Should the United States have a wine classification system along the lines of what you find in other countries like France, Italy or Germany? That is the question that came to mind as I drank this wine.
You see, this wine is very clearly aimed at the bottom of the market. After all, it’s a non-vintage “American” wine – meaning they can source the grapes from anywhere within the 50 states (and maybe even anywhere from within North or South America as that would still be a truthful claim) and they can blend grape juices from more than one harvest year to get a potable product. If this were sold in France, it’d be a Vin de Table which is their lowest rung of classification. While that classification doesn’t necessarily mean a vintner will charge less per bottle than a competitor in the Vin de Pays class, it does serve as a quick indicator to the consumer that they shouldn’t be paying top dollar.
Although the regular retail price of this wine is by no means top dollar, it is considerably higher than the wines which are of the same ilk and against which this wine appears meant to compete. For instance, the Charles Shaw wines can be had at the local Trader Joe’s for $3.29, and the Three Wishes line at Whole Foods is priced exactly the same. Why, then, does the local Safeway put a regular price of $6.99 on this bottle? Could it be to snag uneducated consumers unawares? After all, I bought this on sale for $3.49. So it looks to me like the store realizes that is about what this Chardonnay should be selling for – period.
Winemaker: Quail Oak (by The Wine Group for Safeway)
Price: $6.99 at Safeway
Notes: This Safeway private label Chardonnay was a bright lemon yellow. It’s body was on the lighter side of medium with good acidity while alcohol came in at 12.5%. On the palate I found pear, grapefruit, grass, and a touch of honey. At times during it’s trip across my tongue it was quite weak. Overall, though, it was pretty much OK.
What is up with wines that give little or no information about their makers? It makes me wonder. Seriously! In fact, I find it extremely suspicious when a winery doesn’t support their product with informative labeling or at least a modest online presence. That pertains equally to a retailer that sells a private label but disguises it as something other than a store brand. Seems like they’re saying, “I’m horribly embarrassed that I made this wine (ordered this wine), so I’m not going to admit to being responsible for it.” If I think a wine producer is being cagey, I am much less likely to buy their wines no matter what they call them, how they dress them up, or how low the price. As a result, this was my very first experience with any of the Quail Oak selections.
Winemaker: Quail Oak (by The Wine Group for Safeway?)
Price: $6.99 at Safeway
Notes: On the nose I smelled berries and musty earth. The wine is very light-bodied with moderate acidity. At 12.5% alcohol, the Quail Oak Merlot is definitely not a dry red. In fact, I would call this wine sweet. Aside from the sweetness and the lack of any structure to speak of, I found this selection to be fairly pleasant. Flavors for me were plum, dark cherry, a bit of pepper, hints of oak and tar, as well as a dash of bitter herbs on the finish. Personally, though, I really do prefer my Merlots a bit dryer. It wasn’t an offensive wine. It wasn’t a diamond hidden amongst stones, either. I’d say it’s another good candidate for a Sangria – perhaps one that includes citrus because the sweetness of this wine will help balance the citrus. Or maybe this would do well with some leftover spicy Chinese food – Twice Cooked Pork, General Tso’s Chicken and such.
Important: I am not a professional sommelier or wine connoisseur. See “About” for the full disclaimer.