My Grandma always told me that you cant judge a book by its cover. She also always told me to never stick anything in my ear smaller than my elbow.
Snappy marketing is a must for new wines these days and I can tell you that the wines that grab the consumer’s eye are the ones that sell. It seems like clever, fun, and artsy wine labels have come into wider popularity in the last five years or so before that we had a boom of inexpensive wines branded with an entire arks spectrum of adorable animals surrounded by bright colors.
Unfortunately, since then a lot of people have the general conception that any fun labels hide uninteresting wines. Sometimes Ill recommend a bottle of wine with a particularly cartoony label and eyes will roll and Ill have to quickly make another recommendation.
(Of course, other times people will buy up the well-marketed, focus-group labelled bottles with little regard for the juice inside.)
After reading Jay Millers 98 point review (in The Wine Advocate) of R Wines Chateau Chateau Island Grenache, I had to rush out and find a bottle. He uses phrases like alluring…full-bodied, powerful Grenache and Layered, long, and with enormous potential. These are qualities I look for. Plus, I really liked the label part of a series by artist Istvan Oros, done is a style very reminiscent of M. C. Escher.
I admit I’m a sucker for a pretty face. I’ve bought lots of records because of the artwork.
I managed to track down a bottle and shelled out almost 80 bucks for it. It was pretty good. I didn’t take notes at the time, but I remember a slick New-World grenache with a bit of modern complexity, but not quite $80 worth.
Recently I got word that the same producer would be releasing another line, the Southern Gothic series at half the price of the Chateau Chateau series. This series has even cooler labels this time by illustrator James Jean. I bought the R Wines Southern Gothic Poor Thing Grenache, sight unseen, review unread, wine untasted, for less than $40. I figured it would have to be a good deal. I mean, I’d be getting the same producer using the same grape for half the price, and with a cooler label!
Then I got a chance to try its sister, the R Wines Southern Gothic Southern Belle Shiraz. Knowing the producer well, I went into the tasting expecting the usual gobs of big fruit, good oak influence with cocoa and vanilla, essentially fruity chocolate milk. I was very surprised.
The shiraz I actually tasted is Rhone-styled, with a nose of burnt bacon, dust, and a lot less fruit than I had anticipated. The palate shows a lot of complexity black olive, black pepper, burnt bacon, and dark raspberry under it all a far cry from the Barossa fruit bomb I was expecting. The mouthfeel is perhaps a little thin, but this shiraz is very, very dry, without the tiny touch of residual sugar that is often present in Barossa shiraz. The wine could use a little more tannin, and there is plenty of acidity and an herbal quality on the finish.
It wasn’t what I was expecting at all. In fact, I think it’s better than what I was expecting. I hope the grenache stashed away in my wine cooler at home is just as good I hope it is just as much not what I was expecting.
So I’ve once again learned that you shouldnt judge a book by its cover. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t read the book at all. Try these wines if you get the chance – but supplies are limited. And I dare you to stick your elbow in your ear.