Mark Cutrara (left) and Jamie Drummond crash into Dave Matthews' wine.
When we found out that Dave Matthews was trying to get some attention for his Dreaming Tree line of wines, we were excited to dig out all our don't-quit-your-day job quips, not to mention pleased to be drinking booze and calling it work. (Also Matthews and his bro-rock band were in town last week, which we had to acknowledge in some way.)
Still, we take our work semi-seriously, so we called up sommelier and wine consultant Jamie Drummond to help us assess the quality of Matthews's non-musical sideline. Drummond then invited Cowbell owner/chef Mark Cutrara along for the tasting, and suddenly we realized that we'd accidentally turned an excuse for snark into something fairly respectable.
After cracking up about the cheeseball lyric quotes in the promotional booklet, Drummond is kinder when it comes to the actual packaging.
"One thing I will say is that the label is actually quite nice," he admits.
"And what exactly are we drinking? 'Crush Red Wine'," Cutrara says, examining the bottle himself.
Drummond takes a closer look, trying to decipher what this concoction actually is.
"As far as I can see, it doesn't actually explain what the blend is," he says, as he walks over to his laptop for some Googling.
"Ok, turns out it's 67% Merlot, and 33% Zinfandel, which is kind of an unholy blend in many people's eyes."
Drummond goes on to explain that he doesn't necessarily share that belief, and that it's more an unfortunate residual effect of the movie Sideways on consumers' ideas about Merlot.
As we take our first sips, the reaction is surprisingly positive.
"You get the Merlot more than the Zinfandel," Drummond explains. "The Merlot adds a velvety texture to the palate, which is definitely there. I find it funny that they're embarrassed to discuss the blend on the website, because the Merlot is actually really nice."
"Yeah, it's actually not bad," Cutrara agrees.
"What's the price point on this?" Drummond asks. But since the wine doesn't hit the LCBO until January, we can't find the answer.
"I would put it at $16.75. I wouldn't pay any more than $18," Cutrara says.
"If we were at just a normal wine tasting, I'd say it's full rounded, good structure, good fruit."
"Good structure?" Drummond interrupts. "I would disagree with you on that. I think the tannins are very supple and soft, so I wouldn't say that it has good structure."
"Well, it's going to get me through a burger," Cutrara explains. "It's not going to be a fine dining wine. Jamie's idea of structure is different than mine. What I mean is that it holds its own. It's not super amazing, but it's an under-$20 bottle of wine."
So for those of us who aren't connoisseurs, what exactly does "structure" mean, when talking about wine?
"For me, it means that it doesn't fall apart in your mouth," says Cutrara. "The nose, the tannins, and the mouth feel all work together. It's a full product, versus wines where your nose detects something different from what your palate picks up, and then the finish is different too. That's what I mean when I'm talking about structure."
"I still don't think it's an incredibly structured wine," Drummond disagrees. "I do think it's a very drinkable wine though."
"I wouldn't remember this from one Sunday to the next," Cutrara says, as he fills up his glass again.
"But this would be great with some sausages on the BBQ, or hamburgers," Drummond interjects. "It would be interesting to taste their Cabernet or their Chardonnay, because those are probably their more elevated wines. I'm guessing this would be their cheaper one. This is actually not a bad wine, but it all depends on the price point. I would say closer to $14, because there are so many other great blends out there."
So, while we had every intention of just making wisecracks about Dave Matthews's attempts at wine making all evening, it turns out that he's better at it than we would have guessed. Assuming the LCBO isn't jacking the price up too much to capitalize on his fan base, it's probably less embarrassing to admit enjoying his wine than his records.