Decanter Magazine recently reported the startling results of a study conducted by Brock University in Ontario. According to their research, consumers are more likely to buy wine from an estate with a name that’s difficult to pronounce. Wine drinkers also tended to rate these wines more highly, and the trend apparently increased with sophisticated or knowledgeable consumers.
This study flies in the face of all the accepted theories, which usually hold that wine drinkers are intimidated by unpronounceable names—Americans in particular, who tend to have an aversion to looking stupid in public. The research also contradicts my personal experience as a sommelier. During those years, I noticed that diners were more likely to order Jordan Cabernet than Chateau Malartic Lagraviere, particularly if they weren’t fluent in French. The glaring exceptions were French wines with names such as Greysac or Talbot, which rolled off the tongue without a challenge.
Just as I was tempted to think that the wine-drinking public was making some linguistic progress, I read about a new project being launched by Treasury Wine Estates, one of the largest global wine conglomerates. It’s a line of wines called “Be,” aimed primarily at Milennial women. Not only should the name be simple enough to remember, but the four wines (unoaked Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio, Riesling and Pink Moscato) “make it easy for women to choose a wine that matches their mood—whether that’s flirty, fresh, bright or radiant”, according to a press release. These “mood cues” will be displayed on the bottle.
In the wine business, Milennials are the big prize: They have a lifetime of consumption ahead of them, not to mention their peak earning years. The other big prize is women, who do the majority of the wine shopping and purchasing in the country. Treasury Wine Estates is evidently betting that these groups can be trained to respond to colors or images on a label—Pavlovian cues that have nothing to do with a wine’s character, origins or quality. If they’re right, estates such as Chateau Malartic Lagraviere are really in trouble.