Are there "Better" Wines Made by Wineries?

There are a lot of wines available on store shelves. A grocery store, liquor store, or big-box wine seller will have plenty of wine offerings. But most of the wines are large production wines from big wineries. And, as previously discussed, the terms 'Reserve' or 'Estate' can be misleading or completely meaningless when looking for "better" wines. 

But there truly are different 'grades' of wines made by wineries. For example, I recently had the opportunity to enjoy a bottle of Francis Ford Coppola 'Director's Cut' Cabernet Sauvignon (See my notes in Behind the Cork). While Coppola turns out a lot of good wine, their line of 'Director's Cut' wines are a step up in quality and wine making craftsmanship. And this is true for most wineries. They make their large production wines that show up on store shelves and then they make wines that are limited production. You may be able to buy some of these in stores but most often they are held by the wineries for sale in their tasting rooms or for their wine club members.

It's definitely worth taking an extra moment on the wine aisle to read labels and do some comparison shopping. You may be surprised to find a higher-end bottle of wine from some of the big wine producers. Many times these wines will distinguish themselves from the winery's mainstream wines by providing the vineyard's name where the grapes were grown, or the label may be 'fancier' than the other label by the same winery. Price will also be an indication.

Where you really get 'better' wines is by visiting wineries.  I had an acquaintance once ask why I bothered to go to wine country to buy wines when I could just go to the store. And besides, he said, the wines at the wineries are more expensive!  Well, yes, the wines at the wineries can be more expensive but that's because you are getting something 'better' than you can buy in stores. A lot better.  Wineries will truly have 'Reserve' and special 'Estate' wines that are of better quality than those on the grocery store shelves.

So take a closer look at the wines on the store shelves, visit a smaller wine shop or, better yet, visit a winery.  You will certainly find wines that are a 'Cut' above. Cheers!

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Behind the Cork™ Wine of the Week - Chateau St. Jean Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir

This Pinot Noir from the Sonoma Coast is really a great value at $13.  It's delicate, as a Pinot should be, with the cherry, raspberry and cola flavors that are typical of Pinot Noir from the Sonoma region.  Pinot Noir pairs amazingly well with everything from Salmon to Steaks.


Special Designations on Wine Labels

In recent postings we've explored the information on U.S. wine labels.  We've seen that the labels are required to tell us about the type of wine, the AVA or location where it was produced, the vintage or year the grapes were harvested, the alcohol content, and if the wine contains sulfites as a preservative.  Then there are the other 'special designations' that appear on wine labels that are not regulated.

But first, we as consumers must realize that the label of any product is the primary selling tool. And hence, the label is going to contain some amount of marketing. And this comes in varying degrees.  On one end of the spectrum you will see very sophisticated labels on wines. These may done in fancy script with dark colors and may include metallic gold or silver trim.  This simple yet sophisticated label is certainly using marketing techniques to convince you, in subtle ways, that it is an outstanding wine. 

On the other end of the spectrum there are trendy labels with fancy artwork and cute or clever names. Again, these wines are looking to be exciting to a particular segment of wine buying market.

Then there are all the other labels out there that contain words such as "Reserve," "Private Reserve," "Vintner's Reserve," "Barrel Select," "Vintner's Blend," "Old Vine," and "Cellar Select."  These are just some of the marketing terms that are used on wine labels and, in the U.S., are not regulated.   Mostly they have little to no meaning.

Yes, wine makers do have 'Reserve' wines that are special, usually smaller production wines of very high quality. But, the odds of truly finding a bottle of 'Reserve' wine on a store shelf are low.  These are usually only sold directly through the winery or in high-end wine stores.  And you'll certainly be paying a hefty premium for a 'Reserve' wine.

And 'Old Vine' wines, often Zinfandels, may come from 'old' vines that produce wines with great depth of character. But, without any regulation on the term, the age of the vines is difficult if not impossible to truly know.  So, the vines may be 20 years old or they may be 100 years old. 

All the other terms are just marketing terms that get used on wine labels to try to get you to part with your money.  So, as always, buyer beware!  And start paying close attention to these terms on wine labels when you are shopping. You will find that some wine producers only make "Vintner's Reserve" wines and they are selling these 'special' wines in grocery stores and big box stores for $10 a bottle. Don't be fooled - become educated by reading, tasting and by visiting wineries.  Then you'll begin to truly find great wines without being swayed by the label.  Cheers!