Tag Archives: Barefoot

Follow-up: The fifth $3 wine challenge

$3 wine

Consumers have gone through a lot — and I mean a lot — of empty $3 wine bottles since Two-buck Chuck debuted 18 years ago.

Does the continuing popularity of $3 wine, which isn’t all that tasty, tell us more about the wine business than the wine business wants to know?

Five times I’ve tasted $3 wine to see if wine drinkers can survive on ultra-cheap wine. Five times, the answer has been no – and the wines have tasted worse each time I have done it. So why do these wines still exist?

Welcome to the deep, dark dirty secret of the wine business — and which is rearing its ugly head this year: We buy wine on price, and if the price is low enough, nothing else much matters. Despite all of the hoopla about premiumization and trading up, $3 wine exists because people buy it. And we buy lots and lots of it.

Trader Joe’s has sold more than 83 million cases of Two-buck Chuck since the wine debuted in 2002, about 4.6 million cases a year. That would make the Charles Shaw brand the 10th biggest winery in the country by volume in 2020 if it actually existed. And, surprisingly, that total is closer to No. 9 Jackson Family and its ubiquitous Kendall Jackson chardonnay, than almost anyone could imagine.

It’s also worth noting the success of E&J Gallo’s $7 Barefoot, which is estimated to sell $1 billion worth of wine this year, about 18 million cases, That would make it the fifth biggest brand in the country if Gallo didn’t own it. And, when we parse the data, isn’t the popularity of White Claw and the rest of the hard seltzers about price? Why would someone buy flavored spritzy water with a bit of booze if it wasn’t cheap? Like Two-buck Chuck, they’re certainly not buying it for the sensual experience.

The other thing that fascinates me about $3 wine? That its adherents take it as a personal affront when I criticize it. How can you be such a snob? they ask (and not always that politely). We’ll ignore for a moment that I may be the least snobbish person in the wine business. What matters is that they need affirmation that buying on price is OK, because that’s the exact opposite of the way the wine business works.

And in this, they miss the point of my criticism. The first rule – and really the only rule – for wine is to drink what you want, but be willing to try different things. They can drink as much crappy, thin, and watery wine as they want. What does it matter what I think, as long as they enjoy it? So should the question they ask not be what I think, but if they really enjoy it?

Winebits 634: Barefoot, supermarket wine, artificial wine

barefoot wineThis week’s wine news: Barefoot wine sells some 18 million cases a year, which is no doubt why Google likes it so much. Plus, a look at on-line wine sales and more news about artificial wine

Big, big Barefoot: How much wine does Barefoot sell each year? How about 18 million cases? That would make it the fifth biggest producer in the country if it wasn’t owned by E&J Gallo, which is the biggest. In this, the various Barefoot brands could account for as much as 2 ½ percent of all the wine sold in the U.S. each year. Is it any wonder, then, that Google sends so many people who are searching for Barefoot to the blog? Or that three Barefoot items were in the top four of the most read blog posts in 2019? That Barefoot is thriving while the rest of the wine business is heading downhill speaks volumes – if anyone in wine is willing to listen.

If Amazon can’t. … : One of the great puzzles in the wine business is Internet sales. Supermarkets in particular would love to do it, but three-tier makes it much more difficult than selling razors and mattresses, two categories that have been able to embrace e-commerce. Notes consultant Zac Brandenberg: “But neither market presents anywhere near the opportunity that beverage alcohol does. Wine alone is a $70 billion market with less than one percent commerce penetration — signaling an enormous untapped opportunity for retailers and wineries.” But how do supermarkets do that, when Amazon failed three times? Brandenberg suggests using the Internet for local delivery, just like the local Kroger, Wegman’s, and Albertson’s do for food. The cost could be enormous, but he says he expects retailers to do what needs to be done because the profits would be so immense.

Hold the grapes: The company has a new name, but it says it’s ready to give the world wine made without grapes. Hence, an Italian-style sparkling wine made with a combination of ethanol (the alcohol bit), assorted flavors, and caramel color and beta carotene for color. Interestingly, the latter can oxidize, which would mean fake wine can go off just like real wine. We covered the story on the blog almost three years ago when the company was called Ava, but the questions remain. Why does the world need this?

Barefoot wine review 2019

Barefoot wine review 2019: Cabernet sauvignon and chardonnay

Barefoot wine review 2019Barefoot wine review 2019: The cabernet sauvignon and chardonnay have a dollop or three of residual sugar, but otherwise taste like they should

This is the 12th Barefoot wine review I’ve written, and one thing is as aggravating today, for Barefoot wine review 2019, as it was 12 years ago: No screwcap. Why E&J Gallo, Barefoot’s owner, still uses a cork closure on most of its labels is beyond me. The only time these wines are “aged” is after they’re opened, when they sit in the refrigerator for another day. A screwcap would make that kind of aging so much easier.

The Barefoot wine review 2019 features the non-vintage cabernet sauvignon ($5, purchased, 12.5%) and the non-vintage chardonnay ($5, purchased, 13%). Both, save for a dollop or three of residual sugar, are among the best Barefoot efforts in years. Yes, that’s damning with faint praise, given the quality of the wines in many of the previous reviews. And their sweetness left that dried out feeling in my mouth for 20 or 30 minutes after tasting. But that Barefoot varietal wines taste like their varietal is worth noting.  Put a couple of ice cubes in the glass, and the wines are certainly drinkable, if too simple and not very subtle.

The cabernet tastes of dark berry fruit (boysenberry?), and there are soft tannins, a certain acidity, and restrained fake oak. No chocolate cherry foolishness here, though the sweetness gets more noticeable with each sip and may annoy wine drinkers who expect cabernet to be dry.

The chardonnay, ironically, is less sweet than the cabernet. Take away the sugar, and it’s a pleasant California-style chardonnay — almost crisp green apple fruit, that chardonnay style of mouth feel, and just enough fake oak to round out the wine. There’s even a sort of finish, which was about the last thing I expected. Once again, though, the sweetness gets in the way —  would that Barefoot had the courage of its convictions to make a dry wine dry.

More about Barefoot wine:
Barefoot wine review 2018
Barefoot wine review 2017
Barefoot wine review 2016

Winebits 573: Sweet red wine, pension plans, Barefoot

sweet red wine

Eric Asimov is not a fan of Big Wine

This week’s wine news: The New York Times’ Eric Asimov takes on sweet red wine, plus wine helps a pension plan go belly up and Barefoot reaches 20 million cases

An unlikely review: The Times’ Eric Asimov, who makes no secret of his disdain for Big Wine, discusses three top-selling Big Wine products in a recent Times’ wine school column. His comments about E&J Gallo’s Apothic and Constellation Brands’ The Prisoner and Meomi are almost as priceless as as the comments readers left. It’s also worth noting that the wines are sweet reds – Apothic more or less labeled as such, and the other two hiding sugar behind a dry red wine label. As such, there are three of the most contentious wines among those of us who do what Asimov does.

How to make a million in the wine business: Dallas’ police and fire pension fund almost went broke last year, and only tremendous sacrifices by the cops and firefighters – who weren’t responsible for the collapse – saved the system (which is a story for another day). The point for the blog? The pension system was so badly mismanaged that it had investments in wine real estate. How is that mismanagement? Because the first rule of the wine business is this very old joke: How do you make a million in the wine business? Start with two million.

Only 20 million cases: Barefoot, also an E&J Gallo brand, has grown to 20 million cases – or about one bottle for every drinking age adult in the U.S. That’s a mind-boggling statistic. The story from the Shanken trade news site is mostly puff (boxed wine is hardly an innovation in 2019), but it’s worth reading to note how important $7 Barefoot is to the health of the U.S. wine business. We can talk about premiumization all we want, but if Barefoot was a winery, it would be the fourth biggest producer in the U.S.

Barefoot wine review 2019

Barefoot wine review 2018: Rich Red Blend, Barefoot Bubbly

Barefoot wine review 2018Barefoot wine review 2018: Rich Red Blend shows Big Wine at its best, while Barefoot Bubbly does just the opposite

Nothing changed with the Barefoot wine review 2018 from the 2017 version. The brand remains maddeningly inconsistent — no guarantee that its products will taste the same from year to year. This is a huge problem, since Barefoot is non-vintage wine and there aren’t supposed to be vintage differences. But E&J Gallo makes so much of it (almost 20 million cases, more than the production of almost every winery in the U.S.) that quality control, apparently, is not what it should be.

The good news first: The Rich Red Blend ($5, purchased, 13%) is a quality sweet red wine that tastes exactly like the back label says it does. In fact, there’s a chart on the back label, modeled after the International Riesling Foundation effort, saying just how sweet the wine is. It’s a welcome development given how many sweet red wines are on the market that pretend not to be sweet.

The Rich Red blend is not as sweet as the Cupcake Red Velvet — closer to the Bogle Essential Red. Look for the cherry, chocolate, and vanilla flavors that are the hallmark of these wines, but also notice the tannins. Yes, tannins in a sweet wine, in an attempt at balance. And it mostly works. And yes, there is a tremendous amount of winemaking going on to get that not especially wine-like combination of flavors. But no one pretends Barefoot makes terroir-driven wines.

The less said about the Barefoot Bubbly Brut Cuvee ($8, purchased, 10.5%), the better. When it’s right, it’s an enjoyable bottle of cheap sparking wine that’s easy to recommend. When it’s wrong, as it was this time, about the only thing you can do is pour it down the drain. My experience: It’s  50-50 whether the wine will be drinkable. This time, the Barefoot Bubbly was flat, and barely popped when I took the cork off. Was this a winemaking problem? Was this a supply chain problem —  stored in a hot distributor warehouse after sitting in a hot truck after sitting in a hot supplier warehouse? Either way, it was a waste of $8 that I could have spent on a Spanish cava.

More about Barefoot wine:
Barefoot wine review 2017
Barefoot wine review 2016
Barefoot wine review 2015

Barefoot wine review 2017

Barefoot wine review 2017Barefoot wine review 2017: The sweet red shows Big Wine at its best, while the sauvignon blanc reminds us why Barefoot is so inconsistent

The Barefoot wine review 2017 shows why Barefoot will soon be the best-selling wine brand in the U.S., as well as why so many of its wines are so inconsistently irritating – and difficult for me to write nice things about.

This year, I tasted the Barefoot sweet red ($6, purchased, 10.5%) and sauvignon blanc ($6, purchased, 13%), and the difference between the two illustrates my point. The first is Big Wine at its best – a well-made sweet red that isn’t too sweet, too fruity, or too dirty, and a wine I would buy for someone who likes sweet red. The sauvignon blanc, on the other hand, was thin and almost reedy – a sign of poor quality grapes chosen because they were cheap and not because they added anything to the wine.

The Barefoot sweet red smells like cherry grape juice, but there isn’t much cherry left when you taste it. What fruit there is resembles grape Nehi, but not in a bad way. In this, there’s less acidity than grape juice, and no tannins, either, even though the wine would be better if it had more of the first and some of the latter. That would give it more balance and a brightness that the best sweet reds have. The irony? The the sweet red approaches balance anyway, and even the Big Guy (who tasted the wines with me) was impressed with its quality. The sweet red is California appellation and non-vintage.

The Big Guy was especially annoyed with the sauvignon blanc ($6, purchased, 13%), given that it takes a lot to ruin sauvignon blanc. But that happened here – this was thin and annoying and unripe, and nowhere near Bogle or McManis. It smelled almost grassy, as California sauvignon blanc should, but that was it. In this, I have rarely tasted a well-made Barefoot sauvignon blanc. The wine was non-vintage.

Finally, a word about the stickers most Barefoot wines carry boasting of medals. Ignore them. Most Barefoot wines are non-vintage, so when the sticker says the wine won a medal in 2012 (sweet red) and 2014 (sauvignon blanc), the wines with the sticker almost certainly weren’t the wines entered in the competition.

More about Barefoot wine:
Barefoot wine review 2016
Barefoot wine review 2015
Barefoot wine: Why it’s so popular

 

Mini-reviews 93: Barefoot bubbly, red Loire, Ridge, red Cahors

Barefoot bubblyReviews of wines that don’t need their own post, but are worth noting for one reason or another. Look for it on the final Friday of each month

Barefoot Bubbly Brut Cuvee NV ($10, sample, 11.5%): One of the most frustrating things about reviewing wine is consistency of the product. I’ve written glowing reviews of this wine, but when I tasted the most recent sample, it was almost flat and devoid of flavor and character. Is this a flaw with this specific bottle of wine? Is it a problem with the current “vintage?” Or is it a problem in the supply chain, where the wine sat in a warehouse or delivery truck? I think the last, since I’ve had this problem with sparkling wine from many producers at many prices over the past 18 months. This is one of the disadvantages of non-vintage ones; you don’t know how long it has been sitting and getting worse.

Domaine de la Chanteleuserie Cuvée Alouettes ($17, purchased, 12%): This red wine, from the French region of Loire, is an excellent example of what the Loire can do with cabernet franc – red berry fruit, freshness, graphite, spice, and length. It’s clean through the palate with surprisingly soft tannins. Highly recommended.

Ridge Geyserville 2014 ($35, purchased, 14.5%): This California zinfandel red blend isn’t anywhere near ready to drink, and needs at least another year (if not longer). Until then, look for ripe black fruit and a lot less of the style and elegance that Ridge is known for.

Château Lafleur de Haute-Serre 2014 ($10, purchased, 13%): This French red, made with malbec from the Cahors region, is not what I’d hoped given that it’s from Georges Vigouroux, a fine producer. It’s just ordinary, 1970s style wine with too much unripe fruit and a rusticity that isn’t as much charming as annoying.