Commodity wines 1 of 6

Loosely speaking, there are two types of wine making.

There is wine made from grapes grown in a specific vineyard or area and bottled in a nearby winery. Production is in low thousands of cases or less. Call such wines “terroir” wines. They are bottles wine critics most write about and you have hardest time finding.

Second type is made by what are, in effect, wine factories. Grapes come from many vineyards and are made into product that fits flavor profile the factory strives to replicate year after year. Production can go to hundreds of thousands of cases. Call such wines “commodity” or “supermarket” wines. They account for majority of wine consumed and can be found almost anywhere.

Terroir wines provide wine’s mystique, evoking visions of hand-picked vines tended by generations of family members lovingly making works of art. Such wine-making is a process of stewardship rather than manufacturing. Holy grail is to coax each vintage into expressing the vineyard’s life that year.

Commodity wines enjoy reflected glow of terroir mystique, but their making focuses on manufacturing a product. Holy grail is to create a brand consumers know and depend on to deliver a comfortably specific taste year after year at a comfortable price.

Commodity wines are wines most consumers know and most often drink. Sample producers include: Gallo, Mondavi, Kendall Jackson, Yellow Tail, Sutter Home, Columbia Crest, Bogle, J Lohr, Rodney Strong. They produce tasty, dependable—perhaps not exceptional—wines.

Eschewing snobbery, we visit commodity wines today and in coming columns.


• Yellow Tail Shiraz South Eastern Australia. Wine snobs scoff at its candied sweetness, but that’s what people enjoy about this smooth, drinkable product; ripe red berries. More than 2 million cases imported each year. $7

• Chateau Ste. Michelle Columbia Valley Chardonnay. Washington’s biggest winery; pineapple, grapefruit, spice. 521,000 cases made in 2008. $13

• Bogle Petite Sirah. Bogel is one of the best commodity makers; Petite Sirah is what Bogel does best. Inky purple, full in the mouth, great black fruit, voluptuous finish. 100,000-plus cases each year. California. $12