“Taste California Travel began its ‘Wine Pick of the Week’ feature several years ago. It was a time when the editor and his contributors might be tasting several hundred wines each month. Each week’s Pick was presumed to be the best of the lot—not necessarily the most expensive wine, but something that really stood out. Price—high or low--could be a consideration in our selections. Though we’re very busy and not tasting as many wines these days, the idea is mostly the same. We pick a wine that needs to be recognized; though not necessarily because it was the best in the preceding week. Sometimes our Pick is chosen because it helps us illustrate a point. This week’s Pick, the Corbett Canyon Merlot is such a case.
“Wine reviewers for Taste Publications have had the good fortune to have tasted a lot of wine, much of it wonderful stuff. They recognize the difference between really good wine and the rest and know that more expensive wines usually taste better than the cheap stuff, though not always. A few days ago, your reviewer spotted a magnum (1.5 Liter) of Corbett Canyon Merlot at a very good price in a Washington supermarket. Writing about wine exposes him a lot of wine. Sometimes this happens at trade tastings. Sometimes wineries send product samples for review. But there are times when he is also a consumer. This was such a time and $5.47 for this big bottle was irresistible—the equivalent of $2.75 per normal-sized bottle. He remembered Corbett Canyon as a winery on California’s Central Coast that produced decent, if unremarkable, wine a few decades ago. How bad could it be, he thought?
“Often cheap wine can be quite palatable. The taste might be innocuous, just lacking in all those qualities that make good wine stand out---power and richness, subtlety and nuance or any of those descriptors wine writers and wine publicists put on paper. At other times, cheap wine can be pretty awful. This was our experience with this bargain-priced Merlot. The back label indicates this wine was vinted and bottled in Ripon, a town in California’s San Joaquin Valley, and not on the Central Coast where Corbett Canyon began. Grapes from the hotter San Joaquin Valley are much cheaper than those from cooler regions nearer the coast and bottles made from them usually carry the more generic ‘California’ appellation. Our bargain bottle of Merlot indicated an even broader ‘American’ appellation. Who knows where the fruit came from? Whatever the grape source, tasting the Merlot was an unpleasant experience. We noticed no obvious winemaking flaws, nor evidence of storage problems. We couldn’t say for sure, but we suspect that the unfortunate taste is due more to really bad fruit. As many winemakers say, ‘You can make bad wine out of good grapes, but nobody can make good wine from bad grapes.’
Was the very low price this wine’s redeeming quality, you might ask? No, there is no redemption for a taste this bad. There’s nothing wrong with shopping for a bargain. Sometimes it works out. But at other times . . . ”