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Wine lines targeting women are long on legs, short on flavor

  • Bloomberg News
  • Published Wednesday, May 16, 2012, at 6:08 a.m.
  • Updated Tuesday, May 29, 2012, at 5:16 p.m.

Freud struggled to find an answer to the question “What does a woman want?” Ninety-odd years later, some in the wine industry think they know.

According to the new “girly-wine” brand marketers, we want to be skinny, to toss our hair playfully like ponies as we pick our bottles to match moods, not foods. We also crave an easy-sipping flavor profile with a naughty edge of sweetness.

High-heeled shoes star in our fantasies. Well, maybe they got that one right. But aren’t Canadian wine maker Strut’s labels featuring photos of long, shapely, perfect legs emerging from short skirts a guy fantasy?

In the past few years, the wine world has finally discovered that women drinkers are a coveted customer niche.

Women make up nearly 60 percent of U.S. wine consumers, according to the Beverage Information Group’s 2011 Wine Handbook.

Which is why there are so many companies are starting up lines of wines for women. Most are targeting women 21 to 34, but their marketing efforts often treat this audience as if it had no more sophistication than a bevy of sorority sisters on spring break.

Recently, global giant Treasury Wine Estates launched four wines under the “Be.” label: Flirty, a pink moscato; Bright, a pinot grigio; Fresh, an unoaked chardonnay; and Radiant, a riesling.

I guess so-called Millennial women are supposed to turn to wine only when they’re feeling upbeat, not when they’re tired and grumpy at the end of the day. Treasury’s website describes the pinot grigio mood: “Your sunny disposition sets your soundtrack to the soothing sounds of a steel drum band as you flip flop through fabulousness.”

This new marketing vision also assumes all women are diet-obsessed. Last month, three lower-calorie Skinnygirl wines from Beam Global Spirits & Wine hit retail shelves. Beam claims a five-ounce glass of any of the Skinnygirl wines contain 100 calories. (Typically, most wines contain 110 to 125, unless they’re sweet dessert bottlings.)

The white, red, and rose “guilt-free” blends are the first wines released by Skinnygirl, which has been making premixed cocktails since it was founded in 2009 by reality TV star Bethenny Frankel from “The Real Housewives of New York City.”

New York’s Mister Wright Fine Wines & Spirits stocks the rose, and so far the wine isn’t exactly flying out the door, according to manager Jodie Leishman. She also carries another “fun” wine brand for women, Mommy’s Time Out.

“Moms buy it for a joke, when they’re going on a play date with their kids,” Leishman says. “They buy it for the name, not the wine. I keep it on a low shelf.”

Barbara Insel, president of St. Helena, Calif.-based wine consulting firm Stonebridge Research, says men’s and women’s motivations are very different.

“In focus groups, women say they buy wine to go with food, to relax, to drink with friends, to have fun.” Men, on the other hand, “say they drink for health, but off the record, they admit they buy wines that will impress their friends.”

The Middle Sister wine brand reflects this lifestyle approach, according to Mary Ann Vangrin, one of its three partners. She says women look for wines that offer an emotional connection.

Its 10 sassy-style wines have personality-profile names like Drama Queen (pinot grigio), Smarty Pants (chardonnay) and best-selling Rebel Red (a blend). All share a flavor-phobic house style.

“Women don’t want a wine that bites back. They like ripe, fruit-forward wines without a lot of tannin and oak,” says Vangrin. She should know: Middle Sister regularly solicits feedback from its 115,000 Facebook friends.

Deutsch Family Wine & Spirits, which brought us the ubiquitous Yellowtail, has launched its own new wine marketed to women, Flirt, a blend of syrah, zinfandel, and tempranillo. Its approach is obvious yet more subdued and somewhat less cringe-worthy than other brands. Think lipstick advertisement.

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