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Wine 101

One topic that we continue to cover is wine education as it relates to the changing tastes of consumers.  

Comedians often joke about the protocol for ordering wine at a restaurant. A diner might pretend to know what exactly they are looking at when skimming a book of wines from around the world—which to most means very little—and then just narrowing down the choices solely by how much they’d like to spend and whether the company at the table prefers red or white. Then there is the ritual of tasting the wine at the table and the presentation of the bottle. How do you know if a wine has turned for the worse? And is it really okay to send a wine back if you are not happy with it, bad or not?

I recently attended the London International Wine Fair (LIWF) and sat in on an interesting discussion in the “Speaker’s Corner” led by Tim Wilson, managing director of the Wilson Drinks report called, “10 Things You Probably Don’t Know about the U.K. Drinks Market.” The talk took a holistic view of the key trends and tipping points across beer and spirits as well as wine with results based on primary consumer research, market data and independent analysis.

There were many interesting facts and figures that Wilson shared; he pointed out to the audience that many consumers confuse grape varieties with wine regions. While this is a U.K.-specific tidbit, I suspect the same would hold true in the United States. Wilson suggests that there needs to be more education done not only by the producers and distributors of wine, but also by the retailers where there is a cohesive approach to what is being advertised and then how consumers find that advertised wine.

Even I found myself confused over the characteristics of grape varieties at a recent wine tasting held at Suze in London’s Mayfair. The restaurant holds wine tastings for groups led by ThirtyFifty, a company that offers tasting and education events to demystify wines and help consumers get more out of their wine drinking experience.

That evening we tasted six wines (some blind, to see if we could identify the grape or region in which the wine was from) including wines from France, Argentina, California, Italy, Australia and Chile. I was surprised by the overall knowledge of the group of 10 women who were able to pinpoint where the wine was from. Though no one got every one correct, the group faired well, using the cheat-sheet that was provided.

The class also consisted of using our sense of smell to try and identify fruit essences. (I proudly was the only one who distinguished raspberry.) But my wine knowledge wasn’t as impressive I have to admit, and I learned how not all wines fall into their stereotype. While there are general characteristics of a particular grape, Zinfandel for example, that isn’t a definitive box.

My favorite wine of the night was St. Hallett Garden of Eden Shiraz Barossa Australia, 2010. All of the wines we sampled were under £13 (about US$20) with the least expensive being £7.49.

The industry continues to work on wine education, but there is still a lot to be done. But as the millennial consumer experiments more with different wines, the entry-level courses are sure to become a bit more advanced.

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