Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Sizing Up The Critters

One of the most written about trends in wines last year was the runaway success of wines sporting critters on the label. The numbers are hard to argue with. Forget Wine Spectator scores, if your wine had an illustration of some member of the animal kingdom on the label, odds favored strong sales.

Of course, I've lived by wine reviews, scores and word-of-mouth for so long that the idea of buying wine based on the art on its lable seems laughable. But then I began to wonder, would I really make out all that bad? I mean, we've all heard about amateur investors with their own peculiar stock strategies who regularly beat the advice given by the pros. So, could interesting labels be a legitimate path to wine enjoyment?

I had to put this to the test, a very unscientific test. Recently, I went out and bought the most interesting critter labels I could find in a large nearby store. I decided to buy the same varietal, so I could find out whether there's any consistency in this low-priced realm. And, I chose cabernet -- in part because there were plenty of critter cabs out there, but also because most of us have a pretty good idea of what a good cabernet flavor profile should be.

How did these four labels stack up? Well, precariously. But all was not lost. All were wines under $10 with labels that my wife wants me to save -- nuff said about the labels. Half of the wines were actually pretty good. Half were pretty bad.

The first wine we tasted was a 2003 Dancing Bull cabernet with a California designation. All but one have the California designation, by the way. Dancing Bull actually had some pretty things going on, black cherry and raspberry flavors with vanilla and cedar on the finish. On the whole, it was a pretty well integrated wine with a medium body -- definitely worth the price tag. Very true varietal flavors.

The next wine we tried was a 2003 3 Blind Moose. This also was a pretty good example of a medium-bodied, low-end cab. Again, there were some nice black cherry and oak aromas, though just a bit less structure than the Dancing Bull. All in all, a pretty good, under-$10 cab for mid-week quaffing.

Hey, I was feeling pretty upbeat. So far, two out of two cabs were pretty satisfying for less than $10. I might be shaving some dollars off of my next wine purchase, I thought. But then I tried the 2003 Big Fat Frog with its colorful green label. Now, I have to admit, this is what I (smugly) had been expecting all along. The Frog turned out to be a bit flabby with dull, prunelike flavors and almost no acicidity. Decidedly unbalanced, un-cablike and not worth even $9.

Then it was time for Rex Goliath, with its colorful rooster on the label. I actually had hope for this purchase, since I once tried another Rex Goliath wine that wasn't too bad. But the Rex cab made the Frog taste like Opus One. This was a thin, underdeveloped wine that was virtually joyless. It was a trial to drink. There was some simple red cherry going on, but no typical cab structure.

What does this little test prove? As you might expect, picking wine based on the label is not very reliable. Two out of four was actually a higher percentage of decent wines than I expected to find. I have a feeling this is the best you can ever hope to do, with art design as your guiding spirit. In short, reading wine reviews and talking to your friends are still the way to go. But then again if you've got a couple of hundred dollars burning a whole in your pocket, you could do a lot worse than picking up a Mouton Rothschild because of their labels while strolling down the Bordeaux aisle!


Blogger Deb said...

Nice post.... I agree on the Dancing Bull cab, not bad for the price.

10:52 PM  
Blogger Dublog said...

Deb, thanks. It shows there's still some good things for under $10 from California. But my money's on Spain for consistency under $10.

9:58 PM  

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