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Brand names count in the wine world

By By Stan Torgerson / wine columnist
Oct. 8, 2003
Like most retail products, brand names count in the world of wine.
If you buy a bottle of Robert Mondovi wine, you expect it to be a cut above most other wines in its price category, just because it came from the winery of a recognized giant in the business of creating great wines. Whether Mondavi's wines really merit that praise and recognition is something we'll discuss some other time.
Likewise, it has been a hard sell for Gallo to convince consumers their Sonoma premium wines aren't actually the jug wines which made them famous and successful, only in disguise with a new name and a higher price.
Speaking of price, many consumers use the dollar sign as an indication of quality. In one of the local wine stores the other day, the manager, who regularly attends our tastings, expressed surprise at how many good wines there are priced at $15 or less. That is true.
There are many very good wines for under $15 such as Chateau La Paws, Goats do Roam, Greg Norman, Rosemount and others. At the same time, there are many pricey wines in the $30 to $40 class which simply aren't worth the money.
Changing habits
Some buyers have tunnel vision. They believe the only wine they will like is merlot or cabernet sauvignon or French burgundies and, as a result, are never adventuresome enough to try the syrah or Grenache or even blends of various types because they know they won't like it, even without tasting it.
Perhaps we can change habits. We've done many different things at the monthly tastings such as concentrating on wines from a particular country, Australia, Spain, South Africa and others, including the United States.
We've paired wines with an assortment of exotic foreign cheeses. The big classic glasses that increase the pleasure of consuming wine were introduced at tastings. There was a session on the secrets of blending. Famous wine makers and distributors have appeared. It almost sounds as if we've done it all.
Not quite.
We've never had a blind tasting until this month. In a blind tasting, the label on the bottle is hidden and those in attendance taste the wine without knowledge of the winery which produced it and, therefore, without any idea of its price or rating.
Normally, at a blind tasting, the wines are grouped by the grapes used. Cabernet against cabernet. Merlot against merlot. We're going to do it differently.
Our tasting of Oct. 30 will be totally blind. You will not be told what kind of wine is in the bottle, although we will reveal this at the end of the evening.
There will be six different kinds served all reds. A cabernet sauvignon, merlot, zinfandel, syrah, pinot noir and chianti will be poured. Each will be in a paper bag without any indication of its type or producer.
Up to the challenge?
Your job will be to identify the grapes used to create the wine you have been served and then to give it a rating using a 100-point scale. Many of you will say, "They can't fool me. I know a merlot when I taste it." But do you? This tasting will indicate just how sophisticated your palate really is.
Different price ranges will be represented. We'll see if you can identify the ordinary from the expensive. We'll have competition with a prize for the most knowledgeable group. We'll tell you about the prize during the weeks ahead but, I assure you, you'll like it.
There will be a door wine too, just to bring your taster to life, but it won't count. We're planning on it being a white wine so that it does not dull your taste buds when the red wines are served.
If you think this will be easy, let me assure you it won't be. If you're that drop-dead merlot fan we mentioned earlier, you may be surprised at how pleasant wines from other grapes can taste and how much some grapes actually taste alike.
You, and the others at your table, will be free to discuss each bottle and see if you can come to an agreement on its type, its origin and its rating.
If you're lucky your tablemates will know something about wine. If you're unlucky and get first-timers, it will still be fun. The table with the most expertise wins the prize.
A place at this blind tasting will be $30 and reservations are now being accepted. Call 482-0930 or send your check to Wines Unlimited, P.O. Box 5223, Meridian, MS 39302. The date again is Oct. 30. Mark it down.