Wine Club Newsletter - January 2012
With Rude Names, Wine Stops Minding Its Manners
Bitch and Fat Bastard are two wine brands that have taken up risqué names to help their lines stand out.
It says so on the label. Royal Bitch is the name of the wine, one of a teeming sisterhood of cabernets and chardonnays from a variety of producers with labels like Sassy Bitch, Jealous Bitch, Tasty Bitch and Sweet Bitch. They’re reinforcements for a growing army of rude, budget-priced wines that have shoved their way into wine stores and supermarkets in the past few years — most recently Happy Bitch, a Hudson Valley Rosé that made its debut last month.
The Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau, an agency of the Treasury Department, approves about 120,000 applications for wine labels every year. Most names are traditional, often genteel, especially at the lower price points. It’s natural for a Chardonnay or Cabernet priced below $15 or even $10 to buff the image a bit. Woodbridge, Coastal Estates and Turning Leaf could be suburban subdivisions.
Then there are the others. Wines like the Ball Buster, a beefy shiraz-cabernet-merlot blend from the Barossa Valley in Australia. Or BigAss Red, from Milano Family Winery in California. Or Stench, an Australian sparkler from R Winery, the company that collaborated with the American importer Dan Philips of the Grateful Palate in 2004 to get the post-feminist ball rolling with a Grenache named, simply, Bitch.
Like a slap across the face, Bitch grabbed the attention of a certain type of consumer, primarily young women en route to a bachelorette or divorce party, or looking for a special way to say, “I love you” on Mother’s Day.
“They can buy it and say, ‘Here, bitch, I bought you a present,’ ” said John F. Umbach, the owner of Joseph Victori Wines, which distributes Royal Bitch and Sweet Bitch.
Chatham Imports sensed the appeal of an irreverent women’s drink in 2005 when one of its distributors developed a promotional rum cocktail called Jealous Bitch and shopped it around, diffidently, to bars and nightclubs. The sales representatives were a little nervous about how the name might go over. But young women loved it, and the company developed a wine to match the name.
“The thing is, if you come out with a conservative label, it’s hard to separate yourself from the herd on the shelf,” Mr. Umbach said. “The competition is just brutal.”
The competition is especially keen at the lower end of the market, where winemakers clamor for the attention of consumers looking for a drinkable chardonnay or cabernet for under $20.
For years, winemakers and marketers have been frantically popularizing their products, shedding the chateau image and embracing a blue-collar beer aesthetic. Last year, the top-selling wine brand in the United States was Barefoot. The label shows not a stately mansion among the vines, but the footprint of one of the winery’s former owners.
That irreverence reflects an evolution in the cultural presentation of wine that the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art mapped in the recent exhibition “How Wine Became Modern: Design and Wine 1976 to Now.” Traditionally, wine labels were purely informational. “Around 1980, however — earlier in the New World, somewhat later in Europe — labels became surfaces for communication, projecting a brand identity for the wine and trying to reach a target audience,” said Henry Urbach, an architectural curator who organized the exhibition with the architects Diller Scofidio & Renfro.
Casual became cheeky. Now, cheeky has given way to saucy. In 2005, Brandever Strategy, a Vancouver brand consultancy, was hired by Scherzinger Estates, a sleepy winery in British Columbia, to create a new image and name. It came up with Dirty Laundry Vineyard — an allusion to a Chinese laundry and bordello that flourished nearby during the gold rush era.
“Your immediate reaction is, this is not a good name for a wine, but that’s why it is a good name,” said Bernie Hadley-Beauregard, a principal in Brandever. “It has a scratchy hook to it.”
Highway workers posted a new sign along the local wine route. Traffic into the winery increased tenfold. “The owner called me and said, ‘We haven’t done any advertising, but suddenly we’re the toast of the Okanagan Valley.’ ”
The newer, racier-sounding wines are unlikely to displace Barefoot, but they all chase the same dream. On the golden horizon, they see Fat Bastard, a line of wines from the Languedoc-Roussillon region that was introduced in the United States in 1998.
Imported by Peter Click of Click Wine Group, the line sold just over 2,000 cases at $10 a bottle in its first year. By 2004, Fat Bastard was selling 425,000 cases, making it one of the most popular French wines in the United States.
The other wines do not come close to those numbers, but they have their little niche. Jim Knight, a salesman and buyer at the Wine House in Los Angeles, which stocks about 7,000 labels, says he sells about five cases of Bitch and the Ball Buster every month. “We carry them because people ask for them,” he said. “They’re good wines that people can give with a smile on their face.”
John Gorman, the vice president of sales and marketing at Southern Starz, which imports the Ball Buster, said, “The wine makes its way to a lot of lawyers from their clients.”
Under the rules of the federal alcohol bureau, labels cannot contain incorrect or misleading information, disparage a competitor’s product, or have a statement or image that is obscene or indecent. But the agency routinely gives the go-ahead for tasteless or risqué labels, which was not always the case.
“It’s actually a good place to see the cultural fault lines shift,” said Robert C. Lehrman, whose company, Lehrman Beverage Law, advises clients on government regulations. “Because of a series of commercial speech decisions, not many things are off limits anymore.”
Winemakers have some way to go before equaling the shock value of Jersey’s Toxic Waste, a specialty spirit. But the bitch category may yield dividends. Take Rae-Jean Beach, a blended white wine. (The name needs to be said aloud.) She’s got a husband, a zinfandel. Sorry, but the name is not printable here.
Dan Neville/The New York Times
Published: December 6, 2011
2008 Karma Torrontes Reserva, Encantada (January, 2012 - The WineSellar Club)
Growing Region: La Rioja, Argentina
Varietal Blend: 100% Torrontes
Fermentation: 100% Stainless Steel
Original Suggested Retail: $18.00
WineSellar Club Case Price: $9.99
Notes from Gary Parker:
Last year, I sent this wine out touting its extraordinary virtues and promising a great future. Well, here it is, one year later, and I am proud to say this wine is what it was supposed to be. I wanted to show you how this wine has evolved to become more sublime, elegant, distinctive and overall wonderful. Because we are Karma’s best California customer, we have been able to work a deal with Karma, and can now offer the wine at this most amazing price. A WineSellar Club wine that has aged a year in bottle, grown into its excellence, and now offered at an even better price. I suggest multiple case buys!!!
I am going to assume many of our WineSellar Club Members have not experienced wine made from the Torrontes grape. If you have, you’ll notice this one is a little different from the norm. Virtually, all the Torrontes I have had here and in Argentina have been soft, fruity, and not too complex or serious. This Torrontes changes that notion, as you’ll find it interesting, complex, rich and rewarding. I don’t think I have ever had a better Torrontes!
Torrontes package looks much like the Sauvignon Blanc you received last month. Good looking, well appointed features. The label reads clear and direct. There is lots of information on the back label, which is great. I like the clear, tall bottle very much. The wine itself looks crystal like, perfectly clear, shimmering and shining in the light, with a white corn hue. It is very viscous and clings well to the glass.
It’s hard to get my nose out of the glass. I’m looking like a bobble head wine geek going down and up! Jasmine and honeysuckle fragrance is gorgeous, along with some very ripe pear, peach and spice. Yet, the most dominant aromatic traits would be Mandarin orange, laced with some vanilla and toasted marshmallow. Check it out after 30 minutes of airing.
The entry is smooth and creamy, with balanced fruit to acid. The acid is mild, but holds firm on the fruit. It is a bit more than medium in weight, and the balanced fruit and acid make it glide effortlessly through your mouth. Silky, rich, and then the acid becomes a bit more showy after airing 15-20 minutes, leaving your mouth watering and wanting more.!
It’s like drinking an adult version of a vanilla cream smoothie, or even a crème brulèe. The Mandarin orange rules in flavor, joined in by notes of pine nut, nutmeg, and sesame. It just doesn’t stop. At some point it reminds me of Viognier from California, but then the acid gets firm again and behold, it is Karma Torrontes.
You’re now spoiled in regards to Torrontes. I challenge all of us to find a better Torrontes anywhere, especially at $8.99! This is fantastic with hard cheese, all by itself, perhaps while in the hot tub, great with spicy foods, sushi, or white flesh fish with lemon or orange citrus butter sauce.
2006 Pavi Dolcetto (January, 2012 - The WineSellar Club; The Two Rouge Club)
Growing Region: Napa Valley, Ca.
Varietal Blend: 100% Dolcetto
Fermentation: 100% French Oak, 10% New
Suggested Retail: $21.00
WineSellar Club Case Price: $17.99
Here is a very interesting and unique wine for our WineSellar Club this month. A Dolcetto grown in Napa Valley is indeed a rarity. This varietal hails from Piedmont, and has an excellent reputation there for creating fruity, well structured red wines that are quite popular and pleasing. It is something a few rungs higher than an excellent everyday wine, which I am very sure you will enjoy immensely. The wine is organically grown, and only 1,000 cases were produced.
Nice looking package overall, looking very black with a simple yet effective label that reads quite well. Nice details on the back label. The wine has a beautiful ruby/pomegranate hue, still looking youthful, especially for a wine six years old! The curtains on the inside of the bowl drop about ½ inch per ten seconds.
Dark berry and plum fruits are noticed immediately, and very appealing on the nose. Surrounded by sweet vanilla oak, smoke, caramel, dark earth, mulberry, and hints of rosemary and sage. I also detected some “bright” aromatic characteristics, showing a hint of ripe citrus and a note of peppermint.
I would call this wine on the medium side of medium full bodied. It has a smooth and pleasant entry that is both round and expansive. It has a full mouth impression, perhaps because of the 14.2% alcohol, but the fruit is a bit more subtle and delicate on the palate. The finish is balanced, and lasts a long time.
A beautiful myriad of flavors come forth, many exhibited on the nose: dark berry and plum, smoke, caramel, vanilla oak, and freshly chopped herbs. We also enjoyed a mushroom, dark earth note, with caramelized ginger, roasted almonds, and framboise.
This is a drink now wine, and at the price, why wait. Great for quaffing anytime day or night. I would urge that some of the old classic Italian dishes be paired with this wine: Pastas with meaty tomato sauce, sausages, ripe cheese and garlic bread.
2007 Karma Malbec, Gran Reserva, Meditado (January, 2012 - The Two Rouge Club)
Growing Region: Mendoza, Argentina
Varietal Blend: 100% Malbec
Fermentation: 16 Months French oak
Suggested Retail: $40.00
WineSellar Club Case Price: $23.99
Notes from Gary Parker:
Last year, I sent this wine out to the Gary Parker Collection members touting its extraordinary virtues and promising a great future. Well, here it is, one year later, and I am proud to say this wine is what it was supposed to be and more. Because we are Karma’s best California customer, we have been able to work a deal with Karma, and can now offer the wine at this most amazing price. It now will fit into the Two Rouge Club!! Enjoy this Two Rouge Club wine that has an additional year aging in the bottle, grown into its excellence, and now offered at incredible price.
This wine is a total knockout! I was pouring it at a Los Angeles function called Pro-Mendoza, where Argentine products are put to the general public. A wine writer came by and tried this wine, his first stop. He liked it plenty, but had some reservations over seeing an Argentina Malbec for $40. Toward the end of the event, he came back to our table and said it was far and away the best Malbec at the show, and twice as good as another Malbec that cost $80 a bottle!
Beautiful package speaks to Argentina senses. Gold embossed printing with black backgrounds is as an enriching look. You’ll notice the heavy bottle and the very deep punt. The wine is essentially black, opaque at the center, with very dark crimson edges out towards to very end of the rim. The legs are nearly black, and paste to the glass.
Assertive black berry fruit envelopes your nostrils at first take. Then fresh wood notes, oak, eucalyptus and pine, with scents of vanilla, chocolate, and roasted chestnuts. I also recognized a touch of strapped, old leather, black pepper, rosemary, and a distant, inviting whiff of black tar.
The song and thought of “The Monster Mash” came to mind, though this wine is not nearly as monstrous as many. It is a very big, rich, full-bodied wine that commands your attention. It is smooth and tough at the same time, and the resolute acid and fruit interplay makes your mouth water, leaving a juicy impression with its lasting finish. The texture gets a WOW!
Big, bold, black fruit flavors dominate early on, especially those of black berry and dark plum. The mahogany, vanilla and chocolate essence from the wood treatment are tantalizing, to be sure. But wait, how about the cappuccino, roasted nuts, black pepper, root beer, cream sherry, mint. Yeah, how about that?!! Really Cool!
I will salt some away for 3-6 years, because that’s what I do. You should too. You and your friends will find this wine a total delight around any meal calling for a good sized, hearty red wine, especially when served with marinated, grilled meats.
2009 Gevrey Chambertin, Domaine Robert Groffier (January, 2012 - The Gary Parker Collection)
Growing Region: Morey St. Denis, Cote d’Or, Burgundy
Varietal Blend: 100% Pinot Noir
Fermentation: French Oak
Suggested Retail: $85.00
WineSellar Club Case Price: $76.50
GP Collection members, this is our lucky month.
Robert Groffier has been one of my favorite Red Burgundy producers for well over a decade. Groffier is considered one of the finest wine making domaine in all of Burgundy, and are said to have the best interpretations of pure Pinot Noir fruit on the planet.
I am just now really enjoying some of the 1995 Groffier’s I purchased last century. Check out this review by Robert Parker of The Wine Spectator: "Each and every wine at this Domaine was a first-rate example of its terroir, from the Bourgogne to the grand crus. The meticulous work of Serge Groffier (Robert's son) in the vineyards is evidenced by each glass of nectar from this well-known and certainly soon-to-be-famous Domaine." It is selling for $145 at a New York retailer . . .
Totally beautiful!!! Great and classic label, easy to read with a distinctive in shape. I love the gold embossing as well. The capsule is also classic and very French. The wine is beautiful, perfect dark skin cherry hue in the center that fades into an ultimately clear edge. It is very youthful and pretty, very viscous, clinging hard to the glass.
Totally lovely!!! Violets, dark berry and white pepper nuances continually evolve, becoming further complex as it airs. And I MEAN complex! Black walnut, wood tones, tobacco, wet forest floor, five spices, white pepper, anise, green leaf, fresh herbs, graham cracker and leather.
Totally seamless!!! From the moment you put this in your mouth, you begin to wonder how a wine can make your palate feel like this. Smooth, elegant, medium full, rich with fruit, and a wonderful creamy feel.
Totally fabulous!!! A burst of raspberry fruit is great on the entry. Surrounded by perfectly melded oak tones, it draws tobacco, red fruits, mild chocolate and earth notes to your senses. As the wine opens up, it continually becomes more complex and the flavor components continue to open up.
This is an amazing wine, which needs more time in the cellar to bring all its great attributes forward. I strongly urge you to cellar at least 6 bottles of this for 8-15 years.
Lentil Soup with Pancetta, Lemon & Crème Fraiche
This smooth, comforting soup is jazzed up with garnishes of crispy sweet/salty pancetta, finely grated lemon zest, and a generous swirl of crème fraiche. Wonderful for cold weather!
Serves 4-6. Serve with the Karma Malbec Gran Reserva
- 1/4 pound piece of pancetta or slab bacon
- 2 yellow onions
- 2 carrots, peeled
- 3 large garlic cloves, peeled
- 7 cups chicken stock
- 1 teaspoon dried thyme
- 1/4 teaspoon celery seeds
- 2 bay dried bay leaves
- coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
- 1 1/2 cups brown lentils
- Crème fraiche for garnish
- zest of one or two lemons for garnish
- Blitz onions, carrots and garlic in a food processor to finely chop — not quite liquefied!
- Finely cube the pancetta and sauté in a soup pot over medium heat until brown and crisp.
- Remove pancetta with a slotted spoon and reserve.
- Add onion mixture to pot and sauté in the bacon fat over low heat, covered, until mixture is tender and golden. About 20 minutes.
- Add stock, thyme, celery seeds, bay leaves and a modest grinding of pepper. Stir.
- Add lentils. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat, and cover.
- Simmer for about 45 minutes, until lentils are very tender.
- Remove bay leaves and discard.
- Puree soup and return to pot.
- Taste and adjust seasonings, adding a pinch or so of salt.
- Serve garnished with a generous swirl of sour cream, a sprinkling of finely grated lemon zest, and the reserved pancetta.