You have to love a title like that. No, I have not actually read the book, I read an article in the April 3, 2017 issue of Time Magazine about it and just had to weigh in. Why? The final statement in the article.
Americans spent almost $2 billion on just five brands of mass-market wines: Barefoot, Sutter Home, Woodbridge, Franzia and Yellow Tail.
I needed to offer my point of view as an Irishman who drinks Chardonnay (read into that what you will.) I’m also past the snobbishness of trying to keep wine in the fridge and letting it get warm in my glass. I keep it at room temperature and pour it over a water glass full of ice. No, I don’t mind the fact most of my wines come with a genuine synthetic cork. Let me give you my opinions of these
Barefoot – A good Chardonnay which comes in big bottles and stands up well in a glass of ice.
Sutter Home – A favorite of chain restaurants due to its low cost and light, inoffensive flavor. I’ve often wondered if it would ever be possible to pour a glass of this with ice and hand it to someone who didn’t drink for whatever reason, telling them the color was the local tap water. Having said that I do end up drinking this from time to time, mainly in restaurants which have a choice of one on the wine list. I have also purchased it at a Target store in Iowa while on a project because the day I went there they were out of both Barefoot and Woodbridge. For reasons which are a mystery to me, if you are chatting with coworkers and friends consuming a bit too much of this going a bit past “really good buzz” while remaining well short of plastered, you will have a significantly noticeable hang over. As thin as the wine is that shouldn’t be possible, but there you have it. Barefoot doesn’t do that.
Woodbridge – You have to behave yourself with this. It has a rather oaky flavor which for me is fine, but I know some who prefer Sutter Home because as close to oak flavor that wine gets is the tree you look at out the window. Those who like Chardonnay because of the oak will like this. Do not open one of the big bottles yourself or when you only have one friend sharing it. This Chardonnay is more for people who wish to focus on the taste of the wine than the quality of the company and time. I’m not dissing it, I do buy it from time to time. You just don’t want to start with this when you know when you know people will want to keep talking and pouring late into the evening. Even if “morning” doesn’t come until 4PM the next day, it’s going to be a rough morning.
Franzia – When it comes to the Chardonnay part of me really wants to say I’ve never understood why anyone buys it. Another part of me believes it is bought by Budweiser and Miller drinkers who just found out people they don’t like that only drink wine are showing up. In the twisted, dark regions of my mind I conjure up the image or rehab centers buying this for alcoholics to make them stop drinking. On more than one occasion my brother has bought me a box of this for my birthday after I bought a style of Miller he didn’t drink for his birthday. While he pawned off the MGD Lite to others at a cookout, I had to choke this down.
Please let me put this in perspective. I’m not a red wine drinker. One time he had his wife pick up a bottle of wine for me and she brought home a big jug of Burgundy. (Carlo Rossi I think.) I went on-line searching for recipes using Burgundy and found a few which sounded good so I made them for my parents. Sadly those recipes, while turning out well, only consumed a few cups each and I was left with just north of 3 liters to drink. By the time I got to the end of the bottle some weeks later I said “this isn’t too bad.” Each time I get to the end of a box of Franzia I say “thank God it’s gone.”
Yellow Tail – I have only had one bottle of this. Correction, I have only purchased one bottle of this Chardonnay. I took one sip and poured all of it down the garbage disposal. Now, I must provide some details which may or may not have any relevance. I was driving to a client site out of state passing near an area where a friend lived. When I stopped for a nature and fuel break I gave him a call. He was going to be home about the time I passed through and invited me to spend the night. We hadn’t seen each other in a while so it would be good to catch up. Not knowing the area when I got there I passed this gas station which had converted its service bays into a liquor store. They had Yellow Tail Chardonnay on sale and didn’t have many Chardonnays I recognized so I got a bottle of this and a trusted standby Kendall-Jackson. After getting to his home and saying hi I opened the Yellow Tail first telling him I had never tried it before. He rather smartly opted to let me be the guinea pig. It poured out brown. Not a light Chardonnay color, more like a severely watered down coffee color. Now it could have been because that combo gas and liquor store had all of their wine sitting behind an exterior wall of glass on the sunny side of the building for years on end. It could have been the feeble attempt at air conditioning the liquor store portion of the gas station, but if that were true, the Kendall-Jackson should have been bad too.
Now for some things which should be getting a much bigger share of that $2 billion.
Carlo Rossi Founder’s Oak Chardonnay – I cannot find this in Illinois anymore. I don’t know why, it just isn’t here. I’ve had Kroger and Old World Liquors as well as a few other places which used to carry it try to get it back and no such luck. I didn’t let them brush me off either. I asked week after week for several months until I got bumped up to the store owner who personally contacted their distributor and found out it was no longer obtainable. It kind of makes me wonder about the link for that image because that place claims to still have it in stock.
Finding this was like finding Chardonnay Utopia. Tasted good both in a glass and on the rocks. The 5 liter box fit in that spot in the fridge door where nothing else really fits. It was even cheap. Depending on the store it was $12-$14 for a box and that is after all of the religious extremists “sin taxes” piled on. (When are people who like alcohol and tobacco going to get government to pass a “holier than thou tax” on bibles and religious services? Seems only fare!)
When the supply of Carlo Rossi dried up I had to go in search of another Chardonnay which met most of the features and standards of Founder’s Oak. It was an incredibly sad journey of failed experiments until I found Liberty Creek. Sadly, it doesn’t come in a 5 liter box so that spot in the fridge door where nothing else fits well once again has stuff it wasn’t meant to hold in it or it just sits empty. Liberty Creek has a great light flavor which holds up well in ice. Well, big cubed ice. Crushed ice cause it to quickly lose much of its flavor. If you shop around in Illinois you can find Liberty Creek for around $7 per big bottle. It’s even safe to open a big bottle when you know the pouring will run way longer than it should as there are few, if any, hang over issues even early the next morning. It’s an all around enjoyable Chardonnay for all occasions.
Here is a trusted standby, Kendall-Jackson Vintner’s Reserve. I’ve only ever seen it in small bottles and that’s a good thing. You have to respect this Chardonnay. I’ve never considered myself to have an educated palette nor would I say I could accurately define “full bodied flavor” but to me this is a good definition. It’s not the wine to let flow freely when talking with friends late into the evening . . . unless morning isn’t coming until some time after noon. It will educate all who consume it about the virtues of moderation. Having said that, it is a very bankable quality. Always the same high level no matter what state I happen to be working in.
Some years ago I was driving back from Oregon and stopped for the night at a hotel in Idaho. After checking in I went down to the bar/food area to get a meal and a few glasses of Chardonnay before turning in. The bartender called out the Chardonnay they had and it was all local varieties. I wasn’t interested in taking a gamble and was about to order iced tea when she asked “What do you like?” I replied “Kendall is always safe.” She perked up and said “Wait! I have that. It’s in the back left over from a wedding. They never told us what to do with it.” Some grizzled old curmudgeon at the end of the bar piped up “What’s so special about Kendall-Jackson?” The bartender replied “Sometimes you just want a Big Mac, not a steak.” I was a bit more expounded a bit more saying “With local wineries I find they fall into two categories. The first believes you can fix any problem by dumping in more sugar. The second believes wax has a wonderful flavor. With Kendall I know what I’m getting.” I later found out the grizzled old guy stayed there quite a bit and the bartender wasn’t fond of his views of life in general.
Two Buck Chuck (well, Three Buck Chuck for me) is a great Chardonnay if you happen to live near a Trader Joe’s. Yes it only comes in small bottles, but, it has a great flavor which will stand up to cubed ice. Personally I believe this wine is responsible for America’s shift away from beer. For $3 you can set a bottle of great tasting Chardonnay on the table with supper and avoid going to bed with the lead filled feeling most beer causes. Whenever I’m working near a Trader Joe’s I pick up a case to have in the corporate housing unit.
One issue I have with pretty much all non-boxed wines is that vendors aren’t forced to have a recycling program. I don’t live in a big city with a government run recycling program nor do I live in an area which has deposit fees on the bottles. I live rural where we can still burn our burnable trash so boxed wine is permanently disposable. Wine bottles I have to put in a container at the end of the lane where they end up in a landfill. We do need to have a national movement for glass bottle recycling. Aluminum cans have been salable for decades. People collect, crush, then take them to recycling centers in big cities where they get paid money for them. We need to have something similar for wine bottles.