Mass produced wine vs boutique ones - Newbie Question

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,

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.

BTW, welcome to Wine Berserkers. I look forward to watching your wine appreciation evolve.

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.

welcome to WB - keep the questions coming. [cheers.gif]

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.

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.

Thanks Paul. Appreciate the insights.

Thanks much Brain - I’m looking forward to try out your recommendations. Appreciate the guidance.

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?

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.

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.

[swoon.gif] Well you got me there. Pass the oak chips please. rolleyes

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.

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.

My motto: If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it or you will end up f*cking it up permanently.

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.

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.