Wednesday, April 6, 2011

The lie in your sample bag

Wine samples are one of the best ways to demonstrate the character of a wine. As a rep, we take a bag full of different wines to show our customers. It is assumed that every day, we will bring a fresh set of samples, and the wines will show very much as they would if you opened it and drank the entire bottle in one or 2 evenings. In many cases, in an effort to save money, either from the distributor, or the sales rep (preserving their sample budget), the rep takes wines out a second day. This is one of the absolute worst things a rep can do.

Day 2 wine samples are very different than day 2 wine on your counter. Every time you open the bottle, pour a splash, you are decanting the wine. With that fresh oxygen in your bottle, you now take that wine, shove it in a bag, swing it for a walk to the car, stick it in the trunk, and then speed off to the next account. Silently, in your trunk, the wine is continuing to react to the new oxygen and agitation. A half dozen accounts later, and you have effectively aged this wine the same as spending 3 days of being open on your counter. Take that same wine out day 2, you are a) not really going to sell anything based on the tasting profile b) showing a wine that isn't acting like itself, doing a HUGE disservice to the brand and the people that made that wine. Many accounts won't really comment about a wine on the second day because they may not know how the wine is supposed to taste, they will just be underwhelmed and pass on the wine and the brand.

There are of course some exceptions. You can't kill Amarone or Ripassa. Many high alcohol, high acid wines do well on day 2. Warm weather wine that doesn't see much oak does ok, and the best for day 2 is without a doubt, great Mosel Riesling (ironic since it is such a delicate and seemingly sensitive wine). This is a limited list, and most aren't really optimal on day 2 (except Mosel Riesling).

If you have concerns about stretching samples, pull 2 bottles or squeeze in more appointments. You can always contact the supplier and ask for a free sample bottle, they will always prefer to pay for a bottle vs you showing a bad day 2 version of their wine. At the end of the day, it's a judgement call, and it's your judgement call.


  1. As a fellow sales rep, taking wines out a second day is always an interesting dilemma for me. Some wines fall apart, as you mention, but depending on how busy day one was and how much of the bottle gets drained some wines will actually show better on the second day (young red Burgundy, Bordeaux varietals from new and old world, Nebbiolo in its various incarnations, etc). In those cases I think the only thing to do is to be honest with buyers. Restaurants, especially, benefit from that information. If it's a list placement that will be opened tableside and poured immediately, the last thing we want is for them to be shocked by how closed down or aggressively tannic the wine is compared to when they tasted it. On the flip side, I've found sommeliers who really appreciate tasting a bottle that has been open a few days if they're considering the wine for a BTG placement. It benefits them to know that the wine will handle some abuse and oxidation and still show well a few days later.
    It's all about honesty and communication (like every other part of our job), no?

  2. I have to say that i think JP hit the nail on the head. I'll just agree with him and say that I've had restaurant buyers who want to know how a wine ages once open. Full disclosure about how long the wine you're showing has been open will help to give them a better idea how the wine will act in their restaurant.

  3. All generalizations are ultimately false, so, yes, there are holes in that theory, and yes, restaurants like to see how a wine holds up. Within the context of honestly, experience and full disclosure, a good judgement call is better than any rule. Thanks for reading, and Andrew-I'm still waiting for your first public post...

  4. Actually, I think "all generalizations are ultimately false" is a generalization, and thus false. Which means that not all generalizations are false, so this one might, in fact, be true. Which means...

  5. The only thing worse is reps that don't care about temperature. If sampled 42 degree Merlot and 85 degree chardonnay. Needless to say I passed on both.