As a wine importer and retailer, I get a lot of pitches for different wines. Mostly, the come-ons talk about the grapes, the winemakers’ family and winemaking history and the winery settings, then secondarily about the soil conditions, and the way the wines are made.
That’s a pretty standard approach. Customers want to know what grapes are in the wines and where they’re made. After that, most of us wine merchants are selling stories. People these days are more conscious of wine as a (mostly) handcrafted agricultural product. And the same way customers like to meet the farmers who grow their heirloom tomatoes, they like knowing something about the people who make the wine they drink, too.
But this week I got two pitches for wines marketed exclusively by their non-traditional names and labels, not by the contents of the bottle or the people who make them. I rarely get things like that. Perhaps the PR people have looked at the first vine website and decided that they’re not for me. Other than a packet of info about Hello Kitty wine (which I’d buy in a heartbeat if it weren’t so expensive), I can’t remember the last time I got hit up to buy what might be called novelty wine.
I’m calling them “novelty” because they’re really about the packaging first and the wine second (and a distant second). People who drink them and display the bottles on their tables will be making a statement about themselves. That’s what some people who drink nothing but Kristal do too, so it’s nothing new. But I suspect that many of you will feel, as I do, that these really miss the mark.
The first was a wine from Green Griffin International, a company that markets wines from several producers under the line that “French wine does not have to be old-fashioned or expensive to be obtainable or enjoyable.” An excellent thought, and something first vine believes in, too.
And then I saw this label on one of the bottles.
The winemaker, René-Hugues Gay, has an estate, Domaine de la Renière, that has been in the family since 1536. The winery dates from 1631. You can see one of his older bottles below. Green Griffin is marketing two of M. Gay’s wines, The Alliance Gay – Chenin Dry 2010 and The Red Hot Gay – Cabernet Franc 2010, with a specific purpose. According to the promo materials:
With the legalization of gay marriage in many parts of the world, the gay pride community is not to be ignored. Here we offer very high quality wines with packaging tailored specifically for this population. Perfect for nightclubs, bars & restaurants! …Tradition still has its place, but now someone needs to be “selection sensitive” to different consumers’ wants and needs. Finally we’re here!
As a gay man, I just wanted to give the rep a hug and say “Oh no, you poor dear, don’t you have any gay friends?” When I was a young-ish gay, back in the late 80s and through the early 90s, I’d probably have welcomed the affirmation and given bottles out to everyone I knew. But both the gay rights movement and I are older now, and it makes me cringe a little. I can’t think of many restaurants that would want a bottle with this label sitting out on a table for everyone to see, no matter how it tastes.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m actually happy that a wine company thinks that marketing to gays is a good thing. But the marriage part of the pitch is disheartening. I hate to get on my soapbox to say it, but I guess I have to, because someone clearly doesn’t get it. “Gay marriage” is much more about marriage and less about gay, at least for Cy and me and, I believe, for our friends in same-sex marriages. Not that I think Green Griffin is trying to belittle the civil rights aspect of gay marriage, but no gay person I know would buy this for a wedding. Epic fail.
The second one arrived in an e-mail this morning. According to the pitch:
Happy Bitch, a lifestyle brand created by Keryl Pesce and Debbie Gioquindo, started as a tome written by Pesce entitled “Happy Bitch: The Girlfriend’s Straight Up Guide to Losing the Baggage and Finding the Fun, Fabulous You Inside”… Happy Bitch Wines will deliver more than a great tasting wine. Happy Bitch Wines is not just about wine, it’s about lifestyle. Our image will be one of living life to the fullest starting right now, enjoying every moment, and choosing happiness as a way of life.
I can’t speak to this personally, but I’m thinking again it would be a hard sell for restaurants and even casual bars to have a bottle of this wine sitting on a table. I get the idea of taking control of a word that people use pejoratively. But this wine strikes me as just an accessory to go along with the Happy Bitch tiaras and t-shirts. And we all know that matchy-matchy is a no-no for anyone over eight years old, right?
I guess in the end what bothers me about these two wines is that they make me wonder if even the target demographic might want to convey the impression that he or she cares at least a little bit more about what’s in the bottle than these wines would make it appear. In other words, I’d like to think that even an über-gay or the happiest of bitches (and you know who you are…) might want to be seen drinking something known as much for what’s inside the bottle as outside.
Some of you may be thinking of me as a curmudgeon by now, and it’s probably futile for me to try to defend myself on that front. But I think wine is fun, and humor is part of that. Think of Goats do Roam, Seven Deadly Zins, and even Conundrum (since that’s what wine is to a lot of people). Maybe they’re a little on the egghead side, but I’m sure there’s a way to market the fun aspects of wine without losing sight of the wine itself.
Whoever comes up with it will be rich, and rightfully so.
The tasting where I tried the gay wine was held at a restaurant that also served us lunch. This is my version of the appetizer salad that we were served, topped by scallops and hazelnuts. My recipe is inspired by one from Mark Bittman. You could also try it with almonds or walnuts. If you can’t find hazelnut oil to dress the salad greens, just use more olive oil instead. You can add any other salad vegetable to the greens that you like, too.
The keys to cooking scallops well are to make sure they’re very dry when they hit the pan and don’t overcook them. Not only do you need to dry the scallops with paper towels, but you should put them between layers of paper towels and press down on them a bit to dry them. Salt and pepper them right before you put them in the pan. And I like my scallops a little translucent in the center, so I usually cook them less than two minutes per side. The pan has to be really hot – the butter should stop foaming but not yet brown, and it’s easier to see this in a regular skillet rather than a non-stick one.
Serve the scallops with Domaine la Croix des Marchands Fraîcheur Perlée ($12), a white wine from Gaillac. It’s a mixture of Mauzac, Muscadelle, and Loin de L’oeil, all local grapes. Loin de L’oeil has a slightly nutty flavor to it, and it gets picked up by the nuts in the dish. The wine is crisp and rich at the same time. Perfect for the warm weather we’re having. And I think you’ll be happy to have the bottle on the table, no matter where you are!
Serves 4 as an appetizer
16 sea scallops, tough hinge muscle removed
Salt and freshly-ground black pepper
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
2 tablespoons butter
¼ cup roughly chopped hazelnuts
1 small shallot, finely minced
2/3 cup dry white wine
1 tablespoon champagne or white wine vinegar
1 tablespoon hazelnut oil
5 – 6 ounces mixed salad greens
Line a large plate with at least two layers of paper towels. Place the scallops on the towels, allowing some room between them. Cover with more paper towels, and press down lightly to release liquid from the scallops. Heat one tablespoon of the olive oil with the butter over medium-high heat in a skillet that will hold the scallops in a single layer without touching each other. (If you don’t have a skillet that big, cook the scallops in two batches, using fresh oil and butter for the second batch).
While the butter is foaming, remove the top paper towels from the scallops and season them with salt and pepper. When the foaming stops, but before the butter begins to brown, put the scallops in the skillet, seasoned side down. Season the top side. Cook for 2 minutes, the scallops should be brown on the bottom. Turn them and cook for 2 more minutes, basting once with a little of the butter and oil in the skillet. Take the scallops out of the skillet and let them rest on a plate.
While the scallops are cooking, mix up a dressing of the vinegar, the hazelnut oil, and 2 tablespoons of olive oil with some salt and pepper. Dress the greens and distribute them on four plates.
Once the scallops are cooked, add the hazelnuts to the skillet and cook for a minute to brown them slightly. Add the shallot and cook for 30 seconds, then add the wine and cook until it reduces nearly to a syrup, 4 to 5 minutes.
Place four scallops on the greens on each plate. Top with the sauce and serve immediately.