Barefoot wines: Value or just cheap?

imageWine 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.

11 thoughts on “Barefoot wines: Value or just cheap?

  • By Ralph Tanner -

    I tried a Barefoot White Zinfandel this past week and it was superb! It is very smooth, has no bite, and goes very well with food. I bought another bottle and will keep some in my rack.

  • By David -

    I opened a bottle of Barefoot Merlot last evening, and was surprised at how smooth and flavorful it was. It wasn’t the best Merlot I’ve ever tasted (I didn’t expect it to be, at a mere $4), but it was FAR from the worst. I’ve been sorely disappointed by many $25+ bottle of wine. I’d have to say this was in the top 30% of merlots I’ve had the last few years, and for a $4 bottle of wine, that’s saying quite a bit.

  • By Jeff Siegel -

    It’s interesting how a wine that isn’t too much of any one thing appeals to so many people, isn’t it? Barefoot always — always — does well in wine competitions for just that reason. If you’ve been judging big, tannic red wines all day, and then taste a red wine that has a bit more fruit and a lot less tannins, you give it a gold medal. Which happensto Barefoot a lot.

  • By -

    I am a Chardonnay fan and Barefoot Chardonnay is my favorite companion. For $5/ bottle you get more than you pay for. Excellent and smooth taste. No bitter explosion like other cheaper brands (for example Corbett Canyon or Foxhorn – yuck). I love Barefoot wines.

  • By Jeff Siegel -

    I ran the numbers for the past 9 months, and this Barefoot post is among the top 10 visited items on the blog. So it looks like I’ll have do some more Barefoot tasting.
    Interestingly, the Barefoot post has always been one of the most popular, but never quite this popular. I wonder if this is a recession effect; that is, people looking for information about less expensive wines?

  • By Sara -

    Love the Barefoot Pinot Grigio…especially goot as a white sangria. Just tasted the Pino Noir…
    BORING! No complexity at all. Smelled like red wine vinegar from the bottle and tastes like strong grape juice. Oh well….

  • By Barnett -

    I have read some the comments about Barefoot wines. I have to admit I don’t like Merlot and don’t really care for chardonnay. I have tried the Barefoot Moscato and I love this wine. Some friends like the sweeter Moscato in the blue bottle and it’s ok. If you haven’t tried it yet , get one and you’ll see what I mean.

  • By Ericmonje -

    I tried a bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon from Barefoot wines and I must say I did not enjoy it at all. Barefoot wine is to Real wine as malt liquor is to good tasting beer. I like Budweiser and Heineken. I’m not a professional wine taster by any means but the taste of Barefoot to me was like tap water mixed with a bottle of Walmart’s Oakleaf. In fact I would rather dirnk the Oakleaf if my life depended on it. I don’t know how anyone could say this wine is any good or give it a good review because the mere thought of tasting it brings me close to gagging. It has got to be the worst wine ever made and most of my friendes agreed and even warned me about buying it. On the bottle it says it won some California wine tasting award but I’m inclined to say that was BS. Why would anyone say this wine is good I do not know.

  • By -

    I have to agree with Ericmonje’s comments, though I do dislike Budweiser. I am not a wine expert, I will readily admit that fact. Through the course of a year, I might drink a couple 750ml bottles of wine, usually merlot. So I stopped by the liquor store to pick up a bottle or two of wine and the in-house wine expert recommended Barefoot merlot. Yes, the bottle had some medal winning award mentioned on the label, women’s volleyball championships or something like that. The merlot of other brands I have had in the past were a bit tame, fruity with a pleasant musty flavor, almost void of bitterness. This Barefoot merlot is quite bitter, as if I chewed a bunch of grape seeds or an unripe persimmon, quite objectionable, distracting me from an otherwise nice fruity flavor. I also found this merlot to be somewhat sour as in immature fruit. I would not recommend this merlot at any price.

  • By Marcos Sartori -

    It is probably the only wine I ever regretted buying.

    6 quid for a bottle of vinagre, while if I had the patience to walk a bit further than the convenience store and gone to the nearby Morison’s I could have had an impressively cheap Italian wine for 4 quid that is a lot better

    • By Wine Curmudgeon -

      Six pounds is about $9?. That’s about one-third more than it costs here, so you paid a premium, too.

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