There was a mild buzz of media excitement last month when Aldi press-released the announcement that it was on the hunt for volunteers to review its wines on a quarterly basis and post their thoughts on Twitter.
The discounter reaped the PR benefits of the idea even before it sent out the first batch of free booze. Once again, the words “Aldi” and “wine” were juxtaposed in a zillion social media posts. For independent merchants, it’s rarely welcome when that happens.
There were digital squeals of delight from the hopefuls eager to join Aldi’s happy band of citizen tasters. We can probably assume that few of the applicants are WSET Diploma students. Judging by a snapshot of responses I scanned on various timelines, they seemed to be, in the main, a bunch of cheerful chancers who love a glass of wine and are thrilled at the prospect of tasting the stuff for free and having their benefactor listen to their opinions on what they imbibe.
This kind of thing happens quite a bit in the independent trade, though without the same kind of media fanfare. Several merchants, such as Dalling & Co in Kings Langley, run regular events in which customers are invited in to taste a range of wines that suppliers are pitching. The ones that they like will probably be listed. The ones they don’t will be politely rejected, with the merchant able to blame the bad news on the public.
Just like Aldi, such independent retailers are discovering that even casual wine consumers can be brought into the fold, given the right encouragement. The object need not be to turn them all into wine connoisseurs. Rather, the aim should simply be to help people form a stronger bond with those who make and sell the wines they like, and to learn to trust their own palates.
Not too many people really want to achieve these things with interminable PowerPoint presentations, or with the aid of samples of schist being passed around a table by a visiting export director. But offer them the chance to support – supposedly – a struggling artisan vigneron in the Languedoc (© Naked Wines) or to taste free samples of wine in return for candid feedback, and suddenly they are engaged.
Some in the trade will reject such schemes as gimmicky. Poorly executed, perhaps they are. But too many consumers who love drinking wine have yet to form a real emotional or intellectual bond with the category. Using a little imagination, independents are in a pretty strong position to win hearts and minds.