Buyer Beware

wine consumerEvery wine consumer should read this post by Jeff Siegel, otherwise known as The Wine Curmudgeon. He reviews a wine, Downton Abbey Claret ($17), that apparently exists solely to take advantage of the tie-in with the TV show.

His verdict—ordinary and over-priced. But then Siegel analyses the back label on the wine:

And I got crazier reading the claret’s back label and promotional material. To paraphrase Dashiell Hammett, “I was trying to count how many lies could be found in them, and had reached four, with promise of more. …”:

• This “is an elegant, dry wine. … ” “… with a silky finish.” Dry yes, but about as elegant as a summer day in Dallas and as silky as late-night diner coffee.

• The wine is made with “grapes from the renowned Entre-Deux-Mers (‘between two seas’) region of Bordeaux, France.” Yes, Entre-Deux-Mers is in Bordeaux, but it’s hardly renowned for claret, or even red wine. It’s a bulk wine region with some decent, cheap whites, more or less the French equivalent of California’s Central Valley.

• The wine was put together by a negociant, Grands Chais de France, founded in 1979, hardly “one of France’s great Chateaux.”

• Perhaps the worst: that the claret is age-worthy. It will age about as well as any other $8 wine, which means not at all. Legitimate claret, writes British wine critic Tom Cannavan, “can be the epitome of fine wine. The best wines exhibit a wonderful complexity of aromas and flavours, great elegance and refinement and an ability to age gracefully — some for a hundred years.” This ain’t that.

In short, the back label is a pack of lies designed to mislead consumers who don’t know any better.

The bottom line is that, aside from government-mandated information about who sells or imports the wine, what grapes were used and where they were grown, everything on the label is designed to sell the wine, not inform you. The description of the wine on the back label seldom has much to do with what you will taste. These are written by marketing people not wine experts.

Unfortunately, research shows that decisions about what to buy are typically guided by these marketing materials.

There is no reason to believe any non-factual information printed on a wine label and gimmicky wine labels are just that—gimmicks. You are usually better off buying the cheapest bottle on the shelf

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