Commodity wines 4 of 6

The marketing masterstroke of naming wines by the grape from which they are made is a major reason for today’s wine boom.

No surprise, commodity wine producers populate their product line with the best known varietals—Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Shiraz and a few others. All well and good, but that also makes for a crowded field with lots of competition. How does a commodity maker—a winery focused on high production and low pricing—break through clutter to capture customers?

One answer has been leaning on lesser-known varietals: Gewurztraminer for spicy, aromatic white that goes with trendy Pacific Rim cuisine; to make it easier, some maker’s shorten to Gewurz. Carminere when it got its chance in Chile. Malbec when it made most of its moment in Argentina. Sangiovese, because “blood of Jove” appears more cultish than Chianti. Tempranillo because it tests better when English speakers find it on a Spanish label.

Making a customer comfortable is first step in building a brand, and consumer wine makers are consumed with building brands. Putting a varietal grape name on the bottle, even if there are foreign language words, too, makes selling easier in America. Commodity makers worship at the altar of sales. Idolatry, maybe, but makes for a lot of acceptable, low-to-moderate price wines.

This week’s recommendations are examples:

• Alexander Valley New Gewurz. Peachy, distinct nose, full bodied. California commodity version of France’s Alsatian classic. $10

• Santa Alicia Reserve Malbec. Major Chilean maker’s deeply colored, medium bodied, plummy pleaser. $10

• Luna Sangiovese. Berries, brisk acidity in nice fruit bomb that carries its 14.9% alcohol well; made by Sangiovese pioneers in Napa. $10

• Marques de Riscal Tempranillo. Black cherries, dark fruit, smoky notes, polished tannins. Major Spanish maker. $10

• Concha y Toro Casillero del Diablo Carmenere. Latin America’s biggest maker hypes with “cellar of the devil” label on a breakout varietal. Fruity, chocolate, coffee. $11

• Trapiche Mendoza Oak Cask Malbec. From Argentina’s largest producer: dense, full fruit; smoke and vanilla. $11