Wine buying: The basic Principles

Reflecting on my time as a buyer I learnt a lot about processes. but more about how it’s advantageous to not force them or be attached to them but rather, be open to changing the model and your perception of the buying practices.

The reason for the ever-changing model of buying is simple. There are so many wines out there and the people selling them are not always business experts. So by adapting, being patient and always relying on how the wine performs in the glass, removes the blinkers to taste things you normally wouldn’t. It also gives everyone a square shake. It may sound obvious, but what worked last month might not work this month, traditional approaches and inflexible purchasing models are not always going to get the sale.

In my opinion, the most consistent factor that moved volume was quality. That doesn’t mean expensive or inexpensive, it’s relevant to the wine’s cost and also benchmarked against other wines within the same style. But if you buy on quality and value for money you’re not going to go too far wrong. Let’s call it quality over price = sales. This opens up a can of worms because as an industry we have expectations attached to regions, vineyards, vintages and producers.

What stood out to me was how a lot of the trade would say, ‘that’s good value for Chablis’. I would always question this, does that mean overall it’s not good value? If compared to other chardonnays it’s not good value? If it wasn’t from that region would you still buy it? Do you find yourself buying wine just because it’s from the desired region and you pay no mind to the value for money aspect? I find asking these questions, helps challenge the mental process one goes through when tasting wines to buy.

It has been ingrained in the trade that a wine range must have this wine from here and that wine from there and quality is no longer the front runner in the equation. It looks more like country, region, over price = sales. Why do businesses sell wine by country? Probably a number of reasons really, but not to do really with quality. It’s just something that’s always been done which doesn’t make it right. Sometimes you see places selling by varietal others by colour and some by price. I guess my point is, being attached to how you sell means one can be forced to buy wines to fit that mould which in turn finds one buying wine because it’s good value for a Chablis. Where if you change that perception and buy on value for money and quality in the glass and then sell in the same manner the consumers get a better education, a better experience and a more trustworthy glass of wine.

An example of this from my time as a buyer was the summer Rosé selections. We always conducted them double-blind so we could 100% remove any bias we had attached to a wine that did well in a previous vintage. Every year, we found our selections changing but sales and performance always increased. It meant that the country or regional spread may change but we were always confident that if the wine was good and delivered quality for the price then it would work.

Some of you are probably thinking, we buy like that, we only buy quality, but ask yourself, what is that quality relevant to? Is it relevant to the price of the wine? Is it benchmarked against other wines from that sub-region or producer? Or is it compared with the same varieties from other countries? Or better still compared to wines within the same style?

What does this all mean, to me, it’s about evolving your palate in real-time. It’s not being attached to expectations of a region or producer and always bringing it back to quality in the glass. It’s tasting different varietals that fit the style of wine you are looking for in your range, it’s looking outside the box at lesser-known regions and tasting them with no expectations of the outcome and literally letting the wine do the selling.