Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Industrial Marketing

Apologies for my recent lack of posting. Work has been crazy the past week or so. Luckily Simon has been able to hold down the fort. He's been posting about one of the most objectionable techniques of industrial-style wine-making--the use of oak chips to impart overwhelming, fake flavors to wines that would otherwise be merely insipid, unbalanced, and badly textured.

But from my perspective that's the least of these wines' troubles. I can avoid drinking the wines, and their existence gives me something to criticize when feeling grumpy. On the other hand, I'm regularly subjected to their offensive marketing, in which I'm told that if only I drink the wines a certain classiness and sophistication will be added to my life. I'm also informed that I will have a delightful aesthetic experience. And, for whatever reason, the aesthetic particulars seem to be remarkably similar from bottle to bottle.

I have recently had the misfortune to come into possession (through no fault of my own) of two bottles of industrial-style Australian wine. The first is imported by an outfit called "The Country Vinter," in whose website are revealed operational details not entirely consonant with the picture of a barn on the frontpage (although they do peddle (pdf) some wines that I would be more than happy to drink). They describe the particular wine I received thusly:

It has oodles of berries on the nose with suggestions of plum and spice. The fruit and spice follows through to the palate, fills the mouth and finishes soft and velvety.

The second importer does not appear to have a website, but I am sure they are just as objectionable. They describe their wine as having:
Generous ripe berry flavors followed by a silky, spice finish.

We can conclude that the standard marketing formula promises plenty of berry flavors plus spiciness and a smooth finish. Those looking for some variety can choose between ripe or (presumably) unripe berry flavors and having their spiciness on the nose(!) and palate or on the finish. Perhaps there is also some meaningful difference between analogizing wine to velvet or to silk.

I wonder if these sellers have explicit contempt for the customers, since they seem to regard them as automatons who think "good wine" when the label repeats three rote characteristics. And it's amazing to me that this is an effective marketing regime--one so effective that it's worth it to competitors to mimic each other and split the audience rather than to appeal to a different consumer with some new strategy.

Of course, making fun of this sort of wine is easy to do. But if there is a larger point here, it is the foolishness of the tasting note, which this exercise shows to be ultimately no more meaningful than a numerical score.

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