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Not all that glitters is Gold

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Award stickers: friend of foe?

How often have you been in this situation? Dinner invitation received, outfit selected, small gift wrapped, ready to go. Jump into car, stop outside wine shop on the way to party. Rush in (after all, an hour is disrespectfully late), flick a quick hello to the manager and stop in your tracks – which wine to choose? Relax, you are not alone.

I recently attended a drinks party on the Shore. It was one of those bring-a-bottle affairs. No one was concerned about whose wine was being enjoyed and ownership was parked at the front door. Later in the evening the host approached with a bottle in each hand: “Gold medal wines” he proclaimed. I pointed out that one was a WineState sticker and the other bottle was adorned with 4 bronze medal stickers that looked surprisingly gold. A discussion ensued about the importance of awards in influencing wine purchasing decisions. Everyone in the group agreed that sticker = quality = sense of security.

From my short time in wine retail I am acutely aware of puzzled customers’ needs of assistance. They seek a wine that will not disappoint, be a waste of money or cause loss of face. However, before you equate quality with a sticker, think about another option. Build a relationship with a wine store where the owner/manager has an understanding of wine and takes the time to make recommendations based on your preferences. Finding the right wine merchant is like finding your favourite café, where your scrambled eggs arrive exactly the way you want them and the coffee puts a smile on your face. Get to know the wine person by name, make sure he or she knows what your wine preferences are. Give them feedback on wines that you have bought. Only that way will they be able recommend wines suited to your taste.

The great challenge is finding that gifted person. Ask around and you will find them. They are usually owned and run by the same person, with a love of wine and a keen interest in sharing their learnings with their customers. Sadly most supermarkets have dumbed down their wine selection and employ staff who are more interested in margins and price-points than offering an interesting selection. If your local wine shop’s service extends only to offering mainstream brands and taking your money, you may have to rely on those stickers that irk label designers. But, buyer beware! What does each of those stickers actually mean; who is behind each and what gives them the right or authority to tell us what is better than the others?

There is much greater confidence now than even three years ago with regard to websites. Virtual stores are now offering wide ranges of wines that you would not have found previously. My suggestion is, again, build a relationship, ask questions, check out the communication and the service with an initial, smaller, order.

There is a vast array of wine “medals” supplied by magazines and wine shows. Add to those the annual wine guides and regular wine columns and I believe that we are where we started – as confused as ever.  

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