Most of the wine names we see regularly on store shelves and wine lists are well known to the vast majority of Americans.
Robert Mondavi, Beringer, Sutter Home, Fetzer, Kendall-Jackson, Gallo, Beaulieu, and a dozen more are more widely marketed than literally thousands of foreign and domestic brands, some of them so small that they get scant attention in magazines, newspapers and from wine shop operators.
A key marketing goal is to have a wine at eye level and easily visible, and that’s the way the top brands as positioned. But many smaller wineries enter the marketplace with almost no visibility.
But that may have nothing to do with the high quality of their wines. Some of the best wines I have ever tasted were from obscure producers who lack the funds to market their wares widely.
Here are just a few new ones:
Milbrandt Vineyards: Butch Milbrandt saw the soils of Washington’s Columbia Valley as a jewel, so in 1997 he began planting acreage. Today he farms 13 distinct estate vineyard sites on nearly 1,600 acres of land and is making a wide range of superb wines priced between $13 and $40.
Wine maker Gordon Hill has done a brilliant job crafting these wines into food-friendly stars. The lineup includes merlot, syrah and cabernet sauvignon and the wines are now being nationally marketed.
Example: The 2007 Milbrandt Pinot Gris, Washington, “Traditions” ($13) has a stylish pear/spice aroma and dramatic richness in a wine that’s dry but succulent because of phenomenal fruit. It is a wonderful wine for rich seafood dishes or fruit salads.
Stonestreet Alexander Mountain Estate: This is an older project owned by Kendall-Jackson’s Jess Jackson, but one recently relaunched. This handsome property is on the valley floor and gets all its fruit from a huge, dramatic hillside planting of grapes that makes concentrated wines.
The project has long been under the radar. Only recently, when the wines of Graham Weerts began to gain acclaim, did the property take a jump in image. Weerts, from South Africa, now makes some of the top wines in California, though still lacking in public recognition.
Example: Their 2005 Stonestreet Cabernet Sauvignon, Alexander Valley ($45) is a dense rich wine of black currant aroma and flavor, with complex nuances of olive, forest floor and spices. It needs a few years to develop, but is a superb aging wine.
Wine Guerrilla: After decades as a wine marketer, Sonoma County resident Bruce Patch decided to make his own wine, so he contracted with longtime wine maker David Coffaro to use Coffaro’s Dry Creek winery to make Zinfandel.
The Wine Guerilla label, with creative designs by Los Angeles designer Sean Colgin, will be entirely Zinfandel from older vines for more concentration.
Example: The 2006 Wine Guerrilla Zinfandel, Sonoma County ($18) consists of bright fruit of raspberry, violet and strawberry jam. Lots of fruit in the finish. Excellent with pasta or pizza.
Robert Oatley Vineyards: Oatley founded the wildly successful Rosemount Winery in Australia that, at its peak, sold 1.5 million cases of wine in the United States. Oatley, a successful tea and cattle entrepreneur and world-class yachtsman, sold Rosemount to Fosters Brewing in a complex deal, then ran Fosters for a time.
When he left the giant wine company, he founded a small operation based on 1,200 acres of superb vineyards in Mudgee and now is re-entering the U.S. wine market with a line of wines under his own name.
All wines are made by a brilliant team of wine makers and will be reasonably priced. The first wine in the U.S. market is a pink wine of remarkable quality.
Wine of the Week: 2008 Robert Oatley Rosé of Sangiovese, Mudgee ($18) — A dramatic re-entrance to the U.S. market for Oatley. This wine delivers delightful strawberry and pomegranate aromas, a dry mid-palate, but such succulence in the aftertaste you’d swear the wine has some sweetness.