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My $100 Wine Lesson: Sometimes rogue wine calibration bites you in the … glass

Right-click photo to view a larger image.

Right-click photo to view a larger image.

Call this my $100 lesson.

Those of you who have followed my mishaps in trying to buy wine like the average consumer are familiar with the Vino Casino and how the House odds are massively stacked against the consumer (THE PROBLEM: Casino Recommendations).

If you followed that, you know that I believe the inability to reliably buy a bottle of wine they like hurts wine sales tremendously and sends people running for the more reliable shelters of beer, spirits and cocktails.

The reasons why wine selection are rooted in the vast differences in taste perception caused by genetic, psychological, educational, cultural and related variables. Those are extensively examined here: Recommendation Insights

The “Calibration” Tactic

Some consumers try to increase their odds of getting a bottle they like by  “calibrating” their taste preferences with a critic, wine writer, or retail sales person. All of that involves friction — time, research, education — that most wine consumers are unwilling to tolerate. Small wonder that relying on friends is so popular.

Of course, if you don’t like wines that your friends do, then you run the risk of embarrassment, conflict, or hurting their feelings. Since most people aren’t ready to ditch their friends, they end up drinking wine they don’t really like. Social media frequently makes this even worse.

Several years ago, I learned that I found it almost possible to find a red wine I didn’t like at Cal Mart — the locally owned supermarket in Calistoga, up at the northern end of Napa Valley. I could go in pick six red wines I had never tried before — and didn’t really known anything about — and find I liked five of the six or all of them,

People in the wine trade need to recognize that most wine consumers really don’t know much of anything about most of the wines on the retail shelves and have never tried most of them. Also important to note that most wines at retail have never been tried by a critic either (3/4 Of Wine In The US Has Never Been Rated By Critics) … which renders useless the whole calibration tactic.

It’s been a couple of years since I bought wine at Cal Mart … mostly because I have not had time to stop by there when I’ve been in or through Calistoga on business.

That changed a couple of weeks ago, so I stopped in and bought six bottles of wine.

I was really looking forward to getting those home so I could taste them and use the photo and tasting notes for the Featured Wine of the day in the daily News Fetch email wine executive briefing.

When Rogue Calibration Bites You In The Palate

Screen Shot 2015-08-09 at 10.48.13 AMThe shock came when I got the wines home.  I hated them all.

I found every bottle the same in being overly acidic, unbalanced and totally lacking in varietal character.

This is not to say the wines were bad. But they were eons outside of my taste preference orbit.

The fact that the wines were all consistent means that the wine buyer felt they were good wines

And that meant that I was now calibrating with a new wine buyer or a wine buyer’s changed palate.