taste | wine



CAMELOT, Horse Play, Date Night, Mad Housewife, Ted the Mule and Big Red Table.

One might ask, "Are these new Broadway musicals?" Not quite. They represent a colorful collection of new and innovative brands that wine enthusiasts are purchasing at record levels.

While millennial consumers continue to seek new and exciting high quality wines, vintners strive to break from the pack, marketing fresh vintages that are friendlier to consumers. Whether they are a single label release, or a series of popular varietals (Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Pinot Noir), with many of these new "adventure brands," smart packaging is the key component in consumer acceptance.

This category has grown 600 percent during the past six years, with bottle sales now approaching $550 million.

From small boutique cellars to larger producers, California wineries are racing to fill shelves with new bottles priced $10 and up, generating retail sales that are significantly higher than the traditional premium table wines. Blossoming brands such as AutoMoto, Tin Roof, Dynamite, Wild Hare, Cardinal Zin, Elevation and Peaks & Valleys present attractive, clever and creative images, and easier-to-use packaging that truly delivers on quality and value.

"These new wines definitely stand on their own. Many people thought that the '2 Buck Chuck' phenomenon would not last, but not only has it continued for the last half a dozen years or so, it has generated so many other labels," said John Weeks of Regal Wine Co. in Santa Rosa. "This category amazes me. It just continues to grow and grow. What I sometimes find funny is that a consumer will spend $10 or more on an unknown brand, but will pass on a generally better known wine from Italy, France or Spain — even though they are often made from the same varietal and are the same price, because they do not favor or understand the label."

Tin Roof Cellars' Sauvignon Blanc label reads simply, "Delicious handcrafted wines to enjoy under your roof." This crisp and zesty white, priced at $8-$10, accompanies a wide range of foods.

"Our Sauvignon Blanc offers layers of bright, juicy, citrus fruit flavors that gain elegance from a refreshing underlying minerality," said winemaker Melissa Bates.

"It's an ideal match for lighter seafood dishes, roasted chicken, Caesar salad and mildly spiced Asian cuisines." South Coast Winery is Southern California's premier family-owned estate producer. Its award-winning Elevation brand represents a "quirky" twist for wine novices and experts alike with its distinct taste, affordable price and etched topographic map on each bottle (outlining the vineyards from which the wine was produced), topped off with a slick black twist-off cap.

Elevation Peaks & Valleys' Sauvignon Blanc is outstanding.

It's bright with aromas of kiwi fruit and delicate herbal notes.

Blending a touch of Viognier (14 percent) brings wonderful dimensions of flavor that highlights the crisp and fruity nature of Sauvignon Blanc. I'd like to share more on this delicious $14 white, however I'll give you the juice on the Elevation Syrah (also $14). Its rich berry and subtle oak characters make a very snappy statement. A hint of Grenache adds a lingering floral note that tantalizes the senses.

Big Red Table is a unique release produced by South Coast's winemaster Jon McPherson. BRT brings together a tasty blend of Merlot (80 percent), Petit Verdot (16 percent) and Cabernet Sauvignon (4 percent). It retails for $14.

"Crafted to be drinkable and lush, it is loaded with berry fruit aromas and soft tannins," McPherson said.

"BRT was released in '07 and was immediately embraced," said Brenda Ruocco, South Coast's director of winery sales. "Jon wrote a great romantic story line for this wine, with a cork that has a lipstick stain. The packaging and story really draws people in. When people taste this wine they love it.

It's the type of wine you can enjoy by the glass or pour with dinner ... every night." BRT is available at the winery and other locations, including select Henry's Farmers Markets outlets.

- Gino L. Filippi is a fourth-generation vintner and former vice president of J. Filippi Winery.

More interesting pours
La Bodega Wine & Spirits,
Riverside; (951) 683-3307
Recommended by Mike Dahdul:
Camelot Chardonnay, $7.99
Camelot Pinot Noir, $7.99
Gnarley Head Zinfandel, $10
Pacific Rim Chenin Blanc, $10
Clos LaChance Chardonnay, $11
Ray's Station Cabernet
Sauvignon, $14
Sofia Dry Rose, $15

Gerrard's Market, Redlands;
(909) 793-2808

Recommended by Bob Kirkland
and Tom Reingrover for the
Penny Wine Sale (buy one bottle
and add another for one cent):
Wild Hare Merlot,
$7.99 plus 1 cent
Wa Wa Washington State White,
$8.99 plus 1 cent
Ted the Mule,
$9.99 plus 1 cent
Pine & Post Chardonnay,
$10.99 plus 1 cent
Pine & Post Cabernet Sauvignon,
$10.99 plus 1 cent
Dynamite Zinfandel,
$14.99 plus 1 cent

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