Mass produced wine vs boutique ones - Newbie Question

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RamSeshan
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Mass produced wine vs boutique ones - Newbie Question

#1 Post by RamSeshan » November 18th, 2014, 7:27 am

Hello All,

I'm a newbie to the world of wine and I have just started to appreciate wine more seriously, learn more about the subject and have a question on Mass produced wines vs. the boutique wines. The general understanding It appears that most of the wines that are > $15 are mass produced and do not have all the good characteristics properly pronounced however I have had some good wines that I liked in that category. I'd appreciate your thoughts on the same.

1. Are mass produced wines inferior in quality or is it just not made with all the attention and care the so called boutique wines receives?
2. Is there a significant difference in quality in a wine aged in Oak barrel vs the wine aged in steel tanks with Oak chips / liners and other added flavorings?

Thanks much,
Ram
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#2 Post by Brian Tuite » November 18th, 2014, 7:36 am

My take is that smaller producers wines tend to show a sense of place since most of their fruit will come from specific vineyards or blocks within those vineyards. Once production becomes huge the fruit will be coming from multiple source and that vineyard specific vineyard/clonal trait is lost. Of course this only applies to single variety wines. Blends are another discussion.

When it comes to barrels vs chips I think the winemaker loses control over the final product unless he is able to barrel age and control the final blend of barrels based on age of the oak used in each. Simplistic view but I feel it is true.

There is a place for both of them in my cellar though.

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#3 Post by RamSeshan » November 18th, 2014, 8:19 am

Thanks Brian. Can you please provide some examples that I can try out to distinguish the differences? Also some pointers will be helpful. I recently tried the Cabernet Sauvignon from two sources; 2012 Beringer founders estate Cabernet Sauvignon ($12), which I think Mass produced and 2005 Cab from Sterling Vineyards in NAPA ($90). I may not yet appreciate all the subtle differences but over all, I liked both. The 2005 Cab seemed to taste a bit better but that could also be the "Price effect" !!
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#4 Post by Paul Luckin » November 18th, 2014, 8:28 am

RamSeshan wrote:Thanks Brian. Can you please provide some examples that I can try out to distinguish the differences? Also some pointers will be helpful. I recently tried the Cabernet Sauvignon from two sources; 2012 Beringer founders estate Cabernet Sauvignon ($12), which I think Mass produced and 2005 Cab from Sterling Vineyards in NAPA ($90). I may not yet appreciate all the subtle differences but over all, I liked both. The 2005 Cab seemed to taste a bit better but that could also be the "Price effect" !!
price aside, you've two wines here that are 8 years apart in vintage. that will make a huge difference in how the wine shows. with [presumably] six plus years in bottle, the '05 will have had more time for the tannins to resolve, for the wine to mature, etc. the '12 can still be considered "young" by most CS standards.

for me, there's a distinction between "mass produced" wines and "high production" wines. for example, if a producer is making 50,000 cases of a particular wine, where the total production is close to 1M cases, i'd put that in the former category. by comparison, if a winery is making 4,000 cases total and one of their selections is close to 800 of that, i'd put it in the latter. both can still be satisfying and pleasurable wines, where your palate will be the deciding factor.

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#5 Post by Brian Tuite » November 18th, 2014, 8:48 am

Ram, try this basic comparison of 3 Gallo owned wines with different approaches.

Barefoot Cabernet Sauvignon - Mass produced, bottle after bottle, vintage after vintage no change. A factory wine so to speak.
Louis Martini Sonoma County Cabernet Sauvignon - Appellation blend will vary with vintage but retain a stylistic sameness.
Louis Martini Monte Rosso Cabernet Sauvignon - Still Sonoma County, smaller production and vineyard specific qualities will make it unique to it's place and will show vintage variations.

Small/boutique producers are a completely different set of comparisons.
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#6 Post by Corey N. » November 18th, 2014, 9:01 am

Brian Tuite wrote:When it comes to barrels vs chips I think the winemaker loses control over the final product unless he is able to barrel age and control the final blend of barrels based on age of the oak used in each. Simplistic view but I feel it is true.
If wine gets certain flavors/textures from oak, why would it make a difference whether it was from an oak barrel or an oak chip? Why couldn't you re-use an oak chip? And to the extent that there are flavor differences, is this simply due to the fact that "better" oak goes into barrels since they are a premium product? I realize that barrels also breathe, but can't this be replicated through micro-oxygenation?

I think there's a certain romanticism around barrels, I'm just not convinced that it's necessarily better any more than I'm convinced that cork is better than a Stelvin closure.
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#7 Post by RamSeshan » November 18th, 2014, 9:08 am

Thanks Paul. Appreciate the insights.
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#8 Post by RamSeshan » November 18th, 2014, 9:09 am

Brian Tuite wrote:Ram, try this basic comparison of 3 Gallo owned wines with different approaches.

Barefoot Cabernet Sauvignon - Mass produced, bottle after bottle, vintage after vintage no change. A factory wine so to speak.
Louis Martini Sonoma County Cabernet Sauvignon - Appellation blend will vary with vintage but retain a stylistic sameness.
Louis Martini Monte Rosso Cabernet Sauvignon - Still Sonoma County, smaller production and vineyard specific qualities will make it unique to it's place and will show vintage variations.

Small/boutique producers are a completely different set of comparisons.
Thanks much Brain - I'm looking forward to try out your recommendations. Appreciate the guidance.
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#9 Post by Brian Tuite » November 18th, 2014, 9:19 am

Corey N. wrote:
Brian Tuite wrote:When it comes to barrels vs chips I think the winemaker loses control over the final product unless he is able to barrel age and control the final blend of barrels based on age of the oak used in each. Simplistic view but I feel it is true.
If wine gets certain flavors/textures from oak, why would it make a difference whether it was from an oak barrel or an oak chip? Why couldn't you re-use an oak chip? And to the extent that there are flavor differences, is this simply due to the fact that "better" oak goes into barrels since they are a premium product? I realize that barrels also breathe, but can't this be replicated through micro-oxygenation?

I think there's a certain romanticism around barrels, I'm just not convinced that it's necessarily better any more than I'm convinced that cork is better than a Stelvin closure.
How would one be able to do a wine with, say, 40% new French oak by putting chips in a tank? Do chips come from Francois Freres with medium toast? Can a Reserve wine be made from tank and not barrel? "We produced a wine from only the best select tanks." Seeing that tanks can last indefinitely and barrels change from year to year until they become unusable I don't think it's about romance or all wine would be aged in tanks with oak chips since in the long run it is more cost effective.
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#10 Post by Corey N. » November 18th, 2014, 9:43 am

Brian Tuite wrote: How would one be able to do a wine with, say, 40% new French oak by putting chips in a tank? Do chips come from Francois Freres with medium toast? Can a Reserve wine be made from tank and not barrel? "We produced a wine from only the best select tanks." Seeing that tanks can last indefinitely and barrels change from year to year until they become unusable I don't think it's about romance or all wine would be aged in tanks with oak chips since in the long run it is more cost effective.
Theoretically, why couldn't Francois Freres (or any reputable cooperage) make oak chips and/or toast them to specification? I'm not suggesting that oak chips currently in the market today are the equal of the finest barrels in the world (and of course, not every producer uses the most expensive barrels ether), but I am suggesting that there's no reason that a chip can't impart a similar flavor/texture profile as a barrel.

As to your question about tanks, I don't know why it would make a difference whether a Reserve wine was produced from a tank. The key is the quality of wine, not what type of vessel it was produced in, no?
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#11 Post by ericleehall » November 18th, 2014, 11:16 am

It's not just about the flavors that Oak imparts, a barrel has it's sort of "Ecology" that adds a lot more to a wine than merely Oak flavorings.
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#12 Post by Brian Tuite » November 18th, 2014, 12:45 pm

Corey N. wrote:
Brian Tuite wrote:
As to your question about tanks, I don't know why it would make a difference whether a Reserve wine was produced from a tank. The key is the quality of wine, not what type of vessel it was produced in, no?
Let's say the winemaker had 28 barrels of a particular wine and he selects the best 5-6 barrels to be his reserve wine and the others to be his std bottling. How is this possible if all the wine is in one 1,500 gal tank?
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#13 Post by Corey N. » November 18th, 2014, 12:51 pm

Brian Tuite wrote:
Corey N. wrote:
Brian Tuite wrote:
As to your question about tanks, I don't know why it would make a difference whether a Reserve wine was produced from a tank. The key is the quality of wine, not what type of vessel it was produced in, no?
Let's say the winemaker had 28 barrels of a particular wine and he selects the best 5-6 barrels to be his reserve wine and the others to be his std bottling. How is this possible if all the wine is in one 1,500 gal tank?
Do you realize that stainless steel barrels are made in the size of a typical* wine barrel?

* - As I'm sure you realize, wine barrels vary in size a bit. For example, typically Barolo barrel > Bordeaux barrel.
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#14 Post by Brian Tuite » November 18th, 2014, 1:17 pm

Corey N. wrote:
Do you realize that stainless steel barrels are made in the size of a typical* wine barrel?
[swoon.gif] Well you got me there. Pass the oak chips please. rolleyes
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#15 Post by Corey N. » November 18th, 2014, 1:19 pm

Not my point at all, but I suppose dealing in the realm of the theoretical is lost on you.
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#16 Post by Brian Tuite » November 18th, 2014, 1:32 pm

Corey N. wrote:Not my point at all, but I suppose dealing in the realm of the theoretical is lost on you.
On Paper the 49ers should have the best record in the NFC. Unfortunately for them they actually have to play the games. I see you have your mind set on SS being the same if not better than oak barrels. We can agree to disagree but I don't want to argue over it. I let the winemakers play the games instead. The winner will be revealed at the end of the vintage.
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#17 Post by Corey N. » November 18th, 2014, 1:37 pm

Brian, I really don't want to argue either, but for clarification, I didn't say stainless was better. I merely mused whether barrels are necessarily better than chips. Many things that people accept as conventional wisdom (e.g., travel shock, storing wine at 55 degrees, not opening a bottle on a root day, etc.), I think it makes sense to question.

That's the alpha and omega of my post. Nothing more.
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#18 Post by Brian Tuite » November 18th, 2014, 3:30 pm

My motto: If it ain't broke, don't fix it or you will end up f*cking it up permanently.
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#19 Post by Merrill Lindquist » November 18th, 2014, 5:52 pm

Oak barrels are indeed very, very interesting.

For my 2005 vintage, I purchased 3 new French oak barrels from the cooper Marchive. Same toast, came in the same day, put on the same pressed juice at the same time. From the very first time I tasted from these 3 barrels, the wine it was housing was different. I have used those barrels again for successive vintages, and each time, the same thing is true: the wine is different in flavor and texture from each of those barrels. A barrel is unique. I can't explain it, but I know it to be true.
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#20 Post by RamSeshan » November 19th, 2014, 6:38 am

This is all great conversions and thoughts. I get why wine appreciation is so subjective and unique to individuals and generalizations often tend to be inaccurate. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.
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#21 Post by Matthew Brown » November 19th, 2014, 10:56 am

Brian Tuite wrote:
Corey N. wrote:Not my point at all, but I suppose dealing in the realm of the theoretical is lost on you.
On Paper the 49ers should have the best record in the NFC. Unfortunately for them they actually have to play the games. I see you have your mind set on SS being the same if not better than oak barrels. We can agree to disagree but I don't want to argue over it. I let the winemakers play the games instead. The winner will be revealed at the end of the vintage.
Pay Corey no mind, he's gets grouchy and argumentative during the international breaks for soccer. I should know, that's me in his avatar.... [cheers.gif]

On topic though, he does bring up discussions I've had with some friends about where the romance ends and science begins w/r/t barrels, and even terroir. I do believe that there is something much more beneficial and qualitatively superior to aging in barrels vs chips or staves. Even older barrels that aren't imparting new oak flavors provide a different environment than tanks, it's a texture thing, though I will say wineries that can employ gravity flow transportation from tank to tank can approach that as well. Chips and staves are just adding the oak flavor without actually doing anything to the fermentation or aging process, usually on the cheap. My analogy is when you compare a beer using real fruit, cocoa, or vanilla bean versus extracts and artificial flavors.
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#22 Post by Corey N. » November 19th, 2014, 11:13 am

Matty,

To be clear:
(1) I am grouchy; and
(2) I don't suggest chips are better. However, I think the attitude "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" stifles innovation. And even if chips are not "as good" how much better are barrels and is the extra expense of barrels worth the expense to winemakers/consumers? Bud Light and Budweiser are aged using beechwood chips. While it's not a beer I drink, they are the #1 and #2 best selling beers in America. Of course mass acceptance doesn't mean "better", but perhaps chips have more merit than wine snobs (and yes, I include myself in this group) are willing to admit.

FWIW, I've tasted the identical wine made with chips and barrels double blind and I liked the barrel version better. Of course, this is merely one data point and it says nothing about the quality of the barrel or the chip.
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#23 Post by Matthew Brown » November 19th, 2014, 12:18 pm

Corey N. wrote:Matty,

To be clear:
(1) I am grouchy; and
(2) I don't suggest chips are better. However, I think the attitude "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" stifles innovation. And even if chips are not "as good" how much better are barrels and is the extra expense of barrels worth the expense to winemakers/consumers? Bud Light and Budweiser are aged using beechwood chips. While it's not a beer I drink, they are the #1 and #2 best selling beers in America. Of course mass acceptance doesn't mean "better", but perhaps chips have more merit than wine snobs (and yes, I include myself in this group) are willing to admit.

FWIW, I've tasted the identical wine made with chips and barrels double blind and I liked the barrel version better. Of course, this is merely one data point and it says nothing about the quality of the barrel or the chip.
Chipping in beer is different than chipping in wine, and I was thinking about answering this in the last post. I don't think there is any pretense in beer to try and get texture from the chips. In wine they are trying to mimic the flavor of barrel aging as cheaply as possible, which is why they leave Chardonnay sweeter on the cheap ones to mimic weight and aggressively malo them; it's a smooth character found in great Chardonnay trying to be found with as little effort as possible.

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#24 Post by Ian Sutton » November 19th, 2014, 12:18 pm

In response to question 1. Are mass produced wines inferior in quality or is it just not made with all the attention and care the so called boutique wines receives?

We'd like to say yes, as it's the answer we want it to be. However like so many other questions, the answer is: it depends / it varies.

Wines such as Wynns Black label Cabernet Sauvignon from Coonawarra Australia is a great example of a big company wine that has delivered a great star for the cellar year in, year out. The price remains a bargain IMO There are also some boutique wineries where there are serious issues, or intransigent attitudes that can make the wines difficult to love. Big wineries can pay big bucks - I know of one winemaker who went from running a winery in Hungary to directing the trucks of grapes for Montana (or whatever they are called now). Extending this on, the big wineries can pay top dollar for the winemakers they think are at the top of their game. The smaller wineries can't do this but many take advice from famous consultants. Either way, that highly skilled winemaker may get stretched very thin and have less oversight of the wines than you'd imagine

However on balance, I have to say that I am slightly happier with a boutique wine than a big company one. Partly this is my soul having it's say, but partly because a boutique can often follow it's dream without the bean-counters (or much worse - 'brand managers') constraining the ambition/bravery. They're nicer to visit, and often just plain friendlier. One or two big wineries believe their own hype and sit fat, dumb and happy on a reputation earned years ago, that no longer justifies it.

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#25 Post by Corey N. » November 19th, 2014, 1:41 pm

Matthew Brown wrote: Chipping in beer is different than chipping in wine, and I was thinking about answering this in the last post. I don't think there is any pretense in beer to try and get texture from the chips. In wine they are trying to mimic the flavor of barrel aging as cheaply as possible, which is why they leave Chardonnay sweeter on the cheap ones to mimic weight and aggressively malo them; it's a smooth character found in great Chardonnay trying to be found with as little effort as possible.

Saturday can't get here soon enough, eh buddy?
Matty,

I totes get that it's not the same. Just trying to provide an example of chips being used on a mass scale and accepted by consumers.

And yeah, Saturday seems to very far away. Big game and not terribly confident. I hate Wenger.
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#26 Post by Matthew Brown » November 19th, 2014, 2:09 pm

I do think there are wines produced on a large scale (let's say 30,000+ case per bottling) that are done the right way, so size of production isn't of itself a definition of quality. "Mass produced" to me is defined by cutting corners for a desired appeal (I'm thinking of this mostly from the Chardonnay standpoint, as I think this is where most of the chipping occurs) to the least common denominator; oak chips in wine, dry ribs smothered in BBQ sauce, One Direction [wink.gif] I feel like a lot of wineries are dishonest when they describe their wines as 'oaky' and don't come out and say they are using oak chips or staves; they are saying "Look at our wine, we can use the same descriptors for our $9 wine that so-and-so does for their $20 wine, so you get the same experience for less!" Most people don't care, of course, but it does make it harder for those new to wine to understand what there is to loose or gain from trying nicer bottles of the same varieties.
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#27 Post by PeterJ » November 24th, 2014, 5:25 pm

Merrill Lindquist wrote:Oak barrels are indeed very, very interesting.

For my 2005 vintage, I purchased 3 new French oak barrels from the cooper Marchive. Same toast, came in the same day, put on the same pressed juice at the same time. From the very first time I tasted from these 3 barrels, the wine it was housing was different. I have used those barrels again for successive vintages, and each time, the same thing is true: the wine is different in flavor and texture from each of those barrels. A barrel is unique. I can't explain it, but I know it to be true.
A serious question: were you advised if all three barrels were made with wood from the same tree or at least from trees grown close to each other? I'd think soil conditions, etc., would affect things. Sortof like oak tree terroir. ;o)
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#28 Post by Merrill Lindquist » December 5th, 2014, 1:41 pm

PeterJ wrote:
Merrill Lindquist wrote:Oak barrels are indeed very, very interesting.

For my 2005 vintage, I purchased 3 new French oak barrels from the cooper Marchive. Same toast, came in the same day, put on the same pressed juice at the same time. From the very first time I tasted from these 3 barrels, the wine it was housing was different. I have used those barrels again for successive vintages, and each time, the same thing is true: the wine is different in flavor and texture from each of those barrels. A barrel is unique. I can't explain it, but I know it to be true.
A serious question: were you advised if all three barrels were made with wood from the same tree or at least from trees grown close to each other? I'd think soil conditions, etc., would affect things. Sortof like oak tree terroir. ;o)
Sorry - I rarely look at this section of the Board. No, I have no idea about the origin of those 3 barrels. I don't slice it and dice it that small. And, actually, I never buy 3 new barrels from any one cooper in any vintage - just that time when I had a huge bump in production. But that experience with those 3 barrels is unquestionable.
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