Recently I was hanging out with a couple of friends who work on the retail side of the wine industry, as store owner and employee, respectively. During our conversation the subject of a retailers responsibility to the consumer came up. While that is admittedly a broad topic with regards to what you sell the consumer, the relationship you have with them, and where you steer their palates (for the new wine drinkers), the guys and I focused on the wines retailers hand-sell and recommend.
Why did this come up?
At the shop my friend owns, a local winery was pouring several wines, including a 2010 pinot noir. I tasted the pinot noir and put bluntly, it was not good wine. This 2010 pinot didn't taste like it should, based on the growing season Oregon experienced in that year. It lacked acidity and had no tannin, being instead soft and fruity, with a one-dimensional black fruit flavors and an evaporative finish. There was a perceptible ethyl acetate presence on the nose as well. Blind, I might have pegged it for a cheap pinot from Trader Joe's or Wal-Mart, but it sells for about $20. The wine was definitely not representative of Oregon pinot noir.
To that end, is it ok for the wine store to sell a wine like this? By selling pinot noir of such low quality, does that do a disservice to people who are buying what they think is a good expression of Oregon pinot? Those buyers may not know wine well enough to realize that this pinot isn't good, but there's an implied endorsement anytime a retailer stocks a wine. When I walk into a wine store, I trust the owner and employees to stand behind the wines they sell, it's an unwritten but incredibly significant contract.
Conversely, if the customer likes it, is that all that matters? Should those neophyte wine drinkers worry about whether or not a wine is "correct"?
During our friendly debate, my position was firm; stocking a wine like this and willfully selling it to customers is wrong, especially when there are similarly priced, higher quality alternatives available.
My friends position was that if someone wanted to buy it and liked it, there was nothing wrong with that. They also brought up the fact that a wine like this could be a good introduction to Oregon pinot noirs, whereby a neophyte wine drinker would slowly move up the ladder to better examples. I see where they're coming from, and that approach, building relationships with your customers slowly and over time, yields great results.
At what point do you draw the line with sub-standard wines though? If a wine is lacking varietal character and vintage typicity, shouldn't someone say something? I think that's where the contention was, and the source of our disagreement. Both guys admitted the wine wasn't great and they've each tasted enough 2010 Oregon pinot noir to get an idea of what the vintage expresses.
The reason I'm wrote this blog post is because I wonder if I'm being too dogmatic? Am I being too snobby by discounting this inferior wine? At the end of the day, if someone likes it, does that make the wine good?