I remember being a kid and being excited when I first heard the word “grab bag”. It was cool as it contained things of random interest, some of which were new to me like a “slinky“. As I got older and knew more, I wanted things that were more in-line to what I found to my liking. And now at the 50 age mark, a grab bag feels more like a negative unknown, kind of like a federal budget. And I digress.
With wine, you want to know that what you’re going to get is in line with your likes. Cost is important. However, variance of major characteristics is as well and regardless of cost, you want pleasure and value for your newly-printed dollar. It’s really that simple.
Variable Costs – This is all over the page as wine goes from $2 to $300 pretty quick and some are even more. So let me get this straight, I can spend $20 and love it and $100 and dump it down the sink? Being a logical guy, it’s gotta be about value. I compare this to buying other consumable items and compare cost and benefit. At some point, this needs to makes sense and the hope is that I will very likely enjoy this. Otherwise I won’t be repeating this experience. After all, I can spend $10 on a sirloin cut of beef, cut it thin, spice it and voila – every time! Carne Asada for at least four to six folks is my kind of value. So with wine, we have learned to set a basic cost threshold, say $35, and try to find the best wine for that amount or less. This is the budget survival strategy for wine drinkers. It can then become a more manageable experience, yet there’s still an element that leaves you wanting better tools to increase your hit-to-miss ratio as none of us enjoy wasting time or money.
Inconsistent from Year-to-Year – Look, if I buy a Sam Adams Boston Lager this year, and order one a year from now, I know EXACTLY what it is going to taste like. With wine, I could buy a 1996 bottle for $40 and have a great experience, and buy the 1997 bottle of what I think is the same stuff, and be extremely disappointed – not to mention $40 bucks out. Can you say ‘ouch‘? Vintages vary greatly in quality, fruit concentration and yield as mother nature always has a hand or two in it. The art is in the winemaker being able to manage the fruit, and processes including fermentation, racking, aging, blending and bottling to present a wine as highly representative and pallatable as possible, year-after-year. Talk about a tough job! At least the Cake Boss can control the quality and quantity of the ingredients!
Alcohol Content Varies Greatly – You almost have to read the label completely here as sometimes it’s nearly impossible to find. Just look for something ridiculously small that appears almost hidden. Domestic wines vary from about 13% to nearly 18% on some wines, and Zins are usually a little higher than most. Folks, this is an alcohol variance of a whopping 40%, so watching how much you drink at what alcohol content over time is always a good idea to be safe here. It’s a good habit to look at alcohol content while buying wine regardless as some of us find the experience less enjoyable as the alcohol content rises as the wine can be perceived as being ‘hot’. And yes, there are apps for the Droid and iPhone for calculating BAC (Blood Alcohol Content) just to be on the safe side of the road and of the law.
Labels Are Confusing – It’s a fact that about 25% of folks select wine by the bottle and label aesthetics. The domestic American label must contain certain amounts of information, like alcohol percent and “Contains Sulfites”. But the labeling laws are confusing at best. For instance, if it says Cabernet Sauvignon, it need only contain 75% Cabernet Sauvignon. If it says it’s from a certain area, only a certain percentage needs to be from that area. And it goes on and on. And the foreign ones get even more confusing, with AOC on the French side and DOCG on the Italian side and more classifications ad nauseam. For more on domestic labeling laws, click here for a short synopsis from our good friends at the TTB (Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau).
Meaningless Ratings – Exactly who are they and why are they here? We have Wine Spectator, Wine Enthusiast and Wine Advocate. For good measure, we’ll toss Wilfred Wong into the ring, the BevMo guy. The real challenge here is that no two rating outfits seem to agree on much when it comes to wine. This is, whether it’s an 88 or a 92, it really doesn’t tell you if the characteristics are those you find favorable. At best and for most consumers and many wineries I have spoken to, it’s tantamount to a crap shoot at a frustrating level to the point that folks will simply give up. Then who will buy the wine?