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Labels Versus Price

Jun 12, 2013 01:02PM ● Published by tina

An expensive label doesn't always guarantee the quality of the wine.

Sponsored by Patrizio Osteria

Written by Ken Kuczwaj, General Manager Patrizio Osteria


Here is one of my pet peeves in wine: The wine prices of the major labels versus the quality of the juice. As a collector and consumer of fine vino since 1986, I have witnessed many changes in the Napa and Sonoma wine scene. Most major labels have not been great — Jordan, Silver Oak, Cakebread, Groth , Berringer and Beaulieu Vineyards are among the biggest offenders of price increases and the quality of the product going down. As these major wineries get to sell into major supermarkets like Costco, they are under pressure to source more and more fruit, further denigrating its quality control and, quite frankly, making sub-par wine for the money.

In one famous tasting at the restaurant, which I always do blind so I’m not prejudiced by labels, I told a winery rep that a bottle was $30. In fact, it was $300, and the rep was highly insulted. I have tasted a lot of wine in the past 27 years, and this was not better than the $30 merlot from Plumpjack, Shafer or Darioush. Just because they put some superstar winemaker’s name on the bottle does not mean they can get away with that — not with this wine czar!

The good news is that many ‘’old school” wineries still produce great juice at good prices. Chimney Rock, Clos du Val, Clos DuBois, Caymus, Chalk Hill and Sequoia Grove are just a few that come to mind. Make sure to check out second labels, wines made from surplus grapes that have similar quality but are less expensive than primary labels.  For example, Faust is one of my favorites. In 2007 and 2008, most of the Mondavi Napa priced around $18 was 35 percent leftover reserve juice, which sells for more than $100 a bottle. Liberty School from the Caymus family is outstanding, as is their Pinot Noir Meomi from the Belle Glos collection.

Just remember: Don’t get sucked into the major labels. Try some new wines, especially from smaller regions like Lodi and Paso Robles where the value is phenomenal. If you have any questions, come see me at Patrizio Osteria, and I will turn you on to a few of my favorite selections.


Happy imbibing,


Ken…aka…The Wine Czar 




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