I was going to post a glowing review of some celebratory wine to christen the New Year appropriately and perhaps bring us all to a happier place than most of us saw this year. I both ran out of time and encountered one of the worst wines I have ever tasted (at least from a respectable producer) and decided since this was the year of the bailout that perhaps a well placed rant might be more appropriate.
Everywhere we look we are surrounded by corporate behemoths that spend countless millions on sponsorship of stadiums, advertisements and buying out their competition. This results in less choice for the consumer (when was the last time a credit card offer appeared in your mail that was not from Bank of America) and inevitable nickel and diming once they are nearly the only game in town. The same thing happens in the wine world.
Huge distributors have liquor and wine brands that retail and restaurants must buy and they use that leverage to influence buyers to use them exclusively or at leat extensively, resulting in less opportunity for some truly interesting wines - often at better prices. Lest you get the idea that I am some anti-corporate wacko, let me explain my position. There are some huge corporations that produce excellent products; Apple is my favorite example, although this blog is typed on a PC. Most large companies became large for a reason, they offered a good product at a reasonable price. Many large wineries have done the same. They offer quality and reliability although they eventually command a higher price for that service. No problem here, you pay for the best. However, wines can not be made on an assembly line; grapes are not the same each year and growth sometimes results in producing inferior grapes, which creates wines that are not as good.
Ferrari-Carano increased their production by nearly a third from 2001 to 2002 (http://articles.sfgate.com/2004-05-17/entertainment/17428102_1_california-wine-constellation-brands-ferrari/3) from 160,000 to 201,000 cases, and although that growth was focused on the Fume Blanc, it changes the way a winery operates (I could find no information about growth since then). I will disclose that I have never purchased a Ferrari-Carano wine, although I have tasted many over the years and sold some in a retail setting. They did a good job producing big, rich California wine and the consuming public ate it up.
Yesterday I happened to have a California Merlot out and a customer mentioned he had two others to taste, would I mind if we tasted them all together. I was excited as I had not tasted Ferrari-Carano Merlot in years and was curious to see how it was. It was awful. The gentleman who kindly offered the taste described the wine as "alien."
Ferrari-Carano Merlot, Sonoma County 2006 - It smelled of clove and shrimp (fresh, but clearly fishy salt) and the palate flavors lacked fruit, except that it tasted green, and offered tough tannin to boot. There may have been a whiff of red fruit on the nose, but there was much more smoke and oak. Even the back label, usually a fount of strange fruity prose, did not mention much fruit..."with luscious cherry aromas and accents of spice, chocolate and caramel that lingers on the silky finish." Chocolate and caramel I'll believe, although why you want caramel in a dry red wine is beyond me. Silky though? Really? Silky? Not even hours later. Perhaps today it approaches silky, after more than 24 hours open, but it is an old, moth-eaten silk, complete with holes and frayed edges.
With time it opened a bit, but began to show bell pepper on the nose and while the tannin subsided, the middle and finish never filled out. It screams of a wine style that has been overly manipulated in the cellars and ends up being a bit of a Frankenstein - lots of workable parts, but barely able to function as designed. It has all of the issues that Merlot drinkers claim they do not like, lack of fruit and plenty of tight tannin, yet it is on wine lists all over the city and country.
I can not recommend strongly enough to not purchase this wine, especially given its rather hefty price tag of $24. I bear the family no ill will, but find this an inexcusably bad wine and recommend to anyone who will listen to change the way you buy wine next year. Try some suggestions of retailers, waiters and even me. Expand your horizons, live a little, you may have more fun and save some money.
Happy New Year, here's to a better 2010.