Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Lessons of Pepperwood Grove

On returning from a recent conference, I discovered Wine Fairy had visited. A sample pack of Pepperwood Grove wines, courtesy of our friends at Balzac Communications, had magically appeared.

O Happy Day! Wine Samples!
You’ve undoubtedly seen Pepperwood Grove. It’s an inexpensive wine from Don Sebastiani and Sons. The bottles have a “green wave” pattern on the label, but they’re best known for the “Big Green Box” – a three-liter…well…box of wine. As most of you know, we have no problem with box wine around these parts. As long as you’re not looking for top notch juice, box wine can be a great option for an “I don’t want to think about it” offering. You know, when you’re tired or after a few other bottles you did think about…

According to the release, Pepperwood Grove was the first “established” wine brand to launch a “boxed line extension” -- The Big Green Box. This version of their regular wines first appeared in 2010. Sebastiani and sons sent these samples to announce the launch of Pepperwood Grove’s “Little Green Box” – a 500ml mini-container made from 100% recyclable material. Each container holds about three glasses.  They sent me a Little Green Box of pinot grigio, a Big Green Box of chardonnay, and a “Groovy Green Bottle” of their pinot noir.

I’d not had Pepperwood Grove in quite some time. I see it in most every wine store I walk into. I honestly hadn’t given it much thought, but I’d never tried three wines consecutively from the same producer in different “formats” and the Wine Fairy was being generous…

First up was Pepperwood Grove Pinot Grigio, which turned out to be a very “soft” wine at first sip. By “soft,” I mean that there’s not the acidity I usually expect – especially if something is marketing itself as a “pinot grigio.” Winemakers usually brand their wines either “pinot grigio” or “pinot gris” depending on whether they’re more Italian (more crisp and tart) or French (more mineral and smooth citrus) in style, respectively. Honestly, this California offering was neither. It was lightly peachy on the nose, quite full-bodied for a pinot grigio with plenty of peach. I thought it was inoffensive and flexible enough to be a good picnic wine. This travel-friendly pack would go alongside most food – appetizer to dessert.

We moved on to the Pepperwood Grove Chardonnay – This was the wine they’d sent in the “Big Green Box.” It’s also from California, and is actually a blend of Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc, Pinot Grigio, and Viognier. It’s 77% Chardonnay -- anything over 75% and a winemaker can label it Chardonnay. I’ve had the Big Green Boxes before, and I’d found them to be decent, but I hadn’t tried the chardonnay. Honestly, I wish that were still the case. All due respect -- this wine was simply not good. The major flavor is very ripe apple with some creaminess. That’s the nicest thing I can say. On the downside, there’s what tastes like an attempt to do a chemical approximation of oak that doesn’t quite work, and an unfortunate tartness.

Finally, we ended up with the Pepperwood Grove Pinot Noir – This Groovy Green Bottle’s grapes are sourced from Chile. Basically, I’d consider it a serviceable sluggable wine – but I wouldn’t call on it if I were looking for a pinot noir. I thought it was plummy, medium bodied, and straightforward – it would be a very solid table wine if one wasn’t picky. We rated it clearly the best of the three.

I usually wait until after I’ve tried sample wines to read the tasting notes to see how close my palate discerned what the winemaker was trying to do. My observations were nowhere close to the company tasting notes for the whites. For instance, the pinot grigio was described as “light” and “mineral driven” with “bracing mouthwatering acidity,” which was far from what I got. The chardonnay was allegedly “crisp flavors of green apple and biscotti contrast with hints of grapefruit, toasted marshmallow, and fresh lime on the finish.” No. Just no. All tasting notes are subjective, but there’s a general neighborhood.

Turns out these wines were shipped during one of our first fairly hot bursts of the season. The flavors I found in the pinot grigio and the chardonnay reminded me of wines that had been blasted by heat and gone over. My hypothesis? My package was left out for a little too long on an unexpectedly hot loading dock somewhere. Since the glass bottle provides better insulation, it wouldn’t have been affected as much.

Upon reflection over my career purchases, I’ve had considerably more box wines be spoiled than bottled wines. While I’m certainly not turning against box wine anytime soon – it might be worth asking the folks in your local wine store about how quickly their box wine aisle turns over and how those wines are stored when they arrive at the store.

As it stands, I can’t say whether the Pepperwood Grove wines were exposed to poor treatment in transit that they’re just not as tasty. If you decide to try one, make s

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