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Drinking Out Loud

The Seven Habits of Highly Ineffective Wine People

Why do they keep making the same mistakes?

Matt Kramer
Posted: March 5, 2013

Recently, I was in a conversation with a Burgundy wine producer whose wines I admire very much. I teased him about how reluctant Burgundians are to acknowledge somewhere on a wine label that a Bourgogne rouge is Pinot Noir (and possibly Gamay) and that a Bourgogne blanc is Chardonnay.

"Would it kill you to add this information somewhere on the label?" I asked.

"Actually, it would," he replied, in all seriousness. "It would be the death of French wine civilization."

For once in my life I was speechless. I mean, here we are in the 21st century, where communication is paramount, and you've got the equivalent of an aboriginal wine tribe still sending smoke signals.

What is it about wine that makes so many otherwise intelligent, interesting and ambitious people cling to habits and patterns that simply no longer work? To paraphrase from the best-selling business book, here are "The Seven Habits of Highly Ineffective Wine People."

Habit 1: Insist that your customers learn your jargon. Now, here's an ineffective habit. You want someone to buy your product? Of course you do. So why, then, would you label the item in a manner that is utterly incomprehensible? French producers are masters of this. Even the French themselves can't understand what's on offer, as it's not just a matter of the literal language itself.

Take the Bourgogne rouge and blanc example cited above. Only recently have some producers, somewhere on their front or back label, begun to inform us of what a "Bourgogne" actually is. So that's progress.

But not so fast. Two new designations approved in 2012 are hardly clarion examples of label clarity. First, you’ve got “Côteaux Bourguignons.” And what is that, you ask? Good question. It replaces the delightfully oxymoronic Bourgogne Grand Ordinaire. Boy, that cleared things up, didn't it?

The other new designation is “Bourgogne Côte d'Or.” It's designed to augment mere "Bourgogne" with something that confines the geographical source to only the Côte d'Or and only to wines made exclusively from Pinot Noir or Chardonnay. But that information is presented somewhere on the label, right? Silly you.

Habit 2: Bottle your wines using closures that degrade your product. It's a pity that wine buyers can't sue wine producers for selling us defective products. Because that, apparently, is what it's going to take to get the wine business to stop using closures—meaning corks—that render a certain percentage of the wines literally defective.

Granted, the percentage of such wines seems to be declining. My colleague James Laube recently reported that "3.7 percent of the 3,269 cork-sealed wines from California that we tasted in the Wine Spectator office in 2012 were thought to be tainted by a bad cork."

He further noted, that while that percentage is the lowest he’s seen among California wines since Wine Spectator began tracking such info more than a decade ago (down from 3.8 percent in 2011 and a high of 9.5 percent in 2007), suggesting cork quality has improved, it also indicates that “there is still a problem.”

Bad habit, wouldn't you say?

Habit 3: Make sure that no one learns anything substantive from your back label. Most newcomers to wine love back labels. We're all trying to learn about the stuff, remember? And we're not ashamed to admit that. (Europeans, in my experience, disdain back labels, which they perceive as unnecessary and patronizing, never mind how little they might actually know about wine themselves.)

Too many U.S. wine back labels are piffle, offering insights along the lines of "white wine with fish, red wine with meat." Why bother? Back labels give producers an opportunity to inform, create an image, build a relationship.

One of the best I've seen recently came from—hallelujah!—Burgundy. Nicolas Potel offers the most detailed information I've ever seen, on the labels of his domaine-bottled wines called Domaine de Bellene. Everything you could possibly want to know is noted: vine age, rootstocks, picking dates, filtering and fining information, yields and much more. And if you don't want to get that granular on your label, at least give us a QR code to get down to it on your website.

Habit 4: Keep insisting "They won't understand." I can't tell you the number of times I've heard a winery owner, a winemaker or a vineyard manager tell me that they don't mention this or that because "they won't understand."

It's amazing how many of us have managed to get a handle on such complexities as winemaking techniques, grapegrowing methods, clones and so forth. Granted, we may not understand one or another of these things as well or completely as we might. But we do manage to grasp the essentials and often quite a bit more than that.

"They won't understand" is really code for "I don't want them to know." Want proof? Just ask about alcohol levels, reverse osmosis, vacuum concentrators or enzymes.

Habit 5: Never buy anything with a score lower than 90 points. Wine consumers of the world, you know you're doing this, so 'fess up. Really, it's ridiculous. You can fuss about the rightness or wrongness of scoring wines, but the fetishistic fussiness of the 90-point barrier has become absurd. Effectively, it creates a 10-point scale, which doesn't leave a lot of leeway, does it?

My own experience is that the best deals (and often the best wines for my palate) are those that get 86 to 88 points. There's nothing magical about 90 points. If you're one of those "90 points or nothing" sorts, let me give it to you straight: You're missing out on some great wines and some amazing values.

Habit 6: Never trust a sommelier. Big mistake, this. Times have really changed and I don't mind saying that I, too, once distrusted sommeliers. That was years ago and it was because I felt that too many so-called sommeliers knew a helluva lot less than their customers. No more.

Today's somms are increasingly a highly professional group who, equally increasingly, are devoid of the old hauteur and stuffiness that once stigmatized this occupation. Now your sommelier is really your best friend in terms of today's wonderful but often complicated wine lists.

Your job as a client is simple: Offer them your trust, be clear about price, and please try something other than your old Chardonnay/Cabernet standbys. Their job is to make you happy you trusted them—and my experience is that now, more than ever before, you will be.

Habit 7: Assume that if it ain't famous, it's no good. This is bigger than you might imagine. Arguably the most pernicious, self-defeating perspective in wine today is assuming that if a wine or a winery is obscure, then how good can it be? (Of course, there are some for whom a reverse-snobbery obtains: They believe that only obscure wineries are any good.)

With all the contestants clamoring for fame and fortune, the chances of a wine becoming famous today are actually quite slim. There are simply too many wines from too many places for that to happen. This is why the sommelier is your new best friend. This is why 88 points should be your new marker. And not least, it's why it's essential for all of us (present company emphatically included) to climb out of our respective wine ruts.

The number of wines out there that "ain't famous" yet are truly remarkable is, well … remarkable.

Graham M Pratt
USA —  March 5, 2013 10:40am ET
The tenor of this piece seems in contradiction to your previous one.
Dustin Gillson
Dayton, OH —  March 5, 2013 12:43pm ET
As a counterpoint to Habit #5: Habit #8: Wine publications that give many wines scores below 80 points, but refuse to publish them.

I tend to think that this habit degrades the credibility of those higher scores. If you are willing to stake your reputation as a critic on the high scores, why not the low?
Dennis D Bishop
Southeast Michigan, USA —  March 5, 2013 2:40pm ET
From reading all your blogs to date, the only comment I have is "Why did you stop at seven?" Maybe you meant to say the seven worst........
Jean T Barrett
Los Angeles, CA USA —  March 5, 2013 3:13pm ET
Great column.

As for the advice about sommeliers, unfortunately the word is abused. We were out to dinner in Los Angeles last week at a fancy-schmancy place and the young waiter announced he was one of two sommeliers on the premises that evening and could answer all our questions about the wines. A bit later I overheard another diner asking our waiter about the winery that produced the wine by the glass he had just tried, which turned out to be Chateau Montelena chardonnay. The waiter hemmed and hawed, then offered that the wine was 100% chardonnay. And that was all he had.

I wanted to run over there, throttle the waiter, and shout, "The Paris Tasting of 1976! The Shot Heard 'Round the Wine World! Are you kidding me?" but I just sighed. Sommelier? I think not.
Morewine Bishar
Del Mar, California —  March 5, 2013 3:35pm ET

In reference to Habit 1: "Insist that your customers learn your jargon."

A number of years ago I worked for a large discount oriented wine store that often bought entire lots of interesting wines and sold them at steep discounts. Once we purchased the entire inventory of a regional distributor and found ourselves with a huge amount of very fine Chablis wines from a recent and excellent vintage. We put out floor stacks of these wonderful white Burgundies @ $9.99 a bottle and they just sat there!

Hundreds of customers simply walked past some of the best deals they were ever likely to see with little more than a quick glance. As I was sitting at home with friends enjoying a fantastic bottle of one of these, a 1er Cru Fourchaume as I recall, it hit me. They didn't know what a Chablis was! They think this is some low-grade jug wine because of the Chablis name.

The next day I re-labeled the floor displays to read prominently "100% Chardonnay from Burgundy France" and the wines took off! We made a lot of friends for the store with that deal and introduced a number of customers to the pleasures of fine French wine.

So, if the producers aren't smart enough to tell the folks what is inside the bottle, the retailers darn well should!

David Clark
for The Wine Connection
Robert Lapolla
san diego —  March 5, 2013 3:56pm ET
Matt: i enjoy the little stories on the back of the wine lable esp if its a blend and it tells whats in the wine or the vineyards. completely doing away w corks will not happen. i admit i find screw tops crass. natural cork quality must improve to >99%. glass stoppers or artificial corks are fine w me.
Juan Pedro San Martin
Coral Gables ,Fl —  March 5, 2013 4:41pm ET
Labeling all wines from the Burgundy region as Pinot Noir or Chardonnay
would imply that somehow a Romanee Conti is similar, at least in the varietal, to a Gevrey Chambertin or a Chablis is similar to a Mersault. Not indicating the varietal makes the consumer look deeper to the "terroir"
to distinguish one from the other, afterall the similarities don't go much futher than red or white
Harvey Steiman
San Francisco —  March 5, 2013 4:46pm ET
I heartily endorse the idea of seeking out 88-point wines (or even 87s or 86s if the price is right). They may not have the majesty of more expensive wines, but they often provide the most pleasure. Sometimes a simple song is what you want, not a symphony.
Paolo Monge
Italy —  March 5, 2013 6:17pm ET

I'm a reader from Europe and I always read your articles with interest and attention; I tend to agree with you most of the times. This time, I have to disagree with you about the reply you got from the Burgundian producer.

Admittedly, he was too emphatic with his statement, the French wine civilization is not in terrible danger, but I see how he can judge as negative the idea of adding the varietal to the label, in particular if he's a Burgundian producer from the Cote d'Or; from elsewhere in Burgundy, the matter could be different.
Three remarks:

1) I have to mention that bad old perception (bias, granted) that many Europeans have, that for Americans what matters is a sort of silly world championship for each varietal, with Napa vs. Bordeaux vs. Tuscany as for Cabernet/Merlot, California vs. Oregon vs. Burgundy vs. NZ as for PN etc. This is nonsense, and I know you don't see it in this way, but from this side of the ocean, some Europeans would feel the indication of Nebbiolo on a Barolo bottling as something done for Americans; not something that in Europe we really need to have, but more like a gentle colonization. By the way, here in Europe, the very interesting example made by Mr. David Clark would work the other way around. In Italy, the average buyer (not the geek) would be more attracted by a "Burgundy wine" (which grape? most people don't know and don't care) than by a "100% French Pinot Noir" of the same price.

2) the point is about economy, after all. If the producer already sells (possibly well) his wine, e.g. if he owns a vineyard in Chambolle-Musigny, sorry Matt, that old pattern IMHO still works perfectly and, dare I say, it's highly effective (see next point). On the other hand, in most less known producing area, that is, for most ordinary wines and also for some wines very good but not well known, you possibly might be grabbing more attention with foreign markets if you second their habits as for mentioning the varietals on the label; in this line, it would make as much sense as, say, mentioning the latitude or the average temperature, or the average amount of rain if the markets were for requesting it.

3) As you know, in Burgundy, they don't just avoid mentioning the grape. Apparently, the less they mention, the more the bottle gets precious and worthy of worship. Think of a bottle of La Tache, or some other mythical GC, you are not told which village it comes from. Doing so, producers get these effects: the common people doesn't even know what La Tache is, or for that matter Les Amoureuses, to mention a 1er cru. The wine geeks know it perfectly, and feel as being part of a classy elite because they do know; they (we) get kind of a snobbish pleasure from this knowledge and that perceived superiority is a component of the appeal that Burgundy has in the wine world. Once the mechanism works, they sell, and sell at very high prices, the whole region is affected and becomes mythical. Not just La Tache, but even Santenay or St.Aubin sell well (with a different price level of course). Kind of the La Tache of the poor man. Admittedly, they don't sell well just for that reason, though. Indeed the wine can be glorious. But to me the marketing strategy implicit in the "French wine civilization" does matter.

My apologies for the mass post...

Tone Kelly
Rochester NY USA —  March 6, 2013 10:29am ET
Great article! But I disagree with your Habbit #2 when it comes to wines that are intended to be aged.

We have had cork closures for about 250 years. But until relatively recently we haven't even started to understand the science of cork, Oxygen penetration, and wine maturation in the bottle. Until we do, I suspect that if we all went to perfect seals we would no longer have TCA, but the law of unintended consequences suggest that we would have an alternative set of problems. I suggest that a consortium of fine wine producers (those who's wines "improve with bottle age" and some scientists get together to study this issue. At that point the industry would be better prepared to select a better bottle stopper.
Whit Thompson
Rochester, NY —  March 6, 2013 11:56am ET
Re: Habit #3 - For my money, Ridge Vineyards still sets the standard for offering the right amount of information on their back labels. Historical background of region/varietal, Vintage-accurate viticultural data, tasting notes that cover flavor profiles and style, and a drinking window that's usually spot on.
Matt Kramer
Portland, Oregon —  March 6, 2013 1:45pm ET
Mr. Monge: Many thanks for writing. And may I say that your English is really superb. It's no easy thing to write in another language. Complimenti!

As to your well-reasoned points, I have no disagreement whatever. They make perfect--or at least, understandable--sense from a European point of view.

What I would like to add is that the perspective on wines shifts, like looking through a prism, when seen in a market like that of the United States. It's a bit of a shock to many Europeans when they come to the States, especially the major cities, and see the nearly overwhelming variety of wines on offer. Nowhere in Europe, except for London, do you find such world-spanning variety.

This, in turn, affects how Americans, anyway, see and understand wine. When you have inexpensive, large-volume, fundamentally generic categories such as "Bourgogne", "Côteaux Bourguignons" or "Bourgogne Côte d'Or", it's a bit much to expect a potential buyer to understand the meaning and significance of each category. A little information and clarity serves everyone, I would think--and not just Americans, either.

Much about the system of controlled appellations, whether in France, Italy, Spain or Germany is a kind of theology that is its own hermetic world. Over time, it evolves to serve itself.

For example, the reason that the "Bourgogne Côte d'Or" appellation was created was because the appellation "Bourgogne" has always allowed the inclusion of Gamay Noir. It was never solely Pinot Noir for the red wine.

For decades, this was mostly academic, as the major producers of Gamay Noir are, of course, in the southern Burgundy zone of Beaujolais. And they were selling their Gamay Noir quite profitably under the Beaujolais designation and had little need (or desire) to label their wine "Bourgogne".

However, in recent years the Beaujolais region has suffered serious economic setbacks, making the "Bourgogne" designation more attractive.

Producers in the Côte d'Or--especially the négociants or shippers--preferred a more restrictive, "higher end" notion of "Bourgogne", one that confined it strictly to Pinot Noir and Chardonnay and excluded wines or grapes from Beaujolais and, as well as from the also financially hard-hit Mâconnais and Côte Chalonnaise zones. Hence the new designation "Bourgogne Côte d'Or".

It all makes perfect sense, of course. It's a catechism of a kind, with its own internal logic. But is any of this comprehensible to the wine consumer? I think not.

This is why a little bit of information is highly desirable--and not just to Americans, I might note. What serves the producers, i.e., all these internal hierarchies, does not necessarily serve the consumer.

Anyway, thank you for writing and for your cogent thoughts.
Ivan Campos
Ottawa —  March 6, 2013 1:56pm ET
When I read the first line in Habit #3 I thought immediately to the Domaine de Bellene back-labels -- very well done! Alas, the website is super-minimal, and you can't learn much at all about their take on their different bottlings. Kind of the inverse of Loire chenins, i.e. you can't tell what style you will get from most labels, but at least the producer websites tend to have some decent info, especially in French. Detailed content is really a must, particularly if you expect consumers to pay a premium or purchase your product on speculation (without tasting)
Matt Kramer
Portland, Oregon —  March 6, 2013 2:07pm ET
Tone Kelly: I understand exactly your concerns about not rushing headlong into alternative closures other than traditional cork for wines intended for long aging.

If I may, allow me to point out that an increasing amount of practical research of the sort you're suggesting has been carried out and is continuing.

Based on what I've read, it appears that screwcaps offer the greatest promise of a superior closure for long-aging wines. However, because of its extremely tight seal, cellaring techniques need to be modified in order to insure that wines receives sufficient oxygen before bottling.

Also, you might be interested to learn, as I was, that a growing number of producers creating wines intended for long aging are seriously considering using the trademarked cork conglomerate closure called Diam that, according to various tests, precludes any possibility of cork-delivered TCA taint. (Remember that TCA taint can also come from barrels, so it's not always the fault of the cork.)

Recently, Pierre-Henry Gagey, the president of the Burgundy négociant Maison Louis Jadot, told me that, after years of testing, Louis Jadot has decided to bottle their grand cru white Burgundies with the Diam closure.

Bottom line: Promising alternatives now exist to traditional cork. And I, for one, think that producers should seriously consider one or more of them.
Tim Mc Donald
Napa, CA USA —  March 6, 2013 3:16pm ET
Matt, Absolutely Brilliant and I am sure that the fact of the matter is that you picked only 7 was based on the best seller book. I am looking forward and certain you have perhaps seven more. Amen on the 1st seven...cheers!
David deLaski
Los Olivos —  March 7, 2013 1:27am ET
Thanks for the article and your enlightening perspective Matt. It's always a tough call on the label copy. I guess it depends on your style, image and target. While I appreciate an informed decision upon purchase, I have found myself scoffing at the "piffle" on the back of most grocery store wine as just marketing schtick and being intrigued by the more sparse and graceful. Less is more? There is always a website to visit for those wanting to figure out the new oak %, ph, MLF and the name of the winery dog.

No question about the cork however and thanks for mentioning this. DIAM is superior in so many ways to regular cork and retains the romance and feel of the cork. There are 3 different types with different amounts of oxygen release depending on how long you want to age the wine. DIAM is even more economical than screw tops and much less than real cork. BTW I'm no clinician. I'm into natural fermentation and minimal intervention but I want my cork hi-tech to preserve the hard work that went into the wine while allowing a predictable measure of oxygen to age without introducing TCA.
Ronel Straughan
Cape Town, South Africa —  March 7, 2013 11:50am ET
Thanks for the article.

I love the fact that I have to do a bit of work to learn about wines before I will be able to anticipate what would usually be in such a particular bottle.

And even then, once I have figured out a rough idea of what I will find, I love the fact that the winemaker is not obliged to put his recipe on the label.

I avoid books and articles about the demystification of wine. Certainly I hope to learn about it as I go, but I enjoy it partly because of the complexity of all aspects of the journey in coming to a better understanding of it.

The expansion of the industry and the number of wine regions makes a moving target of the learning process, but with access to the articles, books and tasting notes now available online and otherwise, I prefer the bottle not to give away too much.

Janet L Hutcheson
Palo Alto, Ca. USA —  March 7, 2013 7:21pm ET
Again, re: Habit#3.... I have always applauded Ridge Wineries as well as the German vintners in general for always giving more information on their labels than the bare minimum required by law. I truly appreciate all the knowledge I can get from the label before I buy the wine.
Gisle Sarheim
Singapore —  March 7, 2013 11:30pm ET
In response to Mr.Paolo Monge:
Like many Europeans I grew up thinking that European wines were unequalled. That the vineyards of Bordeaux, Burgundy and Piedmont reigned supreme - and that those of the 'New World' were merely the efforts of commercial villains, looking to taint consumers' palates with plonk. This could not be further from the truth - the real commercial villains are those of the European wine industry.

The labeling practices of many European countries are borderline fraudulent. As they say, if you cannot convince - confuse. Wines that are hardly fit for consumption are sold under a myriad of misleading labeling practices; including the many cooperative bottlings of Bordeaux sold as “Mis en bouteille à la propriété” – or estate bottled, yet could be made anywhere within the appellation . France is trying to clean up its act, abolishing denominations like “Vin Délimité de Qualité Supérieure” – which meant virtually nothing - but still has ways to go. Burgundy is another, where virtually none, except experts and sommeliers, can determine what is barely drinkable and what is sublime. This is particularly revolting given the lofty prices burgundies will fetch – supposedly for their scarcity.

The other frustrating part is the poor knowledge of the average European consumer. We buy mediocre Bordeaux because we think it is supposed to be good – not because it is good. Few, if any, of your average consumers would know any of the grapes that go into the blends. But same can be said for Burgundy; the amount of times I am told by fellow Europeans that they don’t like chardonnay, yet they feast on Chablis and other white burgundies, is mind-numbing.

The New World wines for the most part are less pretentious and more honest. If say a New Zealand Chardonnay, it will probably identify a whole host of information. Not only single vineyard (if so was the case), but whether it has gone through extended barrel fermentation, has been aged on lees, fermented using wild yeasts, or perhaps notes on the harvest. Sophisticated information makes sophisticated customers. The reverse is also true.

Winemakers outside of Europe cannot rely on a protectionist framework for wine labeling – they actually have to make good wines, and work hard to get noticed.
Paolo Monge
Italy —  March 8, 2013 11:34am ET
Some clarifications due to Mrs. Gisle Sarheim.

My English is likely not as superb as Mr. Kramer kindly suggested (thanks, anyway), if possibly my points are being taken as a claim a superiority of Europe and its wines over the rest of the world. I didn't intend to suggest anything in this direction, my interest was in questioning the effectiveness or not of some habits (the topic of the blog), in particolar for a producer from Burgundy. To me, some habits are indeed effective in significant cases.

I don't feel ready either to discuss about who is the commercial villain and who is the hero, because to me generalizations are basically wrong in all cases (not just here). An European could put together a complicate set of accusations to New World wines/foods by limiting his considerations to the past or present abuses of European appellations (e.g. see the reason why Chablis was not selling well in Mr. Clark's shop); but also such accusations, I want to underline, would be very unrespectful of the complexity of the topic. If we had to really discuss, I'd avoid dismissive considerations by category. I'd also avoid "ethical" terms like a wine being honest, less pretentious etc. I've heard many such definitions here in Europe but directed in the opposite direction, and they are not fair either. Possibly we can meet somewhere in the middle?
David A Zajac
Akron, Ohio —  March 10, 2013 6:55am ET
Certainly there are many producers that label their wines in such a way to sell them without really being completely honest about what is in the bottle, its called marketing. How many American wines do you see labeled as Old Vines or Reserve where the wines are produced from 10 year old vines and there is no other wine being made, so how is this a reserve? They do what they can to sell wine, so do your part and act accordingly. Clarity is a great goal, but not likely to happen anytime soon.

As to Diam corks, add Ponsot to the list as he has been using them since the 2009 (I believe) vintage.
Roberto Haendel
Belo Horizonte (MG), Brazil —  March 10, 2013 11:59am ET
Sometimes I taste wines that receive the two largest international publications scores above 80, 85 or 90. And not understand how wines, sometimes of questionable quality, can receive such high scores. Congratulations, Mr. Kamer, for this self-criticism. The article in its entirety is very good. As another reader said, please Mr. Kramer, show more others ineffective habits!

Michael Nappi
Staten Island, New York —  March 10, 2013 3:36pm ET
Great post.Thanks for starting such an interesting conversation, and thanks to all who took the time to comment. I tend to agree with much of what you had to say, but I must admit I really enjoyed reading the comments as much as your post. As Americans we tend to see things one way. It was very refreshing to see things from an international point of view. Great job!
Paul Warton
Sydney, Australia —  March 13, 2013 7:05am ET
To add a perspective from a different part of the world, I can say that I agree very much with what you say Matt about jargon and labeling and with Paulo too. The middle ground would be that which would please me I think. I have great affection for example for Italian wine and find the labeling easy enough to decipher. Maybe because I understand it, but I would be disappointed if someone found it necessary to put the wine variety on the label of a Barolo, or Barbaresco. But for the life of me I can make neither head nor tale out of French labels at anything but a rudimentary level. So I rarely buy or drink French, and not that the French would care, but I have never developed much respect for French wine (how could I if I don't drink it or understand it?).

In Australia we have great wines, but wine labels in Australia are often at the complete opposite end of the spectrum. Frankly I stopped reading the back label of Australian wines years ago, they may tell you what's in the bottle and where it came from and they tell you much more too, but too often its all spin. They would tell you anything they think will make the casual wine buyer purchase their product over another. The bottles are often festooned with little stickers representing gold or silver medals awarded at obscure wine shows trying to give the impression of being superior to the next bottle on the shelf. My opinion is that that is the worse of all outcomes.
Gerry Ansel
Fullerton, California, USA —  March 14, 2013 9:35am ET
No. 4 ("Keep insisting 'They won't understand'") struck a chord with me. Wine producers and merchants talk down to their consumers more than they should. Even those who are just getting into wine are more savvy than they realize. I once commented to a Napa producer that his Cabernet Sauvignon showed a healthy amount of "Rutherford Dust" on the finish. He responded by saying dust cannot get into the bottle because they're sealed airtight. Huh?
Carlo Dinatale
Coon Rapids, MN USA —  March 14, 2013 1:59pm ET
I have been a fan of yours ever since you referred to certain proprietors in Bordeaux as "Their Tumescences".
Elliot Gluskin
Allentown, PA, USA —  March 14, 2013 10:38pm ET
Dear Matt,

Your article on the seven habits is spot on. The three that struck me were numbers 1, 3, and 5 as they relate to me for different reasons. While I've enjoyed wine for a long time I've only recently become immersed in the "habit" due to having joined a wine club where we look to educate each other and challenge preconceived notions (both good and bad). This has helped me broaden my perspective and palate for red wines, champagnes, and ports.

My experience (or lack thereof) with both French and Italian wines is that I don't know what I am seeing on both sides of the bottle and am not comfortable enough to purchase them particularly when there are so many wines to choose from here in the U.S. I agree with your point that clarity can be achieved with just the slightest addition of some pertinent information to raise my confidence level enough to try these wines.

Regarding your third point concerning information on labels, I thoroughly enjoy reading labels on every bottle I consider. I find most well done and provide enough information to get a sense of the history of the winery, the geographic area, and the variety of grape. For those that play the "food match" game I consider that to be wasted time and effort on the winery's part as my wine needs go well beyond the consideration of what food will be consumed with the wine.

The fifth habit concerning the 90-point mark is, truth be told, one I found myself falling into and have done my best to climb out of. There are many, many excellent wines from around the world that I have tried due to personal recommendations from both friends and salespeople at wine stores. There have also been times when a 90-pointer was quite disappointing. However, I would suggest that for consumers just beginning to enjoy wine the 90-point level provides some level of comfort and guidance from the "experts" as they look for wines to drink or to give as gifts.

I have enjoyed reading all of your columns in the magazine and continue to learn with every issue. Thank you!
Don Rauba
Schaumburg, IL —  March 22, 2013 11:40pm ET
(to the tune of Fat Bottomed Girls by Queen... I know this is lame but, I'm giggling...) "Aaaaare you gonna condescend tonight? IIIIII, wouldn't buy that red wine flight. Aaaaaaw, when you give us stodgy rot, Old World Churls, you make us loathe your pithy wiiiines!" (rock ensues)
Kalani Tom
New York, NY  —  May 23, 2013 9:20pm ET
Hi Matt,

I understand your frustration about winemakers who refuse to put the name of their product on the wine label, which is why I created a wine app that specifically addresses this one issue. I don't want to print the name of my app in your comments, but I'd be happy to send you a promo code if you'd like to try it. It's simply a list of all the main wine regions in the world that don't disclose the name of their product on the bottle, and it will definitely help you the next time you're looking at a bottle of wine labeled Cornas (instead of Syrah), or Gattinara (instead of Nebbiolo) or Pouilly Fume (instead of Sauvignon Blanc).

Wine makers in France, Italy, Spain and Portugal are never going to change the way they label wine, so our only option is to "learn their jargon." Adapt or die, right? hahaha :)

Kalani Tom

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