Commodity wines 2 of 6

Starting in the 1970s and really taking off in past quarter century, wine became a beverage enjoyed by all levels of American society.

Today, in a development unimaginable a few decades earlier, U.S. wine and beer consumption are roughly equal. In 2005, wine consumption actually exceeded beer.

“Commodity wines”—those made in wine factories to achieve a specific flavor profile at an affordable price—are major reason. Wine snobs disdain such offerings, but in most cases commodity wines are how snobs started their wine adventure, and they don’t hesitate to buy and pour such wines when they host a large party.

Traditional wine makers consider themselves stewards of a specific place and strive to shepherd each year’s harvest to achieve best possible expression of their vineyard that year. In contrast, commodity wine makers strive to build a predictable brand and sell, sell, sell.

Commodity producers focus on most popular varietals: Chardonnay, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah/Shiraz, Pinot Noir, Zinfandel, Pinot Gris/Grigio, maybe a few others. Makers often attempt to produce bottles of most or all of these—their genuflection to mass distributors—but in many cases they do better in some categories, not as well in others.

Trick: buy producer’s best product, which drives recommendations this week.

Recommended Chardonnay from big makers:

• Smoking Loon Chardonnay. Major butter and oak play. $10

• Kendall Jackson Vintner’s Reserve Chardonnay. What KJ does best. Tropical fruits, green apples and pears; toasted oak. $13

• Bogel Chadonnay. Bogel’s best is Petite Sirah, but their Chard is likeable and avoids over-oaking common in commodity California Chards. $11

• J. Lohr Estates Riverstone Chardonnay. Smooth, oak, vanilla, and butter you expect from classic California Chard. $13

• Louis Jadot Pouilly Fuissé. Hint of banana, reserved oak. Pouilly Fuisse is region in Burgundy, not a grape; wine is 100% Chardonnay. Louis Jadot is world’s largest producer of Pouilly Fuisse. France. $27