ah, the scent of wet cement on a late winter afternoon!

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Two wines arrived for sampling last week that sported packages so unusual that they caught my eye. They seemed to indicate that the new trends in wine packaging are willing to reach farther and farther afield simply to make a style point.

The photo posted here is of a bottle of Mer Soleil 2010 Silver “Unoaked” Chardonnay. Produced by Wagner Family Wines, it’s a thick, solid, pewter gray ceramic bottle. It has been sealed with a cork, with a spiked ceramic plug that punches down through the cork and provides a matching “cap.” (Note to self… don’t misplace the spiky thing and let the dog find it; it could be a choke hazard).

The ceramic bottle is rather heavy, and a non-standard size, which certainly will create some problems for anyone shipping, stocking or displaying it. The Unoaked Chardonnay was fermented and aged in small cement wine tanks, the winery explains, and so, they add, “we’re celebrating this process with a new ceramic bottle and cork finish.”

Celebration aside, I tasted the wine along with its companion, another Mer Soleil Chardonnay, this from 2009. Happily, this was bottled in standard glass, with a colorful paper label reading “barrel fermented.” I briefly wondered why they hadn’t continued the series by bottling it in a tiny oak barrel, which would make for a nice set. In any event, it was far and away the better wine, with lively pineapple/grapefruit flavors and a finishing streak of caramel and butter.

The ceramic wine was rather light and unexpressive. Its tasting note described it in this way: “Cement tank fermentation and aging bring out aromas remindful of the first rain of the season or a wet rock.” And I would have to agree. It had aromas of wet rock, cement, and possibly the first rain of the season, but more accurately the first beer of the season, poured over the rock. Nothing wrong with any of that, but I’m not entirely sure I want to drink chardonnay that tastes like cement, at any season of the year.

The bottle scrubbed clean rather easily and will make a lovely flower vase, which we’ll fill from Mrs. G’s garden following – all together now – the first rain of the season.

Package number two came from Canada, and was a half bottle of a Merlot Icewine called Journey of Hope, from the Ex Nihilo winery. The wine retails for $145, which may explain why it is a Journey of Hope. The bottle had no paper label, but was entirely silkscreened (?) with a swoozy painting of naked men and women emerging from swirling clouds.

Here too an explanation was offered. The wine is “an artistic collaboration between Ex Nihilo Vineyards... and Maestro Igor Babailov, one of the most sought after artists today, honored as the ‘Living Master’ by his contemporaries and world renowned for his Inspiration Series of paintings. The Journey of Hope Inspiration Series painting by Igor Babailov was created in the Grisaille painting technique, historically made famous by the Old Masters.”

Well, there was more – a lot more – but once I reached those historical Old Masters and their Grisaille technique I was launched on a Wikipedantic research mission from which I still have not recovered. I would have posted a picture of this label, with its bodacious babe-age, but this is a family-oriented blog and I thought it best to stick with ceramics for today.


Jim Bernau said...

Have noticed that vines rooted in shallow soils subject to significant drought stress can result in the aroma of wet rock or cement.

Anonymous said...

I hate bottles that are different just for the sake of being different and don't fit in any standard rack (or box). I'm to the point where a wine has to be MIGHTY good for me to buy it if it has a weird sized bottle.

Chris Wallace said...

$145 for a 375 of wine from BC? Come on! Nothing against BC (it's where I live) but since nothing else I have tasted from here is anywhere near that price, I simply cannot see any justification. But....did you taste the wine? Is it worth it?

Peter Rosback said...

Having some fun today, aren't we, Paul! Barrel-fermented Chard bottled in a little oak barrel....you should be ashamed...

PaulG said...

Ashamed? Moi! Je ne pense pas. I will have a full review of the ice wine via the Wine Enthusiast. But let's just say it did not quite live up to the hype.

Ron Washam, HMW said...

Hasn't Lancer's been doing this same thing since the 70's, or even earlier?

So much of what happens at Mer et Soleil is a crock, the bottle seems completely apropos.

Anonymous said...

Its funny you bring up the mer soleil ceramic bottled chardonnay. I tasted it with the wagner representative the other day at a distributor tasting and made a comment about it not being a fan of the package. His eyebrows went up in shock and said, "why do you say that?" I explained it seemed tacky and trying too hard to be different for an unoaked chardonnay. I went on to explain, my customers will more then likely see right through it. He replied by stating it was doing great with sales and that I was the youngest person to ever criticize it (I'm 24 and look 18). It really really pissed him off to the point where he would barely talk to me while he poured me the rest of his wines.

Thought it was very telling of their whole attitude toward everyone who's not wagner wine worshipper and just reaffirmed my whole opinion of their operation.

Maria Jette said...

I came here via trolling the web for info about this ceramic bottle, and really enjoyed your piece-- and your comment, young Anonymous!I've just emailed Mer Soleil wondering about the recyclability of this big heavy thing-- I'd seen it in a few stores, thought "Lancer's!" like you, Ron W., and passed it by with the assumption that anything in such a strange bottle must be a pretty desperate product. A friend brought a bottle to our house last night, though, so now I'm stuck with the empty, wondering what to do with it. Feh. Not an impressive wine, either-- I thought it tasted a little cooked.

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