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And You Bought That Why?

There are multiple factors that influence a purchasing decision. Many times, every day, we run whole checklists and review processes through our brain that define whether we will participate in an activity or buy a certain brand or accomplish tasks, all of which define us and the style of life we live.

For better or for worse, we are creatures of decisions and attitudes. We are actually hard-wired at birth as regards our moods and our abilities to accept certain parameters, and then we heap on top of those inner feelings a lifetime of experiences, and we become the lovable, pleasurable human beings we are today. Ahh, sweet mystery of life.

So as we mosey through this Garden of Eden, making love, not war, why do we seek out certain products and services and reject others that are just as satisfying, but maybe not to us for some obscure and possibly unknown reason?

When it comes to wine, luckily for us, the wonderful folks at the Wine Institute commissioned a study seeking answers to why we buy what we do. Please keep in mind that the study was completed in Great Britain, so some Continental attitudes are bound to surface. Also the study was focused on “occasional” purchasers of luxury wine, who make up 88 percent of all higher-end wine purchases.

I’ll not list these in any particular order because I don’t know if the answers are mathematically translatable to American buyers. But I do think the reasons are still valid as to why we purchase certain luxury wines. What the entire project calls into question is whether these consumer decision-points are a good basis for making a choice about a luxury wine purchase.

In making a luxury wine purchase, consumers listed “heritage” as an important reason to buy. Heritage is the product quality that translates to a wine’s consistency over the years and the narrow range of bouquets and flavors that the wine has presented through many previous experiences.

Heritage is an interesting trait on which to base a purchasing decision because if you place value on the old-line wines that were made years ago and compare them to what is being vinified today, there is a significant difference in tasting experiences. Today’s wines are bolder in fruit qualities, riper, maybe a bit sweeter and lusher.

Another reason to buy a specific wine is “provenance,” the importance of knowing the reputation of the wine’s region of birth. This awkward rationale is the culprit to blame for many wines from Napa Valley, Bordeaux and Burgundy being more expensive than their pleasure levels would dictate. The address of a wine’s birth creates in the consumer’s mind tolerance for a higher price point, even though the quality levels do not justify the cost. This is not true for all wines from these areas, but it is true of many.

“Hand-crafted” is important to some consumers, and I cannot for the life of me figure out what that means. All wines are literally made by hand by people who have one opportunity to make this beverage each year. If you mess up, you lose. If you do well, maybe you win. “Hand-crafted” is a meaningless term when everyone has to follow the same path to the final product in the same way.

There was also a nod to “critical acclaim.” I can see this, a little bit. If the consumers are looking over media stories (and for my sake, I hope they are) or if they hear nice things about a wine from knowledgeable friends, then that’s good.

But if you are selecting a wine based on the fact that it received a score of 90 from a national magazine and not an 89, then I have a bridge in Jefferson Parish that I would like to sell you. Please tell me you don’t make a wine-purchasing decision solely on the basis of numbers.

Two more reasons for purchase I will list together because I think they are more European-centric than American, and those are “family history” and “rarity.” Well, maybe we are influenced by the latter statement, particularly when wine-buyers gravitate to some outrageously priced bottle primarily because the entire state of Louisiana only received six bottles in the allocation. “Rare” equals high price entry points. It does not indicate quality, approachability or age-worthiness.

Family history, however, is a very cool concept in that if the owners of the winery have been making wine since the middle-1400s, then you have to give them respect. It’s better if the price is in line, but factoring reasonable price into the thought process means we are truly asking too much from all concerned.

Finally, these consumers listed “ethical responsibility” as something important. I’m not real certain what that means outside of the wine being made in an organic or biodynamic way. And if that is it, then OK –– if that is a quality you place in a valued position. But in all honesty, I have never had an organic wine that knocked my socks off for the sole reason of being organic.

We should all be kind to Mother Earth, and if wine is made in a sustainable, earth-friendly fashion, then there’s the bonus. I don’t, however, purchase wine to be kind to the environment. Most wineries today are socially and environmentally responsible, and they don’t go out of their way to trash their home areas or yours. 

So, you may ask, after a review of what others had to say, what reasons should be considered in buying wine? You are asking that, aren’t you?

I first of all want to enjoy the wine. Through prior experience, I know something about the wine or the region in which it was made or the grapes that comprise the blends or even the company or family that made the wine. But enjoyment comes first.

Maybe, from time to time, I will be curious about an unusual blend or a wine that is made from grapes in a place with which I don’t associate the link-up. Curiosity is a wonderful virtue in tasting wine.

And I will also rely on the recommendations of friends, like you. What you have tried and liked is important, not just to you but also to others around you. In your circle, you are the respected wine critic. When something strikes you as pleasant and delightful, share that news.

Of course, there is also the downside of something not pleasing you. We want to know that, also.

Wine is a social beverage, and decisions made in the darkness with no friends around are sad. After all, if a vine falls in a vineyard and there is no one around to hear it …

The Wine Show with Tim McNally can be heard every Sunday from noon to 2 p.m. on WIST-AM 690.

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