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Monday, Oct. 26, 2009

Manolo Blahnik. Kate Spade. Mad Housewife?

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"In marketing I've seen only one strategy that can't miss -- and that is to market to your best customers first, your best prospects second and the rest of the world last."

    - John Romero

 Marketing fascinates me.

Ever since I took an "Advertising and Society" class my senior year at [redacted], I've looked at advertisements with a more critical eye. I also received the worst grade on any paper in my academic career in that class because I focused too tightly on marketing in my research -- or at least that's the explanation the TA in the class gave.

It's all about appealing to the target demographic. Advertisers get brief chunks of time to make an impression, so message must be tightly targeted. You want to appeal to young men? Use scantily clad women (or perhaps scantily clad men). You want to appeal to older men? Mention a life free from prostate trouble. You want to appeal to middle-aged folks? Get them worried about either paying for children and retirement, or remind them that they can still feel young. And then there's the John Mellencamp-themed Chevy ads. (You know the one: "This is awrrrr counnnntreeeeeee."). They seem to annoy as many people as the Applebee's "Gilligan's Island" spots -- so I'm yet to figure where they're aimed…

So what does this have to do with wine? Women account for 57% of wine sales in the US, and most female consumers of wine drink what they buy almost immediately. According to Leslie Sbrocco, author of "Wine for Women," women "look for the experience" in wine. "We think about who we're with, what we're eating," she said. "Women buy visually, paying attention to packaging. They look for a transition between day and night, work and play."

Wine sellers are quick on the uptake. Interesting labels, odd bottle shapes, funky names for wines -- these are aimed at casual wine drinkers and/or people who tend to consume wines not long after purchase, since those two demographics make up the majority of wine sales. A typical, old-school cursive covered bottle with a proudly emblazoned vintage but no other "obvious" information isn't going to stand out while strolling the aisles of Liquor Direct.

Couple this notion with Sbrocco's thesis -- and you'll get a lot of wines marketed at women for "specific" use in particular environments. Now, I'm not going to claim knowledge of what  those environments may be…I'll leave those to you to envision or share in the comments. That said, here are a few wines who clearly weren't marketed towards my gender:

Little Black Dress 2006 Chardonnay -- From their publicity, "Fashioned specifically to capture the pure essence of what a woman wants in a wine, Little Black Dress signifies all that is elegant, confident, sexy and today." Pretty bold statement for an $8 bottle. Is it "sexy and today?" I have no clue, but it's decent. It comes off the hangar with a nose like a buttery chard -- creamy and citrusy. It's medium bodied for a chardonnay, and makes no bones about being Californian. There's plenty of toasty oak in this wine. However, instead of becoming buttery, it's turns more crisp -- an interesting mix of European and American styling. The finish is oaky and somewhat dry. We had this one with some grilled swordfish and yellow rice and it went quite nicely.

Mad Housewife 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon -- "This is your time. Time to enjoy a moment to yourself. A moment without the madness." Perhaps this is a reworking of the Stones' "Mother's Little Helper," but hey -- whatever gets you through. Actually, this is a very decent Cabernet. It's nothing spectacular, but very approachable. The Mad Housewife has a fragrant nose of currants and blackberries. There's a nice fruity taste with just an edge of tannin. Finish is slightly dry. The Sweet Partner in Crime said that she found it "Zin-ish, but not quite that strong a flavor." It's a $10 bottle, which is probably about right for the quality.

Bitch 2007 Grenache -- I remember the first time I saw this wine. I was wandering down the Australian wine aisle when I spotted this bright pink label with "Bitch" delicately scripted. I had a hard time running this wine down to review -- as it tends to sell pretty briskly, for reasons I would need a second "X" chromosome to properly understand. When did "bitch" become a term of endearment? I used that word to describe that Advertising and Society TA for a decade. That all changed when TA-Bitch became the Sweet Partner in Crime ten years later, but that's a story for another day.

That said, this is a much fruitier, heavier wine than I expected from a straight Grenache. Most Grenaches tend to be on the light side, but this one refuses to take a back seat. (Apparently, Grenache is also a bitch to grow…) Blindfolded, I'd think might be a more manly zinfandel, but Bitch brings the strength. At 15% alcohol -- this is not a wine to be trifled with. The nose is full of brandy-covered plums. There's some licorice to go with the fruit when you taste, and the finish is surprisingly dry. Nice tannin. $11-12.

Of course, since I'm male, you can probably discount most of what I say above. I'll do a followup column on manly wines soon. Suggestions are welcome…

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