WC sample index: Cheap wine quality sinks to new low

cheap wine quality
How many more of these do I have to taste?

The current round of samples from Big Wine (and not so big wine) has not been worth drinking — to be polite

How bad has cheap wine quality become? So bad that most of the samples I’ve tasted over the past month have not been worth drinking. The always willing and ever amiable Lynne Kleinpeter tastes most of these wines with me, and even she has had enough: “I’ll drink anything, and I’m going to pour this one down the sink before you even ask what I thought of it.”

What has been wrong with these wines?

• So-called dry roses that are actually sweet, with about 1 or 1.2 percent residual sugar. That’s about as sweet as something like Apothic Red, E&J Gallo’s best-selling sweet red blend.

• Red wines that make no pretense of tasting like wine, but are instead loaded with extra sweetness, coloring agents like Mega Purple, and evil tasting fake oak. The red Lynne poured down the drain had so much cheap chocolate flavor that it made me gag.

• White wines reduced to inoffensiveness, with the acidity and freshness taken out. In one case, that included the calories – a reduced calorie pinot gris that tasted like club soda spiked with NutraSweet. This seems to be part of a trend I’ve noticed in a lot of corporate food, as well – remove the flavor and make the product as bland as possible. Why anyone thinks this is a good idea is beyond me.

This is the worst stretch of samples since I started the blog. The only thing that prevents me from calling them out by name is that snarkiness won’t solve the problem. Besides, I don’t want to give them any chance to show up in a Google search.

Rather, we have to understand what’s going on and refuse to buy these kinds of wines. That’s why I made another of my 12 wines for $100 trips last week.

First, the cynicism among wine companies big and almost big that we’ll drink anything that is priced in the current hot zone, about $12 to $18. The most disgusting wines I tasted were at the high end of that price range, festooned with clever names and tricky labels.

Second, trend hopping. I’ve gotten roses from companies that know as little about pink wine as my dogs do, figuring that if the label says dry rose everyone will buy it; isn’t rose the new moscato? That the wines are poorly made and don’t taste like dry rose doesn’t seem to bother them.

Third, lots and lots of cheap grapes in California, so they can do crap like this. That’s the worst part about what’s going on – the poor quality of the grapes being used to make more expensive wine.

How do you identify these wines so you don’t buy them? First, look for labels and names that talk about lifestyles instead of wine; one particularly wretched sample waxed poetic about hippies. Second, is there too much winespeak? The minute you see terms like “black pepper flavors followed by gentle oak spice,” run as far as you can in the other direction. Finally, these are mostly California wines, and my samples from other states and countries were drinkable, and sometimes even better than that.

More about wine samples:
The tyranny of wine samples
The return of the wine sample index

5 thoughts on “WC sample index: Cheap wine quality sinks to new low

  • By Hoolius North -

    An article I am willing to wager is way more bland than any of the wines tasted. To insult categories of wine without specifics is cowardly and definitely curmudgeonly. To dismiss “so called roses” is like saying all wine bloggers have paid for palates. It is like stating that all wine blogs are worthless based on the content of this one.

    The plain fact of the matter is, that there treasure troves of wines within the categories you denigrate that are outstanding wines and outstanding values. If you wish to share your questionable opinion on which specific wines are good and which specific wines are bad that would at least be constructive personal observation. To feign politeness while trashing blanket segments of the industry is simple inflammatory blogging looking for attention.

    Perhaps it is time for you to step away from the samples. There is one basic lesson that your mother tried to teach you “if you don’t have anything nice to say, then don’t say anything at all”. Maybe your free wine samples will dry up along with your blog.

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  • By Mike Neal -

    Hoolius North, if that is your real name, you are at the wrong site. If you think it’s easy to buy good inexpensive wine and that there is a “treasure trove” of such wines for people that have, let’s say, a more European palette, you are mistaken. Before finding the wine curmudgeon I’d almost given up. It was a nightmare and expensive throwing away bottle after bottle of cheap crap trying wine at a price point that makes sense in drinking wine every day with meals. If you like the fake sweet stuff that is predominately peddled in this market that’s fine. But don’t assume your taste is for everyone. Jeff does a real service that I greatly appreciate.

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  • By Michael Donohue -

    I am fortunate to work in high_end wine in Napa but certainly cant afford many of the wines I sell, so I wind up at Grocery Outlet, where the “bargains” are. OMG, the horrors! Once in a blue moon there will be a tolerable wine but the vast majority are beneath contempt.

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