A few years ago I requested that a wine back label be changed, getting rid of the word “charcuterie” as a food match. While many of us eat charcuterie, most of us don’t call it that – we talk about cold meats, cold cuts or just ham, salami, or whatever it actually is. I believe that consumers need to be spoken to in their own language, plain and simple.
Research conducted during my time at Marks & Spencer suggested that “ingredient x”, as we called it, usually added value to a product: steak and ale pie sounds so much better if it’s described as Aberdeen Angus and Guinness pie; smoked salmon always benefits from being Scottish or Loch Fyne. These additional descriptors, which clearly should be real, have to be something that consumers understand, or at least can decode as being beneficial, otherwise they just confuse.
This is also true for the way we describe wines. For most drinkers, their last experience of acid was in a school chemistry laboratory or, worse, when they had an accident with a leaking battery. It’s certainly not something they would expect to think about when choosing a wine. The same goes for tannin and oak. We even need to be careful with fruit descriptions, ensuring that they don’t come across as actual ingredients, since research shows this is often the case.
There is no doubt that the Wine & Spirit Education Trust is an incredibly successful and worthwhile organisation, helping to create many professionals in our industry – buyers, retailers, sales people, sommeliers, journalists, et al. And there is no doubt that communication between these professionals is easier from a position of knowledge. What buyer or journalist respects a salesperson or marketer who doesn’t know their Arneis from their Elbling? How exposed did we all feel talking to these experts when we first started our careers?
Outside drinks, I can’t think of another sector in consumer goods where the training is so in-depth or so widely adopted, although that is surely one of the attractions. There is, however, a fine line between the excellent product knowledge that makes it easier to sell to a professional buyer and the over-knowledgeable expert liberally using words such as acidity, tannin or oak on a back label. When we are communicating with consumers, whether it’s at a tasting event or on a label, we need to think back to our first days in the industry, forget much of our training, and use words our customers understand.