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exploring wine with tim fish

Are You a Consumer, Collector or Absolutist?

When it comes to wine lovers, everyone has a style
Photo by: David Yellen

Posted: Oct 16, 2013 10:40am ET

I was a newspaper reporter for 20 years and one of my biggest challenges was figuring out what readers wanted to read and what I thought they needed to read.

Neither is simple, although the Internet makes the first easier: The number of clicks a story gets can give you an idea of what readers want to read. Deciding what they need to read is trickier. There's a thin line between helping your readers learn more and blatant demagoguery, especially when it comes to areas in which a level of expertise is required like wine or food, or art, gardening and sports for that matter.

Figuring out what wine lovers want and need to read is sort of like agreeing on the best baseball team as the World Series approaches. We all come at it from different angles, and even after the trophy is taken home, the argument lives on.

Wine, as I see it, is segmented into three broad readerships: general consumers, collectors and absolutists. Attracting all three is a challenge. This is how I break it down.

Consumers: A big chunk of these folks never read about wine, but there's a substantial and increasingly savvy group that is defining and refining what they like in a wine, so they're hungry for suggestions. Value to some degree is important.

Collectors: The classic wine reader. They have a cellar, whether it's tiny and stashed under a bed or a designer showplace, and they're interested in how great wines age. They avidly follow particular regions, wineries and winemakers and each vintage holds significance.

Absolutists: They are fanatical about specific wines, wineries and regions. Their passion is contagious, and it energizes the discussion about wine, as long as they don't demonize the wines they don't like.

I try to appeal to all three in my blog but, as an old-school reporter, I'm always interested in what you think.

Sherri Q Holmes
Chicago, Il, USA —  October 16, 2013 12:52pm ET
I am a consumer but I am learning. I have two wines I have collected and I have about 12 I plan on drinking in the next year. The more I learn, I will collect more. Plus I dont have the space to store properly. I do read about wine and I visit Napa and Sonoma every year but I am still a novice! However it is fun to learn!
Mark Lyon
Sonoma, California —  October 16, 2013 1:35pm ET
I am both a collector (Mostly Bordeaux and some Sonoma Chardonnays and White Burgundy) and a consumer. My weekday would be as a consumer (weekday wines; not guilty about opening up an expensive one) and then special occasion; or dinner parties when I get a bottle out of my collection.

As for Absolutists; yes please don't demonize a wine somebody else likes; especially new consumers who are just learning.

Let's bring those who enjoy wine to the forefront. Without consumers; I would not be working at a winery!
They are the most important persons in the chain.
Peter Vangsness
East Longmeadow, MA —  October 16, 2013 1:59pm ET
Tim,
I'm afraid I have a little bit of each of those three categories in my enjoyment of wine - and I may not be alone!!
Any writing about wine is also wise to assume that, on occasion, we all like to hear a little bit about being a successful consumer, dream a little bit about being a serious collector, or sharing our passion a little bit with others about a specific wine or vintage.
Any interesting story about people and wine will always have an audience.
John Wilen
Texas —  October 16, 2013 2:31pm ET
I am a collector. Each vintage holds significance. And so yes I did notice that WS quietly changed the Napa Cabernet 2010 vintage rating from 88-90 to a whopping 98. What took you guys so long? Why did you even bother with the initial guess?
Brett R Turner
Hawthorn Woods, IL —  October 16, 2013 3:04pm ET
I am a collector who is on a few mailing lists but I mostly watch for good deals on wine in Chicago area stores. I typically focus in the $10 - $35/bottle range and seek close-outs, sales, etc. on more expensive wines from all over the world that end up in this price range. As a result, it is hard not to be "scores-driven", but I will try to corroborate wine ratings with more than one critic if feasible (as most of the wine I buy I have not tried). That has really allowed me to stretch my wine dollar and fill up my cellar with high quality wines. We drink wine on a regular basis, but probably 1 out of every 10 bottles I purchase is for the purposes of longer-term aging, usually Barolos and Barbarescos, Southern Rhone, Bordeaux, Brunellos, and my favorites, Zin Blends from California or Syrah/Blends from California and Washington. Some blog topics of interest might be: Shopping stratgies, on-line retailers versus local stores; is good zinfandel or zin blends an expanding or shrinking market?; what are the qualities of great young winemakers today? Cheers!
David W Voss
Wisconsin —  October 16, 2013 4:44pm ET
I've passed thru all three phases since starting to drink wine in the 70's and after finding fine wine shops in the Northwest Chicago suburbs settled into a mix of collector and absolutists. Met several very experienced members of the last two categories and learned a lot while keeping my perspective that my taste governs my purchases. Since retirement I've drawn my collection from the 700+ range to about 240 which probably means I'm becoming only a collector. So many wines, so little time.
Daniel Sherer
Windsor, CA, USA —  October 16, 2013 5:08pm ET
Tim…I’m all three. Being in the industry keeps me in tune as my thirst for knowledge gets satisfied with my palate; as well as my mind. My focus and passion allows me to spend so much of my time exploring, reading, tasting, teaching and buying. I buy as a professional and always have what I perceive the consumer is looking for while at the same time I attempt to broaden those horizons with the introduction of new wines, new regions, and new styles. I too am a consumer, and am always on the “hunt” for that something special, something different, something good and always something affordable. In the end, the fruit that we all enjoy has so many tangibles and perceptions and all subject to personal taste, both in the mouth and mind; that I truly enjoy all the roles I play. Consumers today are seeking information. Our job in the industry is to provide it.
Tim Fish
Sonoma County —  October 16, 2013 5:11pm ET
Thanks for joining the conversation everyone. Many thoughtful points.
John Turi
Southern California —  October 17, 2013 1:01am ET
I didn't see an Absolutist... as I am. I write a wine column for an academic magazine so I need to be a Consumerist just once a month; it does help diversify my palate. I grew up working at a famous wine store in Naples (Long Beach), California in my teens and into my college years and I've had the best of the best... but my passion is Pinot Noir grown in Northern California; I like them with heat and fruit. I enjoy dining with friends and telling them the stories about passionate winemakers as we drink their wines and revel in as Robert Louis Stevenson said “Poetry in a bottle”.
Richard Meade
CT, USA —  October 17, 2013 2:06pm ET
I'm a consumer who just started collecting in the past few years. I collect mostly Napa Cabs, Pinots and blends. I'm on too many mailing lists and need to whittle it down as I'm running out of money and space. Collection is 300+ right now and I need to start drinking more of my older and more approachable wines. I enjoy the learning process around wine as well as consuming it.
Mike Tomas
Miami —  October 19, 2013 6:05pm ET
I'm with (Sebastiani winemaker) Mark Lyon on this one: I am a weekday consumer and a weekend collector. Don't get me wrong--I am ALWAYS collecting (and then consuming)--but the weekday wine with dinner is a price-performer that goes well with the take-home Whole Foods roasted chicken. On the weekends, I look forward to digging deep in the cellar and price point (or at this point, sunk cost) ls less important. For example, yesterday we drank a 2011 Borsao Grenache (WS89/$8) with grilled pork chops. Tonight: 1990 Vega Sicilia Unico, sunk cost be damned.
Kelly Carter
Colorado —  October 21, 2013 10:16pm ET
I can be a bit of all three depending on what I may want for a Monday evening (Spain or Languedoc value consumer), a collector if I want a long-term cellar candidate (e.g., 2000 Bordeaux or 2005 Grand Cru Burgundy), or Absolutist (e.g., 2001 or 2006 Piedmont, Sixtine Chateauneuf du Pape, or Margaux).

Why limit yourself to one interest?

Keep writing about different angles, and you are likely to make us all happy.

Thanks and keep writing.
Ralph M Carestio
Allen, Texas —  October 27, 2013 1:09pm ET
My interest in wine has evolved over 30 years. I once thought Turning Leaf was all I ever needed. The more you study, the more expensive the wine gets. I used to think $50/btl was pretty sporting now I got my fall allocations coming from the likes of Aubert, Peter Michaels, Pahlmeyer, Lewis, Seavey, Williams Selyems, Paul Hobbs and Blankiet.

I have accumulated about 900 bottles in my cellar. My Italian Period has left me with about 400 bottles of wonderful reds from Tuscany and the Piedmont ranging in price from $18-200. My Napa Cab Period has helped me to collect about 300 of the best cabs on this earth with Lewis, Pahlmeyer and Paul Hobbs as my favs. Now I'm wavering between my Cab and Pinot Noir Periods and beginning to recognize that I really like some California and Australian Syrahs/Shiraz.
The more I learn and taste, the more I enjoy the wine experience. Every wine has a story and I love the earnestness and intensity of focus of so many wine producers.
So much wine and so little time.

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