While I was leafing through the December issue of Food & Wine magazine, an image of a pretty Gwyneth Paltrow lookalike in an ad for Rutherford Hill Napa Valley Merlot caught my attention. The woman is posed with her chin resting on her hand (referencing Rodin’s “The Thinker,” no doubt). With bare neck, arms and shoulders, she wears large sparkly earrings, false eyelashes and a dinky little ring on her right hand. We can’t see her left hand to know if she is married or engaged. In a separate image, we see a bottle of the Rutherford Hill wine.
The text of the ad reads, “If he brings the Rutherford Hill it’s a yes.”
So I asked myself, “yes” to what? She’ll go to the movies with him? She’ll marry him? She’ll sip the wine while she texts her girlfriend? Or … well, she is already half-naked, after all.
Down at the lower outside corner, next to the image of the wine, the ad reads, “It’s a sure thing.”
But I’m not convinced that she would be so easily tempted by a bottle of California merlot, even Rutherford Hill, which has been an important producer of Merlot since 1976 and has 8,000 oak barrels of wine aging underground.
Rutherford Hill is owned by Terlato Wines International, one of the largest wine companies in the world. They must spend millions of dollars on advertising; surely they know that women buy more wine than men, so why is this woman waiting to see what “he” brings before deciding “it’s a yes”?
I’m glad the Terlatos are so confident. Good luck with that. But I can’t blame them for trying to get an angle on how to influence wine consumption. Marketing wine ain’t easy. Tasting wine has been shown to be an “ambiguous experience.”
According to two scholars who reported on their experimental wine tasting in the latest edition of the Journal of Wine Economics (Vol. 6, No. 1, 2011), “most people do not prefer expensive wine [to cheap wine]” when they taste them blind. Yet this experiment indicated that when women who are told ahead of time that a wine they are about to taste is expensive, they will rate it higher than when they tasted it blind. If the woman in this ad knew that the Rutherford Hill costs only about $25 (not cheap, but not expensive either), she might have been less eager about it.
All of us are influenced by “consuming expectancies.” Although I am not immune to being influenced by brand or price, I like to think that I can detect quality. Influenced or not, I offer you a brief 2011 roundup of some wines (cheap and expensive) I’ve tasted that are worth remembering.
From Long Island, a few of many to try:
• Palmer Albariño: first of this variety planted on Long Island — the grape of northern Spain, equally suited to our maritime climate, with intricate fruit aromas.
• Coffee Pot Merlot: winemaker Adam Suprenant’s personal take on this svelte, harmonious Bordeaux grape.
• McCall Pinot Noir: luscious red berry aromas, exciting expression of this classic grape, with serious aging potential.
• Peconic Bay Riesling: Great purity with wonderfully fresh acidity.
• Borghese Chardonnay: shows the best of unoaked chardonnay, dynamic and luscious.
• Lenz Cuvée: Long Island’s answer to Champagne; an intricately complex, distinctively dynamic sparkling wine, properly aged on fine lees.
• Macari Sauvignon Blanc: shows what can be achieved by assiduous attention to soil quality. This SB is full of life, beaming energy in the glass.
• Paumanok Petit Verdot: Deep as a bottomless pit, with beautiful blackberry/cassis aromas and addictive flavors.
More recondite international picks include:
• Feudi di San Gregorio Falanghina, Italy: Shows that modern techniques can bring brilliance back to grapes with a legacy. This wine had an intriguing herbaceous quality, layered onto pineapple and hibiscus aromas.
• Regis Minet’s 2009 Pouilly-Fumé Vieilles Vignes, Loire Valley: Here is a sauvignon blanc with extreme complexity, beautiful fruit, odd minerality and intriguingly long finish.
• Reisten Pinot Blanc 2010, Moravia: supple, gorgeous — all finesse.
• Les Deux Rives Corbières Rosé, from the south of France, but not sun-baked. It’s lively, fresh, with pretty red fruit aromas and even a touch of plum. Not at all sweet, not at all harsh.
• Champagne R. Pouillon Cuvée de Reserve shows every attribute of first quality champagne, with far more character than the bigger houses offer in their anchor wines.
• Muller-Catoir Haardt Riesling Kabinett Trocken 2009 has a delicate citrus and pear aroma with a hint of white flowers. What makes this wine outstanding is its incredible elegance, and its evolution in the mouth, which goes on and on — lovely!
• Peay Vineyards, Pomarium Estate Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir 2009: A favorite California pinot. Spicy, peppery, full of fruit and intriguingly complex.
• Chateau La Nerthe Chateauneuf du Pape Rouge Cuvée des Cadettes 2005: like the shower of Danae. Imagine a languorous woman on a velvet sofa, suddenly invaded by an intensely stimulating deluge of sensation.
• DiamAndes Gran Riserva 2007, Argentina: Whatever French winemaker Michel Rolland did here, it worked. This wine is delicious. A Parkerized wine? Yup. But delicious.
Say “yes”? I’ll leave that to you.
Ms. Hargrave was a founder of the Long Island wine industry in 1973. She is currently a freelance writer and consultant.