A flabby wine has a lot in common with this fellow.
A well-made wine should have structure, and this is something that holds true regardless of price. Just because a wine is cheap doesn’t give it an excuse, and the best cheap wines do just that.
Structure means a wine should have a pleasing aroma and a beginning, a middle, and an end when you taste it. You should be able to taste the tannins (if the wine has any), as well as the acid, and the alcohol will stay in the background. In this, the wine is in balance, and that should be the goal for every winemaker.
A flabby wine doesn’t really have any structure, and one part – usually the fruit – predominates. The wine can taste almost syrupy, or more like grape juice than wine, and everything you taste sort of runs together.
The best analogy is an overweight man, whose muscle tone long ago went wherever muscle tone goes. It’s important to note, though, that – like people – a wine doesn’t have to cut and buffed to do its job. Too much structure can be just as bad as not enough, producing a wine that may be technicially correct but that offers little pleasure when you drink it.
This was not the scheduled wine of the week, but since I’m still waiting, weeks later, for a distributor to call me back about a Gascon wine I want to do, I had to shift the schedule around.
I mention this not to damn the Brancott with faint praise, because it deserves better than that. Rather, it’s to note (again, sadly) how lazy distributors are and to point out that we shouldn’t force ourselves to stick to some sort of wine drinking schedule. Which even I find myself doing sometimes. Drink what you like, but be willing to try all sorts of things.
The Brancott ($10, purchased) is a mostly one-dimensional New Zealand sauvignon blanc, but that's not a bad thing for a grocery store wine at this price -- especially since so many others aren't even that. Right, Monkey Bay? There is grapefruit, and it does dominate, which is to be expected. But it’s not overdone, and there is also some ripe tropical fruit in the middle, just 12 1/2 percent alcohol, and a clean, fresh approach. All in all, a very pleasant surprise.
Drink this chilled on its own, or with grilled vegetables, small plate salads, and even something like hummus. And be glad that I was forced to take a different path.
• Is the moscato craze over? The Wine Curmudgeon wonders, because plans have been announced for a $15 moscato called SIP, from the same people who do Layer Cake. Given that moscato’s popularity is based on the fact that it’s cheap and sweet, that someone thinks there is a market for a pricey moscato that is not quite as sweet means the wise guys are starting to look at the moscato market. And when the wise guys start to look at something, it’s time for the rest of us to look elsewhere.
• Copycat bottles? Yes, another wine business intellectual property dispute. This time, reports thedrinksbusiness.com, one Champagne maker is threatening to sue another because the latter’s bottle shape is too similar to the former’s. Apparently, there is more than just the way the bottle looks – this particular shape affects how the wine ages or tastes or something. I’m not quite clear on that. Still, aren’t you glad I follow this stuff, so you don’t have to?
• “Get over it!” Or so says the Wine Spectator’s Matt Kramer, who is apparently tired of hearing people complain about various parts of the wine business, including wine prices. “Now, you or I may not like it. Hell, we most certainly do not like it. But what we like or don't like is pretty much beside the point. The juggernaut will keep rolling.” Ah, bliss – is it any wonder I so enjoy the Spectator?
We’re in the middle of a tremendous price war in Dallas, where retailers are selling some wines more or less at cost. Segura Viudas, one of my favorite cavas, is $6 – about half of what it cost here a year ago (and about what it costs in Spain).
Yet the retailers don’t seem especially concerned that they’re giving away wine. Items like Segura Viudas are loss leaders to get customers into the store; once they’re in, they can switch them to brands with better margins – and, increasingly, these brands are private labels. In fact, private and store label wines, which are sold exclusively at one retailer, are perhaps the most important development on the retail side of the business over the past couple of years.
Some retailers, like Trader Joe’s and Total Wine and More, focus almost exclusively on private label, but national grocery stores and regional chains are doing them as well, tucked onto the shelf next to the Kendall-Jackson, Yellow Tail, and Barefoot.
The question, then, is whether these private labels offer value and quality, or if they’re just dodges to sell wine that consumers wouldn’t normally buy. The answer, sadly, after the Wine Curmudgeon’s recent private label experiment (unscientific, but worthwhile nonetheless) is that more and more, private labels are becoming the latter. More, after the jump:
The Wine Curmudgeon’s favorite New Zealand sauvignon blanc is Spy Valley; the catch is that it’s very difficult to find in Dallas. So when I had a chance to meet Jules Taylor, whose New Zealand winery gets high marks for quality and professionalism (“Plus, Jeff, she’s a great person"), I was excited. There’s nothing wrong with having two favorites.
I was not disappointed. Taylor is clever and passionate about her work. How do I know this? When someone can sound as excited as she did about her wines when talking to a wine writer after a long and hot day of visiting retailers and sitting in meetings, she must be passionate. (She is also a tequila aficionado, and was very excited to be in Dallas if only for that. Not many interesting tequilas for sale in New Zealand, apparently.)
The sauvignon blanc ($18, sample) is New Zealand sauvignon blanc the way it should be. There is more grassiness than citrus in the front (and lime instead of grapefruit); a soft, almost seductive tropical middle (passion fruit?); and a long, very subtle mineral finish. This is a complex wine, especially for the price, and not only well above the entry level wines on the market, but on par with many more expensive ones. Highly recommended.
Taylor also makes a late harvest sauvignon blanc dessert wine ($20 for a 375 ml bottle, sample), which I really shouldn’t mention. It’s not that it isn’’t very nicely done (lots of apricot, honeyed sweetness, and a bit of sauvignon blanc character). It’s that she makes very little of it, and even less gets imported to the U.S. If you can find it, buy it.
Tim McNally hosts a wine radio show, writes extensively about wine, and judges some of the most important wine competitions in the world. In other words, he knows more than most of us about the wine business -- and is more than happy to share. Or, as Tim says about our tendency to drink specific wines because we're told they're good: "If wine doesn't give you great pleasure, then don't drink it."
Tim and I talked about wine intimidation and how to overcome it, the changes in the wine business and especially in the quality of cheap wine, and he even called me out once or twice. Can't get a better guest than that.