Consumer Watchdog group Truth in Advertising (TINA) found 26 of 30 Connecticut merchants use shelf talkers, cards indicating a wine’s rating, for bottles they don’t sell.
“They bait you with a vintage and a rating that’s very good, and then they switch it for a different bottle and a different vintage, which can dramatically affect the rating,” said TINA’s Executive Director Bonnie Patten.
For example, Spirts of Madison had a shelf talker for a 2012 Waterbrook Chardonnay. Its placard touts high ratings from Wine Spectator. However, the liquor store doesn’t sell any bottles from 2012—they sell ones from 2014.
Spirit of Madison’s manager said he was not aware of the labeling discrepancy.
Nor were the employees at The Grog Shop in Middletown, according to its manager. NBC Connecticut had questions amid TINA’s findings that The Grog Shop advertised its 2012 Indian Well Merlot as a 2008.
“A consumer would value that bottle of wine that they’re buying differently,” said Patten.
Madison resident Dora Onorati agrees. She and her husband make their own wine every year.
“A 2010 (bottle) would be very different from a 2013 (or) from a 1989,” said Onorati. “I could imagine that would be a problem for somebody who’s going in, who doesn’t know anything about wine and who wants to learn more.”
Those placards are often used as a trusted source of information for such consumer who wants to learn more. Wine Spectator, a magazine that has reviewed more than 300,000 different wines including the two aforementioned, makes shelf talker placards for stores nationwide.
Tom Matthews, Wine Spectator’s Executive Editor, said he’s well aware of the misuse of his critics’ labels and urges stores use them accurately.
Meanwhile, counsel for TINA has filed a complaint with the Department of Consumer Protection. The DCP said it is in the process of reviewing that information.
“It’s not just going to be these 26 out of 30 stores,” said Patten. “There are many stores in Connecticut that probably have similar bait and switch tactics.”
The DCP, TINA and Wine Spectator all have the same suggestion—read labels and ratings carefully, and when in doubt, go to the source. Every wine rating magazine has a website where you can learn about any bottle in question.