It’s common to see market research on wine where people are given samples and asked which they prefer. The common implication of these studies is that the wine trade should give people what they prefer. Producers should discover peoples’ preferences, and then use this information to shape their offering. Get more people drinking wine by giving them what we think they want.
But I think this is a mistake. If I’m going into a food or drink category where I have little expertise, I don’t want people to ask me what I prefer. Instead, I want to ask the questions. I’m the one learning, after all. I want to ask: what should I like and why? Which are the authentic products? Then, armed with this information, I can make informed choices. I may decide I prefer some over others, but I realise that some of the most interesting foods and drinks have flavours that I will, initially, find challenging, but which I may grow to like.
A criticism levelled at the approach I’m proposing is that it’s elitist. Some reckon that if novice consumers prefer sweet wines in a market research exercise, we should be selling them sweet wines because it’s their preference. But if the wine industry lets mass market consumers dictate wine style, it will be a disaster.
Of course, I am not advocating forcing people to drink wines that they don’t enjoy. Rather, I’m suggesting we give everyone a chance to try the authentic products, rather than saying you won’t like the real thing, so we’ll give you what we think you might cope with, an ersatz sweetened-up, accessible version. That’s really elitist: keeping the best for ourselves but giving the masses something their unadventurous, safe palates can cope with.
By doing this, we are saying that quality products that have a senses of place are too complex and serious for normal people.
I don’t want to force my tastes on anyone else. But I do want to encourage people to be adventurous and try drinking interesting wine. I want to ignite curiosity in them. Years ago, someone did that for me: they steered me away from supermarket versions of famous wines towards the real things, and that set me on my journey.
Rather than ask people who are new to wine what they prefer, my message is this: here’s a magical world that I stumbled upon, and I think you might like it too!