Monday, September 11, 2023

How we choose which wines to buy / drink

In the wine industry, there is sometimes interest in how consumers (= customers) go about choosing the wines that they purchase / drink. For example, a couple of years ago we saw this interesting publication: Analysis of consumer preferences when choosing wine (by Viktoriia Lutskova, Irina Martirosyan and Larysa Krupytska). There are also dozens of web sites and online videos with advice for us on how to go about this.

One of the people who has long had an interest in this topic is Liz Thach, a freelance wine writer, wine market expert, researcher, educator and consultant based in Napa and Sonoma. One of her early excursions into the field was back in 2008: How American consumers select wine. Her conclusion was quite simple:
Americans’ reasons may not be that different from other consumers around the world. It turns out that American consumers who are faced with an intimidating wall of wine at grocery stores and wine shops often use the same selection methods as their counterparts in Europe and Asia. Likewise, when handed a wine list at a restaurant, American consumers will rely on the same cues as other global wine consumers.

Recently, she has returned to this field, with a group of colleagues (Andrea Dominici, Larry Lockshin and Leonardo Casini) from several universities: New survey reveals how consumers select wine: Taste trumps price.

For their work, in May 2023 a sample of 2,014 wine consumers was chosen from three countries, all of them major wine markets: Italy, Australia and the U.S.A. As far as the resulting data are concerned, we have been shown a table with a list of the 12 main factors used by the participants when selecting a wine, along with an Importance Score (out of 100 points) averaged for each of the three countries (a higher score indicates a more important criterion of choice). *

Now, speaking personally, I think in pictures, not numbers. So, I need to see a graph of the numbers, if I am going to work out what the numbers are telling me. Here is such a graph, for the tabled data, on the basis that it may help you, too.

Graph of the Importabce Score data.

Looking at this picture, it is immediately obvious that the wine-consumers of the USA and Australia do not differ much. Indeed, this is confirmed by my statistical calculation of the Correlation Coefficient = 96.1% similarity of their scores. Indeed, the only noticeable (but still small) differences between these two countries are for: Recommendation (USA higher), Variety (USA higher), Brand (USA higher), and Pairing (USA higher).

On the other hand, Italy is in quite a different ball-park. This is also confirmed by the Correlation Coefficients = 71.1% similarity with the USA and 65.7% similarity with Australia. Note that these similarities are not small (ie. they are greater than two-thirds). However, Food Pairing and Region of Origin are shown as massively more important for Italians, while Sustainability is also more important (shame on you Americans and Australians!). Price, on the other hand, is less important for Italians (you need to pay for the good stuff!).

Interestingly, Italians are apparently quite similar to Americans in terms of preference for Grape Variety, and also for Packaging Format. Not unexpectedly, all three countries place Taste as their No. 1 criterion.

Anyway, you can read Liz Thach’s own take on the data in the article linked above. These data have also been discussed (by Hannah Staab) in: 6 major differences between how Italians and Americans buy wine.

My basic question, though, is why is there no mention of what often seems to me to be the most obvious criterion: Value for money. Given two wines of equal quality, the obvious one to choose is the cheaper one; and given two wines of equal price, the one to choose is the wine of better quality. Quality is often measured using some sort of score provided by a wine commentator / critic, or also from wine-drinkers at some community site (or, these days, even from some sort of bot: Wine recommenders are no longer people). Indeed, a value-for-money method is the one that I use most often myself (see my post: Calculating value for money wines) — I care about the other wine characteristics, of course, but I am prepared to try a lot of different wines when it comes to taste.

There is also apparently no mention of Alcohol Content; but that, as a criterion, is a topic for another post.

* The actual methodology of calculation is described in the published article cited above.

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