Wine Curmudgeon note: This post is attracting so much traffic that new visitors should know that I wrote another Barefoot post in September 2010 — Barefoot wines (again): Value or just cheap? It updates this post and offers some thoughts on the Barefoot merlot. There is also a review of Barefoot riesling, written in December 2009.
Original post: Barefoot Cellars wines get a lot more publicity than most inexpensive wines. The $6 cabernet sauvignon and merlot showed up on The Wine Trials' top 100 list. The $6 pinot grigio earned raves last week from the Wall Street Journal's respected wine columnists, John Brecher and Dorothy Gaiter. And the $10 extra dry sparkling wine got a gold medal at the prestigious Dallas Morning News competition this spring.
Is it time for the Wine Curmudgeon to take another look at Barefoot?
That's because the wines have never much impressed me. We tasted the brut sparkling wine last week in my Cordon Bleu class, and it was typical — decent, well-made and inexpensive, but nothing to get excited about. Or to add to the $10 Hall of Fame.
How can this be? What accounts for such a disparity of opinion?
Some of it, obviously, is palate. Some of it is my reverse snobbery. I expect a lot from cheap wine, which the Barefoots (owned by Gallo these days) usually don't offer. They're very simple wines. There's nothing wrong with that, but you can get more than simple elsewhere. I'll take Cristalino bubbly, about the same price, over Barefoot every time.
And third, which is the real difference, is fruit quality. Cheap wine is made to hit a price point, which means the cost of the ingredients has to fit into a specific financial framework. In some years, quality fruit will be cheaper than other years, and Barefoot can use it. That's when the wine shines. When grape prices are up, the fruit isn't so good and the wine is ordinary. Or worse.
Contrast this with more expensive wine, where the winemaker's goal is usually not about hitting a certain price. Hence, there is more variation in the quality of cheap wine.
Barefoot makes efforts to get around this dilemma by making a lot of non-vintage wine; that is, wine that contains grapes from more than one harvest. That way, the winemakers can pick and choose the best grapes based on quality and price. In fact, the cabernet, merlot and pinot grigio are non-vintage.
So what will I do? Taste these wines again, of course. The Wine Curmudgeon may be a reverse snob, but I'm not stupid. If there is great cheap wine out there, I want to find it.