Sunday, September 19, 2010

In Vino Veritas

As far as judging fine wine goes, I have little or no pretenses regarding my own ability to wax eloquent about a good grape, a heady bouquet or flavor related to environment. I enjoy a glass of wine, but am pretty much in a muddle when it comes to choosing something reputable. If truth be told, unless it’s a gift bottle meant for someone else, I am pleased enough with either red or white table wine that has an acceptable flavor and doesn’t require a stop at the ATM. If the conversation turns to the finer points of a good wine, I am content to listen to the opinions of others from the background. On the shopping end, a bottle of wine for $6 or $7 dollars will suit me just fine.

The other day I was talking with some friends who brought up the subject and seemed to know what they were talking about. They were excited about a California wine they had recently discovered, and urged me to try a bottle, especially when they learned that I usually didn’t spend a lot for a bottle of table, or party wine. The wine they recommended comes from Oak Leaf Vineyards in Ripon, California, has only been in production for three years and already been recognized as outstanding. In 2008, the Oak Leaf Chardonnay won a gold Medal at both the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition and at the Florida State International Competition. The merlot and the cabernet sauvignon won bronze medals in the San Francisco competition.

The Oak Leaf wines are all nonvintage wines made by Mario Pulido, winemaker for Turning Leaf Vineyards. According to Mr Pulido, the fact that the Oak Leaf wines are nonvintage offers him a greater leeway in using grapes, most being on the low-alcohol side, about twelve percent. This is considered not bad for a party wine.

Now comes the surprise, or certainly the need to stretch your notions of wine, maybe good wine and the vendor who carries it. The Oak Leaf wines are made exclusively for…are you ready? Look for it at your local Wal-Mart. Oak Leaf Vineyards produces wine for none other than Wal-Mart. Because of federal wine laws and other unstated considerations the Wal-Mart name does not appear on the label. And the price? All of their wine is $2.97 per bottle. Most experts agree that these wines would be a bargain at three times the price. Looking at the Cheap Wine Critics website, I found 121 reader comments which speak highly of these wines, some of them from wine connoisseurs.

The Dallas Morning News tested the Oak Leaf wines, inviting a panel to sample four of the wines, poured of course from unrecognizable bottles. Here are a few of their comments:


Rating 6 out of a possible 10

Price: A bargain all over the map from $5 to $30.

Taste Notes: Blueberry-strawberry, lively red fruit. Nose is an earthy European terroir. Color is clean and clear. Short burst of a finish with a lingering aftertaste.


Rating 5.9

A bargain at $10 to $15.

Notes: Clean nose with pineapple, cream, a bit of eucalyptus (ever so slight). Nice color, with a clean finish.


Rating 6.6

A bargain at $5 to $30, with most at $10 or $15.

Notes: Muted black berries. A bit cloudy. Earthy terroir of a European nature. Soft finish that lingers. A wine that grows on you. Has an aged quality, but also feels young.


Rating 5.8

A bargain at $10.

Notes: Nice nose, crisp initial taste. A bit weak on the mid-palate. A little lime, kiwi, rose petal. Nice pool wine, with a bumpy finish.

I have tried all the reds, including the shiraz. No connoisseur, but I like them all. I recommend you give the Oak Leaf a try. After all, what have you got to lose? Three dollars? If you are having people over and are afraid your guests might recognize the Oak Leaf label as a Wal-Mart wine, then serve it in a carafe and no one will be the wiser.

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Oak Hill, Florida, United States
A longtime expat relearning the footwork of life in America