This year’s verdict for the best-selling wine brand in the U.S., with some 11 million cases? Much, much better than I expected, and perhaps the two best I’ve tasted since I started doing annual Barefoot wine reviews in 2009.
The Barefoot Bubbly Brut Cuvee NV ($10, purchased, 11.5%) won a platinum medal at the Critics Challenge, and that’s a tough audience. I don’t know about platinum, which is one medal above gold, but this is a quality sparkling wine that tastes exactly like it is supposed to taste — crisp apple fruit and a little creaminess. It was wine, and not like something put together by the marketing department to appeal to consumers who assume sparkling wine should be sweet and gooey. The bubbles weren’t quite as tight and long-lasting as I like, but given that the wine is made using the charmat method (common for less expensive sparklers and which results in less impressive bubbles), they weren’t bad. I’d buy it again, and serve it blind to get a few giggles.
The only problem? Price, ironically, which may be the only time in wine writing history that price will be mentioned as a problem with a Barefoot product. Much cava, made with the more expensive methode champenoise, costs less than the Barefoot, and is at least the same quality. And other California bubblies, like Korbel, are methode champenoise and about the same price. But Barefoot, knowing its audience likely doesn’t know the difference between charmat and methode champenoise (or much care), probably isn’t overly concerned.
The Barefoot Zinfandel NV ($6, purchased, 13.5%), meanwhile, is exactly the kind of wine that helped make the brand such a success. It’s dry, but loaded with the kind of fake oak that lends a chocolately finish, giving it the flavor profile that Barefoot reds are famous for. Having said that, the oak isn’t offensive — just obvious. In fact, minus the oak, the wine reminded me of the inexpensive, brambly, dark berry, and low alcohol zinfandels I drank in the old days and hoped would become the next big thing in cheap wine but didn’t.
Is the zinfandel a value the way Aldi’s $5 Vina Decana tempranillo is? Probably not, but the Decana is a $10 Hall of Fame wine. But it’s certainly a value compared to most of the $10 red wines, with their cute labels and sweet fruit, that overwhelm grocery store shoppers. That’s not a bad thing for a $6 wine, is it?