The Hits and Misses in the New Wine Collection at Vons


Who doesn't like to open presents? Especially when inside that wrapping there's wine? That's just part of the fiendishly clever hook behind Evocative Wrapped Bottles, a series of wines that the Sonoma-based wine company Truett-Hurst has developed to market at Safeway/Vons.

Take their best-seller of the lot, Curious Beasts Blood Red Wine. It is a curious kitchen sink blend of merlot, petite sirah, syrah, zinfandel, and cabernet franc, but nowhere near as monstrous as such a mix might suggest. Its color is far from bloody-dark; in fact it's light enough you might mistake it for a pricier Central Coast pinot noir, say, but clearly this is made for quaffing about the kids busy bobbing for apples, plus it's only 13.5% ABV, so after a glass you can drive them home. Curious Beasts is tasty enough, but there are better bangs for your buck at the $15 price range, and if anyone really bought it for the $29.99 Vons list price before using your Vons Card, you better really like the Day of the Dead woodcut stylings on that paper wrapper. (They are very well done, so all kudos to artist Kevin Shaw at Stranger & Stranger.)

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Truett-Hurst does sell a Central Coast Pinot Noir, part of a Schucks label that's billed "fish wine." (That means, "goes with fish." Took me a second too.) As with the Curious Beasts, this offering is light in color and length, so sure, have it with your halibut tacos -- there's even a recipe on the wrapping paper! The pricing is a mess, though. You can find the 2011 online at $15; the 2012 starts at $34.99 at Vons, but with the Vons Card comes down to $16.99 (still actually a bit high despite the $18 you feel like you've saved). That wrapping paper is retro-whimsical to a fault, even dragging Mark Twain into the copy. But c'mon, it's a California wine, not one from Missouri -- if you need to romance things, what about fly fisherman in the Sierras or something.

The best of the lot I tasted was the Schucks 2012 North Coast Sauvignon Blanc, as pale as any sauvignon blanc I've seen (I've had water with more color). Luckily it's just crisp enough, with a lemon-lime tingle and enough acid to make a good pair with that rainbow trout filet recipe on the wrapping. Again, Vons lists this wine at a whopping $29.99, but makes you feel ever-grateful for the $18 (you can practically see that in neon, can't you) they discount the wine on Vons Club so you pay what the wine is pretty much actually worth, $11.99.

Finally the most unusual packaging goes to the ultra-green Paperboy 2012 Mendocino County Chardonnay. The "bottle" is molded paper around a plastic bladder and the flipside from the oh-so-cute paperboy image are detailed directions of how to take the bottle apart and dispose of it in a recyclable way.

Retail at $23.49 is a joke, but the Vons Club discount makes it $10.99, which is under the typical retail by a couple bucks. While the packaging is attractive and probably better for the environment, if for nothing else than saving shipping weight, will everyone dismantle it to get the plastic bladder out of the paper exterior? Beyond that, the wine itself seems sort of an afterthought, starting with a chemical-y nose (that plastic?) and a simplicity deserving to wear a dunce cap in the corner away from your tastebuds.

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