Corporate wineries: The best of the worst

Kendall Jackson 2007 Cabernet SauvignonI’m not saying there’s anything wrong with wines produced by massive corporations, but as I’ve harped on before (here and here), the little guys generally make better wine, displaying more heart and soul. Both attempt to produce income but corporations exist solely to do so. So I already have a prejudice against them… their practices make my fave beverage so… so… crass.

Which is why my sneaky husband recently (and unbeknownst to me) set up a blind tasting of my most harshly judged, corporately-produced wines. He knows it’s tough for me to assess them fairly, so I suppose he gave them an opportunity at bat. My report:

Murphy Goode 2008 Pinot Grigio California. When Jackson Family Wines bought this family-owned winery a couple of years ago, I worried about the outcome. With reason. I used to fawn over Murphy Goode like a favorite child but their former glory has been burnished into stuff I’d drink on the planet Generica. It’s really, really sad. Notes: Light and summery but too acidic, tastes cheap. Sweetness= 1 out of 10. 2 stars. $12.

Cupcake 2009 Riesling Columbia Valley. From a previous column when I reviewed his ’09 Sauvignon Blanc: “I’ve always despised this brand’s name, conjuring thoughts of the forums, test cases and focus groups that must’ve gone into its development. Even Adam Richardson, winemaker for Cupcake, sheepishly admitted to me the name wasn’t “inspired” by much. But I begrudgingly admit their wines are popular, even tasty, with a soft, drinkable-ness and romance associated with America’s love of cupcakes. It seems to work.” Notes on the Riesling: Soft pears on the tongue, with tart green apple Jolly Rancher in the middle but mostly rich, creamy and delicious. Long finish. Great with Havarti with Dill. Sweetness = 2 out of 10; 4 stars. $15.

Woodbridge 2009 Sauvignon Blanc California. This winery often surprises me during blind tastings (the only time I ever try it, to be honest — my Mondavi prejudice is palpable). Last year, I enjoyed the ’07 Solaire Chardonnay and the ‘06 Meritage so my bias is really baseless. Perhaps this Sauv Blanc will settle the issue… it’s pretty darn good for $8, even if it is a bit on the sweet side. Notes: Perfumey, ripe pineapple, lime zest with a tart, citrus finish. Sweetness = 3. 3.5 stars. $8.

Clos du Bois 2007 Merlot California. Another mammoth brand that grew and grew and grew, then landed on Planet Generica. And this merlot has a lot of commercial appeal. It’s essentially sweet red wine, disguised as “dry” and tastes nothing like every other mass-produced merlot on the market. But for $15, you can buy much better wines. Notes: Juicy Fruit Gum, sweet vanilla oak tannins, sweet black cherries, full-bodied, medium tannin structure. No finish. Sweetness= 2. $15. 2.5 stars.

Kendall Jackson 2007 Vintner’s Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon California. Whatever people say about Kendall Jackson, they know how to make wine that appeals to a wide range of consumers. Back in 2007, I wrote a column about how self-made billionaire Jess Jackson at KJ brought the brand back from the deep-discount precipice, slashing production counts and increasing quality to where he could be proud of the brand again. He reconnected to his Zen. But they are, indeed, a seriously corporate (but still family-owned and operated) brand; however, they’re a brand that at least doesn’t completely sell out. I do wish, however, they’d do a better job with the Murphy Goode wines. My notes: Smells nice, spicy cigar box smells and tastes, raspberry, red cherry, vanilla, tobacco, some green pepper. Sweetness = 1. 3 stars. $20.  BUT I don’t think it’s worth $20… maybe $15.

Blackstone 2008 Merlot Califorinia. Another brand ubiquitous with grocery stores. Generally, I enjoy their Reserve Series much more than the everyday tier. Ditto on this one. Notes: Smoky and sweet, jammy, brambly, tastes like zinfandel, tobacco, high alcohol, some tannins, all fruit, nothing else. Not very exciting. Sw=3. 2 stars. $11.



  1. On reading this article, I was struck by just how expensive even crappy wines are back in the ‘States. I’m so spoiled. I seem to remember being able to buy decent wines in the $10 to 15 range not that long ago (or am I showing my age?). Or is there just a significant overlap in price between commercially-produced wines for popular consumption and the better stuff?

  2. To find the really good (inexpensive) wines produced in Cali, you have to go outside the box and seek out unknown producers and unknown or unpopular varietals. Land prices and labor (not to mention popular movies) have driven up the costs on the better cabernets, pinots, chardonnays and merlots. The best deals right now in Cali? Syrahs. No one buys them (unless they say shiraz on the label – those Aussies beat us to the punch) and I read an article the other day that talked about how much the Cali producers bemoan the fact they can’t sell the stuff.


Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *