Mollydooker were kind to send me an entire case of press samples earlier this year; I finally got around to sharing and discussing them with a bunch of mates last Saturday night. Sadly, though, I don’t have anything particularly good to say about them other than that I’m grateful that they sent press samples. I’m sure that even Alder Yarrow would agree that they did it right: they sent the wines, offered literature, and tactfully didn’t offer up any more than that.
As a result of last Saturday night, I’ll go about all of this entirely wrong and discuss one of the two wines that I purchased with my own money last Saturday afternoon, shortly before the tasting. I went to two shops in San Diego hoping to find a bottle of the Mollydooker ‘The Scooter’ merlot, a wine that I’d bought in the past and enjoyed well enough. Instead, I bought two bottles from their 2009 vintage: a ‘Two Left Feet’ shiraz-cabernet-merlot (which meant we could do a 2007-2008-2009 vertical of that wine) and this bottle, a 2009 cabernet sauvignon. This is the second time I’d purchased wines in their 2nd tier; I’d bought a bottle of Blue-Eyed Boy shiraz a couple of years back for a friend’s 39th birthday party and thought that bottle was pretty fab at $50. In the meantime, though, the Australian dollar has strengthened – and oddly enough the Mollydooker wines in this range have become ever so slightly less expensive at $45 or so a bottle. (For comparison, a cleanskin Napa cabernet from one of the more prestigious AVAs in the district comes in at about $20, Bordeaux is about $25 for something very good indeed, high end Washington state cabernet is perhaps $50 (what I paid for Cayuse Camaspelo last year), and the Ridge Monte Bello is $80 on futures.) In short, this wine is priced fairly highly, at least in terms of my wallet and other wines. Of course, though, I’m hardly the target market for this wine (or winery).
At the wine shop last Saturday, I overheard a typical conversation between a clerk and two customers (who had arrived shortly before I had; they were driving a Porsche Cayenne SUV). They’d apparently stopped in to buy a case of Rombauer chardonnay, which is a $30 wine from Carneros, a relatively cool California winegrowing area just down from Napa. The clerk gently offered assistance with perhaps trying something new; he mentioned that they had some terrific white Burgundy in stock at clearance prices (and he wasn’t kidding; they had some gorgeous Pouilly-Fuissé, Meursault, and even Puligny-Montrachet at prices equal to or much lower than the Rombauer). The woman gave him a slight smile, and chirped “Well, we do like our points!”Our points. In short, very American. But I digress.
Before I get on to the wine itself, let’s just have a quick discussion of the marketing. There was exactly one single bottle available of this wine at the wine shop in San Diego. The sign above it said something along the lines of “Hurry up and buy this before the point scores are released!” (They were released last month – a somewhat anemic 90 from the Wine Spectator, I believe.)
The winery have taken it upon themselves to register more domain names than I thought could ever be necessary for a single winery; apparently, there’s a single domain name for each individual wine they produce. In this case, we have gigglepotcabernet.com; its primary feature is a YouTube video. I won’t transcribe it for you, but I’ll give you the talking points; it features the winery owners themselves discussing this wine. Here’s the gist of what they have to say:
- This wine is named after their daughter Holly
- This wine is “amazing” and they’d probably have to say that it’s their favorite wine this year
- This is a “step up” with “Marquis Fruit Weight™” of “80%”
- Complex, long, beautiful example of what they can do with cabernet
- The fruit from this comes from two of their friends’ vineyards in Langhorne Creek and McLaren Vale
- They didn’t make any of this in 2008, and only 127 cases in 2007, so the supply has been very low and there’s gonna be a lot of demand when they release it
In short, this is for me a dramatic departure from the kind of things I’d like to know about wine before buying it: there’s no discussion of how it was grown, where exactly it came from, no real mention of taste descriptors (other than that it has “lift and character”), no talk of how it was made (oak, yeast, organic, nothing technical). Instead, you get two lovely Australians telling you about their family, mention of a trademarked marketing term that is – how to put this gently – is essentially bullshit, more marketing about how you should “step up” to a more expensive wine, a reference to their winemaking skills as being the relevant thing here (much along the lines of how any wine that, say, Heidi Barrett has touched must be a good wine, placing the locus of wine quality in a person and not in the landscape), and finally a lot of talk about how, well, there isn’t a lot of this, the supply’s really low, and there’s gonna be a lot of demand, so… well, you know, you should probably buy some.
It’s no coincidence either that the word “Buy” features so prominently on their Web page.
So: how’s the wine? First off, I’ll give you raw tasting notes from last Saturday night:
Mark: Grape Kool-Aid with cranberry sauce, but it’s really tasty in an odd way.
Henry: This isn’t as piquant as the Blue-Eyed Boy shiraz. Bitter, flat pomegranate juice… not the sweetened stuff, but the plain pomegranate juice they sell at Whole Foods.
JP: Yeah, pomegranate. Not sure what else.
Rex: This is completely uninteresting.
Yada: This tastes like burning.
OK, so not exactly the most enthusiastic bunch there. Right now, I’ve got a glass of it in front of me – when a dozen red-blooded American males don’t finish a bottle of free wine, you know there’s something wrong. It’s been open for nearly forty-eight hours now. Let’s see how it’s faring:
Color: Super dark, inky black. You could probably fool someone into thinking they were eating squid ink pasta just by passing some of the pasta through a glass of this wine. Obvious legs and clear rim indicate huge amounts of alcohol, but this is actually the least alcoholic of any of the wines we tasted at ‘only’ 15% abv.
Nose: Curious Asian spices of indeterminate origin, and very odd. Smells like cosmetics? More than anything, just smells like generic red wine, almost like an inexpensive fortified dessert wine. There’s kind of a curiously high, plastic, cherry-red note that doesn’t sit well; it’s like it’s been flown in from Beaujolais. I don’t really discern anything by way of cocoa, toasty barrel char, or other oak-derived interest here; instead, all I get is alcohol, that odd star anise-like note, fake-y red fruits… I really have to wonder: this is Cabernet? All of the things that make a good Cabernet interesting to me are MIA here: no tobacco or cigar box, no interesting green flavors, no spicy oak, no rich mulberry fruit… this just seems perverse.
Taste: Huge mouth feel (hello alcohol) on the entry followed by a surprise intrusion of acidity and again no particular varietal flavor that I can taste. Instead, there’s a mildly unpleasant tannic puckerfest towards the finish, which is admittedly quite long and mouth-filling (this is I suppose the quality that the winemakers are attempting to describe as Fruit Weight). I think the burning that Yada described here is simply overly enthusiastic alcohol levels (and in some part the surprising acidity, which doesn’t really make this feel fresh, just a little out of joint); it really doesn’t benefit from those, aside from a certain sweetness and fatness that I suppose are hugely appealing to its target audience.
More than anything, though, the most disappointing thing about this wine to me is this: it doesn’t really taste like anything in particular. It reminds me most of Jonesy port, a cheap and cheerful $8 fortified wine from South Australia (I think): it’s red, it’s deeply colored, it’s alcoholic, and it tastes of sweet, simple red fruit with a hint of spices. I can’t for the life of me imagine who would find this a good value at $44 – it’s not dramatically different than the Pillar Box Red wine sold for $7 at warehouse stores – unless I think back to the Porsche SUV driving soccer mom in the wine shop last weekend who did like her points. I imagine that Mollydooker have coasted a long, long way on that initial 99 point score for their Carnival of Love wine from their initial vintage; that and the huge score for The Boxer shiraz seemed to cement their reputation as makers of world class wine with huge point scores at low prices… even if that doesn’t seem to be the case four years on. Heck, even I bought a bottle of the Carnival of Points when it first came out; it was $55, I think, and I felt like it was worth it. But something seems to have changed in the interim: this wine isn’t particularly good (and by that I mean that it isn’t making me feel something other than pleasantly flush with alcohol), or at least not particularly unique, and charging this much money for it seems to be the height of chutzpah, especially given the easy availability of, say, Yalumba ‘The Menzies’ cabernet, which doesn’t cost any more than the Mollydooker but speaks (again, to me, at least) of a real sense of place, has a long, proven historical track record of high quality, ages well, etc. etc. etc.
With all due respect, I’m not giggling.