Seattle Wine Blog

This blog is dedicated to commentary on all aspects of wine, especially short entries to help you find the best wines without the usual hype and spin. These are my frank, independent opinions, usually based on tasting wine at a public event, off the shelf or at the winery. "All creative acts must arise out of a specific soil and flicker with a spirit of place" -D.H. Lawrence

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Six Kinds Of Wine Drinkers

Which kind of wine drinker are you? Or are you a hybrid? Tina Caputo recently wrote a piece in Wines & Vines about a study by Constellation Wines suggesting that there are six kinds of wine drinkers. It seems they discovered that 23% of wine drinkers are overwhelmed by wine. Duh, I could have told them that! Almost all of my neighbors and many of my students in wine classes are overwhelmed by the choices at the supermarket, by wine terminology, by wine names, by foreign wine names, by a lack of information and by the absence of someone to help them. Most people know when they like a wine but they don't have the language to describe it, so they are afraid they won't be able to communicate and will look and feel foolish. That's why I once called the wine blogger community solipsistic since we sometimes seem to write only for our own wine enthusiastic selves, forgetting that most people are overwhelmed, intimidated and mystified by wine. That's why I try to cover the whole range of wine from Two Buck Chuck to Chateau Petrus, from Safeway to the most sophisticated wine shops.

The study identified six kinds of drinkers:

1) Overwhelmed - 23% of consumers are overwhelmed by the sheer number of wines on the shelf. Needing advice, there often isn't any. This consumer tends to buy wine in a supermarket and is too intimidated to go into a wine shop where they are afraid they will have to pay too much and look foolish, even though they actually might get some good advice. Just tell the salesperson how much you want to spend, whether you like red or white, sweet or dry and what you are buying the wine for.

2) Satisfied Sippers - 14% of consumers don't know that much about wine, but they know what they like and typically buy the same brand. These are happy drinkers who buy large quantities of their favorite brand and drink wine every day.

3) Traditionalists - 16% of consumers enjoy wine from established wineries. They feel that wine makes an occasion more formal. They like to entertain at home. They, too, stick to the same brands.

4) Savvy Shoppers - 15% of consumers love to shop for the best buys. They look for the best deals, and love specials and discounts. Value is paramount for these wine drinkers. These consumers want a $7 bottle and a $5 glass pour.

5) Image Seekers -20% of consumers view wine as a status symbol. Like to be the first to try a new wine. Image seekers who have the millions have it easy since all they have to do is subscribe to Robert Parker and the Wine Spectator and buy only "100 point" wines. Wine by the numbers, buzz, exclusive mailing lists, "cult" wines. At any level this is really a game of logos, labels, status and prestige. Millennials and males tend to occupy this space. Designer jeans, designer wines!

6) Enthusiasts - 12% of consumers consider themselves knowledgeable about wine. These are the wine geeks. They tend to live in cosmopolitan centers and affluent suburbs, love to entertain at home, read wine publications and are also influenced by wine ratings.

So what's the deal? In my experience, Enthusiasts and Image Seekers are fine with wine. They shop online, in wine shops, order direct from the winery, belong to wine clubs and mailing lists and by and large are not mystified or intimidated by wine. For the most part, Traditionalists and Satisfied Sippers are happy campers. Savvy Shoppers love the chase. The rest of us are Overwhelmed. As Jose Fernandez, CEO of Constellation, says, "The fact that most who work in the wine industry are Enthusiasts may account for the industry's failure to understand Overwhelmed consumers."

So what is the solution? Is there a "wine culture" in the U.S.? Something definitely shifted in the 1980s. All of a sudden, you could get "Aribica " coffee, French cheese, Croissants and other European delights in many places across the U.S. There was a paradigm shift. Calvinism was out, and hedonism was in. The American wine industry took off, and much more international wine became available in the U.S. Wine drinking was no longer effete, decadent and sinful. More recently, wine has become an accepted part of our daily routine. The fourth wave of wine naming arrived (by place, by grape, "Meritage" by marketers, "fun" and "cool" by winemakers). Finally wine is becoming fun and enjoyable instead of intimidating and mysterious. Not only are there six kinds of wine drinkers ( how many kinds of teetotalers are there?), people of every age are drinking wine. The young are totally into wine because, OMG, it is totally awesome. Yet, so many still feel totally overwhelmed. The answer? Quick and easy wine education. You don't have to have tasted wine from the 600 wineries in Washington , 6000 wineries in California or the 600,000 wines around the world to know what you like and enjoy wine. I teach people enough in a two hour wine class so that they are confident, can describe what they like and are freed from the "I don't know anything about wine" syndrome. Instead of expecting themselves to learn some official cant about wine, "cassis" and all that, they come up with really fresh ways of describing their experience of wine - "dirt", "flowers", "mellow, but not shallow." Instead of a formalistic, ritualistic recital of what you should taste, think of wine as a person and describe that person's physique, personality, etc. Instead of all that romanticized marketing hype on the back label, how about some straightforward facts about 1) when to drink it, 2) how sweet it is on a scale from 1-10, and 3) what to eat with it.

What kind of drinker am I? I am a total hybrid. I find the supermarket shelf overwhelming, overwhelmingly bad for the most part, although, fortunately for me, I can usually find the gems among the faux. I can be satisfied with a few old standbys and I frequently feel that a meal is enhanced and more formal with a serious wine on the table. Like most of us, I love a bargain and a sale, and love to sniff around all kinds of sources of vino. Once in a while I get carried away by prestige and status and like to show off, and, as you all know, I am a totally enthusiastic wine geek.

What kind of drinker are you?


  • At 2:23 AM, Blogger Angela Saltafuori said…

    I Gene
    very nice article! my compliments... I shared on my facebook page :)


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