Thursday, November 22, 2012

Bordeaux and the Millennial Wine Market

In the lead-up to my September trip to Bordeaux, I posted a brief note on Bordeaux wines' place in the United States. Throughout my stay in France, that question would pop into my head at various times and continues to do so on a regular basis.

I am fascinated by the stratification of the wine market in this country, how we have so many different levels of consumer spread across age, gender, education level, and income level. Overlaying my experiences in Bordeaux with this broad demographic map, I began to see where the wines could easily fit or conversely, not fit at all.

Often I would think more about the Millennial demographic because it's where I reside, and during my years in wine retail sales, I was always interested in the buying habits of my fellow 20-somethings. We're a fickle bunch, and even within our ranks there are multiple levels or layers of wine consumers. As all of this slowly percolated through my brain, the question became "where do Bordeaux wines fit in the Millennial market and what can the Bordelais do to capture our attention?".

To answer it, several things must be established first. We must accept that Bordeaux wines have a place here in on our tables (and in our glasses). We must also accept that there is a Millennial wine market. Current data puts the Millennials' purchasing power at over 170 billion dollars. Of course not all of that is spent on wine purchases, but we (sic) do make up (with over 80 million members) the second largest wine buying group in the country.

How can the wine producers of Bordeaux tap further into the Millennial market? Marketing of course works,  provided it's tailored to what we respond to. Packaging the wine in ways that appeal to us is also very important, perhaps more important for Millennials than any other generation. Understanding the preferred flavor profile my generation has will also help efforts to tap into our wallets. The increasing use of social media to generate conversations has been shown to enhance brand awareness and even drive a percentage of sales among Millennials.

Marketing to Millennials is slowly being shown as somewhat straightforward, especially for luxury goods and lifestyle image. We respect authenticity and a great story. Heritage is important to us, but we're loathe to be told to respect or admire something "just because it's old". We like being told what's new and hot, provided we are the ones who initiate that conversation. A Millennial wine buyer will respect the tradition and heritage of a region like Bordeaux provided that it's explained to him or her in a casual manner, where authenticity is stressed over things like price or exclusivity.

Multiple times throughout my time in Bordeaux, someone in our group pointed out how much the labels from producer to producer looked pretty much the same. To someone (like a Millennial) unversed in Old World wine labels, it gets confusing. If every label is white or some shade thereof, says "Chateau XYZ", then has a picture of the house on it, followed by the recognizable words "Bordeaux" or "Bordeaux Superieur", what's a person to do, especially one who has very little experience with the region (or the Old World labeling system in general)? Taking a page from New World producers and putting the grape varieties on labels has helped break down barriers. What's needed is a move towards more attention-grabbing labels though. To the right is a picture of a label at Chateau Feret-Lambert that I love. The color is eye catching and it's easy to read the writing. It sure doesn't hurt that the wine was wonderful too, a great introduction to Bordeaux Superieur.

Flavor Profile:
Often forgotten is that there is a large group of Millennials that have a different flavor preference than the Baby Boomers or Generation X. Yes, that's a generalization, but for now we will use it. Sometimes we're referred to as the "Juice Box Generation", that grew up drinking sweet fruit-based juices and nowadays tend to hold onto the sweet wine preferences a bit longer than previous generations. As such, wines with fruitier, sweeter flavor profiles can be more successful than wines with more acid and/or tannin. Yes, this Millennial is disappointed by that, but facts are facts. I'm not suggesting the Bordelais leave residual sugar in their wines, but considering working towards softer, fruitier reds might help turn Millennials on to Bordeaux. This can be relatively easy to accomplish too, with the creation of second labels or sub-brands. Before you crucify me, remember, almost all Millennials will graduate from those wines into more traditional reds (and whites).

Social Media:
It's no secret that the use of social media spans demographics, but how social media is used and how it influences buying habits are the core point I'm making. Within the Millennial market, use of social media as a purchasing aid is growing. Currently there is an incredibly limited presence among Bordeaux producers, whom instead rely on organizations (@PlanetBordeaux among others) to generate and drive conversations. This has to change, though there are some logistical hurdles. For one, the time difference can prevent instant replies (something more important on Twitter than Facebook). The culture in Bordeaux isn't one that promotes the most cutting edge marketing and outreach technologies. That may change though, given the younger generations' ascendance to control of the wine trade. These are just two issues though, and shouldn't be taken as a complete breakdown of social media in Bordeaux.

That's a 1959 Chateau Recougne. OLD!
I want my generation to experience Bordeaux wines and feel the way I do about them. The region, steeped in history and authenticity, produces some outstanding wines at great prices. The price range runs from around $5 for a generic, mass-produced Bordeaux to $2,000 for a First Growth. Within this huge area lie so many great wines that should be tasted and enjoyed, especially by Millennials. We have reason to pay attention to Bordeaux, and plenty of reasons to respect the heritage of the vines. It is my hope that producers in Bordeaux continue to expand their efforts at actively targeting the Millennial generation.

What are some other ways Bordeaux producers can target the Millennial market, educate us, and create loyalty?

For the numbers I sourced in this blog, I used this article from Millennier, this slide show on Millennial buying habits, and this slide show about expert opinions on Millennials.

Beau Carufel

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Vinho Verde, Wine You Should Drink Often

Believe it or not people still ask me for wine recommendations, especially when the seasons change. While that might not make me a "Top 10" wine blogger or some other nonsensical crap, it does make me deeply appreciative of the opportunities I have to sample some unique, outstanding wines...Then turn around and recommend the ones I like to folks who trust my opinion.

Vinho Verde. Green wine, in Portuguese. The wine isn't green colored, but green in the sense of being young. Technically it has a tiny amount of bubbles, but not even enough to equal Moscato d'Asti from Italy. Some of the grapes used in vinho verde are Loureiro, Arinto, Trajadura, Avesso, and Azal.

Turning logic somewhat on its head, I recommend drinking vinho verde during the fall months in addition to those hot summer months. You might ask why, and would certainly be correct to do so. The key is acidity, perhaps the singularly most important component in making a wine food-friendly and versatile.

Think about it, around this time of the year we are (well, we in the northern states) having hearty fare, warm fare, food to survive on. We're also having holiday parties!

Holiday parties invariably involve was an awful joke. Picture tables full of various finger foods, bodies packed into an overly heated room, and that weird guy taking pictures of his ass on a copy machine. And cake. Ring any bells? Do you really want to be drinking the 22 year old social media interns jungle juice? Is your company cool enough to spring for real Champagne at their parties?

A "no" answer to either question indicates you should try vinho verde at the office parties or other holiday gatherings. Lots of acidity, low alcohol (so you can drink a lot!), and the potential to look reasonably cool and sophisticated make this delightfully quaffable Portuguese sipper worthy of consideration. Oh and it's a massive crowd pleaser too.

Let's talk about some bottles of vinho verde then. Each of these wines is readily available in most major markets. Don't hesitate to email me if you need help finding one.

2010 Trajarinho Vinho Verde: A blend of 60% alvarinho, 40% trajadura. Bright nose of cut grass, flowers, green apple, and hints of apricot. Impressive complexity for such an inexpensive wine. On the palate a slight effervescence reveals more of the apples and flowers, sweet pear, and touches of green. Vibrant acidity creates a nice finish, clean and compact. I would happily pair this with fried foods, Mexican cuisine, or tapas plates. $9.  11.5% abv.

2010 Grinalda Vinho Verde: This was perhaps the most simple of the bunch, with aromas of citrus and sea breeze. It lacked the verve of the above wines, relying almost solely on a bright acidic streak through the center. Tasted later in the day, I suspect that this wine was just a simple, bulk vinho verde. 11.5% abv$14 SRP.

2011 Cruziero Branco Vinho Verde: This was a very interesting vinho verde for me, as it had this interesting, funky mineral note that struck me right out of the glass. Tertiary aromas of melon and stone fruit complemented a zingy lime juice core. None of that funk was on the palate though, as this wine is all about the acidity. Lots of sweet Meyer lemon and stone fruit go along with a briny, drying finish. Great fun at only 9% abv$12 SRP

2009 Adamado Vinho Verde: Made by a cooperative, this vinho verde seems all about the minerality and melon. There is also a subtle stone fruit aroma at play. It's softer on the palate than the Cruziero Branco, but equally fun to drink. I was particularly impressed by the clean, drying finish. By being a bit softer, I think this example is a better gateway to the region and wine than the previous two. 10% abv$8 SRP.

NV Casal Garcia Vinho Verde: Imagine wet gravel on a steel pan. Barely-ripe peaches and sliced limes surround the pan. This gem has a ton of acidity, keeping the palate very clean and focused. During warmer weather, it would be a fantastic sipper, one that you could drink a bottle of and be fine. It's a bit too light (taken in context) for the holiday smorgasbord though. Still, worth seeking out and enjoying on its own. 10.0% abv$8 SRP.

2011 Quinta de Gomariz QG Loureiro Colheita Seleccionada: Gorgeous notes of summer melon, citrus, sea breeze, and fruit blossom all come out on the nose of this wine. It had the most complex bouquet of all the vinho verdes I tasted. Also, it was perhaps the fizziest (is that a word?) out of the six here. Lots of melon and lime on the palate, ending in a burst of bubbles and acidity. 11.5% abv. $10 SRP.

2009 Casa de Vila Verde Alvarinho Minho: Fresh lemons and ocean breezes waft out of the glass in this wine made in a sub-region of vinho verde. Although there is a bit more alcohol, it helps lend weight to the tropical fruit and lemon flavors that come through on the palate. There is a slight bittering on the finish that distracts from what could be an excellent wine, and I felt that this might be past its peak already. Still, an interesting exercise into a tiny sub-region. 13.5% abv$11 SRP.

It's not often I get a chance to taste through this many wines from a single region, but taste I did! Some of these wines were still quite good on the second day, retaining that tiny bit of fizz and mouthwatering acidity. It's important that these wines be viewed for what they are, simple, tasty, and accessible. That's why I suggest them for the holidays. When you're cooking for a crowd and don't want to break out the Champagne but still need refreshing relief, why not a cheap, glug-worthy vinho verde?

These wines were samples for review purposes.

Beau Carufel

Friday, November 9, 2012

Three Years of Wine Blogging

Sometime late last month, this blog turned a whopping three years old. Still quite a baby in the wine blogosphere, I nevertheless take some measure of pride in (somewhat) consistently posting blog articles for three years. While the focus has strayed a bit and been perhaps too review-oriented, the very fact that I have a wine blog has opened so many doors and literally allowed me to pursue the life of my dreams. If I had not started a blog, I would not be a winemaker. I would not have experienced Navarra or Bordeaux, met some great friends, and tasted some incredible wines.

I went back and forth between marking the occasion or ignoring it until a bigger anniversary came up, but ultimately decided to post a blog with some advice I'd give the Beau who started this blog all those short years ago. Please chime in with comments below, I'd be interested to hear your thoughts!

1. Plan posts in advance, just a little. You'll soon get flooded with press releases, sample offers, tastings, and more. It helps to plan out a posting schedule, even in rough draft form, so that you can keep everything straight.

2. Write for yourself and your audience. Remember that this is your blog, but also that other people will read this blog and (hopefully) learn something! As an outgrowth of your passion for wine, it's vital that you keep your own distinct voice in each post, yet also pay heed to the knowledge levels of your readers.

3. Be picky with which samples you accept. Yes, it's tempting to accept everything, especially when so many notable bloggers either solicit or accept every bottle sent to them, but there is also some value in working with the (few) good PR firms to feature bottles you're actually interested in. Don't be afraid to say no!

4. Don't for a moment sell yourself short, especially on social media. Look around at all the bloggers proclaiming themselves experts, when hardly any of us are truly experts. Recognize you're not an expert, but that you do have a lot of knowledge to share with your fellow wine lovers.

5. Never stop reaching out to people you admire, respect, and want to know better. Social media is about being social, about creating relationships, and that's something that can make your journey in wine so much more rewarding.

6 Pictures can often tell a better story than your blabbering on about a wine. Pay attention to the pictures you're taking and what they can say, given the right context.

7. Remember how important it is to be honest with yourself and with your readers. Never be afraid to voice your opinions on your blog, but be sure that what you express is factually correct and valid.

8. Don't rate wines. Either recommend them and explain why, or don't recommend them and explain why. Reducing a wine to a number or letter-grade is taking the easy route. Encourage your readers to avoid checking scores too.

9. Be concise. Use six words instead of 16, if you can make the same point.

10. Write first, do something else, then come back and edit. Don't be in a hurry to rush out any posts just "because". Your readers will know, trust me.

My final advice to the Beau of the past would be this: Whatever you do, have fun, and if you need to take a break from blogging, do so!

Here's to three more years!

Beau Carufel