After my virtual wine show experience back in April, I started talking with Italian producers about getting samples to taste. Eighteen bottles of wine arrived all in one week. Cy and I were able to taste some of them. But I needed opinions for the others, particularly when there were two producers from the same region, each making the same varietal wines.
The pandemic presented the challenge of finding an outdoor space in my densely-populated urban neighborhood that was large enough to keep people at least six feet apart, plus with space to pour 10 wines and put out multiple sets of non-communal snacks. Luckily, one of our neighbors has a deck that could fit eight to 10 people and still keep them adequately spaced. It was a fun and interesting experience. And great to see everyone in 3-D, as one of the tasters commented.
The tasting results were clustered at both ends of the praise spectrum and I couldn’t always get a good idea of what the majority of people liked. Or, in the case of choosing between two similar wines, which ones they preferred. Especially when the wines were unfamiliar to most of the people tasting.
A few of them were no-brainers. I served a Prosecco that was really tasty to start. Everyone liked it, and I wish that half of the contents of the bottle hadn’t gushed out like Old Faithful when I opened it (the hazards of air travel, even after two-plus weeks of rest). Then there was a Pinot Grigio that no one particularly liked, and a Pecorino that practically everyone did. But the rest? Kind of a toss-up. It might have helped to have more people tasting, which I couldn’t do given the space available.
On the one hand, the split makes things easier, since it’ll probably come down to me to decide. But it also means that roughly half of the people who tasted might not be happy with my selections. We’ll have to see.
One issue that came up was price. Some of the tasters asked what the prices on the wines would be. (I was super-pleased no one asked about the “price point,” by the way!) I always give prices for wines I already carry. But I prefer not to talk specific prices for samples. I think it genuinely impacts people’s opinions. In general, my wine selections run $13 – $17, so my current customers already have a guide. Still, a particular wine might not be their favorite at the tasting, but it suddenly tastes better if you tell them the price is $11 or $12 instead of $15 or $16. And unfortunately, a tasting isn’t a pre-order, so there’s no guarantee that customers will buy that wine even at a lower price once it’s for sale.
I understand value is an issue, and if it makes a difference between considering what I’d call an everyday selection versus one that’s a little nicer, I can be satisfied buying the everyday wine. Like for the toss-up choices at this tasting, I could probably go for the less expensive ones. But I also like to get people’s unvarnished opinions on the wines. If they really like one of them, I hope they’ll find a way to buy some of it, even if it’s a few dollars more a bottle than something they’d drink every day. (Obviously, I don’t have all the answers here. Focus-group gurus might help create a way to help tease out taste and value preferences better, but in this case the small sample size probably wouldn’t yield a useful answer anyway.)
I’d definitely like to hear people’s opinions on this — from wine professionals, non-professional wine drinkers, and people who know marketing. Do you want to hear about the price when you taste wine, or do you prefer to taste it without knowing the price? And does that opinion still hold if it’s a wine that’s already available versus something the importer is trying to decide on bringing over? Are people afraid to say they like wines that are less expensive, and conversely, do they want to seem more sophisticated by claiming to enjoy the more expensive wines more when they’re in a group? There’s no wrong answer here, and it’ll help me with future tastings and decisions.