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Tag Archives: moscato

Wine of the week: Sara Bee Moscato NV

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sara bee moscato Sweet wine is not easy to review, and this doesn’t even take into account that a lot of sweet wine isn’t worth reviewing — poorly made, sweeter than Coke, and as cynical as a carnival barker. Many of the Wine Curmudgeon’s readers — half? more? — will skip this review in annoyance and some will even cancel their email subscription in disgust.

But let it not be said that I am easily intimidated.

The Italian Sara Bee Moscato ($7, purchased, 5.5%) is one of the best sweet wines I’ve tasted in years, and especially at this price. Yes, it’s sweet — probably somewhere around a high-end soft drink like Jones Soda — but there is plenty of orange fruit aroma, common to the moscato grape, apricot, some wonderful “fermentato,” which translates into light, fun bubbles, and even a bit of crispness (usually missing in most sweet wines at this price).

I drank it with some delicately-spiced Indian takeout, and the sweetness correctly played off the spice. It would also work as a dessert wine; something with chocolate, perhaps? Sweet wine drinkers, of course, won’t bother with any of that. Chill it well, add an ice cube or two if you want, and enjoy.

So what’s the catch? The Sara Bee is made by Santero, a dependable producer of grocery-store priced Italian sparkling wine, but this is a private label for the Trader Joe’s chain. This means two things: Trying to get information about the wine is almost impossible, since Trader Joe’s doesn’t like to return phone calls, and you can’t buy it anywhere else. If you’re in a state without a Trader Joe’s or one that doesn’t sell wine — in New York and Pennsylvania, for instance — you’re out of luck.

This is a $10 Hall of Fame wine, but because of the availability problems, I probably won’t add it next year. But if you have $7, are near a Trader Joe’s that sells wine, and are curious about the Sara Bee, don’t hesitate to try it.

Winebits 312: Sales trends edition

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YellowTail growth resumes: Remember all those stories about how the strong Australian dollar and YellowTail’s financial problems were going to mean the end of an era for Aussie wine? Not true, apparently. The biggest imported brand in the U.S. expects 2 1/2 percent gorwth this year, reaching almost 9 million cases. Driving that growth are the brand’s two sweet red labels, including a sangria. That YellowTail has rebounded from its problems says much about its marketing skill, but also speaks about its clout with retailers. How many other brands could have slumped the way YellowTail did, but not lose shelf space and even added space for two more wines? In this respect, Big Wine is becoming more and more like other consumer goods, be they ketchup or detergent, with all the means — good and bad — for the consumer.

Is craft beer headed for a bust? This matters to wine not only because craft beer competes for drinkers with wine, especially in the younger demographics, but because the growth in craft beer (“But even such a healthy rise in consumer demand won’t be enough to sustain the many new breweries jumping into the marketplace“) has similarities to what happened in California with “boutique” wineries heading into the recession and with the unprecedented growth in moscato and sweet red over the past couple of years. What’s interesting is that someone in craft beer has noticed what’s going on, while almost everyone in wine was in denial before the recession and during the moscato and sweet red boom.

If you can sell wine on-line. ..: You can sell a lot of it. That was the experience of the British supermarket chain Tesco, which doesn’t face the three-tier restrictions that U.S. retailers face in this country. The story, on the drinks business trade magazine site, says sales may have gone up as much as 51 percent over the same period last year, and offers all the reasons why that is so. Contrast this with Amazon’s wine marketplace, which after nine months still can’t sell wine in all 50 states.

Barefoot wine review 2013

Barefoot wine review 2013This year, the Wine Curmudgeon picked two Barefoot award winners to review – the pink moscato, which earned a double gold this month at a prestigious California competition, and the merlot, which got a gold at the 2011 Critics Challenge (the 2013 version of which I judged over the weekend).


The 2014 Barefoot wine review


My impressions? Both were sound, not flawed, provided value, and were much more impressive than the pinot noir and sauvignon blanc in the 2012 Barefoot review.

I write an annual Barefoot review because hardly anyone one else does; the Winestream Media can’t be bothered reviewing wines that people actually drink. Not surprisingly, the Barefoot post is always among the most popular on the blog, with Barefoot reviews coming in at No. 2 and No. 4 in 2012’s top 10. This year, it was heartening to see others taking up the cause, and my annual Google search found a handful of other recent reviews. How can one not appreciate a blog called Honest Wine Reviews?

The pink moscato ($6, purchased, 9%), made with California grapes and non-vintage, was surprisingly balanced for a wine cashing in on the moscato craze. Think of it as sweet pink lemonade with a bit of fizziness, and make sure to chill it. Having said that, it was firmly sweet, much more in the style of white zinfandel than rose. But, having said that, it was one of the best sweet wines I’ve tasted recently, and especially for the price.

Was it a double gold medal wine? Yes and no. When I first tasted it, the moscato didn’t seem much more than a very well-made, lemony white zinfandel. But, on a hunch, I tasted it after I tried the merlot, and the difference was amazing. That’s when I got the pink lemonade, and the wine tasted fuller and more complete. I’d have given it gold, too, and I think I know what happened.

The contrast with the merlot, which was drier and more tannic, brought out the moscato’s flavors. This happens all the time in wine competitions, where judges alternate between colors to lessen palate fatigue, and that was probably the case at this competition.

The most noticeable flavor in the merlot ($5, purchased, 13%) was caramel. Who knows how many valiant oak chips sacrificed their lives for this wine? In this, the merlot goes for the chocolate cherry flavor that so many casual wine drinkers look for, and mostly succeeds. It’s a simple wine (also made with California grapes and non-vintage), and is almost certainly not the one that won a gold two years ago. A merlot from Bogle or McManis would be more interesting. But you’ll get your $5 worth with the Barefoot.

Ironically, I chilled the merlot before I tasted it, on the theory that some cheap red wines are better cooler. That wasn’t the case here, and the wine needs to be red wine temperature (60-ish F/16-ish C) to be at its best. And don’t worry if you smell burnt rubber or cork when you open the bottle, something I’ve noticed with many Barefoot reds. The aroma goes away quickly (in wine terms, it blows off), and is probably a function of the sulfur used to help preserve the wine.

For more on Barefoot wine:
The Internet loves Barefoot and Cupcake wine
Barefoot and the wine magazines
Barefoot wines (again): Value or just cheap?

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