What’s Worse…Faking Wine Knowledge or Faking Orgasms?

MegI’m sure it will be said that this must mean the wine industry ought to do a better job of educating:

The Daily Mail in the UK reports on a survey that shows “Two Thirds of British Drinkers Admit They Know Nothing About Choosing Wine, So They Pretend Instead”.

The survey showing Brits are largely wine illiterate fakers was taken by the venerable Wine & Spirits Educational Trust, which, if you ask me, is kind of ironic. Be that as it may, it’s not surprising that so few people have much of an education in wine. Why would most folks need one? The vast majority of people in the world interact with wine in this way: “I’ll have a beer”. Still, the same survey seems to indicate that 2/3 of Brits (and probably not a much different percentage of Americans) actually FAKE having knowledge of wine. Keep in mind, this is considerably higher than the number of women who say they fake their orgasms.

According to the survey, the most common method of “faking” wine knowledge is by ordering the second least expensive wine on the menu. But that’s not interesting. What’s interesting to ponder is WHY anyone would feel a need to fake knowledge of wine? The Daily Mail suggests the reason why is found in part in this bit of information: “nearly one in six women said that they considered knowledge about wine to be an attractive trait in a potential partner.”

This proclivity to fake one’s level of wine knowledge does not strike me as a problem for the wine industry. The fact that so many folks are willing to try to fake wine knowledge probably bodes well for the wine trade. No, this issue of faking is more a sign of the intense desire among most people not to appear uninformed. But, who could possibly make a case that it is essential they need to be informed about wine and so essential that they will fake such knowledge? I don’t get it.

If the wine industry in the U.S. or in the UK decided they really did need to do something about this apparent fear of embarrassment connected to wine by their customers, then I would suggest a public relations and advertising campaign focused around six words: CAN – YOU – RECOMMEND – A – WINE – PLEASE ?

I say put the onus on the server to demonstrate or fake their wine knowledge, not the consumer or diner. By asking this simple question, what will come in return is either service (“Why yes, I can recommend a wine”), insincerity (Uh…yeah…um…sure, I can recommend this one here.”) or consolation (“I really don’t know much about wine, but I’ve had this one and liked it.”). Either way, the person asking the question wins because they get their wine and don’t have to fake a thing, nor look stupid or uninformed (hint, it’s the “please” that make this phrase work).

And here’s the real problem, if you try to fake your way through choosing a wine to impress someone, that someone is going to expect you to demonstrate your wine prowess again some time, particularly if it’s a date you are hoping to impress. And the results of those expectations are unlikely to be pretty.

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34 Responses

  1. Robert Joseph - May 13, 2014

    Good piece, as usual Tom. I like the comparison of orgasm and wine knowledge faking. Only one point: if 16% of women find wine knowledge a turn on, that suggests 84% think otherwise. “Nearly 1 woman in 5 doesn’t find wine knowledge attractive in men” is rather different headline…

  2. Sean Piper - May 13, 2014

    The reason consumers feel compelled to fake knowledge is the same reason that they don’t ask for server recommendations – it’s trust. If the wine industry does anything really good, it’s promoting the idea of expensive equals quality. Trust is not built in that concept – or in the idea that appreciating wine requires wine knowledge.

  3. Bob Henry - May 13, 2014

    From The Drinks Business (May 1, 2014):


    Synopsis: British men enjoy drinking wine at home but avoid ordering it in a pub in case their friends make fun of them, a recent survey has claimed.

    Link: http[colon]//www[dot]thedrinksbusiness[dot]com/2014/05/men-fear-ridicule-over-ordering-wine/

    A study of 1,500 adults, commissioned Côtes du Rhône wines, found that nine out of ten men would drink the odd bottle of wine in their own home, but just one in four would drink wine while on a night out with male friends for fear of being made fun of.

    A spokesman for Côtes du Rhône wines, which commissioned the report, said: ”A large number of British blokes now say they enjoy a glass of wine when in their own home, but the majority still swap their Paris goblet for a pint pot, or order a spirit and mixer when out with friends in the pub, at a party or in a restaurant.

    ”Just a small number of men drink a glass of wine when down the pub. At parties the number increases slightly, and in a restaurant than figure rises to just over half.”

    The study also found that a quarter of men serve wines in an attempt to impress their guests, while three in five men said they wouldn’t’ serve a wine they had at first enjoyed at a friend’s home.

    In comparison, just one in five women said they would pick a wine to create a talking point, and were generally happier to serve an accessible wine to suit their guests.

  4. Terroirist: A Daily Wine Blog » Daily Wine News: Traditional vs. Modern - May 14, 2014

    […] “What’s Worse: Faking Wine Knowledge or Faking Orgasms?” Tom Wark ponders an important question. […]

  5. Ron Marsilio - May 14, 2014

    Great blog Tom. I especially liked the comment that faking wine knowledge probably bodes well for the wine trade. The less aware we drinkers are, the more swill that can be passed off on us.
    I would still rather date a woman who fakes wine knowledge rather than orgasims.

    • Shane Sherman - May 15, 2014

      I am going to agree with Ron on this one.

  6. Stephen Reiss - May 14, 2014

    It was staring incomprehensibly at a wine list on one of my earliest adult dates that fueled my desire to learn more. When I started WineEducation.com way back in 1995 it was my hope to take what I had learned, and distill it into easy to understand tidbits for the average consumer.

    A whole lot has changed in the industry since then, not the least of which is a much greater appreciation for wine. What has also changed, or perhaps just become more visible, is the consumer’s willingness to turn off their minds and slavishly follow what others tell them to.

    Fads, myths and aversions seem to propel wine’s popularity more than ever. Signs that education has not increased at the same pace as consumption.

    Education is not in the slightest needed for enjoyment, but it sure as heck beats just buying the second cheapest wine when confronted with a list!

  7. Carl - May 14, 2014

    Having some or even quite a bit of wine knowledge does not always help when ordering in a restaurant. Many houses carry their own house wines. More than that prices are outrageous. These are reasons I sometimes make my decision on price rather than knowledge; or opt for a brew.

  8. David Vergari - May 14, 2014

    Most people also don’t know squat about art!

  9. Donn Rutkoff - May 14, 2014

    I think the industry, which is highly fragmented and nobody agrees on any standards for sugar or acid, is full of poorly written literature and especially labels.

    Most labels are full of baloney, so consumers have zero trust. “Our family … carefully selected … finest vineyards … every kind of food you like.” No name, an unreadable scribble signature maybe. $8.

    Or a fat overweight bottle which must mean a better wine. $9. Yeah, right.

    How bout Cab label that says “steak, not burgers or shrimp”, Zin that says “slightly sweet which works with BBQ but not steak”, Sauv blanc that says “salad or fish, but not creamy sauces”. How about Dry means dry, and OFF-DRY means enough sugar to slide down easier but not a dessert wine?

    How bout print size and contrast so you can read the label, and find the abv% easily?

    Monogamy, Promiscuous, Flirt, Seducer, ad nauseam, but no mention of a grape or sugar level. Or who the parent giant company really is. And why would I want to put something called shatter, with a picture of what looks like broken glass (actually is quartz crystal) in my mouth?

    Since so much wine is marketed with nothing but bs, it is no wonder. People want to know why they liked, or didn’t like, a particular bottle, and we don’t give them any answers. Nada. Zip.

    Once again I point out Ridge as the best label, including useful ageing ideas. And I point out almost everybody else as fools for wasting the great opportunity to offer a label with simple, useful, truth to the consumer.

    And who the heck am I to say all this? I sell wine all day long in a grocery store. I put wine into their cart, I look them in the eye, knowing they shop this store up to 8 times a week. Not an MW, MWE, Somm, OBE, or LSMFT. But I do have an MBA.

    It is too bad the French in Sancerre and white Bordeaux gave away huge market share of Sauv. blanc to New Zealand. How did they do that? The NZ bottles all say “Sauvignon blanc”, every bottle says it, you don’t have to guess what is inside. And none are sec, demi-sec, or moelleueaux, whatever that is. Ironic in that it is actually a French grape. (NB, I love French wine.) At least you can trust a NZ wine to be what it says.

    OK, I hope the label writers at Big Wine and at Little Free Run get some religion.

  10. Bob Henry - May 15, 2014


    In your role as a Wine Steward at Safeway in San Diego, and in your course work as a B-school grad, you are probably familiar with this statistic.

    Consumers in grocery stores “linger” less than 3 seconds perusing consumer packaged goods labels before moving on to the next competitor’s product.

    If the packaging doesn’t “intercept” the consumer’s gaze, invite him/her to pause and pick up the product from the grocery store shelf, and read the label beyond those all-critical 3 seconds . . . that sale is lost.

    Hence the “romancing of the product” through eye-catching graphics of grape clusters, or “critters,” and playful brand names.

    The wine label is a de facto billboard. The only difference is that the consumer is “driving by” with a grocery cart . . . not a car.

    And not every grocery store has Wine Stewards in the wine for consultations.

    The bottle has to sell itself.

    Less than 3 seconds. That’s it.


    a fellow wine and CPG marketer (who is also a B-school grad)

    • d - May 17, 2014

      Probbly true for other goods, but some people spend long time in wine aisle. The industry, by and large, treats the customer like crap. And that is too bad. A big difference tho to regular pkg goods, is we are selling a much more expensive item with high refresh rate. No risk to spend $3 on cookies, macaroni or yogurt. Bigger risk on $10 – $20 bottle that only serves 2 people one night and then has to pay for the next night or 2nd bottle, so consumer wants better info than the crap we serve up. There are no stewards in the pkg goods aisle, there are no specialty fine cracker stores. We are a luxury product that overlooks the median intelligence or educ. of the $10 or $20 wine buyer. The look of the label is not my gripe, the cutesy names don’t usually last, but the poor use of the room for text on the label is laughable. Thanks for your input.

  11. Bob Henry - May 17, 2014


    All those “fighting varietals” on the grocery store shelf at single digit dollar retail prices are just as much competing for eyeballs as the expensive brands.

    Indeed, one could suggest that have an even bigger commitment to labels because they compete solely on two dimensions: low-ball price and artful packaging.

    (Think Yellow Tail “critters.”)

    Consumer packaged goods in the food aisle have the benefit of national and regional advertising to garner name recognition.

    Other than wines from the BIG BOYS like Gallo and Kendall-Jackson. can anyone reading Tom’s blog recall (1) the last time they saw a wine ad on broadcast or cable TV; (2) the last time they saw a four-copy ad in national print media?

    I’ll answer my own question: almost never.

    (I should know: I’m also an ad agency exec who plans and placed paid media ad campaigns for clients.

    The best “no-cost-to-the-reader” source for syndicated research data on the domestic wine market is Marvin Shanken’s annual Marketwatch trade magazine “Market Leaders” article — which includes a table listing the top brands by dollar and unit volume, and their corresponding paid media advertising budget. Think single digit millions for even the largest brand.

    Cocktail party factoid: 80-plus percent of all wines sales in the U.S. is attributed to 10-plus percent of all domestic wine drinkers. And the ratio has not appreciably changed in many, many years — whether the economy is robust or in a Great Recession.)

    Two overarching reasons: most wineries don’t produce enough wine for national distribution, and most wineries don’t have consumer advertising budgets.

    They expend what little marketing budget they have on trade promotion: “pushing” their wines through the channels of distribution . . . and not “pulling” their wines through those same channels of distribution by creating consumer demand.

    On a per bottle amortized basis, consumer packaging is arguably the single largest expenditure a small winery makes. Eclipses consumer paid media advertising. Eclipses donating wines to charity events. Eclipses trade promotion expenditures.

    ~~ Bob

  12. Bob Henry - May 17, 2014


    Other than wines from the BIG BOYS like Gallo and Kendall-Jackson. can anyone reading Tom’s blog recall (1) the last time they saw a wine ad on broadcast or cable TV; (2) the last time they saw a four-COLOR ad in national print media?

  13. Bob Henry - May 17, 2014


    One more observation: consumer packaging includes wine bottle neck hangers and shelf talkers, reproducing “sound bites” of favorable reviews.

  14. Winemaking Consultant - May 20, 2014

    It is a shame that our enjoyable social beverage, wine, has the same mystic. We must overcome this equatable obstical as an industry to help people relax.

    In both cases, when people relax and let it happen, the joy is the best. Exploration and communication is key !!

    Tom Payette
    Winemaking Consultant

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    Dear “new dad Tom”:

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  20. Bob Henry - May 26, 2014

    A further postscript to Donn in San Diego:

    Over the past week, I re-read the seminal consumer shopping tome titled “Why We Buy: The Science of Shopping” by esteemed researcher Paco Underhill (© 1999, Touchstone/Simon & Schuster, 255 pages softcover, $15.00).

    Highly recommended. Read it — absorb it — use it to marshal your arguments to improve the merchandising and display signage practices in your domain, the wine aisle.

    An adherence to the business philosophy of “evidence-based management,” espoused by Stanford B-school professor Robert Sutton:

    http://hbr [dot] org/2006/01/evidence-based-management/ar/1

    http [colon] //www [dot] amazon [dot] com/Facts-Dangerous-Half-Truths-Total-Nonsense/dp/1591398622

    Citing “Why We Buy” . . .

    Excerpt from page 36:

    “Marketing, advertising, promotion and location can bring shoppers in, but then it’s the job of the merchandise, the employees and the store itself to turn them into buyers.”

    Excerpt from page 37:

    “. . . the amount of time a shopper spends in a store . . . is perhaps the single most important factor in determining how much she or he will buy.”

    “The more shopper-employee contacts [ ‘the interception rate’ ] that take place, the greater the average sale.”

    Excerpt from page 38:

    “. . . waiting time [in the check-out line] . . . is the single most important factor in customer satisfaction.”

    Excerpt from page 55:

    “In retail, the easiest way to make more money is to sell more stuff to your existing customer base.”

    [Bob’s aside: The so-called “80:20 rule” — 80% of your sales revenue comes from 20% of your customer base.]

    Excerpt from page 80:

    “About one-fifth of all shoppers actually see the average product on a supermarket shelf. [Bob’s aside: the so-called “capture rate.”] There’s a reliable zone in which shoppers will probably see merchandise. It goes from slightly above eye level down to about knee level.”

    Excerpt from page 81:

    “Every label, every box, every container should be designed as though it will be seen from a disadvantageous perspective — either above the shopper’s head or below her knees. Packaging should also be made to work when seen from a sharp angle rather than just head-on. . . . Boxes should be thought of as signs or as posters for a product . . .”

    Excerpt from page 82:

    “. . . retailers . . . [should] position the most popular goods halfway down the aisle.”

    ~~ Bob

    • Donn Rutkoff - May 29, 2014

      Well, Bob, I wish I had some control over signage and display in wine dept. But my corporation doesn’t allow much. No signage unless approved by corp. No shelf talkers. Corp. price tags only. Build standard grocery type displays. Don’t do this, don’t do that, 90% or more of all the wines & spirits on the corp. schematic are Constellation, Diageo, Gallo, KJ, and the only individual winery, J. Lohr. And believe me, the 3 second rule is almost 100% invalid in wine depts. Customers are dying to have an intelligent conversation, not a blind pitch from a nameless shill for one of the big guys.

      Another “marketing” standard is to play muzak all the time. If the corp. were to turn it off, people will actually spend more time in the store, conversations to educate the consumer about products becomes easier, and we all smile more. But “muzak” is sold to the corp. as some necessary mood manager. Might as well hand out elavil (mother’s little helper) instead.

      I enjoy a lot of positive feedback and return consumers when I am in my dept. But the corp. strictures mean the wine dept. never operates like a real wine shop. And consumer education takes the last seat in the back. So in a restaurant, the fakery and the desire to appear informed continues.

      Also, 99.9% of consumers have no connection to any ag production, so they don’t understand how food gets there, how wine relates to the weather and to the grape raw material. Oh well. Now where is that 16% abv fruity but balanced Burgundian style Pinot noir (with Syrah to make it dark)?

  21. Bob Henry - May 29, 2014


    I feel for you — being at the mercy of Planograms devised at the “home office,” devoid of “boots on the ground” intel on how a wine aisle REALLY works.

    That’s why Paco Underhill’s timeless tome “Why We Buy” is essential reading by retailers.

    Alas, in my consumer marketing career I haven’t met a single retailing corporate exec who knew of the existence of the book’s insightful research, or had read it.

    A self-inflicted wound . . .

    ~~ Bob

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