A big part of the sales process for wine is helping customers decide upon what bottle or glass to buy. While it’s always a delight to exchange a few sentences with a fellow oenophile who understands some of unique qualities of specific growing regions or varietals, most of the time we end up dealing with beginners who know the difference between red, white and rose, and not much else.
A problem arises when we attempt to sell to these neophytes by using jargon that they may not fully comprehend. The response to the question, “What’s that wine like?” will often elicit the server or sommelier to blab about that particular label having a good structure, being medium-bodied or some hybrid of those two descriptors. But do guests know what the terms ‘body’ and ‘structure’ mean? More importantly, do they even care?
In short, body defines the weight of a particular wine – how full you feel after consuming a healthy dose. On the other hand, structure is used to elaborate upon the overall quality and intricate union of all the assorted chemicals that encompass a certain wine. For instance, you might hear of a specific vintage being called out for being ‘well-balanced’ or having ‘a good structure for aging’.
While both of these terms are great to know for general knowledge and for your servers to build rapport with those patrons who already have a vinicultural acumen, the best course is to always keep it simple. When you introduce complex terminology that the listener has to think about in order to process, you are in fact promoting this recipient to use more of his or her logical brain instead of allowing the emotional nerve centers to spark.
As any good salesperson will tell you, people buy based on the latter, no matter how much they back-rationalize their decisions. Hence, instead of deploying a cerebral lexicon while describing a wine, if you want the sale it would be better to use modifiers that evoke the senses, which in turn help to bring about an emotional reaction.
All too often, a server or sommelier will attempt to sell a specific vintage by throwing in phrases containing heady words like body, structure, tannins or astringency, and you can see the patron’s eyes glaze over. The results of not speaking the customer’s language in this regard can range from not taking the bait in trying the more expensive suggestion to not purchasing any alcohol whatsoever.
A good way to avoid this problem and to thus help boost revenues is to reeducate your team to steer clear of technical terms off the top and to memorize some adjectives that elicit the senses of taste, smell, sight and touch. Below is a short list to get you started. And for reference, touch in the context of beverages is used to denote texture or ‘mouth feel’ as well as how the wine sits in one’s stomach, and this sense is what’s most often associated with ‘body’.
Taste: fresh, sweet, mellow, rich, savory, subtle, bold, smooth, creamy, buttery, oaky, tangy, juicy, jammy, citrusy, lemony, peachy, zesty, acidic, tart, earthy, spicy, nutty, peppery, chocolaty, bitter, smoky and hopefully not skunky
Smell: fragrant, aromatic, flowery, fruity, plummy, herbal, leafy and woodsy
Sight: light, pale, bright, golden, green, amber, dark, violet, cherry red, ruby, brown, thick and cloudy
Touch: vibrant, lively, playful, delicate, intense, light, silky, velvety, leathery, chalky, dry, heavy, hearty, dense, viscous, oily, complex and bubbly, of course, if you are discussing any type of sparkling wine
Obviously, there is some overlap for many of these words insofar as what sense they can be used for, but the overall point should be clear. Words that provoke a visceral response may help you far more than launching into a diatribe about the various constituents of a grape blend and how each minor component helps to lend more body or add structure to the wine.
Sometimes people don’t care about our enthusiasm for wine’s numerous intricacies and the story behind what makes a particular bottle noteworthy; sometimes they just want a quick glass that fits their moods. Read the room and don’t complicate the sales process unless invited to do so, or you end up with less than you bargained for.