A visit to the grocery store wine section inspired this week’s Swirl column about the Red Blend wine category. Wine brands with dessert-themed names that clearly telegraph “sweet wine here” have been all the rage lately, to wit: “Cupcake,” “Layer Cake,” “Red Velvet” and “Cherry on Top.” And then I saw a label that just cuts to the chase with “Sweet Red Wine.”
BNA Wine Group, which Swirl visited recently, prefers the nudge-and-wink of its pie-themed labels. Besides, it turned out some of the wines, made by wine industry insider and St. Helena small-town hero Tony Leonardini, have more going for them than a trendy name. Here’s a full review of the BNA wines:
2012 “Bandwagon” Monterey Unoaked Chardonnay ($17.50) There’s a saline freshness that keeps it lively through lingering, peanut brittle and golden apple pie flavors. Crisp enough on the palate, but a bit hot rather than thirst-quenching, with a lingering sensation of sweetness.
2011 “Butternut” California Chardonnay ($17.50) Just reeks of heavily toasted oak, what else to say. It’s like someone took a barrel of Rombauer, a Napa Chardonnay that’s generally viewed as the gold standard of the toasted oaky, buttery Chardonnay style, set it on fire and watched it burn for kicks. But that’s an observation, not a criticism: this is a popular wine, and Leonardini works with a consultant to keep it consistent. It’s a deep gold hue, has got sweet, buttery, kettle corn flavor, and slobbery viscosity.
2012 “Nanna’s Shortcake” Lodi Zinfandel ($17.50) It’s a dessert, but the aroma keeps it interesting. Raspberry syrup leaps out of the glass, accented with spicy clove and Pier 1 furniture aromas. Flavors of soft, sweet, strawberry and raspberry jam, such as from little breakfast packets.
2012 “Humble Pie” Cabernet Sauvignon ($17.50) There’s a reason the Central Coast is big on Chardonnay and Pinot: Central Coast Cab used to have a bad reputation. But there’s no funky green pepper aroma here. Their sleight of hand does not involve wine additives, says Leonardini, but calculated deployment of oak, and a fair amount of “flash détente,” a super-heating and cooling procedure that’s “Great for color, weight and a bit of the aromatics.” Pumice stone, pencil lead at first whiff, then a sort of “berry medley” breakfast snack bar character. Dusty raspberry-vanilla. Smooth, easy drinking.
2011 “The Rule” Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon ($24) Also with the pumice and pencil notes. Stony black fruit, with some sweetness on the backend, competing with sturdy tannin. Incense aromas crop up after a time.
2010 “Volunteer” Cabernet Sauvignon ($31) Deeper still, Stygian dark. Black currants and chocolate nibs in a puddle of blueberry sauce; German chocolate cake in a bitter union with burnt fruitcake, mashed under the heel of a leather boot. Now we’re talking serious Cab. Rich and smooth, with grippy tannin. Black olive savory notes with some air, and a day later it did not fall apart, but was improved—something I cannot say for the “red blends” from this week’s Swirl.