Think of a color, an adjective or a number. Don’t tell me what it is. Next, think of an animal. Got it? Right, now tell me what they are. Did you get something like “Red Weasel” or “Four Chickens?” Congratulations, you’ve got the name of your new wine brand.
I could fill two paragraphs with names some marketing geniuses are throwing at the wall, hoping they’ll gain traction in retail stores. None of the guilty will be named here as I don’t need a lawsuit. Whose idea was it to give inane names to bland wines? They might come from California, perhaps Australia, and even occasionally France, and they retail around that magical $9.99 price point.
These wines share a propensity to high alcohol content, generally 14% or more, with monolithic fruit and searing heat on the palate. At this price point, the payoff at is a lack of subtlety or most flavor characteristics beyond heat, tannin, and one-dimensional fruit. High alcohol content is not a substitute for quality.
Wine reviewers are at least partially responsible for these wines, singing the praises of “huge, massively extracted, jammy…” red wines. That’s what the public is supposed to like, right? But drinking these alcoholic monsters wears out one’s palate. At Thanksgiving a few years ago, we had a Napa Valley Merlot, followed by a Napa Zinfandel. These were premium wines, retailing for around $35.00. The merlot’s alcohol content was 14.6%; the zinfandel’s, almost 16%. While both were delicious and qualitatively better than the value priced items mentioned above, my palate was exhausted when we opened the second bottle.
I realize that there are two divergent topics here: dumb wine names and poorly made wine. Unfortunately, the often seem to go hand in hand.
It’s time for winemakers in the budget end of the spectrum to stop making poor quality with high doses of alcohol. There has to be a way to craft mid-market wines that have some dimension other than alcohol and tannin.