Wine Savvy on October 10, 2014 2 Comments Wine is one of those complex and mystical drinks that can only be fully understood by highbrow experts with advanced degrees or individuals with superior palates. Or, so the wine industry would have you believe. The truth is, even though there are more than 5,000 varieties of wine grapes – not to mention the new varietals being tested as you read this – every wine serves the same purpose: to delight and excite your senses. Wine has the power to enhance the flavors of a meal and even set a certain mood. While there are certainly such things as a good and bad wine (ever smelled that pungent musk from a cork-taint wine?), ultimately it’s up to your unique tastes and flavor preferences that determine whether or not a bottle is right for you. So why is it so hard to choose a bottle? Even though the wine industry is all about creating products meant for pleasure, you have to remember that it’s still just that: an industry. And this business is ripe with marketing tricks, a bit of doublespeak, and, yes, even a few closely held secrets industry pros don’t want you to know. Here we expose four little-known wine industry secrets: 1. Not all wine stores are created equal Just like any other product, wines are marked up from their wholesale price when sold to the consumer. What most people don’t know is that markup percentages are not standardized in the wine industry and not every store uses the same system. This is especially true when you order a bottle of wine at a restaurant, where wine is typically marked up significantly higher. Wholesale price multiplied by around 1.5 percent is considered high and is typical of most winery tasting rooms and websites, so it’s best to use price-comparison apps or shop around to see if you can get your favorite bottle for a few dollars less elsewhere. Keep in mind that even though the discount market may offer a few dollars difference, you won’t necessarily get the service and knowledge you’d get from a boutique wine shop. 2. Rare wine is often a better value Low-production wines sold at shops and restaurants are generally a safer bet than ordering a bottle you know by reputation. Name recognition and wines from famous regions are often more expensive due to supply and demand, and you generally end up paying a premium to drink the name not the wine. Not only are those big reputations typically a product of clever marketing and branding but, in most cases, the lower production juice is made with more care than the bottles found on every shelf at every store. The proprietors and winemakers tend to be more hands on with their production, so hopefully you’ll taste the extra passion and care that goes into these low-production wines and get a $12 bottle that drinks like an $80 bottle. 3. Some labels aren’t literal Reading the label is a great way to get a general idea of the region and contents of the wine. However, there’s a lot of wiggle room in those labeling standards, and most wineries take advantage of every ounce of that opportunity. You may end up with a wine that’s “technically” on the border of your favorite region, or “technically” in the ballpark of the alcohol-by-volume number, but the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) is generous with its labeling standards on most of those accounts. In fact, a wine’s vintage date on the label only has to be made up of 95 percent of grapes from that particular vintage (opening up an opportunity for a winemaker to blend up to 5 percent of wine from any or many other vintages), and the grape varietal on the label (i.e., Pinot Noir, cabernet sauvignon, etc.) only needs to be representative of 75 percent of the wine in the bottle. 4. “Hot” wine is hard to spot Even seasoned wine industry pros can’t tell by looking at a bottle how much alcohol content the wine contains. Due to the lax labeling laws, in terms of alcohol by volume (ABV), a wine above 14 percent ABV is allowed to be labeled 1 percent higher than the printed number, but a wine at or below 14 percent can be labeled anywhere from 1 to 1.5 percent. This could mean the difference between a “hot” wine (strong alcohol taste) and a poor pairing with certain foods. The best bet is to not shop by ABV; instead explain your favorite flavors and desired price range to the wine expert where you’re shopping. Just like drinking wine, shopping for wine should be enjoyable. Now that you, too, have some “secrets” up your sleeve, the next time you go shopping for a quality bottle, enjoy the process. Better yet, enjoy the fruits of your selections. Prost!