We have talked much recently about "grower wines" and their impact on the wine industry as we have continued to be impressed by many of the wines. So too though we continue to find negotiant wineries who bottle some really great wine at compelling prices. Negotiants are defined differently in the states and in Europe. Domestically a negotiant bottler is one who buys the wine already fully fermented as a finished product that they then purchase in bulk and simply bottle and label it. In Europe it refers more broadly to any winery that buys the grapes from a grower even though they fully control the production of the wine from start to finish.
Many folks are shocked at some of the wines from Europe that are considered negotiants which include such storied producers as the Champagne house Veuve Clicquot, the large Italian producer Antinori, Santa Margherita and others. Also in Europe, being designated as a negotiant carries a more negative connotation than it does here in the states. Like all things though, whether you are choosing a European or domestic negotiant product there are good and not so good wines and the ultimate assessment is up to you the consumer; however the guidance from your trusted wine professional is always helpful too.
Some of our favorite negotiant bottlings produced domestically come from Ray Signarello. Signarello Winery in Napa produces some truly fabulous wines. Under some other labels owned by the winery are wines made by other folks in Napa that are truly spectacular wines and great values. The 2008 Edge Cabernet is just one of those bottles that customers come back for over and over again. Ray does not disclose the source for any of his purchases, but the 2007 (which is no longer available) and the current vintage are both top tier Napa Cabernet offerings for the gentle price of $20.
The winery also produces a red blend of Syrah and Cabernet called Fuse. Also priced at $20 the wine is as delicious as the Edge but with a little more heft on the palate and enhanced aromatics of earth and meatiness from the Syrah component. Both the Edge and the Fuse have some of the most handsome packaging we have found too making the wines great gift items.
Another one of our favorite producers is Skylark Wine Company out of Mendocino County in California. The Skylark wines are made by John Lancaster and Rob Perkins and are consistently some of our favorites year in and year out. Their second label Alondra, Spanish for Skylark, is an all negotiant wine. Under the Alondra label they produce a lovely stainless steel Chardonnay and a Cabernet, priced at $18 and $29 respectively, that are delicious. John and Rob take a more involved approach with the Alondra wines as they buy from the same producers every year and help direct the process, while not actually making the wine to come up with the end product they are targeting.
Washington winemaker Ron Bunnell who's main label Bunnell Family Cellars steadily produces fabulous Rhone varietal wines but also bottles some negotiant wines under his River Aerie label. Ron has great contacts throughout the Washington wine industry, and therefore gets shown fabulous bulk juice in just about every varietal in both whites and reds. Ranging from $10 up to about $25 you will find wines from River Aerie that will please just about every palate.
Also Charles Smith of K Vintners (where he makes the wine) and his second label the well known and well distributed House Wines (which are negotiant juice) finds a way to regularly put some very good wine in the bottle for the House brand.
There are far more negotiant wines than we could ever fit in a single or even multiple articles, and while we love the story behind many "grower wines" there are still great values to be had in the negotiant universe. As always the best way to find the ones you like is to try several and see what you think, and we are here to help with your initial selection as are all of the wine professionals here in North Idaho.
If there is a topic you would like to read about or questions on wine you can email George@thedinnerpartyshop.com or make suggestions by contacting the Healthy Community section at the Coeur d'Alene Press.
George Balling is co-owner with his wife Mary Lancaster of the dinner party - a wine and table top decor shop in Coeur d'Alene by Costco. George is also the managing judge of The North Idaho Wine Rodeo and writes frequently for the online version of Coeur d'Alene Magazine at www.cdamagazine.com. His articles can also be found on the blog at www.thedinnerpartyshop.com.