Friday, July 08, 2011

Selling Wine Without Points

This is an old rant of mine, but every once in a while something happens here at CWC that reminds me why I haven't read a Wine Spectator in about ten years. Two couples come in to do a Tuesday Tasting. I started them off with a Prosecco (Gasparini - Asolo, Italy). They enjoyed it; even the one guy who professed not to like bubbles grudgingly admitted liking it. One of the guests then asked me if the Wine Spectator had liked the Gasparini. I responded that I had no idea, that in fact, I hadn't peeked at a Wine Spectator in years. She seemed surprised, even a bit taken back. I then explained that if I waited for the Wine Spectator to mention a particular wine, even a particular wine region, I would end up being like most other wine shops - a follower instead of a leader. I went on... probably went a bit overboard, but she started it!

I explained that I was one of the first stores in Maryland to carry a Prosecco, certainly the first wine bar in Maryland to pour Prosecco by the glass, when we opened in 1998. In fact, we were pouring Prosecco years before any restaurant in Little Italy thought about doing such a thing. Leaders start trends, followers reap the benefits - more press attention, more product availability. The reason there are dozens of Proseccos available in Maryland today (there were two brands in Maryland when we opened) is that the market leaders expressed interest, and suppliers responded to our interest.

Is Prosecco the sole example? No - here's a short list of other trends (grape, style, region, method) that we have helped lead the way on (listed roughly from oldest to newest, dates are approximate):

Shiraz (virtually non-existent in the USA just 30 years ago) - about 1980
Spain (specifically Ribera del Duero, Albarino, Priorat/Montsant/Terra Alta) - 1987
Prosecco (fits in about here - I worked for the first Maryland importer/distributor of Prosecco) - about 1990
Viognier - 1993
Malbec - 1995
Torrontes - 1995
Gruner Veltliner - 1996
Estate-bottled Champagne - 1998
Cremant (de Jura, de Bourgogne, de Loire) - 2000
Organic/Biodynamic winegrowers - 2000
Rose (as in dry pink wine, still and sparkling) - 2000

Of course, I'm not alone; there are a handful of us in each market. And I didn't invent any of these things - this is wine, after all, and it's been around for ages, so there isn't a whole lot that is actually "new." A trend usually gets started with one wine - for some reason, it makes a strong impression, we start searching for similar experiences - next thing you know, customers catch on, ask for more, go to other stores and restaurants searching, distributors catch on, then, perhaps, a few years later, the Wine Spectator.


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