Today, more than ever before, extravagant capital and energy is being funneled to the marketing of wine before it reaches our tables. The drive to develop, position, and sell brands is so pervasive that we often forget what's in the bottle, by design. But when it comes to buying wine, I'll take well-done in the bottle over a well-branded label every time.
Experts may correctly point out that any wine sold can be considered a brand. But even if all wine qualifies - from Mouton to Moscato - the distinction today is that many wines are branded largely on the merits of everything but good taste.
Instead of funneling more great tasting wine to consumer's tables, the wine question often posed in conference rooms is, how can the maximum amount of ordinary wine be dressed up and sold?
Selling an ocean of underwhelming wine is one of the top priorities in the wine industry. And this is where branding has really heated up in the past decade. Similar to when your grandmother insisted it had to be Early Times, wine marketers hope today's fickle consumers identify with one Riesling, one blend, one line, at least for one run of the product line.
Moreover, the sales pitch has shifted from highlighting high quality juice to cajoling with colorful labels and quirky names. For consumers, a rule to remember is the more glitz on the label, the better the chance that the label - not the wine - is the most interesting part of the purchase. Of course, there are always exceptions to the rule.
Retailers are taking a stand. With tremendous and diverse choices in the marketplace, retailers have the best opportunity in decades to look beyond brands and to point drinkers to simply good wine, in all manner of packages. When consumers focus on quality first, the space devoted to the pedestrian bottles will eventually shrink.
The hard part for consumers is knowing that - more often than not - great wines are behind some of the plainest, most unremarkable labels on the shelves. Which makes them easy to get lost in the shuffle but indeed satisfying once discovered.