Laugh away, but we have had clients like this. I never thought a wine tasting was a key to climbing the corporate ladder, but I was wrong. Very very wrong. This is from a deleted scene from Will Ferrell’s movie Step Brothers.
Is expensive wine a waste of money?
Several studies have been released recently that calls into question a basic premise of wine buying. Most wine drinkers assume that the more expensive a bottle it, the better it tastes. This is a myth long been questioned by several wine academics, including our own Keith Wallace.
“Pricing is divorced from the quality of taste in the wine industry, ” says Keith. “Wine prices are determined by production costs, scarcity and branding, just like any other retail product. There is a difference between a great wine and an expensive tasting one, and that’s an important distinction.”
One study published a few years ago in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences showed that one’s enjoyment of wine is affected directly by it’s price tag. A group of casual wine drinkers were given several wines to try and rate them according to how delicious they were. The more expensive the bottle, the better rating it received. That is what one would expect. However, their is a catch: the wines were exactly the same; the only difference was the quoted price of the wine. Participants ranked a $45 Cabernet Sauvignon higher than the same wine priced at $5.
During the wine tasting, the subjects where hooked up to FMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging) machines. The resulting scans showed more activity in the medial orbitofrontal cortex, the brain’s pleasure center for taste. It wasn’t that they just rated expensive wines higher: they actually enjoyed those wines much more.
Let’s hope that FRMI machines don’t become standard equipment at wine tastings.
To add insult to injury, a study published in the Journal of Wine Economics shows that most wine enthusiasts prefer the taste of less expensive wine. From the study’s conclusion:
In this paper we have explored the bottom-up effects by looking at how participants in blind tastings rate wines. We ﬁnd that, unless they are experts, individuals who are unaware of the price enjoy more expensive wines slightly less.
To top that off, there seems to be a huge disconnect between what wine experts — sommeliers and wine critics– enjoy about wine, and what the average wine drinker prefers.
Our results indicate another reason for why the average wine drinker may not beneﬁt from expert wine ratings: he or she simply doesn’t like the same types of wines as experts. This is consistent with Weil (2001, 2005), who ﬁnds that even among the subset of tasters who can distinguish between good and bad vintages, or reserve or regular bottlings, they are as likely to prefer the “better” one as the “worse” one. These ﬁndings raise an interesting question: is the difference between the ratings of experts and non-experts due to an acquired taste? Or is it due to an innate ability, which is correlated with self-selection into wine training? Investigating this further would be a fruitful avenue for future research.
In sum, in a large sample of blind tastings, we ﬁ nd that the correlation between price and overall rating is small and negative. Unless they are experts, individuals on average enjoy more expensive wines slightly less. Our results suggest that non-expert wine consumers should not anticipate greater enjoyment of the intrinsic qualities of a wine simply because it is expensive or is appreciated by experts.
So, wine drinkers prefer less expensive wines that are rated less…. unless they know the wines are more expensive. Then they enjoy them more? That seems to be the current scientific theory. Does this mean you should just drink cheap wine? Probably not, says Keith.
“If you like to drink wine and have a good time, then spending no more than ten bucks a bottle makes sense,” says Keith. “However, if you love wine, and are really into how it tastes and how it changes over time, and all the cool stuff. Well, then these studies should be a wake up call. Instead of just drinking, you should start learning about wine. Go to classes, read books, whatever. The more you know, the more exposure you have, the more you will enjoy wine.”
The more you drink, the more you learn. The more you know, the more you love it. That’s the kind of advice I like to hear.
A small little wine school in Chicago is getting a whole lot of attention. Master Sommelier (and runner up in the International Silly Name Contest) Krunch Kretschmar has unwittingly discovered how to build a virtual nuclear warhead with nothing but social media.
Krunch owns Bottled Grapes, a tiny wine school in Chicago. He recently opted to do a Groupon promotion. That alone was a bit crazy, since there is a growing amount of proof that a poorly conceived Groupon promotion can bankrupt a small businesses. For his Groupon, he sold $35 tickets for $17.50 each. Since Groupon takes 50% of the revenue of each sale, that means Krunch earned $8.75 per ticket. At that price, he was loosing money for every groupon sold, and there was over three thousand of these deals sold. Since he only offers an average of four classes a month, he was looking at loosing money for a few years. That sucks, big time.
Add to the mix a Yelper. Yelp is a powerful thing. Yelp and it’s aggregated reviews are widely trusted as a barometer of quality. Large businesses will have hundreds of reviews, so a single review won’t affect them. However, a single bad review can cause major damage to business with less than ten reviews, thousands of dollars of lost sales to a small company. That is the type of power that should be handled carefully and gently. Unfortunately, the power of Yelp is largely wielded by the most callous groups in America: affluent white twenty-somethings.
So, the Yelper in question, Cecelia Groark, bought a Groupon. She didn’t like the customer support she received, so she left a scathing Yelp review. If facing bankruptcy via Groupon wasn’t enough, now Krunch’s reputation was tarnished, too. Yelp plus Groupon is a volatile mix, that’s for sure: it can implode a business in a few short months.
What turned this from a sad tale to a nuclear chain reaction was Krunch himself. He figured out the identity of the Yelper, and engaged in the type of payback every small business owner dreams of, but never does: he struck back. He created a blog under her name, and according to the Chicago Sun-Times he “accused her of ‘embezzling’ from her employer, of having a drug addiction and of “turning to the oldest profession to gain funds need[ed] to support her habits.”
Unfortunately for Krunch, he seems to be something of a dumbass. After creating the blog (which included her cell phone number), he emailed a link to Ms. Groark. Now he is facing a half million dollar lawsuit. Oh, and dozens of other Yelpers are trashing his reputation. While Krunch “I hope to God your middle name isn’t Kris” Kretschmar is not much of a protagonist, this is one of those stories that every small business owner should take notice of.
Benini 2006 “Sassotondo”, Maremma Toscana IGT
The Tuscan Maremma is becoming the place to go for lighter, softer reds, a contrast to earthy Chianti Classico and brooding Brunellos. In the airy hills of Grosseto province Sangiovese is known as Morellino, which has become a popular alternative to other wines from the hundreds of Sangiovese permutations.
Morellino is not the only grape in town. Ciliegiolo is so named for aromas and pigmentation reminiscent of cherries. For many years it was a minor blending varietal, its low level of acidity and docile nature a counterweight for fuller, more tannic wines.
“Sassotondo” (circle of stones) is a blend of 90% Ciliegiolo and 10% Alicante from the Pitigliano region. It spends no time in barrel and very little in bottle, giving it freshness and enhancing the already fruity, soft characteristics of the grape. Cherries predominate on the nose and in the mouth, joined by darker fruit and a touch of peppery spice mid-palate. Mild tannins add just enough dryness to offset cedary smoothness, leading to an unfiltered finish that maintains the overall sense of roundness.
Memorable? Probably not. But just what summer calls for as a complement to lighter pasta dishes or white meats either grilled or roasted.
One of the better known food and beverage bloggers in Philadelphia is now the newest member of the Wine School team. “Collin Flatt is going to be a great asset to the school,” says owner and founder Keith Wallace. “I hire only the best wine instructors available, and Collin has proven to me he has what it takes to play in the big leagues.”
Like many Fine Arts majors before him, Collin’s food and wine career was originally nothing more than a few gigs as a bartender. However, he pulled off the impossible. After several years in Rome and New York, he returned to Philadelphia as an industry insider. “This is my calling. I suck at everything else,” quips Collin.
Along with teaching at the Wine School, Collin will remain a notorious figure in Philly’s culinary scene. Along with his well-known work as the editor of Phoodie.com, he will continue in some less boisterous ventures. These include his work as a trusted broker in the fine wine auction market, and as a consulting sommelier. Most recently, he has teamed up with legendary chef David Ansill to redevelop the menus at Ladder 15.
Collin is the third well-known food and wine writer to join the staff of the Wine School. He follows in the footsteps of Brian Freedman and David Snyder. At one point, all three were students of the Wine School. “I am not sure if its a chicken-or-egg thing, but our Foundation program is a breeding ground for creative foodies. Go figure,” says Keith. “It sure helps that I don’t have to look far to find top-notch staffers.”
Come join us at the Wine School of Philadelphia this spring and give a warm welcome to our newest authority on fine food and wine, Collin Flatt!
To set up a time to speak to Collin Flatt, please contact the Wine School at 1-800-817-7351, ext. 33, or email email@example.com.