Wine Labels: The stereotypical buying habits of wine lovers

LIKE PEEPING at the adult ads in the back of the Planet, grabbing a furtive glimpse into ordinary people’s lives can be titillating. Take wine selecting. You can almost see the wheels churning in buyers’ minds as they peruse the endless aisles, but what makes the final decision? With this burning question in mind, I donned my voyeur hat and recruited a trusty Mr. Moneypenny for some nefarious 007 investigative work at a grocery store and a popular wine and liquor shop. Our sleuthing resulted in some loosely defined wine buyer stereotypes: the Cheapskate, the Sweet Tooth, the Sheep, the Stuck-in-a-Rut, the Researcher, and the Explorer.

Cheapskates shop only on price. If it gets ’em there, they’ll buy it. Only reputation prevents them from buying Mad Dog 20/20. Squatty jug wines, especially those on sale, are a plus. Favorite brands: Hearty Burgundy from Gallo and the family-size Glen Ellen Chardonnay.

The Sweet Tooth prefers the sweeter wines in life. We noticed this category featured mostly women sticking with Rieslings and other German-style wines (which are getting drier year-after-year, so look out). Piesporters, especially those from venerated German winery Schmidt Sohne, hold their interest. When venturing away from their favorite brands, Sweet Tooths like Cindy read the description on the labels.

The Sheep strictly follow friends’ advice. One question: How do you know the friends have any taste? If Sheep trust some blowhard who spends his evenings with the remote in one hand and his feet on the coffee table, then it could get ugly. Young bucks Brad and Scott struck me as perfect Sheep, stating they trust their friends to steer them to the right place. Uh … whatever, dudes. But if your friends are out there going to wine tastings or trying different stuff, then listen. Otherwise, run. Favorite Sheep brands: overpriced, over-rated Blackstone Merlot and Kendall Jackson Chardonnay.

Stuck-in-a-Rut drinks the same wine day-in and day-out. They’re too intimidated or boring to explore other wines. We found a lot of these — and did a bit of marketing for Corkscrew. I met one gentleman who has bought the same exact wine and brand for almost 10 years (Schmidt Sohne Piesporter and Bolla Pinot Grigio) because, “If I like it, why change?” Indeed.

Do all these Piesporter people go to the same parties?

The Researcher subscribes to wine mags, examines shelf talkers and (gasp!) reads newspaper columns. There were a few Researchers at the wine and spirits shop. Words like “varietal” and “mouth-feel” echoed in the air. They are often trend followers, spending their cash on the latest Napa cult Cabernet or Chilean steal. Researchers are easy to spot; look for them skulking about in the high-end French section.

The Explorer will try anything. They haunt wine tastings, sampling anything remotely wine-like. In their effort to uncover the coolest wine for the best price, Explorers are frequently duped by the “Good Value” shelf tags — ads motivated by the cheap distributor deal of the week. Quite a few people we interviewed ask waiters for help with their wine selections. When you’re talking $30 or more for a bottle, that’s a trusting Explorer. This trick often earns a big tip if the waiter looks out for your wallet and delivers the goods.

But beware the liquor or wine shop recommendations. Some clerks earn distributor-based commissions to peddle specific wines, anywhere from $1 to $5 per bottle. So if a sales clerk is trying to sell you a case of something you’ve never tried, tread carefully.

After spending the day analyzing wine buyers, I’ve decided more people should branch out and attend more wine tastings. As one Explorer said, “It’s really the only way I can get a real taste for what’s out there.”

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