15 March 2010

HobNob Wines

Receiving a big box of HobNob Wines was an interesting experience. I pulled out the Merlot, thought, "Hmm, California." Then pulled out a Shiraz and thought, "Australia!" And finally I looked on the back of the Chardonnay and saw that it was from France. In fact, all five wines are from the south of France, in the Languedoc region that produces a lot of bulk wine. The classification here is vin de table, or table wine. It's the lowest rank of French wines, but that doesn't mean there's anything wrong with it--over 50% of the wine made in France falls in this category. It's what people drink at lunch and at casual dinners. Even in France, it's not all premier cru all the time.

Marketing these wines in the US has been tricky. At such low prices, the profit margins are lower as well, and there's not the name recognition you get with the AOC regions. Red Bicyclette has been a clever success by Gallo at selling a line of French table wine (technically Vin de Pays d'Oc, but the principle is the same), using simple, uncomplicated labels that evoke idealized American images of France from the 1950s. And on the subject of the recent scandal, Gallo was the victim. My point stands that they have successfully moved a lot of basic French wine in America with this strategy.

HobNob seems to take a different approach, branding itself as conspicuously non-French. The country of origin is on the back in small letters, but everything on the front screams California or Australia. From the labeling by grape variety rather than region to the general design, to the synthetic black corks, to the use of Shiraz instead of Syrah (the former common only in Australia and South Africa). I'm not accusing them of being misleading. Like I said, marketing bargain French wines can be difficult, since many wine novices might find French wines intimidating and more experienced wine fans are going to be looking for higher grade wines. It's sort of like when your mom would sneak vegetables into your macaroni and cheese. Sometimes it works, sometimes it's just confusing.

Here's the notes on the five wines:

2006 HobNob Shiraz
$9, 13% abv
Tart cherry with a little bit of pepper. Overripe berry flavors. Very light tannins.

2006 HobNob Merlot
$9, 13% abv
Big jammy wine with lots of blackberries and a spicy finish. Firm tannins.

2007 HobNob Cabernet Sauvignon
$9, 13% abv
Black cherry and brambles, rough on the start but it smooths out over time.

2008 HobNob Pinot Noir
$9, 13% abv
Strawberry jam, kind of a crisp and tart mouthfeel. Still the smoothest of the reds.

2007 HobNob Chardonnay
$9, 13% abv
Very light banana and floral aroma, with a hint of roasted nuts on the finish. Medium acidity, crisper on the start than on the finish. Definitely my favorite out of the bunch.

Like YellowTail or Crane Lake, these are the kind of bargain wines you'd pick up for a party, art exhibit, theatre reception, or similar event. Grab a case of the Chardonnay and a mixed case of the reds and you've got a set of grapes that a big crowd will recognize. Sometimes a friend will ask my advice on such an event. "Benito--I need to get 48 bottles of wine for a wedding reception. Any suggestions?" And I immediately think about 48 individual bottles of wine that would be fun, unique, and distinctive. Of course, that would require hitting up half a dozen shops around town. Not to mention the poor waitress or bartender that's stuck with 48 different bottles in ten different languages and no information on what they're like beyond red or white. There are times when it helps to keep things simple.

Available from Amazon.com:
2010 Hob Nob Pinot Noir 750ml
Hob Nob Cabernet Sauvignon 750ML
2010 Hob Nob Chardonnay 750ml
Hob Nob Merlot 2006 750ML
2007 Hob Nob Shiraz France 750ml

Note: These wines were received as samples from Hob Nob.

8 comments:

Kimberly said...

We carry some of the HobNob wines where I work, but I've never ventured to try any. I had no idea they were from France -- you're right, they kind of scream Australia or Cali with the packaging and such, don't they?

I recently wrote about inexpensive but drinkable wines to get for large events, and I strongly urged against choosing Yellowtail, since there are so many better choices out there. I suppose these could be one of them.

Benito said...

Kimberly,

I read and enjoyed your post on the wines at the political function, and love the wines you selected. Alas, most events feature pretty basic, inexpensive wines, which is why I typically tend to favor martinis. :)

A lot of weirdness occurs when doing bulk purchases for such a party. One person is paying for it; a second person makes the decision about what to get; a third person actually picks up the wine; and a fourth group of individuals serve the wine. As a retailer you get to deal with #3, who has no decision-making authority. #2 will go with a big, popular brand name. #1 wants to spend as little as possible, and #4 would be happiest if the bottles were generic and just said "red" or "white".

Wine love aside, it's easy to forget sometimes just how hugely popular some of these bargain wines are. The first year of wineblogging I did tons of reviews of wines in the under $10 category. I get e-mails about those reviews at least once a week, every week, for the past four years. People are still crazy about a cheap $4 wine that was discontinued around the time of the last Olympics.

All this boils down to enjoying the wines you truly love when you have the power of hosting. Kind of the old "Accept the things you cannot change" mantra". And Kimberly, if you're ever in town I'll pour you some really unique, interesting wines. No kangaroos on the table.

Cheers,
Benito

Hampers said...

What a wonderful post, beautifully written. It captures these wines so well.

Anonymous said...

I was hoping there was a vineyard to visit since I just found these wines and really enjoyed them! I was surprised to hear HOB NOB Chard was from France! thanks for the information.

Anonymous said...

I recently attended a spa event that offered appetizers, Hob Nob Merlot and Cabernet, and mini spa experiences along with raffle prizes. I enjoyed the Merlot and Cabernet very, very much. They were both smooth. I especially loved the Merlot's big jammy flavors. Both were delicious with the teriyaki steak kabobs and chocolate.
I thought for sure they were California wines. Their website is a mystery and does not seem to identify anything about the winery or the grapes. Hence my search on this website which reveals the wines are from France. I will definitely buy both of these wines and have already looked up the retailers in my area.

Eminence said...

I was given a bottle of pinot by a recent dinner guest. I'm a careful reader of back labels so quickly identified the Pays d'Oc origin, hardly famous for tricky old. I also noted the distribution is based in the famous viticultural district of White Plains NY. It's a nice enough dinner wine though entirely devoid of varietal character. Remarkably dark and tannic for pinot. I might have assumed malbec or syrah.

Jon Rogers said...

I recently tasted the 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon and enjoyed it. Quite dark and jammy. Very consistant with reviews from the previous years. It's a popular wine served at restaurants here in Connecticut.

Albert Griffin said...

Just tried the Chardonnay -- Great!