There is a lot of rumination on " wine quality " as an absolute measure in this country. I have used the idea of a measurable quality level myself often in conjunction with price to confer value (quality<price) or pretentious (price>quality) status on a particular bottle. Over time I have come to realize that this system of determining a wine's quality vis-a-vis its price to determine a value proposition is a fun concept, mostly academic and one that bears little resemblance to how we enjoy wine. It is what I refer to as an information based methodology of selecting which wines to drink.
But this Quality determination - if it even exists on the absolute plane - requires a fairly well developed system of critics and opinion givers to support the notion and disseminate the information. In mature markets where each consumer is a palate to be fought over wine quality and the quality vs. value proposition should be paramount. In a brand new market these notions are not yet established across the population of consumers and other considerations are more critical.
Take the US, our wine market is one of the only developed wine markets that is showing significant increases in sales volume at all price points but specifically at the higher end of the market. That the whole market is increasing is a bit of a surprise, but the increase in the high-end sector does not surprise anyone who follows US trends and understands that we have always been a major consumer of vintage Champagne, first growth Bordeaux and vintage Port - pricey tipples all. Marketers often refer to this segment as the aspirational end of the market and the allure can be explained at various different sociological or psychological angles; see the report on this study for a prime example of how your friend the mind can mess with you.
Taken as a whole, and when faced with limitless options at our local wine shops, we fall back on price as the sole determiner of purchase decisions. I posit that this is exactly what you would expect from a nascent community of drinkers. Now, to be fair, the US is not a homogenous market and the level of transition from price based to information based wine selection is very different across the country and, more to the point, as a market the US is well on its way to making this transition at every level of knowledge and across categories. Too, the level of information available to even the average consumer is a quantum measure more advanced in today's environment than even 10 years past and that aids in the speed in which a market can make this transition.
This is going to be important because the world's wine producers find themselves on the edge of huge expansion in the size of demand for their product. Call it the China syndrome or more as I have painted it, a devil's bargain. And you may unwittingly be a part of that bargain as these new markets may be driven top to bottom by price and not by information and this will affect the type and style of wines available in all locales across the globe.
Before we deal with the shift in worldwide supply my question to the community is have you felt the shift in your own purchasing habits and to what extent do you feel that you are, if you are, broadening your information base to make better purchasing decisions?
Robert Scibelli is a lecturer and administrator at New York’s premier wine school, International Wine Center .
I went down to the crossroads...
- Reply by Philip James, Apr 30, 2008.
I enjoy learning a lot of the pop-psychology around what affects purchase decisions. I feel the agony of choice is a key one: the fact that with limitless choice its impossible to find the perfect product, so many people settle for none at all. At this point, you need to seek sufficient satisfaction, rather than maximizing it.
Its certainly true, that expensive wines just taste better. I dont remember the exact source that I first found this, but am sure it was a recent business week article.
Its very interesting to see the dimensions that users use to make decisions when overwhelmed by choice. Price, for all its flaws, is a quick and efficient, if inaccurate, way to do so. The only other 'hard' metrics, would be alcohol level, or vintage, but quality isnt as correlated with either.
- Reply by oceank8, Apr 30, 2008.
Price is definitely the biggest influence on me. I usually have an idea of what I want to spend before I even start. And let me say that too cheap is as much of a turn off as too expensive (unless I already know the wine). The second biggest influence on me is what's being "showcased" or put on special display. Once in my comfortable price range, I look at varietal and any wine maker notes. I have felt a shift in my own purchasing and feel it has become much more informed as I learn what I like from each region.
- Reply by Mark Angelillo, May 1, 2008.
Good post, Robert. This is part of the reason we chose not to make the Quality Price Ratio sorting function the default for search results on Snooth and stuck with Snoothrank. We had some discussions early in the Snooth building process where we discussed whether we should rate wines based on price and quality, or simply quality. (Rating wines based on price alone would be a lifeless exercise.) We decided it was of course going to be different depending on the user. For some, Charles Shaw is a 4.5/5 wine in no small part because it is priced lower than a carton of milk.
Quality is key -- you should drink the best wines you are able to drink. And if your wallet restricts you, we provide the tools for getting at those wines which maximize quality and minimize cost.