Clever labels, cute names, sweet profile... There's a place for some casual, inexpensive, entry-level red wines like these. They're not going to win in a head to head competition with aged Burgundy, but such wines are crowd pleasers and a good way to introduce people to red wine. You can't just throw a hearty and young Cabernet Franc at a newcomer and expect them to love it at first sip. Sometimes it takes a little sugar to get over the reigning oenophobia that we have in this country. (More on that topic in a future post!)
NV Bear Flag Dark Red Wine
This new California wine from Gallo is a proprietary blend of Petite Sirah, Alicante Bouschet, Zinfandel, Petit Verdot, and Tempranillo.
$9, 13% abv.
Dark purple composition, heavy fruit profile, mostly blackberry, with a touch of chocolate. Low tannins, hint of sweetness.
Some of the articles about this wine talk about the unusual combinations of grapes in this product line, but this blend probably isn't too far off from some of the standard California table reds of the pre-Prohibition era.
The artwork is by Eduardo Bertone, and this curious label has a lot going on. Elements like the required health warning, alcohol content, and others are scattered around the label that nearly goes all the way around the bottle (there is a small gap with die cut edges that are incorporated into the design). Also, the bar code wraps entirely around the neck, which is not something you see often. Full detail of the neck and label can be found at Bertone's website.
NV Barefoot Sweet Red
Proprietary blend of Zinfandel, Pinot Noir, Barbera, Grenache, and Petite Sirah. Modeled at right by Paul's rescue dog Bella, whose blending percentage is also unknown.
$7, 10.5% abv.
Despite the name, it's not powerfully sweet. I was expecting something almost candy-sweet like Brachetto d'Acqui. Lots of cranberry and raspberry flavors, almost no tannins, and a tart finish. While this is still much sweeter than what I prefer, I think it would be a hit at BBQs this summer, and the low price means you can throw a few bottles in the ice chest to take care of the folks that are just moving up from White Zinfandel.
With the first sip, I immediately began to think about sangria. Lots of different ways to make it, but I just splashed together some of the Sweet Red, some orange juice, and white rum until it tasted right. Throw it over some ice and you've got a quick and easy sangria that doesn't involve soaking pieces of fruit in brandy overnight. I thought it worked out well here, because, strangely, more of the grape character came through. I've never liked heavily tannic reds with sangria and when you're just using the dregs of a dozen bottles that have been sitting out, well, that doesn't taste great either. I'll be honest, I probably wouldn't purchase this to drink with dinner, but I'll pick up a few bottles for making more sangria once it gets hot this spring.
Note: These wines were received as samples.