

    Nov 16, 2011 at 4:43 PM

  • Your articles continue to impress me with your down-to-earth sensibility.

    I think the best lesson for training one's palate is a double-blind tasting. A row of ten wines, labels hidden, line a table. Five tasters; two are famous wine critics. The critics AND the amateurs all pick the exact same "best" bottle, and the exact same "worst" bottle. Easily. (Make notes or you'll forget) It's the nuances of the in-betweens that require a more discerning palate. Plenty surprises when the labels are unveiled-and lots of insight into that "point-scale"!

    So open a lot of bottles. At once. Sip lightly, it's booze. Take notes. And hang out with the guys with the generous corkscrews. Thanks, Gregory!

    Nov 16, 2011 at 7:48 PM

  • Snooth User: Winemaven
    45331 30

    Gregory states that consumers are being "screwed" by the industry. I do not think he has made his case.
    I also believe few here have any grasp of what wine criticism is and how it is (or isn't) utilized by consumers.
    My opinion is that the industry is wallowing in its own myopic view of the wine business and latching on to some really faulty conventional wisdom.

    The focus on a 100 point scale is an amusing example. The vast majority of wine sold has no score or review by any professional critic. Either it is not posted or even more likely does not exist.

    No one I know of acts on a recommendation (from anyone) buys a wine, tries it and upon not liking it proceeds to buy and drink more. (let alone continue to follow more advice from the person who recommended the wine in thew first place).

    The industry, including writers and bloggers is literally besotted with wine criticism and specifically scores. There is a profound lack of understanding of consumers and their purchase process. More disturbing is the pernicious belief that consumers are idiots who desperately require assistance lest they end up drinking wine they don't like. This is a recurring theme driving many of these faulty beliefs.

    Of course, one hears the mantra: "trust your own palate" from the industry. Think about this. How idiotic is this advice? Whose palate is a consumer to trust. Who buys and drinks a specific wine because Uncle Fred likes it? When advising someone who is considering buying an automobile do they have to listen to "remember get a color YOU LIKE!"???

    And yet if your palate prefers a wine the dispenser of this advice has deemed "the wrong kind of wine" then the poor consumer is looked upon as some sort of dolt whose palate merely "needs some education." After all "no one could possibly like THAT wine on their own..they must be hypnotized!

    I am still waiting for someone to explain what scale/score "compression" is and how it is a bad thing.

    Here's a another problem. Wine assessment and evaluation is a matter of objective observation and subjective opinion based on a person's experience and knowledge. It is not some sort of voodoo. Wine appreciation is not anarchy. Wine evaluation is taught. If there were no objectivity then it could not be sold. Someone entering a wine shop asking for a full bodied oaky chardonnay would be out of luck because if it were all about "everyone's own special unique palate" then there would be no way to communicate anything about the wine.

    As to someone who is looking for a high quality, full bodied oaky chardonnay--well subjectivity does enter the process here but even at this point it is generally agreed what "high quality" means. Otherwise, a simple Macon Chardonnay would be sold for the same hundreds of dollars a Montrachet garners. Sure we can nit pick the details and yes I understand a wine's cost is not based solely on its taste etc but basically wine evaluation is not a mystical endeavor.

    So all the nonsense about "palate calibration" and "synching"continues. It is also amusing how people in the industry are so caught up in scores. It is the tasting notes that really count. If the wholesalers and retailers were interested in helping consumers they would post notes covering the wine's style and describing it. Instead we too often see only a number. Every critic I know of will emphatically tell you it is the tasting note that is important not the score.

    If one does this then reading the note they will (should) find all the information they need to determine if the wine in question is a wine they might like to try regardless of the critic or person who wrote it. The number tells one very little, if anything, about the style of wine. Is a 90 point wine red, white or rose? Dry or demi sec or sweet? Oaked or not oaked?

    The industry is not screwing consumers...consumers are smarter than they think...no the industry are screwing themselves. Consumers find the wines they like in spite of the lack of real help.

    Nov 17, 2011 at 11:02 AM

  • I worked in 2 wine shops in Cherry Hill, NJ, which is an upscale, generally professional community. The biggest seller in the large shop was white Zinfandel. Most prospects going into the stores knew very little about wine; a handful came in with folded yellow highlighted Wine Advocates under their arms and needn't be bothered by any onsite wine advisor. Recommendations were always easy for the under $ 20 class ( I always used the simple - complex scale to assist) but once a man entered to buy a shopping cart full of over $ 50 wines. He was retired and felt he graduated to the best. That was tough since I knew of but had tasted very few of the high pricers. To this day I continue to believe rating scales at the lower end are much easier to work with than near the top. The 'top' wines probably don't need a scale -- they need another measure, maybe the word 'great'.


    Jan 20, 2012 at 7:47 AM

  • Snooth User: Gregory Dal Piaz
    Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    89065 238,748

    I tend to agree with you. And besides, the 'great' wines sort of sell themselves, though the characteristics that make them great can be so subtle, nuanced, or even weird as to make the wines not so great to many people's palates.

    Jan 20, 2012 at 11:09 AM

  • Snooth User: jsncruz
    1001336 68

    I buy wine from a few wine stores (we don't have many here) only, and I'm happy to say that I've made friends with the salespersons. I've always been a big fan of big Aussie Shiraz, but I appreciated the fact that the guys suggested to me wines they actually drank before, and thus opened my eyes up on Chilean cabs.
    I do have to say that I may not 'look' 'professional' when I buy and order my wines, but I know what I love and I know what I prefer, and in the end, for me it doesn't really matter if a bottle received 100 points or 80; that thing is going to be enjoyed simply because I like it :)

    Finally, this: "And besides, the 'great' wines sort of sell themselves" (del Piaz, 2012).

    Feb 19, 2012 at 7:11 AM

  • Snooth User: kolea
    1306569 18

    I'll preface this comment by saying maybe I'm a little bitter.

    But I'm also increasingly disgusted with how little the wine industry pays in relation to all the experience required to even land a job. I recently read an ad for a lead wine buyer and inventory manager at a large wine retailer in San Francisco -- they wanted 7+ years of wine industry experience, extremely detailed knowledge of inventory software, high volume management experience, had a page and a half of everything the job entailed....and it was a "part time" position for $15.00 per hour. It has to be a joke.

    I don't know any wine buyers who order screaming eagle at 5 star restaurants with a corporate amex. That's more of an overpaid wine consumer move than an industry person. My friends in production have to work as servers and tasting room attendants on the side just to make ends meet, while "consultants" rake in hundreds of thousands of dollars just to out their name on a label and drive by the vineyard. It doesn't help that most of the wine jobs are located in some of the most expensive areas in the country. Employers want all this experience and don't want to pay decently for it, and it's a shame. That, to me, is a really big problem with the wine industry.

    Jul 05, 2013 at 3:07 PM

  • Definitely agree with the value of a knowledgeable wine store. One of my go-to places is The Wine Club in San Francisco. Also agree that the 100 point scoring system is the path of least resistance but it is the most common quality currency available to my knowledge.

    One idea to make this more useful is to develop a kind of “price/quality” index. This had considerable appeal in a recent comprehensive study among U.S. wine consumers I was principal author of for Merrill Research - Wine Monitor Report (report content outline: http://merrill.com/reports/).

    It was particularly appealing to Millennials (80%), 68% for all U.S. wine consumers.
    One approach could be to develop indices or norms by varietals by region, e.g. domestic Pinot Noirs, French Bordeaux, etc., which could be applied to “score” each brand. At least relative comparisons could be made.

    Mar 15, 2017 at 6:14 PM

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